Pilot Tape Crackdown

The networks announce their fall schedules in a week or two and, usually, around this time tapes of the various pilots under consideration start floating around town. But this season, that has changed. Variety reports that studios are cracking down on the practice. The studios are getting so tight with tapes, even the producers of the pilots have a hard time getting screeners of their own shows.

"It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen," said one insider at a major
tenpercentery. "You hear rumors of execs telling assistants they could go to
jail if they leak something out."

Another said he can’t even get his hands on his own network’s tapes, at least
prior to the pilot’s official screening.  Studios and nets always make noises about not wanting tapes to be traded with
other studios or nets. So why are the rules actually being enforced this year?

Some trace it back to a dictate from top brass at 20th Century Fox TV, who
laid down the law last month when early copies of a couple of the studio’s
pilots started floating around town — even before the networks where the shows
are set up had had a chance to formally screen them.  Others speculate that Leslie Moonves’ control of Paramount Television has
further restricted the free flow of tapes. Moonves insists on a strict cone of
silence surrounding the development process at his units.

As frustrating as the crackdown has been for some, one studio exec said it’s
necessary in a world where "there’s a tremendous incentive for agents to try to
create a bad buzz" about projects with which they’re not associated.

"When you have people who’ve seen tapes calling network execs and saying, ‘Do
you really like that?,’ it starts to have an impact on your project," the
exec said.

One agent admitted he’s guilty of spreading bad buzz. "Everyone talks shit
about everyone’s pilot," he said.

I wonder if the crackdown will be as strongly enforced after the schedules are announced. Usually, tapes of  busted pilots start floating around town during the summer and you get a chance to see what didn’t  make the schedule and why. 

Last season, I was eager to get my hands on the Lost in Space pilot directed by John Woo and had a hell of a time tracking down a tape through my usual sources (When you’ve written a book on unsold pilots, and filmed two TV specials about’em, you have lots of sources). But once I did get the tape and put it in the VCR I could see why WB wanted to bury it.  It was horrendous, misguided, and stupid.  (I’m still trying to get a copy of The Time Tunnel revival pilot).

Many years ago, I really wanted to see the Stephen J. Cannell-produced  Hawaii Five-O  pilot starring Gary Busey and Russell Wong. But it was done for CBS, and Moonves is notorious about keeping his busted pilot under lock-and-key.  It took me a year or so, but I finally scored a tape from someone who made me promise not to tell anyone where I got it for fear that Moonves would crush him. It wasn’t so bad…but it wasn’t so good, either.

5 thoughts on “Pilot Tape Crackdown”

  1. I couldn’t get copies of my OWN pilot from WB while we were editing! Every copy had to, not only be signed out of the editing, but BEFORE the tape/DVD was allowed to leave, the editor had to then check with WB brass to see if the person signing was worthy of seeing the tape.
    I was out of LA for the cut that went to the network and when I asked editing for a copy they said WB informed them that nobody – including me and Cannell both – were allowed to take copies out of the editing bay.
    I had to finally call Peter Roth (head of WB Television) and tell him I needed to see the cut in order to take the network notes. He then had to call WB’s Gestapo pilot tape department and tell them it was okay to send the writer a copy of his own pilot.

  2. Lee,
    I have the Time Tunnel pilot you mention and I have to say I liked it. There were moments in it where you are about to die from the syrupy emotion, but overall I would have liked to have seen more – especially if it was going in the direction I think it was and Doug Phillips would learn more about what his life was really like before the mysterious “240”. I understand they are now going to revamp that pilot and make it more like the original show where they are trapped in time.

  3. Yeah Bill, I have to agree with you, it was a well executed premise. Doug’s previous life would’ve been interesting to learn about. I’m kinda sad that they aren’t going to explore that more…


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