It’s been more than a week since Fox greenlighted its last drama pilot, and the long pause has been nerve-wracking for all writers and producers with hourlong scripts at the network. Back at TCA, Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly indicated that his plan was to pick up five drama pilots, so speculation has been rampant about which project would join the four already picked up: 2 shows about female spies, one from Karyn Usher and one from Josh Friedman; the Marc Guggenheim/Greg Berlanti legal drama Guilty; and a serial killer drama by Kevin Williamson. Over the past week, four projects have emerged as strong contenders — three developed internally and one spec, Travis Beacham’s adventure soapHieroglyph. The other three are Silvio Horta’s Latino family dramedy about 3 sisters, which was based on an idea by Reilly and has Jennifer Lopez attached as an executive producer; a medical drama from Josh Berman & Rob Wright; and a Wyatt Earp Western written by John Hlavin. (Fox currently is the only major network without a period drama pilot this season.) But as the field narrowed, a question emerged: “Will there be another Fox drama pilot slot?” I hear that there is a lot of debate at the network at the moment, with all sorts of scenarios floated — from picking up one more hourlong pilot as originally planned to going with two to stopping at the current four and transferring the budget to comedies. (Fox is considering both regular and off-cycle orders for the remaining contenders.) If Fox ultimately decides to pull the trigger on another drama pickup, Hieroglyph looks like the frontrunner at the moment, though things are still in flux.
Here is some of the rational behind Fox’s conundrum. When the network brass made the plan for five drama pilots, none of Fox’s midseason dramas had premiered. Since then, Alcatraz had a solid debut and held well in Week 2. New drama Touch had a strong preview behind American Idol this week. And even newbie The Finder, which looked DOA in its underwhelming premiere, has come back strong with two weeks of double-digit ratings growth. To add to that, bubble drama House returned from a long hiatus with a big ratings bump, also making a case for renewal. And the network also has Terra Nova awaiting word on a second-season pickup. With so many viable drama players for next season, plus The X Factor and American Idol, Fox may not need more than 1-2 new drama series for next season and thus the argument for fewer pilots. Whether Fox decides to pick up another pilot or not, it will likely end up behind the CW in drama pilot volume for the first time. The CW has already greenlighted five hourlong pilots and is not done yet.