TV Pilot Season: Lack of Cancellations May Impact Volume

The broadcast networks still have a deep bench of unscheduled fare as a crowded roster may affect the number of pickups.
John Medland/ABC
ABC's 'Conviction' is one of many freshman shows that hasn't been cancelled but didn't score a back-episode pickup.

The lack of cancellations this season is starting to create a logjam for broadcast networks as Pilot Season 2017 gets firmly underway.

As the ratings barometer to determine success continues to sink (a 1.0 in the demo frequently is celebrated), none of the five broadcast networks pulled a show off the air, and that has created a traffic jam for midseason with many shows still awaiting a slot on the schedule.

To that point, ABC has yet to schedule Allison Tolman comedy Downward Dog and Shondaland drama Still Star-Crossed (which is expected to land a new title), while NBC has a bench awaiting premiere dates that includes season three of The Carmichael Show, rookie drama Midnight, Texas and first-year comedy Marlon as well as veteran The Night Shift (with the latter expected to run in the summer).

"I think everyone is trying to be more disciplined in their approach to volume [with respect to] pilots," Universal Television president Pearlena Igbokwe tells The Hollywood Reporter. "I also find the restraint when it comes to cancellations to be refreshing. It's expensive and daunting to launch new shows. If a show doesn't explode out of the gate but has potential, it's worth it for networks to stick with it a little longer and make an investment."

With many pilot orders expected to come in this week, network and studio executives are expecting overall volume to be either on par or down year-over-year from last season's tally, which saw the broadcast networks collectively order 88 new dramas and comedies to pilot. That was up three year-over-year from 2015 when ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW collectively picked up 85 — and down 10 from 2014 (which itself was down from 100 in 2013).

As the bar for success becomes invisible, many networks are starting to be more mindful about the increasing costs associated with casting and filming a pilot. On the low end, many pilots carry a $1 million price tag — more if top talent is attached. The costs associated with launching a new show — including promotions and advertising — continue to rise given the challenges of breaking through in a crowded scripted landscape with more than 450 originals on broadcast, cable, premium and streaming services. 

ABC Entertainment Group president Channing Dungey tells THR that she's expecting the Disney-owned network to have fewer comedy pilot pickups because so many of their half-hours are working (see rookies Speechless as well as American Housewife and veterans Fresh Off the Boat, Modern Family, The Goldbergs and Black-ish). Notes ABC Studios president Patrick Moran: "We definitely have an abundance of riches at ABC, especially with our new comedies working so well."   

Also problematic is the later start for midseason shows such as Time After Time and Making History (March 5), The Catch (March 9), Imaginary Mary (March 29) and Great News (April 25), among others, as networks hold their collective breath waiting to see if they have a breakout. (Remember, Scandal and Empire both were midseason breakout hits.)

"We have to wait and see but they could very well be summer; we have to see what April and May bring," NBC's Bob Greenblatt tells THR of the unscheduled Marlon and Midnight, Texas, adding that both — along with Carmichael Show — could air in the summer.

CBS' Glenn Geller expects close to the same volume as last year (17) — with maybe an additional drama or two as the network's overall pilot haul has declined year-over-year for the past three years.

"We have such a stable schedule and we've picked up five of the six fall series for full back orders, so we're having a good season," Geller tells THR. "We have a few holes to fill and have a few midseason shows coming up, so we'll see how those do."

In the meantime, here's a look at network volume over the past few years:

Network         2016    2015    2014    2013    2012                           

ABC                  24        25        27        24        24
CBS                  17        18        19        23        16
Fox                   19        15        16        16        16
The CW             6          4           6          8          8
NBC                  22        23        27        27        23      

Totals               88       85        95         98        87

Keep track of the latest news and castings at THR.com/PilotSeason and bookmark THR's handy guide.

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