I’ve been fascinated by TV pilots since I was a kid (and even wrote several books about them). One thing I’ve learned is that almost everybody in the business agrees that making pilots is a deeply flawed, inefficent, outrageously expensive way to create TV series and that the system needs to be changed.
The Entertainment Industry Development
Corporation reports that 131 pilots were made last season at a cost of $365 million. Of those pilots, maybe 40 got picked up. Of those 4o
series, maybe three or four will survive the season.
Insane, isn’t it?
So, naturally, the Canadians think it would be a great idea to imitate our system.
According to the latest issue of Canadian Screenwriter magazine (one of the perks of being a member of Writers Guild of Canada), the state-supported Canadian Broadcasting Company is "shifting its development process to pilots." Here’s their thinking:
"(The U.S. networks) pilot a lot of things that never make it to air," says Kristine Layfield, the CBC’s executive director of network programming. "We’re going to have a lot better ratio of shows that actually make it because we’re hoping that if we’re putting more money, time and effort into the development process, by the time you get to pilot, that pilot has much more than a one-in-ten chance."
With all due respect, she is deluding herself. Does she really think we don’t put enough time, money and effort into the development process? We spent $365 million! What’s incredible is that instead of learning from our mistakes, the Canadians want to repeat them.
No wonder the Canadian TV business is virtually non-existent.
10 thoughts on “Canadian Logic, eh”
It would make more sense for the Canadians to take after the British, since many of our shows are modeled after shows that they originated.
Is there a consensus as to what the outrageously expensive, inefficient system needs to be changed to?
I blame Guyot.
“”One thing I’ve learned is that almost everybody in the business agrees that making pilots is a deeply flawed, inefficent, outrageously expensive way to create TV series and that the system needs to be changed.””
No truer statement has ever been typed.
In response to Keith’s question, I’d say the very first thing to do is stop throwing huge amounts of money at big name writers/directors/actors.
Hollywood, despite being proven wrong every season, still thinks that simply having a big name attached to something will make it a hit.
I would also eliminate the multiple levels of “creative” executives involved in developing pilots. They tend to only stifle the creativity.
If the networks and studios developed fewer projects, and made story the major focus, it will not only save money, but result in better content.
So many pilots these days are made because of the deal. A good deal is now more important in Hollywood than a good story, or good movie, or good series. Bruckheimer was just given an ON-AIR commitment for a show and he has nothing other than a logline. No outline, no script, nothing but an idea.
And it’s going on the air. Not just a pilot being shot, but a show on the air. Because he’s Jerry. It will most likely fail, and result in millions being spent for no other reason than his name.
Don’t shoot pilots. If you don’t have enough faith in the project to order the series based on the script, the director, the producer, and the other talent attached, you shouldn’t make it anyway. Stage a reading if you’re worried about the chemistry of the cast or, at most most, shoot a scene or two. Pilots are an obscene waste of money…unless you shoot them as two-hours that can be aired as TV movies and as features in syndication and home video. But networks don’t want to pay for two-hour pilots anymore.
“Don’t shoot pilots. If you don’t have enough faith in the project to order the series based on the script, the director, the producer, and the other talent attached, you shouldn’t make it anyway.”
Does anybody do it that way?
Change the whole idea of ‘pilot season’ around to mean that every month is pilot month. Develop material for airing throughout the year instead of just in fall when all the new shows are crammed together. More money is wasted because they have to have “something in the can” by a certain date.
More (and more diverse) shows with fewer episodes.
Develop alternate financing models instead of just network/cable. Culver Entertainment should go a long way toward pushing the alternative as they are developing tv shows for premiere on DVD.
Put “failed” pilots up on YouTube and the like and look at the numbers. Is there opportunity there? A “Pilot Playhouse”? Seemed to work for Bravo and Trio as they received good press and numbers (for a cable outlet) when they aired “failed” pilots.
Bring in marketing partners (ala’ “brought to you by Ford”) to offset the costs of development and production.
Rethink existing properties the studio already owns all of the rights to, and has an existing audience for, and bring in talent to develop it (The Battlestar Galactica model).
Test loglines and concepts first with test audiences before pursuing scripts and production. “Cull the herd” earlier in the process. Don’t waste time “making a bad idea good” just because some star is attached.
Unfortunately, a lot of what Bill is suggesting already happens with zero results.
“Pilot season” now really only means the shooting of pilots, which occurs early in the year for most of the networks. But Fox and all the cable nets develop year round.
A little late to the party, but in a small, quiet defense of the US system – even though a lot of pilots are shot because of ‘deals’ or star obligations…there are also a lot made with some really talented people/teams. With big names. With a solid concept that have been well developed and so on. Those could be considered money well spent. Whether they catch on as shows or not is a completely different animal.
What the CBC/Layfield is saying is either stupid or naive or arrogant, perhaps all three.