After the current broadcast season has failed to produce runaway hits, the networks are going back to the drawing board, with several increasing the number of pilots for next season. The five broadcast networks have ordered a total of 98 pilots (including straight-to-series orders in lieu of pilots) this season, up 14% from last year and close to the highs of just more than 100 pilots in the early 2000s, when we had six broadcast networks. This year’s tally extends an upward trend — 79 pilots in 2011, 86 in 2012 and 98 now. The volume increase this year is driven primarily by NBC and CBS, whose orders went up by double digits vs. last year, while ABC and the CW kept the overall number of pilots the same and Fox picked up only one more. Here is a rundown on the networks needs and picks for next season.
Related: Full Primetime Pilot Panic Listings
CBS is sending confusing signals this pilot season. The company has ordered 23 pilots (12 comedies and 11 dramas) vs. 15 (8 comedies and 7 dramas) last season, a whopping 53% increase. But then CBS Corp chief Les Moonves last week, while noting that the network “ordered a couple of more pilots than in previous years,” suggested that “there aren’t going to be a lot of new shows” on CBS’ schedule for next season. His remarks sent chills up the spines of producers who have pilots at the network. As the most stable broadcast network, CBS is traditionally among the hardest to land a new series on. But this year, with so many pilots for what appear to be very few slots, the odds are even slimmer. Competition is especially fierce on the comedy side, where two spots are likely already penciled in for Chuck Lorre’s Mom and one of Greg Garcia’s two pilots. After flirting with the idea of expanding the Thursday comedy block to two hours last season, CBS ultimately stuck to its current configuration of four comedies on Monday and two on Thursday. But with 12 comedy pilots, the network may add more half-hours to the schedule, on Thursday or another night as four of its existing series — The Big Bang Theory, 2 Broke Girls, How I Met Your Mother and Mike & Molly — are assured to return and CBS also is working on a Two And A Half Men renewal. With so many single-camera comedy pilots, CBS is certain to pick up at least one single-camera comedy series. The question is whether the network will go for a single-camera block or mix a single-camera show with its lineup of multi-camera sitcoms. CBS’ drama needs are limited too. With only a couple of shows facing possible cancellation — CSI: NY, whose end appears very likely, freshman Vegas and maybe The Mentalist — there won’t be many hour holes on CBS’ schedule next fall. Its drama choices are a mix of legal (The Advocates), cop (Beverly Hills Cop, Backstrom) and medical (The Surgeon General) procedurals and a couple of serialized thrillers (Hostages, The Ordained). (more…)