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The broadcast networks are beginning to adjust to a new reality.
Amid the so-called Peak TV era of 450-plus scripted originals and seemingly countless buyers, the Big Four have started to narrow their focus. This pilot season, ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW collectively ordered 73 dramas and comedies (including straight-to-series orders). That’s down considerably from last year’s tally of 88 and a far cry from the whopping 98 they picked up just four years ago.
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 has pulled a show off the air so far this season. That has created a traffic jam for midseason, with many shows still awaiting a slot on the schedule. In turn, many networks are starting to be more mindful of the increasing costs associated with casting and filming a pilot as well as the price tag associated with launching new shows. The stocked cupboards has created a reduced need this pilot season as three of the five broadcasters are down year-over-year.
Thematically, Trump-friendly military dramas and family comedies have broken out this year, while packaging a script with a star has proved to be one way to cut through the hundreds of scripts developed each season.
Here’s a closer look at Pilot Season 2017 by the numbers, including how all the studios fared.
Total orders: 74 (88 in 2016)
Dramas: 41 (45 in 2016)
Comedies: 33 (43 in 2016)
Single-camera: 24 (28 in 2016)
Multicamera: 7 (13 in 2016)
Hybrid: 2 (even)
ABC: 24 (even with 2016)
The Disney-owned network was the only one of the Big Four to have the same volume year-over-year. With an even split between drama and comedy last year, the network — which has a strong comedy brand and should return at least one freshman half-hour next season — added an extra drama this season. This go-around, network president Channing Dungey was able to preside over a full development season and put a focus on family comedies (again) and lighter fare in line with its legacy shows like Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. Key among the network’s pickups are a drama and comedy from Black-ish creator Kenya Barris. On the ownership front, ABC Studios has a stake in 14 of its 24 new projects and bought from every studio save for CBS Television Studios.
Big swing: The network went straight-to-series with Marvel drama The Inhumans, which will debut over Labor Day weekend in more than 1,000 Imax theaters before expanded episodes premiere in September on ABC.
Dramas: 13 (12 in 2016)
Comedies: 11 (12 in 2016)
Single-cam: 9 (10 in 2016)
Multicam: 2 (1 in 2016)
CBS: 17 (18 in 2016)
Network topper Glenn Geller is largely staying the course this season, with dramas even versus last year, while the comedy side is off two as Sheldon, the Big Bang Theory prequel, remains MIA. Thematically, it’s business as usual with a heavy dose of procedurals (military, legal and even journalism) and family comedies — including three from Aaron Kaplan and two from the creators of How I Met Your Mother. On the studio side, CBS Television Studios has a stake in 14 of its 16 projects — with none coming from ABC Studios or 20th Century Fox Television.
Dramas: 9 (9 in 2016)
Comedies: 8 (9 in 2016)
Single-cam: 2 (even)
Multicam: 3 (6 in 2016)
Hybrid: 2 (1 in 20116)
Big swing: Big Bang Theory prequel spinoff Young Sheldon, which was picked up straight to series.
NBC: 14 (22 in 2016)
NBC Has the biggest drop-off among the broadcast networks this season, with eight fewer pickups — largely on the comedy side. Of course, the network that’s home to a number of Dick Wolf procedurals has little room and its highly anticipated Will and Grace revival to work in. The network this season is focused on procedurals that it can sell internationally as well as a mix of workplace and family comedies. On the ownership side, nine of NBC’s 14 projects are produced in-house at Universal Television, with the network buying from everyone outside of CBS Television Studios.
Dramas: 6 (8 in 2016)
Comedies: 8 (14 in 2016)
Single-cam: 6 (8 in 2016)
Multicam: 2 (6 in 2016)
Big swing: A few years after Fox’s Glee ended its run, NBC is looking to Friday Night Lights showrunner Jason Katims and the producers of Hamilton for a high school-set drama about a suburban high school’s theater department.
Fox: 13 (19 in 2016)
This pilot season, Fox seems to have spread the wealth with a mix of procedurals, timely dramas (Controversy) as well as genre plays (a live-action X-Men series, Seth MacFarlane space dramedy Orville and vampire foray The Passage) with a mix of family and workplace comedies. On the studio side, Gary Newman and Dana Walden kept things almost exclusively in-house with an ownership stake in 12 of 13 projects, with the only outside buy coming from Warner Bros. Television’s Melissa McCarthy-produced comedy Amy’s Brother.
Dramas: 7 (11 in 2016)
Comedies: 6 (8 in 2016)
Single-cam: 6 (8 in in 2016)
Multicam: 0 (even)
Big swing: This is truly hard to pick from Fox’s roster of high-concept and big- commitment fare. The network has a live-action X-Men drama; an hourlong space dramedy, starring Seth MacFarlane; a comedy set in Antarctica from the creator of New Girl; a paranormal comedy starring Craig Robinson and Adam Scott as well as a suburban mom hacker comedy. All are big swings.
CW: 6 (even)
Mark Pedowitz’s younger-skewing network saved Fox’s DC Comics drama Black Lightning after Fox passed on the drama, with producer Greg Berlanti accounting for a third of the network’s pilots this season. The network also went for a mix of soapy (Dynasty) and timely (Army drama Valor) as high-profile reboots Charmed and The Lost Boys were rolled to be redeveloped next season. On the studio side, the network continued its corporate mandate to split buys from co-owners Warner Bros. Television and CBS Television Studios.
Dramas: 6 (even)
Big swing: Gossip Girl creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage return to the network with a new, modern take on Dynasty.
The broadcast networks continued to focus on ownership this pilot season, buying largely from their vertically aligned studios. That helped usher in a new No. 1 this pilot season. After finishing in third place last season, CBS Television Studios jumped to first place thanks to CBS’ renewed focus on ownership. When crunching the numbers, CBS Television Studios had sales only to CBS and co-owner The CW. (Its overall total is aided by five co-productions — four of them with Sony Pictures Television and one from Universal Television.) ABC moved from first to second with only one outside sale (to NBC). 20th Century Fox Television dropped from second to third with 12 of 14 sales coming from Fox. Independent studio Warner Bros. Television moved up a slot to fourth with sales at all five broadcasters. Universal Television followed in fifth place, down one rung, with sales to everyone save for Fox (and nine coming from NBC). Cable-focused indie Sony Pictures Television remained in sixth with nine sales — including a number of co-productions — as it sold to everyone except Fox and The CW.
CBS Television Studios: 17 (18 in 2016)
The David Stapf-led studio did not sell to an outside buyer this pilot season. What’s more, the studio boarded shows from Sony TV and Universal TV as that remained the only way to get a show produced from an outside studio on CBS. Rank last year: third.
ABC Studios 15 (24 in 2016)
The Patrick Moran-led studio had the biggest declines this season and only one outside sale (a reboot of What About Bob to NBC). The studio was also less likely to share ownership, at least so far this season, with only one co-production (with 20th TV for Jalen vs. Everybody). That is a dramatic change from last year when the studio had eight co-pros, including two key outside sales. Rank last year: first.
20th Century Fox Television: 14 (19 in 2016)
Twelve of 14 of 20th TV’s sales came from Fox as Walden and Newman continued to align its network and studio. The remaining two were to NBC (the untitled from Kourtney Kang) and a co-production at ABC (Jalen). Rank last year: second.
Warner Bros. Television: 13 (13 in 2016)
Berlanti accounted for a third of the sales this year for Peter Roth’s independent studio, including three of its five dramas. The studio also was able to score straight-to-series order for Young Sheldon as well as a pilot pickup for Happy Peppers at NBC, with the latter coming in exchange for loaning out Max Mutchnick — who has an overall deal with the studio — to Universal for NBC’s Will and Grace revival. It’s also worth noting that WBTV was the only studio to sell to each of the Big Four broadcast networks this season. Rank last year: fifth.
Universal Television: 11 (15 in 2016)
In her first pilot season as president of Universal Television, Pearlena Igbokwe largely focused on supplying corporate sibling NBC (nine of its 11 sales). That’s largely the same as her predecessor, Bela Bajaria, who had 13 of 15 at NBC. Rank last year: fourth.
Sony Pictures Television: 9 (11 in 2016)
Jamie Erlicht’s and Zack Van Amburg’s independent studio, the only one without any network affiliation, continues to give up a slice of the pie in exchange for pickups. This year, that was largely at CBS with four co-productions. Rank last year: sixth.
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