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:
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 …
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 …
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 …