Economic recession be damned — the broadcast networks have been spending like it’s 2007 this year. A slew of bidding wars led to a staggering 9 pilot orders/production commitments and 33 put pilot commitments so far this buying season. Additionally, NBC is eying straight-to-series orders for 2 Bryan Fuller-written dramas: a Munsters reboot and Hannibal, based on the Hannibal Lecter character. With dire needs, new owners willing to invest a lot of money in a turnaround and new management eager to make their mark, NBC has been the most aggressive this buying season. In addition to the likely straight-to-series orders, four of the 9 pilot orders/production commitments so far have been given out by the peacock network: comedy Isabel, inspired by a French Canadian format, and John Scott Shepherd’s comedy Save Me, which are casting, and the J.J. Abrams/Eric Kripke adventure thriller Revolution and crime drama Blue Tilt, written by Chris Brancato and starring Ethan Hawke and Vince D’Onofrio, which have pilot production commitments. The remaining 4 pilot production orders went to Jon Favreau comedy spec Tweaked and a multi-camera workplace comedy from Bill Lawrence and Greg Malins at CBS, multi-camera family comedy The Manzanis starring Kirstie Alley and an untitled Dan Fogelman comedy at ABC and the Mike Royce-penned cast-contingent comedy pilot Little Brother at Fox.
It wasn’t exactly the mass hysteria of summer 2007 when the networks were stockpiling in the face of a potential writers strike, but the level of urgency this season came pretty close. “(NBC) got cash, (ABC) got competitive against that cash, and we took the bait,” Fox’s entertainment president Kevin Reilly said at the HRTS luncheon last month. “We all think we were played a little bit.” Indeed, there were a number of projects, especially on the comedy side, that had NBC, ABC and Fox bidding aggressively against each other. How aggressive was ABC this season, which marked the first full development cycle for the network’s topper Paul Lee? It shelled out some 10 put pilot commitments, more than any other network. And that is despite the fact that a large portion of ABC’s development comes from sister studio ABC Studios where the vast majority of sales have no penalties attached as the transaction involves moving money from one pocket to another. Fox and CBS are not far behind with 9 put pilot commitments each, while NBC has 5, through it more than made up the difference with several bigger commitments as well as a slew of script sales with penalties attached. Part of the reason for the staggering amount of put pilot commitments this season is the devaluation of the term, which once applied to penalties of $1 million but is now used for penalties as low as $500,000 and sometimes even lower. The rest was fierce competition, especially between NBC and ABC. Both networks bought more projects than they did last year. NBC got second wind a month or so ago when the network’s brass reportedly evaluated their slate and decided that it was lacking in some areas.
As I have noted ad nauseam, this has been the season of comedy. Long before the genre’s red-hot fall with breakout hits New Girl, 2 Broke Girls and Suburgatory and solid performer Last Man Standing, the networks went aggressively after the genre, which ended up eclipsing drama in sales this year for the first time in quite awhile. By a recent account (there are a few more comedy projects in play, so the comedy tally is still growing), there have been about 252 comedy and 250 drama sales this year vs. 233 comedy and 269 drama last season. (more…)