We are at the tail end of a TV selling season that saw more bidding wars and production and put pilot commitments than I can remember, and that isn’t lost on the broadcast entertainment presidents. Survivor‘s Jeff Probst opened the discussion at the annual Hollywood Radio & Television Society network chiefs luncheon today by sharing that during his lunch with the executives before they took the stage, everyone was complaining about how crazy and out of whack this pitch season has been. Fox’s Kevin Reilly, who spoke his mind more than anyone else on the panel, quickly jumped in. “(NBC) got cash, (ABC) got competitive against that cash, and we took the bait,” is how Reilly summed up this year’s marketplace. “We all think we were played a little bit. Agents are doing very well this year as a result.” Reilly’s counterparts mostly agreed, though their responses were more measured. “It’s been very, very frantic this year,” CBS’ Nina Tassler said. She blamed media coverage for the increased intensity of the pitch season. “Every single thing that happens is now being reported, from a pitch to speculation on the terms of a deal, and that does absolutely impact the business.” Added NBC’s Jennifer Salke: “I get the email about a media inquiry while the producer is still in the parking lot. That adds to the frenzy.” But it wasn’t all bad this buying season, ABC’s Paul Lee said. “There was also a rush of new energy, with a lot of new people and new ideas; there was lot of ambition in the projects coming in,” he said.
Reilly kept things entertaining during the largely predictable-bordering-on-boring discussion that addressed standard topics like the impact of digital distribution and DVR viewing and the importance of network branding. He often interjected into the conversation off-the-cuffs remarks like: “Can somebody kill NCIS?” and (to Salke while she was talking about trying to land a project in a competitive situation): “Send them flowers. … Or better yet, mow their lawn.”
Reilly also did not mince words when asked about the prospects of shows that are driven by a sponsor. “It’s impossible to reverse-engineer a hit,” he said. “We’ve programmed those things and they’re usually hideous.” He also took on the antiquated data-gathering methods still employed by Nielsen. “I’m not going to fight the windmill of Nielsen, but we do need to keep them honest,” he said. “The fact that we still have people filling out diaries in their living rooms is insane.” Additionally, Reilly shared his disdain for the traditional development cycle, which involves the broadcast networks picking up, casting and filming 80 pilots within one three-month window. “The fact that we are in lockstep and choreographed from the same dance backing up from the upfront is stupid, highly inefficient, wasteful and not good for anyone in this room,” he said. “Penalties become irrelevant and things can’t be done well if there’s bottleneck. When you watch the vast pile of product at the end of the season, a big majority of it is embarrassing. Creative is difficult, but there are also a lot inefficiencies we can get rid of.” As for the future of TV viewing, it will eventually migrate online with full commercial load, according to CW’s Mark Pedowitz.