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The broadcast network upfronts are, in fact, right in front of us. Shows will live and die as pilots are picked up or passed over. It’s a big deal. But guess what?
It’s kind of boring.
I think broadcast network television would be immensely improved if it had an NFL Draft-type situation for pilots. You know, instead of the upfronts. The recently concluded NFL Draft is way glitzier and more exciting than the upfronts have ever been, and more important, it generates ink and buzz the likes of which the upfronts have never seen. So, in a fever dream and with a Twitter account @BastardMachine (with which I trial-ballooned this idea), I came up with the first-ever Broadcast Network Draft. Here’s how it works:
The nets would pool their corporate money (yeah, I know, but just go with it), disperse it to the creative community, and six months later there’d be a virtual graduating class of pilots from which to choose. The nets — and PBS — would pick in inverse order of how they finished the previous season, with weighted results for demo numbers and total viewers. This exercise requires a bit of knowledge about the NFL and the cliches used on ESPN (an alcoholic beverage might help, too). Oh, and the Broadcast Network Draft would air on E! and be hosted by Ryan Seacrest.
Announcer: The draft is officially open. Let’s not screw it up with terrible shows like last year. … With the first pick in the 2012-13 Broadcast Network Draft, PBS selects Whatever Ken Burns Has in Mind.
Analyst 1: Exactly what I had in my mock draft.
Announcer: With the second pick in the 2012-13 Broadcast Network Draft, The CW selects Ringer 2, starring Amanda Bynes.
Analyst 2: I had Ringer 2 going late in Round 7.
Critic: Who let The CW into this? They’re not even a real network.
Announcer: With the third pick in the 2012-13 Broadcast Network Draft, NBC selects the Untitled J.J. Abrams Project.
Analyst 1: Even after Undercovers and Alcatraz? This guy is Teflon.
Announcer: With the fourth pick in the 2012-13 Broadcast Network Draft, ABC selects Yet Another Shonda Rhimes Series. [Crowd groans loudly, boos.]
Critic: I just threw up in my mouth.
Seacrest: What trends or surprises should we be looking for this year?
Critic: Look for Downton Abbey rip-offs, more Mad Men clones and a lot of younger, bitchier sitcoms.
Announcer: With the fifth pick in the 2012-13 Broadcast Network Draft, Fox trades the pick, plus Glee, to NBC for 30 Rock, Community and Parks and Recreation.
Critic: Now watch NBC spend the pick on something from Michael Patrick King. [Laughter on set.]
TV Reporter: This just in: I’m hearing NBC is after the MPK pilot about six sassy ladies trapped in the Adirondacks.
Announcer: With the sixth pick in the 2012-13 Broadcast Network Draft, CBS selects ii, from the estate of Stephen J. Cannell.
Analyst 2: Is that the Abe Vigoda vehicle?
Analyst 1: Yep. Time-slot winner for sure.
[Meanwhile, two slightly higher-brow critics go on the Charlie Rose show and talk about societal pressure for pilots to declare too early. “Breaking In was nowhere near ready for the draft,” says one. “This is how we ended up with I Hate My Teenage Daughter,” says the other. “Shows are getting pressured to air too early. Then they break down into the mess we see with Smash.”]
Seacrest: PBS is on the clock. Big pick for them.
Analyst 1: I’ve got them down for Oregon: Trails vs. Old Growth Redwoods.
Analyst 2: In my mock, I’ve got them taking Science the MIT Way.
Announcer: With the next pick in the 2012-13 Broadcast Network Draft, PBS selects Oregon: Trails vs. Old Growth Redwoods.
Seacrest: Wow. That’s uncanny.
Announcer: With the next pick, The CW selects Untitled Jennie Garth Docu-Soap.
Analyst 1: Don’t count that out.
Seacrest: NBC’s on the clock. What’s its strategy?
Analyst 1: Lots of holes to fill. Just throw a dart. critic They’re still digging out of Zucker-ville. It’s like the Oakland Raiders over there, the ineptitude is so widespread.
Announcer: With its next pick, NBC selects the Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat pilot. [Crowd groans, boos, then laughs uncontrollably.]
Critic: That is just asinine.
Analyst 2: True, but Joseph puts Oklahoma! in play. [Laughter on set.]
TV Reporter: Breaking: The commissioner has ruled NBC let the clock run out accidentally — Joseph Technicolor Dreamcoat pick negated.
Seacrest: Pretty embarrassing for NBC.
Critic: Karma for Chuck and Community.
Analyst 1: And Conan.
[Somewhere online, The Onion‘s A.V. Club is live-recapping the draft. So far, the recapper is giving it a “D-“.]
Seacrest: I’m hearing buzz about Ryan Murphy’s latest. Anything on the radar, people?
Critic: Ryan Murphy: First season — everybody’s talking about it. Second season — everybody thinks it’s gone off the rails. But hey, it’s at NBC, where there are no rails.
[Meanwhile, Charlie Rose just asked his two guests if networks violate rules by paying young writers for spec scripts. “Only at USC,” one laughs. “They are so in the industry’s pocket.” The other responds: “Not exactly. Many of the Southern writing programs are also under investigation.” Rose frowns.]
Announcer: With its next pick, ABC selects the Benny Hill remake with Regis Philbin. [Crowd gasps.]
critic I quit.
Analyst 1: Head-scratcher there.
TV Reporter: Pretty embarrassing for Wahlberg over in the Green Room, guys. That Entourage spinoff is dropping like a USC receiver.
Announcer: With its next pick, Fox selects The Animated Married … With Children pilot.
Analyst 1: I had that going five rounds later.
Analyst 2: $100 says they give it to Seth MacFarlane, and he makes Al Bundy a cocaine-snorting dog.
Announcer: With its next pick, CBS trades its pick, plus Unforgettable and A Gifted Man, to PBS for the rights to Downton Abbey.
Critic: Holy shit.
Analyst 1: Les Moonves can fleece anyone. It’s remarkable.
Critic: CBS didn’t even want Unforgettable and A Gifted Man! This is going to tank PBS’ draft grade.
Announcer: And that concludes Day 1 of the Broadcast Network Draft.
See? Wouldn’t this be more fun than networks renewing shows everyone already knew they would?
Oh, I forgot to award the traditional NFL Draft title of Mr. Irrelevant to the last pilot taken in the draft. How about we just give that to the viewers, then?
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