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After what’s been a largely forgettable fall 2015-16 season in which “trimmed” became the new canceled, broadcast networks hope to find the next Empire or Big Bang Theory among this season’s 87 comedy and drama pilots.
With overall orders up three year-over-year, despite three of the five broadcast networks pulling back on their total pickups, vertical integration continues to be the biggest story of the season. To that end, many networks bought nearly exclusively from their studio counterparts.
Drama orders were up four — thanks largely to Fox, which has to fill its American Idol hole next season. On the comedy side, ABC renewed its focus on single-camera while CBS made a larger push for multicamera fare.
Thematically, family comedies are seemingly everywhere among the Big Four networks, as networks are both playing it safe and looking for high-concept fare (like Nasim Pedrad playing a 14-year-old boy). Friends alums also continue to be in high demand this season, as both stars and producers have pilots in the mix. On the drama side, legal dramas and crime thrillers continue to be in demand following the success of The Jinx and Making a Murderer.
Here’s a closer look at Pilot Season 2016 by the numbers.
Total orders: 88 (85 in 2015)
Dramas: 45 (41 in 2015)
Comedies: 43 (44 in 2015)
Single-camera: 28 (24 in 2015)
Multicamera: 13 (17 in 2015)
Hybrid: 2 (1 in 2015)
ABC: 24 (25 in 2015)
While new network president Channing Dungey had a hand in developing ABC’s drama pilots, the comedies largely have former exec Paul Lee’s fingerprints on them. Dungey, a well-liked development exec whom insiders say has impeccable taste, will now have a central role in casting on top of overseeing how all 24 of its pilots take shape. Overall, the Lee-picked slate is largely the same as the 2015-16 broadcast season — serialized dramas and soaps and a ton of single-camera comedies. ABC continued to make ownership a priority and bought largely from its studio counterpart ABC Studios as the network retains full or partial ownership in all but two of its pilot roster. Overall, the pilot haul is as would be expected for ABC: female-driven soaps, Marvel, another anthology and family fare. As Modern Family continues to age, the network is doubling down on family comedies with a long list of half-hours exploring different dynamics that aren’t currently being portrayed on the small screen. Key among them is Toast, the first comedy developed by Shondaland. The producers of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, How to Get Away With Murder and The Catch also have Romeo & Juliet sequel Still Star-Crossed in the mix.
Big swing: After fielding multiple offers, the female-friendly network emerged as the bidder for Designated Survivor, a straight to series political drama starring Kiefer Sutherland that’s already attracted an all-star cast.
Dramas: 12 (12 in 2015)
Comedies: 12 (13 in 2015)
Single-cam: 10 (8 in 2015)
Multicam: 1 (5 in 2015)
Hybrid: 1 (0 in 2015)
NBC: 22 (23 in 2015)
Perhaps the most diversified of all the networks when it comes to studio buys, the network largely shied away from co-productions this season and bought from everyone save for ABC Studios. Although corporate sibling Universal Television was its leading supplier (13), the network has nine from outside studios, making it the least vertically aligned network this pilot season. Overall, the network’s orders were off three on the drama side as Bob Greenblatt has already handed out early renewals to rookies Blindspot and Chicago Med and has The Voice already accounting for several hours of its primetime landscape (and that’s not even factoring in the Olympics). While comedy is on par with last year, two of the 14 pilots stem from its Playground initiative designed to give aspiring writers an opportunity to break through. Of its 21 pickups, two are straight-to-series: a Taken prequel and Mike Schur comedy Good Place. Also factoring in was the late-season backdoor pilot order to its Blacklist spinoff.
Big swing: High-concept comedy Crunch Time is equal parts scripted and game show.
Dramas: 8 (9 in 2015)
Comedies: 14 (14 in 2015)
Single-cam: 8 (7 in 2015)
Multicam: 6 (7 in 2015)
CBS: 17 (18 in 2015)
Glenn Geller’s first pilot season as head of the network largely mirrors CBS’ last under Nina Tassler with one big exception: multicamera. Geller is committed to finding a “big family multicam” to perhaps pair with Big Bang Theory. On the drama side, Geller is looking to a large roster of the familiar with reboots of MacGyver, Nancy Drew (which is having trouble casting its diverse lead) and Training Day paired with medical (Bunker Hill, Sensory) and legal dramas (Four Stars, Doubt). On the ownership side, the network has a stake in 14 of its 17 pilots as Universal Television scored two key pickups for The Kicker (from Tina Fey and her 30 Rock cohorts) and Jason Katims‘ Bunker Hill, the latter of which was redeveloped from last season. On the straight-to-series side, CBS hopes Kevin James has what it takes to land that big multicam spot on its schedule.
Big swing: Friends alum Matt LeBlanc will receive a hefty fee if the network fails to order comedy I’m Not Your Friend to series.
Dramas: 9 (9 in 2015)
Comedies: 8 (9 in 2015)
Single-cam: 2 (3 in 2015)
Multicam: 6 (4 in 2015)
Hybrid: 1 (0 in 2015)
Fox: 19 (15 in 2015)
Perhaps learning from their first season as network chiefs, Dana Walden and Gary Newman upped their overall pilot orders by four. With that difference all on the drama side, it’s clear that the network didn’t order enough last season (ahem, Minority Report aired all 10 of its trimmed order despite its dismal ratings). With an American Idol-sized hole on their schedule, Fox definitely doesn’t want to make the same mistake again. On the drama side, Fox is looking to mine familiar IP with a new take on 24, a sequel to Prison Break and a reboot of Lethal Weapon. Empire co-creator Lee Daniels could solve Fox’s search for a companion to the hip-hop drama with his girl group pilot starring Queen Latifah. Meanwhile, many of the comedy pickups seem to be inspired by Last Man on Earth as several are high-concept big swings, including series order Son of Zorn and an untitled time travel entry — both from Last Man’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Fox is also looking to use its Major League Baseball deal to launch female-driven dramedy Pitch, from Dan Fogelman (Galavant), whom Walden and Newman heavily courted for the studio. In terms of ownership, Fox bought 16 pilots from its studio counterpart — and nothing from CBS Television Studios, Universal Television or Sony Pictures TV.
Big swing: Does it get more high concept than SNL‘s Nasim Pedrad starring as a 14-year-old boy in a live-action single-camera comedy (Chad: An American Boy)?
Dramas: 11 (7 in 2015)
Comedies: 8 (8 in 2015
Single-cam: 8 (6 in 2015)
Multicam: 0 (1 in 2015)
Hybrid: 0 (1 in 2015)
The CW: 6 (4 in 2015)
Mark Pedowitz’s younger-skewing network ordered what you’d expect: comic book fare (Greg Berlanti’s Archie Comics take Riverdale), sci-fi (Kevin Williamson’s paranormal drama), period pieces (Transylvania) and a remake (Frequency) as well as another hourlong dramedy (No Tomorrow). Overall orders are up two year-over-year as The CW, unlike last year, has not renewed anything on its schedule.
Dramas: 6 (4 in 2015)
Four of the six major studios saw sales improve year-over-year as co-productions continue to rise as networks look to take an ownership stake in projects from outside studios. That helped independent studio Sony Pictures Television jump five this year, with eight of its 10 sales being co-productions. On the flip side, Warner Bros. Television slipped from fourth to fifth (off two) as the indie studio continues to avoid co-productions. Overall, ABC Studios and 20th Century Fox TV remained in their one-two perch this year, with CBS Television Studios’ four off-net sales contributing to its move from fifth to third as the studio is up five year-over-year. Universal Television slipped from third to fourth though it was down only one vs. a year ago.
ABC Studios: 24 (20 in 2015)
Up four year-over-year, the bulk of the studio’s sale was to its vertically aligned network (21). ABCS signed on as co-producers on SPT’s Hail Mary, Model Woman, Notorious, The Jury and Adam F. Goldberg’s untitled comedy and did the same with 20th’s Speechless. Key off-network co-pros also include CBS’ take on Upper Middle Bogan and Fox’s Charity Case, starring Courteney Cox.
20th Century Fox Television: 19 (17 in 2015)
Up two from a year ago, the studio accounted for 16 of network counterpart Fox’s 19 pilot pickups. The studio has three off-net sales (NBC’s Good Fortune, its Dan Fogelman birthday dramedy and ABC’s Speechless, the latter a co-pro with ABCS). Unlike last year, the studio did not have any sales at CBS this season.
CBS Television Studios: 18 (13 in 2015)
The year’s biggest gainer among the studios, CBSTVS has 14 of its 18 sales set up at CBS. The other four were the mandatory sales to corporate sibling The CW (three) and its one key off-network sale to NBC — Greg Garcia’s Sebastian, starring Tony Danza and Sebastian Maniscalco. None of its 18 sales were co-productions — a notable shift from last year’s five.
Universal Television: 15 (16 in 2015)
Off one year-over-year, UTV has 13 shows set up at NBC with only two off-network sales (CBS’ The Kicker, Bunker Hill), with the latter a co-pro with CBSTVS.
Warner Bros. Television: 13 (15 in 2015)
Down two from a year ago, the independent studio has at least two pilots set up at each of the five broadcast networks — with three each at Fox and NBC. The co-owner of The CW also has the required three sales there as well to go along with two apiece at CBS and ABC — with the latter coming in key after WBTV spent all of the 2015-16 season without a show at the Disney-owned network. Key this year was the return of Kevin Williamson, who has drama pilots at ABC (Time After Time), Fox (Recon) and The CW (untitled paranormal).
Sony Pictures Television: 11 (6 in 2015)
The lone studio without any network affiliation has adapted well in the era of vertical alignment thanks to its willingness to share ownership. With eight of its 11 sales serving as co-productions, SPT (and ABCS) posted the biggest gains year-over-year. Also worth noting is the re-emergence of SPT’s TriStar banner, which this season has sales at CBS (Sensory, a co-pro with CBSTVS) and ABC (Model Woman, a co-pro with ABCS). Also helping the studio: NBC’s late order to a backdoor pilot for a Blacklist spinoff.
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