Ken Levine gives us a primer in how TV really works.
by Ken Levine
This week is the Upfronts, when the major networks are announcing their fall schedules to much hoopla and ice mountains of shrimp. Of the hundreds of pilots that had been commissioned, only a select few have made it to the promised land. My heartiest congratulations to the winners. I’ve always maintained that for the producers of pilots, when you get the news that your show has been picked up or your show has not been picked up, the reaction is the same. “Oh shit!” Now the work really begins for the lucky ones and there’s great disappointment for the losers.
In a business model that has about a 90% failure rate, you would think the best hedge against defeat would be to air only the very best shows creatively. But the truth is, the quality of the product is only one factor and in many cases, not even the primary one.
Let’s look at some other reasons shows get series orders:
Guaranteed commitments to producers or talent. In a bidding war, Michael J. Fox got a firm 22 on-the-air last year from NBC. It didn’t take 22 episodes to see that the public had rejected that show. If Chuck Lorre has a pilot, you can almost bet it’ll get on the schedule (although you can also bet it will be one of the best pilots in contention).
Network need. Are they looking to do more or less comedy? Are they looking for a companion piece for a certain show? Which project is most capable? The subject matter of your pilot could well determine your pick up, not quality.