It has been a noticeable trend at Fox this pilot season — many of the network’s pilot orders came with a director already on board, leapfrogging the first stage in pilot production which involves locking in a helmer. All of Fox’s comedy pilots except for the very first to get ordered — Phil Lord, Chris Miller and Julius Sharpe’s time-travel half-hour — were picked up with directors attached. (Ironically, the Lord/Miller comedy pilot, greenlighted a month ago, still doesn’t have a director, but it’s closing in on one.) Another Fox comedy pilot order that is pending, the Courteney Cox-starrer set in the charity world, also has a director.
The practice was not as prevalent on the drama side, but still a number of pilots, like 24: Legacy and A.P.B., were picked up with directors onboard. Another one, The Exorcist, already had zeroed in on a couple of candidates at the time of the pickup, signing feature helmer Rupert Wyatt shortly thereafter. Baseball drama Pitch has secured Emmy winner Paris Barclay, so only the two Fox drama pilots ordered last are still without helmers.
The practice, a version of a director-contingency, led to some stressful moments and sleepless nights for the writers and producers of several Fox projects whose pickup was put on hold/delayed for days until a director was approved. But in the end, there was no Fox script whose order was derailed by an inability to secure a director.
I hear the policy was implemented as the pilot-pickup process got underway to motivate studios and creators of projects that were being ordered — especially those identified for green light later in the game — and put pressure on them to lock in the best directors they can for an early edge in a competitive field. It was intended to offset the natural instinct by producers to relax after overcoming the huge hurdle of scoring a pilot order, risking to miss out on their top director choices who may already be spoken for.
Fox was particularly aggressive on the comedy side because there has been less success in the genre over the past few years, so there are fewer directors with proven track records, making for a relatively short wish list. Plus, the network was specific about the type of director it was looking for on most pilots. For instance, on Sherry Bilsing-Graham and Ellen Kreamer’s single-camera The Enforcers, a female buddy comedy about two single mothers, Fox wanted a female director as executives felt that would add authenticity to the portrayal of the women’s relationship. The pilot was ordered when the script secured Gail Mancuso, two-time Emmy winner for Modern Family.
Similarly, the untitled Chris Case single-camera comedy, about an African-American ex-NFL lineman who recently moved in with his white wife and her two oddball sons, sought African-American directors, landing feature helmer Malcolm D. Lee.