TV Pilot Season 2018: Multicamera Sitcoms, "Time's Up" Influencing Early Orders

Murphy Brown S01 Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Photofest

Murphy Brown S01 Still - H 2015

Off to another late start, Pilot Season 2018 is through its first week-plus of pickups and a few early trends have already started to emerge.

With 58 dramas and comedies already picked up among the broadcast networks (including five straight-to-series orders), a push for multicamera fare, women behind and in front of the camera, and a demand for the familiar highlight the early trends as pickups inch beyond the halfway point.

Here's a closer look at the early trends that could shape the 2018-19 broadcast season.

Multicamera Comedies Are Back

Less than a year after veteran multicamera?comedies Last Man Standing2 Broke Girls and The Carmichael Show saw cancellations, the format is making a resurgence.

With NBC’s Will & Grace revival connecting with viewers (and awards voters) and ABC’s Roseanne still to come, multicam comedy orders already are nearing a seven-year high halfway through the broadcast pilot season as the Big Four look for the next Big Bang Theory. Fifteen of the 21 comedies ordered to pilot or series at press time are multicam, compared with just seven of last year’s 33 comedy pilots.

Among this year’s big multicam swings are two straight-to-series pickups: ABC’s Kenya Barris family ?comedy starring Alec Baldwin and CBS’ recently announced Murphy Brown reboot with Candice Bergen. CBS, home to what could be the final season of TV’s No. 1 comedy, Big Bang, continues to ?bet on the format, with multicams representing all seven of its half-hour orders (more than double from last year). And NBC could be looking for a companion to Will & Grace, which scored an early renewal, as four of the network's five half-hours are multicams (versus two last season). “Broadcast networks are struggling to find hits and multicams are low cost,” says one lit agent of the genre that’s faster to produce than single-cams and less expensive, a boon in an era of dwindling viewership and ad dollars. “Multicams are still a cash cow if they’re a hit.”

#MeToo and the "Time's Up" Movements Are Having a Big Impact, On- and Offscreen

The #MeToo and "Time’s Up" movements are making an impact as dramas and comedies with female-fronted leads are all the rage. Among them: ABC is remaking 1970s detective series Get Christie Love, still one of the few dramas to feature a black female protagonist, as well as The Greatest American Hero, this time with  an Indian-American woman at its center; The CW ?is making a “feminist” version of Charmed while CBS is rebooting Cagney & Lacey. Female scribes are behind all of those and more, having written or co-written 26 of the 58 pilots ordered thus far this season. As the lit agent sums up: "There are two trends this pilot season: female-led shows and more multicams."

Reboots Are Still a Thing

As originals are poised to top 500 this year, all five broadcast networks are again looking to proven intellectual property in a bid to cut through the increasingly cluttered scripted landscape that counts deep-pocketed new arrival Apple, among others, competing for top writers and stars. Among this year's crop of reboots: Get Christie Love and Greatest American Hero at ABC; Cagney & Lacey, Murphy Brown and Magnum P.I. at CBS; a Bad Boys spinoff at NBC; and Charmed and Roswell at The CW, which also has a female-driven spinoff of Supernatural in Wayward Sisters. Of these, only Murphy Brown has a lock to get on the air (with a 13-episode straight-to-series order).

Volume Could Be Down (Again)

Last year, a lack of early cancellations impacted overall volume when a total of 73 dramas and comedies were picked up. That was down considerably from 88 in 2016. Thus far, 58 pilots have been greenlighted across the broadcasters (37 dramas and 21 comedies) as the networks continue to refrain from outright cancelling underperforming shows that don't get a back-nine pickup (then there's short-order dramas like Marvel's Inhumans, which was outright rejected and ABC execs refuse to say it is canceled). Most network and studio insiders expect volume to either be down or on par with last season — though there is one surprising exception. Younger-skewing broadcaster The CW set a record with nine overall pickups (including back-door Supernatural spinoff Wayward Sisters).

Networks Continue to Keep Things (Mostly) In-House

The pending Disney-Fox megadeal shows little signs of changing business at either ABC or Fox this pilot season. ABC has bought exclusively from ABC Studios, while all eight of Fox's orders — save for one ABC Studios co-production — have come from 20th Century Fox Television, with the latter studio included in the assets Fox would move to Disney if the $52 billion deal clears regulatory hurdles. NBC has spread the wealth a bit better, with three co-productions (with ABC Studios and CBS Television Studios). As for indies Warner Bros. Television and Sony Pictures Television Studios, the former has pilots at all the broadcast nets but Fox, while the latter has two apiece at CBS and NBC.

Keep up with all the latest pilot orders, castings and eventual series pickups with THR's handy guide

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.