Part of a series that takes an analytical look at the current broadcast pilot season and some of its trends and heroes.
It has been a big year for non-writing producers this pilot season, the biggest since the so-called “invasion of the pod people” in 2003 when the broadcast pilot season and May series pickups for the first time were dominated by shows developed via pods, i.e. companies run by non-writing producers based at major studios.
There are a lot of familiar faces — some of the overachievers of the 2003 season are back in full force: Eric and Kim Tannenbaum, Brillstein Entertainment and Reveille as well as Imagine TV and Marty Adelstein. But Bruckheimer TV, a pilot season staple for the past decade and a top performer in 2003 with 3 pilots, all picked up to series, is without a pilot for the first time in years. (However, the company’s Fox project, a dramedy based on the life of music supervisor Kathy Nelson, has been pushed and remains in contention.)
But the big news this pilot season are the upstarts, companies formed in the past year-and-a-half, which have done very well. Leading the pack is the 20th TV-based Chernin Entertainment, which has had a dominating performance with 5 pilots this season: the Kiefer Suthaland starrer Touch, which is expected to get an episodic order at Fox, Stephen Gaghan’s cop drama S.I.L.A at NBC, Fox’s untitled Liz Meriwether comedy starring Zooey Deschanel, Fox comedy Outnumbered and NBC comedy Lovelives. The company already has 3 upcoming series, Fox’s Terra Nova - which it is co-producing with 2 of the other top performers this pilot season, DreamWorks TV and Kapital Entertainment – Fox’ animated comedy Allen Gregory and A&E’s Breakout Kings, which also started on broadcast.
Other recently formed TV companies that landed pilots this season include Aaron Kaplan’s indie Kapital Entertainment (ABC’s comedy Bad Mother, ABC dramedy Good Christian Bitches, NBC Western The Crossing), Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci’s 20th TV-based K/O Paper Products (Fox’s Ethan Hawke starrer Exit Strategy directed by Antoine Fuqua and another Fox drama, graphic novel adaptation Locke & Key), Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s Warner Bros.-based Fake Empire (ABC soap Georgetown starring Jimmy Wolk, the CW drama Hart of Dixie starring Rachel Bilson), Shawn Levy and Marty Adelstein’s 20th TV-based 21 Laps/Adelstein (ABC’s untitled Jack Burditt comedy starring Tim Allen), Wyck Godfrey and Marty Bowen’s ABC Studios-based Temple Hill (ABC’s drama Revenge directed by Phillip Noyce) and Scot Armstrong and Ravi Nandan’s UMS-based American Work (NBC’s untitled Lennon Parham/Jessica St. Clair comedy)
In another twist this year, three independent production companies that operate outside of the studio system are having a great year. DreamWorks TV, a strong performer in 2003 with 5 pilots, 2 of which, Las Vegas and Line of Fire, went to series, has 3 pilots this year, second only to Chernin Entertainment, and tied with two another indies, Reveille and Kapital, as well as the ABC Studios-based Brillstein Entertainment and CBS TV Studios-based Tannenbaum Co. DreamWorks has NBC’s Broadway-themed Smash starring Debra Messing, ABC’s horror thriller The River directed by Jaume Collet-Sera and Fox’s Locke & Key. Reveille, which in 2003 had its Coupling remake picked up to series, has NBC comedy pilot My Life As an Experiment, Fox comedy Tagged and CW drama Awakening.
Brillstein Entertainment, which in 2003 was based at 20th TV, had 4 pilots back then, 3 of which, Back to Kansas, Cracking Up and The Lyon’s Den, went to series. Now based at ABC Studios, the company landed 3 pilots, CBS drama Ringer starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and ABC comedies My Freakin’ Family and Other People’s Kids.
This season marks a new beginning for some of the overachievers of 2003. In their first development season under the Tannenbaum Co. banner back in 2003, Eric and Kim Tannenbaum landed 4 pilots, three of which, Two and a Half Men, Run of the House and The Mullets, went to series. Now, in their first development season as the Tannenbaum Co., after being partnered with Mitch Hurwitz for the past few years, and at new studio, CBS TV Studios, the Tannenbaums have 3 pilots, all multi-camera comedies at CBS: an untitled family sitcom starring Rob Schneider, ensemble The Assistants penned by Everybody Loves Raymond veteran Tucker Cawley and an untitled sports radio show from comedy vets Bill Martin and Mike Schiff.
Also staring anew is Adelstein, who in 2003 was in the first year of his partnership with Neal Moritz and Dawn Parouse, 20th TV-based Original TV, which landed 2 series, dramas Tru Calling and Still Life. He is now in the first year of his new partnership with Shawn Levy, 20th TV-based 21 Laps/Adelstein, which has the Tim Allen ABC comedy pilot.
And in its first season at CBS TV Studios, Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly’s Timberman/Beverly Prods. has landed 2 pilots, both at CBS: the untitled Susannah Grant drama directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Patrick Wilson and an untitled Ed Redlich/John Bellucci drama.
Staring a new life at Warner Bros. after being based at NBC since its inception, Conan O’Brien’s Conaco landed a comedy pilot, Vince Uncensored, at CBS. And in their first broadcast pilot season, Mark Wahlberg and Stephen Levinson’s Leverage got a pilot order at CBS for comedy Home Game starring Rob Riggle.
Several veterans are back with high-profile pilots. J.J. Abrams’ WBTV-based Bad Robot is behind 2: Fox’s Alcatraz and CBS’ Jonah Nolan crime drama Person of Interest, as is Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun’s NBC-based BermanBraun: Fox’s medical drama Weekends at Bellevue and NBC’s Dan Goor comedy. 20th TV-based Imagine TV has NBC’s period drama Playboy, Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey’s Film 44 (NBC’s Prime Suspect), WBTV-based Werner Entertainment (NBC’s Chelsea Handler-themed comedy Are Your There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea), WBTV-based Alloy Entertainment (CW’s Secret Circle), ABC Studios-based Mark Gordon (ABC’s Identity), WBTV-based Joel Silver (CBS’ Hail Mary starring Minnie Driver), UMS-based actor-tuned-producer Sean Hayes (NBC’s Grimm) and Tagline (ABC’s comedy pilot Man Up!). Comedy mainstays Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video and Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison are also back in contention with NBC’s Emily Spivey project and CBS’ untitled Peter Knight project, respectively. Additionally, ABC’s Charlie’s Angels reboot was developed through Drew Barrymore’s Sony-based Flower Films, the network’s Poe through Dan Lin’s Warner Bros.-based Lin Pictures, and CBS’ drama Rookies, directed by James Mangold and starring Leelee Sobieski, through Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s CBS TV-based Tribeca Films.
As well as production companies have done this pilot season, the real test will come in May, when pilots will be picked up to series, then in the fall, when the bulk of the new series will premiere, and then next May when renewal time comes along. Of all new series landed by pods in 2003, only two are still around: the Tannenbaums’ Two and a Half Men as well as One Tree Hill, from the now-defunct Tollin Robbins Prods.
Here is a tally of pods/independent production companies with multiple pilots this season:
Chernin Entertainment -5
Brillstein Entertainment -3
DreamWorks TV -3
Kapital Entertainment -3
Tannenbaum Co. -3
Bad Robot -2
Fake Empire -2
K/O Paper Products -2
Timberman/Beverly Prods. -2