“Better late than never” has been the mantra of the broadcast buying season for the past few years, with pitches starting to come in later and later every summer. The trend is hitting new heights this season, raising the panic levels at studios and networks. While the lack of major sales is not that alarming given the recent timeline pattern of delayed pitching kickoff, more troubling is the fact that there is little on the horizon, with few projects coming together at the studios to be taken out.
There have been just a couple of big drama packages sold at the broadcast networks so far, including Chris Murphey’s Hunch at CBS, from EuropaCorp TV Studios, as well as Martin Gero-Greg Berlanti’s Criminal at ABC and Rob Thomas’ The Lost Boys remake at the CW, both from Warner Bros. TV. The major indies, WBTV and Sony TV, traditionally have been more aggressive out of the gate, getting pitches out before the Big 4 networks start buying heavily from their own studios.
A lot has been written about the strain the era of “peak TV” has put on the pool of top TV creators and showrunners, especially in drama as the genre has exploded in cable and digital. The broadcast networks are pushing hard for projects from big-name auspices, while the studios are finding it harder than ever to deliver as many of their top writers are either tied on shows and not available or only interested in development for cable or streaming services.
While the broadcast nets have been able to lure a handful of A-list feature talent the last few years, like Lee Daniels and John Ridley, who are behind Fox’s mega hit Empire and ABC’s praised drama American Crime, respectively, big packages with feature auspices generally bypass network TV and go straight to premium cable and digital, as is the case with the David O. Russell drama that has Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore attached to star. (It is expected to be taken out shortly).
Also worrisome has been the dearth of big original ideas this year. I hear most studios are having a hard time finding noisy new concepts from experienced or up-and-coming creators that could cut through the clutter — something all networks are after.
The spec market also has been unremarkable, with a lot of scripts floated but no standouts so far. Last summer, Dan Fogelman’s This Is Us was a hot spec that landed an off-cycle NBC pilot order en route to a spot on the network’s fall 2016 schedule.
As dire as things may look at the moment, drama sales are expected to start picking up over the next two weeks and get into high gear after Labor Day. The financial upside to studios, agencies and profit participants of having a hit broadcast network drama is just too big not to make a push to lure talent and fill the pipeline. To do that, studios are relying more than ever on their pods, like Greg Berlanti’s Berlanti Prods. (WBTV) and Davis Entertainment & Carol Mendelsohn Prods. (Sony TV).