In May 2013, Sony Pictures TV was behind NBC’s most buzzed about pilot, drama The Blacklist, at the time the highest testing NBC drama pilots in 10 years. And yet, The Blacklist was one of the last pilots to be picked up to series by the network on Friday evening, just hours before NBC was to unveil its fall schedule on Sunday ahead of its Monday upfront presentation. That was because NBC and Sony TV had been embroiled in intense and complex negotiations involving four projects in contention that spanned several days. In the end, with The Blacklist leading the way, NBC picked up all four shows. That included series orders to three Sony TV pilots — the James Spader thriller, which landed the coveted Monday 10 PM time slot, blended family comedy Welcome To The Family and off-cycle medical drama The Night Shift — as well as a renewal of cult favorite Community, which had been heavily on the bubble.
Five years later, NBC and Sony TV once again are deep in a four-show negotiation that involves a solid drama pilot, the Bad Boys offshoot L.A.’s Finest starring Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. There is also a cult favorite heavily on the bubble, drama Timeless, and a single-camera comedy pilot, Norman Lear and Peter Tolan’s Guess Who Died, joined by 2013 hotshot, The Blacklist, which is looking to secure a sixth season renewal.
Another outside studio, Warner Bros. TV, is in a similar situation with a buzzy drama pilot, Manifest, and a bubble series, Blindspot.
All five NBC pilots picked up to series so far come from sister studio Universal TV: dramas New Amsterdam, The Village and The Enemy Within, and comedies Abby’s and I Feel Bad.
While probably not as undeniable as The Blacklist was, L.A.’s Finest has been among the most talked about pilots this season with its pedigree, auspices and cast. Guess Who Died has flown largely under the radar, having received an early pilot order, though the project had had internal support since the script stage and is believed to have a shot.
Despite no longer the ratings blockbuster it was before its move to Thursday, The Blacklist still is a pretty consistent performer with an established fan base. It is NBC’s highest rated and most watched drama series behind This Is Us and the four Dick Wolf shows. The Blacklist also makes money from SVOD and international deals, and NBC owns a piece of the series, making a renewal more appealing.
After beating cancellation once, the odds for Timeless doing it again are long based on its Season 2 ratings performance after a long hiatus, but the time-travel drama has proven the fierce loyalty of its fans, so another short order may not be out of the question if that is financially feasible given the series’ significant budget. For a second consecutive year, Timeless ranked as No.1 on USA Today’s Save our Shows poll. Additionally, the show’s fans have been flexing their muscles, flooding NBC’s Twitter feed with #RenewTimeless messages.
Negotiations between broadcast networks and studios are becoming more and more difficult every year, with nets constantly pushing for ownership in new series and license fee reduction for returning ones. In 2013, Sony TV gave NBC a 25% stake in The Blacklist at least in part in exchange for a great time slot for the new drama, Monday 10 PM. NBC likely is seeking similar ownership/license fee concessions again this time as Sony TV tries to get as many of its four projects picked up.