After the current broadcast season has failed to produce runaway hits, the networks are going back to the drawing board, with several increasing the number of pilots for next season. The five broadcast networks have ordered a total of 98 pilots (including straight-to-series orders in lieu of pilots) this season, up 14% from last year and close to the highs of just more than 100 pilots in the early 2000s, when we had six broadcast networks. This year’s tally extends an upward trend — 79 pilots in 2011, 86 in 2012 and 98 now. The volume increase this year is driven primarily by NBC and CBS, whose orders went up by double digits vs. last year, while ABC and the CW kept the overall number of pilots the same and Fox picked up only one more. Here is a rundown on the networks needs and picks for next season.
Related: Full Primetime Pilot Panic Listings
CBS is sending confusing signals this pilot season. The company has ordered 23 pilots (12 comedies and 11 dramas) vs. 15 (8 comedies and 7 dramas) last season, a whopping 53% increase. But then CBS Corp chief Les Moonves last week, while noting that the network “ordered a couple of more pilots than in previous years,” suggested that “there aren’t going to be a lot of new shows” on CBS’ schedule for next season. His remarks sent chills up the spines of producers who have pilots at the network. As the most stable broadcast network, CBS is traditionally among the hardest to land a new series on. But this year, with so many pilots for what appear to be very few slots, the odds are even slimmer. Competition is especially fierce on the comedy side, where two spots are likely already penciled in for Chuck Lorre’s Mom and one of Greg Garcia’s two pilots. After flirting with the idea of expanding the Thursday comedy block to two hours last season, CBS ultimately stuck to its current configuration of four comedies on Monday and two on Thursday. But with 12 comedy pilots, the network may add more half-hours to the schedule, on Thursday or another night as four of its existing series — The Big Bang Theory, 2 Broke Girls, How I Met Your Mother and Mike & Molly — are assured to return and CBS also is working on a Two And A Half Men renewal. With so many single-camera comedy pilots, CBS is certain to pick up at least one single-camera comedy series. The question is whether the network will go for a single-camera block or mix a single-camera show with its lineup of multi-camera sitcoms. CBS’ drama needs are limited too. With only a couple of shows facing possible cancellation — CSI: NY, whose end appears very likely, freshman Vegas and maybe The Mentalist — there won’t be many hour holes on CBS’ schedule next fall. Its drama choices are a mix of legal (The Advocates), cop (Beverly Hills Cop, Backstrom) and medical (The Surgeon General) procedurals and a couple of serialized thrillers (Hostages, The Ordained).
What a difference a couple of months make. Had NBC been making its pilot orders in the fall when the network was the reigning demo ratings winner week after week, it may have not been as aggressive. But after it plunged from first to fourth place last month, the network is stepping up its development efforts with 26 pilots (15 comedies, 11 dramas) along with the straight-to-series Michael J Fox comedy — up 17% from last year when the network greenlighted 23 pilots (14 comedy, 9 dramas). With Go On and The New Normal fading fast without The Voice lead-in and sophomore Smash and newbie Do No Harm crashing in their recent openers, NBC’s scripted keepers for next season are few and far between: freshman Chicago Fire, Parks And Recreation, Grimm, Parenthood and of course Revolution if it doesn’t take a dive after a long hiatus. With the threshold for renewal relatively low, cult favorite Community may squeak in, with Go On and New Normal also possibilities, mostly based on their auspices. But with The Office going away, NBC is losing its only established half-hour launching pad, meaning it will have to rely more heavily on self-starters. (Let’s not forget that ABC’s Modern Family launched as the 9 PM anchor of a two-hour block consisting of four new comedies.) And as he has proven time and time again, Dick Wolf is a great negotiator, so, with his new series Chicago Fire as one of very few bright spots on NBC at the moment, he may squeeze out another season for his veteran Law & Order: SVU. As a whole, there are a lot of holes on NBC’s schedule, with Wednesday and Thursday due for a complete overhaul. The network’s pilot choices run the gamut of genres, from family (untitled Sean Hayes), relationship (Joe, Joe & Jane) and workplace (Assistance, The Gates) on the comedy side to procedurals (Ironside, I Am Victor), high-concept (Believe, Bloodline) and genre (The Sixth Gun) in drama.
While keeping the overall number of pilots (16) in line with last year (15), Fox is shifting focus away from comedies. Last year, the network ordered 10 half-hour pilots and 5 hourlongs; this time it is going for an equal mix of 8 comedies to 8 dramas, including the Seth MacFarlane multi-camera comedy Dads, which bypassed pilot stage with a six-episode straight-to-series pickup. Building a two-hour comedy block on Tuesday was Fox’s biggest priority for this season. It has been a mixed bag, with returning comedies New Girl and Raising Hope doing decent business but newbies Ben & Kate, which has been cancelled, and The Mindy Project struggling, leading to Fox’s decision to scale back the block to one hour in the spring. While not giving up on comedies, with Dads already on the schedule for next season, Fox also is stepping up its drama efforts after picking up only two new drama series for this season, the short-lived Mob Doctor and midseason entry The Following. With Fringe gone and Touch DOA in Season 2, Fox’s drama bench is pretty depleted, with recently renewed veteran Bones as the only sure thing for next season, to be likely joined by The Following. After largely striking out with female comedies, Fox is shifting toward more male-oriented half-hours (Dads, untitled Dan Goor/Mike Schur, Enlisted, I Suck At Girls), while also trying out family fare (The Gabriels, Friends And Family, 2 Wrongs). The network’s hourlong choices range from legal dramedy Rake to gritty cop drama Gang Related to supernatural Sleepy Hollow to high-concept Delirium and the futuristic J.H. Wyman/JJ Abrams project.
ABC is staying the course, with 24 pilots (12 comedy, 12 drama) matching exactly its order configuration from last year. The network doesn’t have a lot to crow about with its freshman class so far this season (soapy drama Nashville seems the most likely to return) but ABC scored an elusive sophomore hit with Scandal. No major surprises in ABC’s pilot choices. A lot of family comedies (How The Hell Am I Normal?, untitled Cullen brothers, Trophy Wife, Keep Calm, untitled John Leguizamo) are looking to join veterans Modern Family and The Middle, with most of the rest of ABC’s half-hour picks also unapologetically female (Pulling, Middle Age Rage, Bad Management, Super Fun Night). Soaps continue to be ABC’s bread and butter, with Betrayal, high-concept Gothica, Reckless and Venice among the new hopefuls. One of Disney’s most prized possessions, Marvel, is represented with Joss Whedon’s S.H.I.E.L.D., which is headed to the schedule to try and succeed where recent male-oriented ABC dramas including Last Resort and Zero Hour failed. And the annual Disney tie-in pilot slot went to Big Thunder, based on the Big Thunder Railroad roller coaster, following last year’s Beauty And The Beast and Once Upon A Time the year before.
The CW also kept its orders in line with last year’s — eight pilots this year, including planted The Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals, vs. six pilots and two presentations for 8 total last year. But the shift from contemporary soapy fare to more male/genre programming under the CW’s new president Mark Pedowitz continued, with not a single soap about privileged kids a la Gossip Girl and 90210 in sight. The influx of genre fare (The Originals, The Hundred, The Tomorrow People) is understandable as Vampire Diaries, Arrow and Supernatural are the CW’s three top-rated shows while 90210 is flat-lining — most recently drawing 500,000 viewers last night. Even the CW’s more romantic fare is high-concept: The Selection and the Mary Queen of Scots drama Reign. With The Originals likely to land on the schedule and TVD, Arrow and Supernatural already renewed, the network has solid building blocks for next season’s schedule. Of the rest, Hart Of Dixie‘s recent season high may have clinched it a renewal, with Beauty And The Beast also looking hopeful. The Carrie Diaries, whose most recent episode tied the series finale of cancelled Emily Owens MD, and Nikita, which recently perked up with a season high, are a toss-up.