TV Pilot Season By the Numbers: Total Volume Plunges

NYPD Blue Dennis Franz - Photofest - H 2018
Courtesy of Photofest

Bucking a trend from the past two years, overall pilot orders at the five broadcast networks is down sharply from 2018.

Collectively, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW ordered 64 new dramas and comedies — including three straight-to-series pickups (two of them animated) — as four of the five broadcast networks have reduced overall volume. As the line between a hit and a miss becomes increasingly hard to define, broadcasters appear poised to allow freshman series time to grow while reducing the investment in pilots — and perhaps, come fall, marketing budgets for new series. 

Thematically, the broadcasters continue to look to reboots, spinoffs, family comedies and light-hearted procedurals to cut through the clutter. In the months to come, they will compete with cable and streaming outlets for top stars as they hope to find the next breakout hit for the 2019-2020 season.

Here's the big-picture snapshot for the year: 

Grand total: 64 (76 in 2018)
Dramas: 36 (45 in 2018)
Comedies: 28 (30 in 2018)
Single-cam: 11 (14 in 2018)
Multicam: 12 (17 in 2018)
Hybrid/animated: 6 (n/a)

Here's a closer look at Pilot Season 2019 by the numbers, including how all the studios fared. But first, here's how overall volume compares with the past few years:

Network 2019   2018     2017      2016    2015    2014    2013    2012                           

ABC         17       23          24         24        25        27        24        24
CBS         16       18          17         17        18        19        23        16
Fox           12       11          13         19        15        16        16        16
The CW     6        9             6           6          4          6          8          8
NBC         14      15           14         22        23        27        27        23      

Totals        65      76           74         88       85        95         98        87

ABC 17 (23 in 2018)

Former Freeform head of originals Karey Burke replaced Channing Dungey as ABC Entertainment president in November and inherited scripts her predecessor picked up. Of those, Burke is making a concerted push to bring women back to the network after ceding the top spot in that demo to NBC. The Disney-owned network also dramatically pulled back its pilot budget as the broadcaster has the biggest year-over-year volume decline. The reduction is split evenly between drama and comedy (four each, with single-cameras absorbing the hit).  

Big swing: It's hard to pick just one as ABC's slate includes reboots of NYPD Blue and New York Undercover, plus a drama inspired by a John Mayer song. (Yes, really.)

Dramas: 9 (13 in 2018)
Comedies: 8 (10 in 2018)
Single-cam: 4 (7 in 2018)
Multicam: 2 (3 in 2018)
Hybrid: 1 (0 in 2018)

CBS 16 (18 in 2018)

In their second pilot season overseeing development, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl and his senior exec vp programming Thom Sherman are sticking with the network's bread-and-butter — with David Nevins also reading scripts after helping to fill the void created by the ouster of CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves. The network's pilot roster is filled with the usual suspects: lawyers, doctors, cops, politicians and … Frankenstein?! Oh wait, Frankenstein is a detective, too. On the comedy side, Chuck Lorre hopes Mike and Molly grad Billy Gardell can help fill the void created by Big Bang Theory's conclusion.

Big swing: The network has at least three likely slam-dunks on its roster: a spinoff of Dick Wolf's freshman procedural FBI, the Lorre comedy and a multicamera comedy starring Patricia Heaton. But we'll go with Detective Frankenstein.

Dramas: 8 (10 in 2018)
Comedies: 8 (8 in 2018)
Single-cam: 0 (0 in 2018)
Multicam: 6 (8* in 2018)
Hybrid: 3 (includes one multi/hybrid mix)
**Two hybrid/multicam

Fox 12 (11 in 2018)

Judging by the volume and division of pilot orders, things appear to be business as usual for the broadcast network. But new Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier is on the cusp of losing studio 20th Century Fox TV as part of the Disney deal. And of the network's 11 orders (including two straight-to-series animated comedies), eight are from 20th TV. After a development season evenly divided between scripts from outside studios and 20th TV, that follows the same vertical integration strategy of Collier's predecessors, Gary Newman and Dana Walden. Would there have been more pilot orders from outside suppliers if the Disney deal had already closed? In terms of content, that, too, is still largely the same: broad procedurals and blue-collar family comedies.  

Big swing: Fox's untitled Tom Kapinos (Lucifer) drama has the same premise as the (problematic) final season of How I Met Your Mother.

Dramas: 6 (5 in 2018)
Comedies: 6 (6 in 2018)
Single-cam: 2 (4 in 2018)
Multicam: 2 (2 in 2018)
Animated: 2 (both straight to series)

NBC 14 (15 in 2017)

George Cheeks and Paul Telegdy took over as NBC Entertainment co-chairmen in September and had at least a partial say in the network's 2019-2020 development after Bob Greenblatt opted to step down. And guess what? Cheeks and Telegdy kept the network largely on par with what Greenblatt did, at least in terms of overall volume. On the creative side, it's almost as if Greenblatt was still involved, too: there's a musical, a This Is Us-style tearjerker, a new Law & Order (picked up straight to series by Greenblatt) and a good reason for Kenan Thompson to leave SNL.

Big swing: Take your pick between Bradley Whitford playing an Ivy League music professor who takes on a rural church choir or Lorne Michaels teaming with Amber Ruffin for a journalism comedy. (We'll go with the latter though, because journalism!) 

Dramas: 7* (8 in 2018)
Comedies: 7** (7 in 2018)
Single-cam: 5 (3 in 2018)
Multicam: 2 (4 in 2018)

* Includes one straight to series (Law & Order: Hate Crimes)
** Includes one pilot presentation order (Village Gazette)

The CW 6 (9 in 2018)

Congratulations, Mark Pedowitz: You are officially the longest-tenured broadcast network topper! The younger-skewing broadcaster — a joint venture between Warner Bros. TV and CBS TV Studios — is relying a lot on reboots (The Lost Boys, Nancy Drew) and spinoffs (Riverdale's Katy Keene, the Arrow-verse's Batwoman, Jane the Novela) as it looks to fill the voids created by the conclusions of critical darlings Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Only one of the network's six total pilots is based on an original idea (and we are here for it!).  

Big swing: A dramedy about a gender non-conforming recent high school grad? Did we mention we're here for it?


In case you haven't heard, there's a new sheriff in town and its name is Disney. The Mouse House's ABC Studios vaulted to first place this season thanks largely to its pending Fox assets acquisition that includes 20th Century Fox TV. Of ABC Studios' 16 shows, five are co-productions with soon-to-be corporate sibling 20th TV. And the co-production trend continues as nearly every studio saw its co-productions rise.

ABC Studios: 18 (19 in 2018)

The Patrick Moran-led studio was off three year-over-year and had only one outside sale this season — to NBC (Emergence). Illustrating how much ownership matters in a vertically integrated world, ABC Studios has a piece of all nine shows the broadcast network picked up from outside suppliers.

Co-productions: 9 (3 in 2018)
Rank last season: Second

CBS Television Studios: 17 (20 in 2018)

The David Stapf-led studio did not sell to networks beyond CBS or The CW this season and with WBTV had the biggest year-over-year decrease. That said, the studio did benefit from taking a financial stake in all four of CBS' outside studio buys.

Co-productions: 5 (9 in 2018)
Rank last season: First

20th Century Fox Television: 15 (13 in 2018)

With Dana Walden moving to the Disney fold and Gary Newman on his way out once the asset sale closes, 20th TV is making the most of its last days within the Fox fold. The studio — currently overseen by Howard Kurtzman and Jonnie Davis — had its largest slate in three years, benefiting from co-productions at ABC, CBS and NBC (and Endemol). 20th TV was one of only two studios this season to see volume increase amid the overall reduction in pilot orders.

Co-productions: 8 (4 in 2018)
Rank last season: Fourth

Universal Television: 14 (13 in 2018)

In her third year on the job, Pearlena Igbokwe's studio was off five this season (the same decrease as CBSTVS) — despite being one of only two to sell to each of the Big Four networks. (20th TV was the other.)

Co-productions: 5 (3 in 2018)
Rank last season: Fifth

Warner Bros. Television: 9 (14 in 2018)

Though its volume took a hit this season (down five, same as CBSTVS), the Peter Roth-led indie studio sold to four of five networks (save ABC) — and has a pair of co-productions with New Fox.   

Co-productions: 2 (2 in 2018)
Rank last season: Third

Sony Pictures Television Studios: 6 (5 in 2018)

Here's a bright spot: In their second pilot season, Jeff Frost, Chris Parnell and Jason Clodfelter saw their indie studio be one of only two to increase volume year-over-year, however modest it may be. After seeing orders nearly cut in half last season, Sony scored orders at ABC, CBS and NBC — though all but one are — you guessed it! — co-productions.  

Co-productions: 5 (3 in 2018)
Rank last season: Sixth

Source: THR research

Keep up with the latest broadcast pilot season pickups, castings and series orders with The Hollywood Reporter's annual guide.