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
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.