Coronavirus: As Almost All Broadcast Pilots Shut Down, Who’s Left, What’s Next & Will Bubble Shows Get A Boost?

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This story is a followup to Pilot Season 2020 In Turmoil Due To Coronavirus As Pilots Get Pushed published Friday morning. 

When the dust settled Friday night after two days of dozens of production shutdowns and postponements coming at a frantic pace amid deepening coronavirus crisis, there were just a couple broadcast pilots left standing.

As Deadline reported over the past 24 hours, Universal Television and Disney TV Studios both grounded all of their in-season pilots in one fell swoop. CBS TV Studios pushed their drama pilots Thursday night, making the same decision on the comedy side on Friday, while Warner Bros. TV, which, as an indie, has the most network partners, made individual decisions on projects throughout the day Friday.

Thomas Middleditch
Koury Angelo

Here is where things stand as of Friday Night. Out of about 55 broadcast pilots (excluding straight-to-series orders), only one has been completed, the CBS/WBTV multi-camera comedy B Positive, from Chuck Lorre and Marco Pennette. The project, starring Thomas Middleditch and Annaleigh Ashford, already had been garnering strong early buzz for a series pickup before it found itself as a sole contender at the moment.

There are a handful of pilots that were already filming when the shutdowns started yesterday, Of them two dramas, the CW/WBTV’s Kung Fu and NBC/20th TV’s Ordinary Joe starring James Wolk, had their production suspended Friday.

Two other pilots continue filming with the intention to finish production, Fox comedy This Country, produced by Lionsgate, and the CW/WBTV drama The Lost Bays, a reimagining of the cult classic movie.

What is in store for the pilots that have been pushed? I hear the networks have relayed to producers that they intend to make the pilots but industry sources I spoke with are prepared for that stance to change, especially if the production delay is longer than a couple of weeks.

If the explosion of new coronavirus cases is not curbed anytime soon, the broadcast networks will likely reassess their pilot slates. They had already identified projects for potential series pickup, like CBS’ The Lincoln Lawyer, which has a series commitment, and CBS’ Clarice and ABC’s Rebel, which I hear have already set up writers rooms. We may see backup script orders for some pilots next week.

Katie Yu/The CW

Additionally, there are more than usual straight-to-series orders at the broadcast networks for next season, including drama The Big Sky at ABC, comedies L.A. Mayor starring Ted Danson and Young Rock featuring Dwayne Johnson (plus holdover The Keenan Show) at NBC, comedy Call Me Kat starring Mayim Bialik at Fox, and dramas Walker starring Jarred Padalecki and Superman & Lois at the CW. (Fox also has animated comedy series Housebroken on deck for next season.)

A number of them, including Call Me Kat, The Big Sky and Superman & Lois, were planning to film a pilot episode during pilot season, take a break to assess it before starting series production. I hear most of the shows will now go straight to series production.

Between the projects with firm and blinking series orders, the networks have enough of a cushion to reduce their dependance on pilots. Some observers believe that in the end, the networks won’t necessarily make all pilots ordered this season, with the probability rising the longer the delay lasts. (They will pay off everyone involved.)

If the eight-week mark is crossed, all bets are off. This is when networks can enforce the force majeure contract clause and drop any project with no penalty.


Likely benefitting in all this are the bubble series The uncertainty over the crop of 2020 pilot makes shows, which are on the fence for renewal, more attractive.

The broadcast networks already have been growing more patient every year in sticking with more middling series with established following because replacing them with new shows involves big launch-related marketing costs and often leads to similar ratings.

By default, bubble series are left in limbo until May when they are measured up against the new pilots in an either/or situation. With the pilots in limbo this year, the incumbents may win by a walkover.


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