Anonymous TV Producer Shares Torture of the Pilot Season Waiting Game (Guest Column)

Waiting Fall TV Illo Main - H 2014
Illustration by: Lars Leetaru

Waiting Fall TV Illo Main - H 2014

Editors note: Every pilot season, hundreds of writers and producers sit anxiously by the phone, waiting for the call from a network with word that their script — one of thousands the broadcast networks buy every development season — is one of the lucky hundred or so comedies and dramas to move forward. It's a grueling process that will mean January through May will be spent building sets, casting and ultimately filming a pilot that will then face a second round of scrutiny as networks look to greenlight around 20 of the 100 pilots to series. Here, an anonymous producer writes about the pressure and anxiety that is pilot season. 

January is always a brutal month for TV producers. If feature-film development is the equivalent of an epic, sweeping, long-gestating love story (The Notebook), network TV pilot season is like an electrically charged, emotionally fraught, torrid love affair with a general low likelihood of ending well (Basic Instinct). 

As a producer, these pilots become your babies. You grow them from tiny seeds, ripped from the barest kernel of an idea, and you garden these seeds until they bloom into fully formed flowers — complete with a gifted writer to execute the vision, a magical pilot story to move the masses and maybe a fancy actor or director to sex up your package. The investment is real and it's emotional and the early development process is always laden with such promise and hope. Let's face it, we all wouldn't be in this business if we didn't have healthy (delusionally cocksure?) egos. Who cares if the network bought 73 comedy scripts and is only making eight pilots? You are special, you are gonna win it, your project is the best, these terrible odds mean nothing. That wishful high is like nothing else.

Read more TV Pilots 2015: The Complete Guide

But nature's first green is always gold, and we all know nothing gold can stay. As the process moves forward, it's slow death by Chinese water torture. You and your frazzled, exhausted writer become more and more beaten down by the endless merry-go-round of studio and network notes, your confidence teeters with every announcement of a competing project, you relentlessly pump your agents for information, sending pointless emails simply titled: "ANYTHING???" (as if they actually wouldn't tell you if there was real news). 

And then the pickups begin. The first one to hit the press always reverberates through the community with shock and awe, as if we all didn't know it was coming. Suddenly, your world becomes the pilot season version of This Is Your Life as one by one, you watch your various Hollywood friends collect coveted spots (and humbly repost their announcements on Facebook). A combination of typical questions and comments start emerging. 

What are you hearing??

How many more are they gonna pick up?

How many multis? How many singles?

Is it too late to add an attachment? Who "moves the needle"?

If they pass, can I shop it?

What is happening! It’s almost FEBRUARY!   

And of course:

What the f&*%, Aaron Kaplan, it's not f&*%ing FAIR!!!  [Editor's note: Kaplan has six pilots in the works this season at the broadcast networks.]

Let's be real: It’s always going be a dogfight, it's never going to be calm, easy or predictable. And yet we're all addicted. That wishful high is like nothing else.

To the winners of the 2015-16 season: Congratulations and good luck with the months ahead. May your pilot shoots be blessed with stress-free casting, luxurious budgets and test scores off the charts.

To the losers: Back on the horse. May your garden grow. There’s always next season.