Exactly a year ago, at its TCA executive session NBC announced several projects in development, including a Dick Wolf-produced firefighter drama, which became the network’s upcoming drama series Chicago Fire. This year there has been only one big sale so far — the Alex Kurtzman/Roberto Orci-written and Len Wiseman-directed Sleepy Hollow, which went to Fox with a put pilot commitment. Pitch season is starting late and is shaping up to be calmer, with less action. I hear NBC and ABC, the most aggressive players last year, are paring down the number of projects they will buy and money they will spend. With a new regime and stuffed coffers, NBC went on a buying spree last summer, joined by ABC. The two networks often ended up in heated bidding wars, sometimes joined by Fox, driving up prices and leading to a slew of big commitments. “(NBC) got cash, (ABC) got competitive against that cash, and we took the bait,” was Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly‘s assessment of what network executives called a “crazy” 2011 pitch season. I hear NBC and ABC now plan to spend less and go only after projects they fully believe can get to the air. Fox also will be more targeted in its approach as the network accomplished its goal of assembling a two-hour comedy block, so its comedy needs are not as great.
As late as the start of the buying season has been for all broadcast networks, it may be pushed even further for NBC whose top entertainment executives Bob Greenblatt and Jennifer Salke will be in London for the next two weeks for the Summer Olympics, which NBC carries. Both plan to keep an eye on pitches from there, but it will be mostly their development teams in Los Angeles that will carry the torch in their absence.
As to what is causing the late start of selling action, there don’t seem to be enough writers ready to pitch. The studios have most hot writer-producers locked into “showveralls”, overall deals that tie them to a show. Because now is the most crucial time for series’ writing teams when they finish breaking stories for the season and start churning out scripts for production to begin, most scribes won’t be available to work on pitches until September. So while Independence Day marks the unofficial start of pitch season, the real action this season will likely begin after Labor Day.