Anthony Zuiker found himself in a familiar situation today. In 1999, he was an up-and-coming feature writer with no TV experience who wrote a drama project for ABC Studios (then Touchstone TV) and one of its pods, Jerry Bruckheimer TV. After ABC passed on the pitch, it was taken to another network. But when the Touchstone TV-produced pilot was picked up to series by CBS in May 2000, the studio pulled out as the company’s leadership didn’t want a Disney-owned studio to deficit finance a series on another network. The project, CSI, spawned a $1 billion franchise.
This season, another up-and-coming feature writer with no TV background, Whit Anderson, wrote a drama project for ABC Studios and two of its pods, Zuiker’s Dare To Pass and Brillstein Entertainment, which collaborate on development. ABC again passed on the pitch, which landed elsewhere with ABC Studio attached. But when NBC today greenlighted the project, Alice In Wonderland, to pilot, ABC Studios was replaced by NBC sibling Universal Television. I hear that Uni TV stepped in after ABC Studios opted out.
Times have changed since 2000, and such studio defections are very rare, unless a project moves to the CW, a network only sister studios CBS TV Studios and Warner Bros. TV do business with. Besides CBS Studios, the other network-affiliated production arms have been actually looking to expand beyond supplying their own networks. ABC Studios has been particularly aggressive on that front. It sold three high-profile drama projects to NBC and just yesterday, one of them, the modern-day Hatfields & McCoys, got a pilot order. ABC Studios is producing that pilot but won’t do the same for the modern-day Alice In Wonderland one.
It is clear why ABC passed on Alice In Wonderland, despite its contemporary setting — elements from the original Alice In Wonderland tale are featured on the network’s fairytale drama Once Upon A Time, which is produced by ABC Studios. Because Zuiker was passionate about the project, I hear the studio allowed him to pitch it elsewhere without its involvement. ABC Studios remained formally attached after NBC bought the pitch as I hear few there expected the project to go to pilot. (Such high-concept shows are considered very risky and most of them die in the development stage.) But when things became real with a pilot order, I hear ABC Studios brass examined the situation and decided that they didn’t want to divide energy and resources on producing two series that are so similar. What’s more, those are not just any two similar projects but high-end dramas with elaborate production and special effects. So in the end, I hear ABC Studios determined that producing an expensive show for another network that is so similar to one of its existing series was not feasible. Time will tell whether, 13 years later, it was the right call.