It’s January, and the broadcast pilot season is kicking into high gear with pilot orders. As has been the case every year for the past five or six years, scripts are late, delaying pickups — much to the chagrin of network executives who want to get their pilots up and running early to allow more time for casting in a very competitive marketplace.
The number of broadcast pilots slipped in 2019, and the trend might continue this year as the networks get more patient in sticking with modestly rated existing series because launching a new series involves big marketing costs but often results in similar ratings.
There is another factor this year: a concerted effort by the networks, particularly ABC and Fox, to move away from the traditional pilot season and order pilots off-cycle, or as ABC calls it, “second cycle.”
“Shows need time; we’re going to take a couple, take time and do a second cycle,” ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke told Deadline this month.
ABC is budgeted for about 16 comedy and drama pilots, but the total would include pilot orders picked up outside of the traditional January-to-March window. The number is in line with last season’s 17 pilots as the network already gave an off-cycle pilot order to a comedy starring Nate Bargatze in May. That pilot will not be going forward.
So far this month, ABC has ordered drama pilots The Brides and thirtysomething(else) and comedy pilot Prospect. Among those pending are Krista Vernoff’s drama Rebel and Kari Lizer’s comedy The Village, I hear.
Fox typically has done six drama and six comedy pilots. This cycle, the network already has ordered live-action comedy series, Carla aka Miranda, starring Mayim Bialik, and animated comedy series, Housebroken, starring Lisa Kudrow, for next season, so its comedy needs are more limited. Fox could order four or five drama pilots during pilot season, but if some of the scripts are not ready, the network will delay the pickups. (Among dramas, Cleaning Lady has been heating up.)
“We’re going to order a couple to several drama and comedy pilots in January, but we’re also doing off-cycle,” Fox Entertainment President Michael Thorn told Deadline this month. “We’re not going to do all of our ordering in January; our hope is to be completely off-cycle.”
Early in the traditional broadcast pilot season, there are more series orders than previous years.
Fox has Carla and Housebroken, CBS has drama The Lincoln Lawyer, NBC has the Tina Fey-Robert Carlock LA Mayor comedy series and Young Rock, featuring Dwayne Johnson. And the CW last week gave straight-to-series orders to Superman & Lois and Walker.
The networks committed to some of these are straight-to-series orders in order to land a project in a competitive situation. But in some cases, the networks also might have had the possibility of a writers strike in mind. Early series pickups will allow for most — if not all — scripts from the initial order to be written ahead of a potential work stoppage.
CBS is expected to pick up about seven drama and seven comedy pilots, on par with last season’s 16 as the network has The Lincoln Lawyer series and the Chuck Lorre-produced comedy pilot United States of Al, which was ordered off-cycle. So far this month, CBS has picked up drama pilot Clarice, a sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. Among those being tipped about for a possible green light is another well known title, Equalizer, with Queen Latifah.
NBC is eyeing a similar haul, in line with last year’s 14 pilots. It might go a little lighter on the comedy side because it has the LA Mayor and Young Rock series, as well as The Kenan Show held over from this season. The network’s pilot orders include drama Debris and La Brea and comedy Night School, with dramas Langdon and Echo said to be among those pending.
With two series orders, for Superman & Lois and Walker, and two backdoor pilots, an Arrow spinoff and The 100 prequel, the CW network is expected to order fewer pilots than usual, around four. The network also recently renewed all 13 of its current scripted series that are not ending this season.
For detailed pilot listings and the latest pilot season news, visit Deadline’s Pilot Panic section.