Pilot season in limbo as no production start in sight due to COVID-19

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

April is the time of year when networks begin production on potential pilots for the upcoming television season so they can begin testing them for network approval and possible pickup. This year is a much different beast because all productions have gone dark due to the COVID-19 pandemic and there doesn't seem to be a firm date on when productions can get up and running again. Due to this fact, this year's pilot season is in limbo and networks may have to consider straight-to-series orders sight unseen. 

It has been a month and half since all productions have ceased and while there is a possibility we could be in a quasi-normal situation in the near future, networks have to start making new series orders in May and it's not looking likely that any pilots can start shooting before that deadline. Per "Deadline", decisions are likely not going to be made on every single pilot that the networks were mulling over during the script phase and that only the strongest contenders will be considered based solely on their scripts. This is going to be a dicey move for a lot off networks because some projects are very strong on the page but sometimes the execution isn't on to par for various reasons. It could be due to direction or cast chemistry which is why some pilots don't move forward or they are retooled to meet network approval. Going forward on a pilot based solely on its script is a huge vote of confidence that networks will be very careful about giving out due to the circumstances. 

There are currently only two completed pilots ready for contention and it's a very strong possibility that the networks involved with move forward on them, mostly because they have to. CBS has the pilot B Positive from mega-producer Chuck Lorre that is looking good enough to warrant hires for potential series production. The other pilot is This Country, on Fox. The pilot is not 100% complete but the network has seen a short presentation cut from the very limited amount of film that was completed and they are very pleased with what they have viewed so far.

For pilot scripts that haven't totally won over networks, back-up scripts were ordered as shutdowns began to take place in case they needed more material to make a final decision if filming couldn't take place in time. ABC ordered a second backup script on all of its pilots, while Fox ordered an extra script on some of its choices. CBS and NBC are said to be sticking with their original orders of one additional script per pilot. There are some high-profile pilots that had writers rooms set up before the shutdowns, including CBS’ The Lincoln Lawyer and ABC’s Rebel. This was done so that multiple scripts could be cranked out because the respective networks were strongly considering them for series pickups. Those two pilots, according to reports, are still tracking well.

To go along with the scripts for series consideration, networks are also having their creative teams working on additional materials to strengthen their case for pickup, including bibles and detailed story and character arcs to be presented to the networks along with the scripts. There are also some networks mulling shooting small presentations remotely so it can boast their chances for network approval.

While network TV certainly isn't what it's used to be given he rise of cable and streaming services, it's still a viable outlet for networks and advertisers due to the coveted 18-49 demographic. Pilot season also and the subsequent television season also keeps a lot of people employed, including actors, writers, directors & production crew. Some networks have already made the movie on an online and digital footprint such as The CW, NBC & CBS but other still remain behind that curve so they still put stake in the traditional network TV format. It will be interesting to see how these new series turn out given the fact that most will be approved on blind faith.

Do YOU think network TV will find winners this season despite the circumstances?

Source: Deadline

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