The pilots thicken

Networks, led by NBC, are already making their plans for (cheaper?) fall season

Recent shake-ups in the executive ranks at ABC and UPN, pressure to cut costs from parent companies and the fallout of Sept. 11 will definitely shape this 2002 pilot season, which is already in full flower.

NBC, which ordered six drama pilots last week, has been making noise recently about slashing production costs and dramatically trimming license fees paid to studios.

NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker has said he wants to develop shows that cost the network only $500,000 per episode in license fees. The average production cost for a prime time drama has risen to $2 million to

$3 million per episode and comedies are said to be in the $1 million to $2 million range.

"It's a little bit hard to tell how things are going to shake out because it's still early. With the exception of NBC, the networks haven't really been greenlighting their projects yet," says 20th Century Fox TV President Dana Walden.

"That is when the rubber really hits the road, and you have to start nailing your budgets and nailing license fees down," Walden adds. "Those negotiations are really going to determine whether this is just another season and we are going to continue to progress in the way we have in the past or whether—genuinely—the industry received a wake-up call and we are responding to it."

CBS has ordered only two pilots thus far: a potential spin-off of CSI
and a Warner Bros.-produced medical drama from ER
producer John Wells titled 7th Floor, which received a 13-episode commitment from CBS for the fall.

ABC executives have ordered more than 100 drama and comedy scripts but have ordered only two drama pilots so far. Fox hasn't ordered any pilots yet but has given Buffy theVampire Slayer
creator/producer Joss Whedon a 13-episode commitment for new sci-fi series Firefly, which is likely to replace The X-Files, at least conceptually. Fox and X-Files
creator Chris Carter announced last week that the latter series will end in May after its slumping ninth season.

At NBC, Zucker said, "We remain very serious" about cutting costs after announcing NBC's drama pickups. The first evidence might be Young King Arthur, whose costs, insiders say, could fall well below Zucker's $500,000 line.

Zucker says the network's drama needs are "very minimal" because of the strength of its current lineup; it will put more effort into comedies. All but one of NBC's new sitcoms last fall failed. He now wants a dozen new sitcom pilots.

All of the dramas that NBC ordered are either from NBC Studios or are co-productions with the network's in-house studio. Young King Arthur, War Stories
and Boomtown
are from NBC Studios, while Studios USA and NBC Studios are teaming on Mr. Sterling
and Miss American Pie. Kingpin
is co-produced with Aaron Spelling Productions

War Stories
will follow two fictional war correspondents; Boomtown, from film writer Graham Yost (Speed, Broken Arrow), is a police series set in a large U.S. city. Yost is also writing the tale of Young King Arthur.

Mr. Sterling,
written by The West Wing's
Lawrence O'Donnell, is the story of an idealistic senator. Miss American Pie,
from Dick Clark, is described as a 1960s family drama set against AmericanBandstand. Kingpin
is a crime drama told through the eyes of a drug lord.