What do American Idol, Dancing With the Stars, Survivor, Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, Hell’s Kitchen, Big Brother, So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent and Wipeout have in common? They are broadcast TV’s biggest reality franchises of the past decade. And they all launched in the summer. Summer used to be a time for the networks to try out innovative reality formats that had never been done on the Big 4 broadcast nets (ballroom dancing or singing competitions, shows about castaways on an island or strangers locked in a house) or had been gone from primetime for a long time (game shows). Now the broadcast networks are throwing on retreads of over-exposed formats from June through August, so it’s no surprise that nothing has stuck since Wipeout launched on ABC in June 2008. A slew of newcomers came and went over the past three months: ABC’s Expedition Impossible, Take the Money & Run, Karaoke Battle USA and 101 Ways To Leave a Game Show; CBS’ Same Name, NBC’s Love In the Wild and the similar It’s Worth What?; and Buried Treasure on Fox. The only new offering on broadcast to show a pulse this summer was ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, helped by a solid lead-in and the fact that it is an offshoot of a popular franchise. Things looked as bleak on the scripted side, with ABC’s Combat Hospital, Fox’s sketch comedy In the Flow With Affion Crockett and NBC’s burnoff Love Bites barely registering.
UPDATED: For a third straight year, AFTRA is dominating the broadcast pilot season by representing about 90% of the pilots. Of the 79 pilots ordered by the 5 broadcast nets, 69 are being covered by AFTRA, with one other still TBD.
Those that I have confirmed to be SAG-affiliated are NBC’s Wonder Woman reboot from David E. Kelley, the network’s Broadway-centric Smash, period Western The Crossing and the untitled Whitney Cummings comedy. Also SAG-represented are ABC’s comedy Suburgatory and Fox’s drama Exit Strategy, which has strong feature pedigree – director Antoine Fuqua and star Ethan Hawke. Also in the SAG column are 2 other drama pilots directed by big-name feature directors, ABC’s Phillip Noyce-helmed Revenge and CBS’ untitled Susannah Grant medical drama directed by Jonathan Demme. And, because Fox’s dramedy Bones is done under a SAG agreement, its planted spinoff The Finder automatically goes with SAG.
Once again Sony Pictures TV went 100% AFTRA, with the other studios doing only a handful projects with SAG: UMS (3), Warner Bros. TV & 20th Century Fox TV (2), ABC Studios & CBS TV Studios (1).
The shift from SAG, once the dominant actors union in broadcast primetime, to AFTRA started 2 years ago with the threat of a SAG strike. A strike was avoided and a more moderate leadership of SAG was elected but TV studios stayed with AFTRA, something that has been made possible by the proliferation of digital technology. Only series shot on 35mm have to go with SAG; digitally filmed shows can be SAG- or AFTRA-affiliated. Because the decision on filming equipment is made mainly by the pilot director, it’s often pilots helmed by feature directors who insist on using 35 mm film that get a SAG representation.
AFTRA’s dominant performance during broadcast pilots season in the past 2 years led to a fundamental primetime shift last fall when for the first time AFTRA overtook SAG as the top actors union representing 45 series on the broadcast networks this season vs. 38 for SAG. Of course, with the growing movement for unification within both unions, such separation could soon be rendered irrelevant.
Here is a list of the AFTRA-affiliated broadcast pilots this season:
EXCLUSIVE: The broadcast networks are starting to pick up drama and comedy pilots for next fall. But who will cast them? I hear no deal with casting directors for the pilots ordered since the beginning of the year have closed as casting directors and TV studios are in a bitter standoff. The issue at hand is who will pay for casting directors’ assistants and associates, with casting directors demanding that the studio pick up the tab. I hear in the past TV studios would sometimes cover those costs on a case-to-case basis but this time, casting directors have banded together to demand that this becomes a standard industry-wide practice. The TV studios have refused, and the two sides are now at a standstill.
In 2005, the film and TV casting directors became unionized, joining the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. So I hear the teamsters have now gotten involved in the conflict and are meeting with the studios. “It will be very interesting,” one talent agent said. The timing of the action seems carefully chosen as it jeopardizes the broadcast networks’ pilot season, the most intense production period on the TV calendar. Some 80+ pilots are cast from January to March every year by the broadcast networks and delaying the start of that process could wreak havoc in the networks’ upfront plans. (The last time the networks’ pilot season was pushed was during the 2007-08 writers strike, with some networks, like CBS …
An old tradition is coming back – HRTS said today that it will hold its first luncheon with the heads of the broadcast networks in 3 years. HRTS president Kevin Beggs said that he has an agreement in principle with the 5 broadcast nets for the October event. Once a staple of the TV media scene, the luncheon was scrapped in 2008 when NBC attempted to book EVP Teri Weinberg instead of co-chairman Ben Silverman, leading to pushback from the other networks.
Also today, HRTS announced its schedule of events for the coming season, which opens tomorrow with “A Conversation With…Chase Carey” at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, followed by the broadcast chiefs, The Hitmakers- Scripted in December, The Cable Chiefs in March, The Hitmakers – Reality in April and The State of the Industry – First Amendment Throwdown in June. HRTS is making the First Amendment luncheon its flagship event for the season, and plans to invite top personalities from different sides, including Fox News.
Beggs, President of Lionsgate TV has been re-elected for a second term as HRTS president; Sarah Timberman, Principal, Timberman/Beverly Productions, as VP; Sean Perry, Co-Department Head of Alternative Television, WME Entertainment, as Secretary and Martha Henderson, EVP & Manager, Entertainment Division, City National Bank, re-elected as Treasurer. New HRTS board members are Leigh Brecheen, Partner, Bloom Hergott Diemer Rosenthal LaViolette Feldman Schenkman & Goodman, LLP; Ian Moffit, SVP, Programming & Content Strategy, BBC Worldwide Productions; and David Nevins, President, Entertainment, Showtime Networks, Inc.
Procedurals are largely out of favor at the broadcast networks this development season with one exception, medical dramas. The two major networks that don’t have medical franchises, NBC and CBS, were aggressive in the genre last season, each launching 2 new medical series, Trauma and Mercy (NBC) and Three Rivers and Miami Medical (CBS). With none of them making it to Season 2, the two nets are back at it, actively pursuing medical dramas. I don’t think it was a coincidence that both networks went after a medical drama pitch recently taken out by Privileged creator Rina Mimoun, which ultimately landed at CBS with a put pilot commitment.
Overall, CBS, the traditional home for procedurals during the past decade, is said to be the most open to such pitches, which, in most castes, have to have strong character(s) at the center. Meanwhile, I hear the other networks are staying away from cop shows with the explanation that there are too many of them already on.
Big event-type serialized series are a hot commodity with almost all networks said to be looking for the next 24 or Lost (in case NBC’s upcoming The Event ain’t it.)
Primetime soaps and Southern shows are also hot this year as are dramas with strong female leads. I hear NBC is interested in soaps (remember Titans?!) while Fox and CBS are very high on female-lead shows.
NBC, which has only single-camera comedies on the air, is actively pursuing multi-camera sitcoms as it’s going for a balanced single/multi comedy …
It’s like broadcast TV industry’s version of a hangover. It’s already August, the marketplace should be bustling with business but only a few pitches have trickled in so far. “We’re very late this year,” a network topper tells me. Why is that? Some point to the last selling season which was so long and bruising, by the end of it everyone felt exhausted. “We all took a collective break,” one top TV lit agent says. Also, there are a lot of new scripted series — 38 — picked up by the broadcast nets for next season, almost 60% more than the 24 new series ordered last year. That, coupled with the increased volume of original series on cable, made fewer writers available to develop this year. A non-writing producer told me he has never gotten so many “not available” answers from TV lit agents when inquiring about writers.
What’s more, I hear the major studios this year don’t allow writers staffed on first-year shows to develop. The general practice had been for scribes working on new series where they would be paid as much as $40,000-$50,000 an episode to regularly take time off to pitch their own projects or work on drafts of their own pilot scripts. “We don’t want them distracted, we want them focused on those 13 episodes,” a studio head said.
I know what Bono and the broadcast networks will call today’s ruling on FCC’s policy on fleeting expletives by a federal appeals court – “f**king brilliant.” In a major victory for the U.S. broadcasters, the three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal tossed the FCC indecency rules, claiming that it “violates the First Amendment because it is unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here.” The FCC policy was put in place after NBC’s broadcast of the 2003 Golden Globes Awards, in which U2 lead singer Bono used the phrase “f**king brilliant” in his acceptance speech. The FCC said at the time that the F-word in any context “inherently has a sexual connotation” and can lead to enforcement.
Fox challenged the rules after becoming an early victim when the FCC found its 2002 and 2003 Billboard Awards broadcasts violated the new policy with profanity use onstage by Cher and Nicole Richie. The network was obviously pleased by today’s ruling. “We have always felt that the government’s position on fleeting expletives was unconstitutional,” it said in a statement. Who wasn’t happy? Conservative watchdog Parent’s Television Coincil. “For parents and families around the country, this ruling is nothing less than a slap in their face,” PTC president Tim Winter said.