“You can write what you know, love, and believe in, or you can write what you can sell.”
Old Hollywood writer saying.
Here’s what you can sell.
This week anyway:
by Lesley Goldberg
“Think Empire …” That is how dozens of pitches for new TV shows have begun this development season. “You name it, we’ve probably heard it,” jokes one network exec, who rattles off examples including a “Latina Empire” and “Empire set at a winery.” But the deluge of Empire offshoots isn’t the only theme to emerge this season, which is off to another late start as networks still are vying for several projects well into the fall. As the broadcast nets look to populate their pipelines with projects that can cut through in an increasingly crowded landscape, This American Life‘s popular Serial podcast has supplanted Homeland as the frequently touted thriller archtype being pitched around town. Not unlike their film studio counterparts, network execs also are relying heavily on big stars, big titles and a seemingly never-ending string of reboots. With the annual buying season heading into its final stretch and sellers looking to wrap up their business before the end of October, here are five of the bigger trends.
1. The Empire Effect
Ever since Lee Daniels and Danny Strong‘s hip-hop take on Dynasty became broadcast’s biggest hit earlier this year, the Big Four have been looking to put a soapy spin on, well, pretty much anything. “On a creative level, the drama headline is ‘Soaps, Soaps and More Soaps,’ ” confirms Universal Television president Bela Bajaria. “Buyers really wanted to buy in that genre, and a lot of writers wanted to write it.” Among the projects in development: CBS’ Genes, a high-concept medical soap from an unproduced screenplay by the late Michael Crichton (ER); NBC’s funeral home musical soap from Jason Katims (Parenthood), Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Smash); and ABC’s Baghdad-circa-2004-set soap produced by Shonda Rhimes.
2. More High-Concept Comedies
Fox’s big swing on Will Forte‘s The Last Man on Earth drew critical raves and a large enough audience earlier this year, prompting a wave of similarly high-concept comedies now in development. “Everyone wants their version of that,” notes one lit agent. Proof: Fox and ABC found themselves in a heated bidding war that required personal outreach from ABC’s Paul Leeand Fox’s Dana Walden for a comedy about a talking dog (ABC won the project, Downward Dog).