After a lengthy screening and decision-making process for their two pilots Longmire and Big Mike, A&E brass just passed on one of them, Big Mike. No official decision has been made on Longmire yet, but buzz on the project starring Matrix standout Robert Taylor has been strong, and I hear that A&E is leaning heavily toward picking it up to series. Based on the Walt Longmire Mystery series of novels by Craig Johnson, Longmire is named after its central character, Walt Longmire (Taylor), the charismatic, dedicated and unflappable sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyo. Widowed only a year, he is a man in psychic repair but buries his pain behind his brave face, unassuming grin and dry wit. Co-starring in the Warner Horizon-produced pilot, which was directed by Chris Chulack, are Katee Sackhoff, Lou Diamond Phillips, Bailey Chase and Cassidy Freeman. Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny wrote the project and are executive producing with Greer Shephard and Mike Robin. The Sony TV/Happy Madison-produced Big Mike, written by Ed Decter and John Strauss and directed by Paris Barclay, starred Greg Grunberg as a plus-size detective with the San Diego Police Department. A&E recently renewed Breakout Kings for a second season, with its other scripted series, The Glades, also appearing on track for a third-season renewal.
The marathon pilot screenings at the broadcast networks are in full force. While they are rarely the deciding factor in the networks’ final series pickup decisions, they help solidify early standouts’ frontrunner positions and sometimes breathe life into pilots that might have been written off too soon. Here are some …
EXCLUSIVE: Hope Davis is set to star opposite Tea Leoni in HBO’s half-hour comedy pilot Spring/Fall. Jake Kasdan has come on board to direct the project, which is set in New York City against the backdrop of the fashion world and centers on the dysfunctional partnership between Margo (Leoni) and Eden (Davis), two women with different approaches to career, family and friendship. Margo is a successful designer and a happily married mother of 5-year-old twins working for famous fashion designer Victor Cross. When he commits suicide, Margo takes over his line and quickly realizes she’s in over her head, so she reaches out to her estranged former best friend and collaborator Eden, a onetime famous fashion designer herself, and convinces her to come work for her.
In August, New York State’s Film Production Tax Credit Program was extended and expanded to $420 million per year. Several months later, pilot production in the Big Apple is back in a big way. Nine broadcast drama pilots are filming there now, including such high-profile entries as NBC’s Prime Suspect and Smash, ABC’s Pan Am and CBS’ Susannah Grant. That is up from zero last year. (The pilot for CBS’ New York-set Blue Bloods only shot some footage there.) The giant leap puts New York almost on par with the traditional location leader, Los Angeles, which houses 11 of the 42 drama pilots ordered by the broadcast networks this season. That extends the continuous decline of the number of drama pilots shot in L.A. over the past decade. (Last year, 14 of the 43 broadcast drama pilots were filmed in there.) But with virtually all comedy pilots shooting in Los Angeles this season (ABC’s Bad Mom is the only one filming elsewhere, in Orlando), and the overall number of broadcast pilots creeping down every year, the percentage of all broadcast pilots (drama and comedy) produced in L.A. this year, 60%, was up a tick for a second straight year (59% in 2010, 57% in 2009).
Meanwhile, fewer pilots, six, are being filmed north of the border this year (a seventh, Fox’s Alcatraz, shot in San Francisco and Vancouver). Last year, that number was nine. The most dramatic reverse of the runaway production trend is at the CW, which traditionally films pilots and series in Canada. Last season, the network shot five of its six pilots in Canada and one in Thailand. This year, half of its six pilots are being produced in the U.S., with the others in Canada. For the bigger-budget drama pilots at the Big Four networks, shooting in Canada this year is tied mostly to creating elaborate settings, like the magical worlds in ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s 17th Precinct and 1840s Boston in ABC’s Poe.
Part of the reason for more TV studio executives to consider keeping drama pilot production in the U.S. is that the current currency exchange rate makes production in Canada less appealing than in years past. But also key are tax incentives offered in the states. On a standard hourlong pilot budget of $3 million, 10%-25% in tax rebates represents a nice saving. For instance, two of the three CW pilots shooting in the U.S., Hart of Dixie and Cooper & Stone, are being produced in states with tax incentives, North Carolina and Illinois. The locations also happen to fit the settings of the shows, which producers always wish for but only get when economics allow.
The Illinois incentives put in place by ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich made Chicago the hottest pilot location last year with five projects filmed there: dramas Ride-along (now The Chicago Code), A.T.F., Pleading Guilty and Matadors and comedy Friends with Benefits. This year, that number is two, both shows set in the Windy City: NBC drama pilot Playboy and CW’s Cooper & Stone. Other pilots whose setting and filming location match this season include Fox’s Bones spinoff The Finder (Miami), NBC’s Prime Suspect and Smash (New York) and ABC’s Good Christian Bitches (Dallas).
Part of a series that takes an analytical look at the current broadcast pilot season and some of its trends and heroes.
Once upon a time, there was a pilot season ruled by classic fairy tales and characters, real-life stories and books, with a dash of iconic brands and foreign …