As it has been the case in each of the past few development seasons, buying started late this year. Comedies kicked off the proceedings with a couple of notable deals and kept steady with a stream of big commitments for established names, mixed with mid-size and smaller sales for up-and-coming talent. Meanwhile, drama has been sputtering, with the networks hearing fewer pitches and buying less.
Observes note that we are at a point in the development cycle when dramas buying would be pretty much over or winding down, with comedy going on for a couple of more weeks. But in an anomaly this year, comedy buying is almost done while drama is so behind, some networks have not bought half of what they need and want.
That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had big drama sales, far from it. Warner Bros. TV took out two DC properties, Supergirl and Lucifer, landing a pilot production at CBS and a put pilot commitment at Fox, respectively. Supergirl was one of three sales for WBTV-based Greg Berlanti, who also has a put pilot commitment at CBS for supernatural procedural The Things They Left Behind, based on the Stephen King book. Minority Report, based on the blockbuster movie, also sparked bidding, landing at Fox as a put pilot, as did Digital Fortress, a drama based on the techno-thriller novel by Dan Brown, which has a put pilot commitment at ABC. Additionally, the Carol Mendelsohn-produced Game Of Silence, based on a Turkish format, had multiple networks vying, leading to a pilot production commitment from NBC.
And then there has been the slew of medical dramas, including one with a pilot production commitment, CBS’ Austen’s Razor, and four with put pilot commitments, CBS’ untitled Jason Katims/Sarah Watson project and Code Black, Fox’s The Cure and ABC’s medical advocate drama project.
Industry insiders note that the networks’ drama development budgets have remained similar to last year’s but the number of available senior-level writers has gone down as many have fled to cable.
Not only prolific showrunners, like Carlton Cuse, but writing producers with very active pods have been sidelined this broadcast development season — for instance, Bad Robot’s JJ Abrams has been busy directing and producing the next Star Wars movie, Howard Gordon has been running FX’s Tyrant and also shepherding TNT’s Legends.
That explains the fact that the networks have loosened their purse strings for more big commitments to marquee projects while there have been fewer mid-level sales (with penalties in the $200,000-$400,00 range), some of them going to less experienced and unproven creators. Would a future showrunner superstar emerge from the bunch?