Across the TV landscape, the demand for content is increasing. Broadcasters looking to air more originals during summer and cable networks breaking into scripted programming are partnering with streaming services to create mutually beneficial deals. Moves to streamline the development process as broadcasters bring more new series to air have led to several stunted projects, and a possible return to more traditional methods. Known properties from the feature film world are dominating the development season as networks look for ways for their shows to stand out. But even amid a boom in original series, broadcasters are still flailing when it comes to comedy.
In the year ahead, viewers will again have more options than ever, and networks—linear and digital—will work to find innovative ways to deliver them.
The Return of Pilots
Unable to find a place for the single-camera comedy on its drama-heavy midseason slate, NBC gave sister studio Universal Television the go-ahead to cut a deal that moved Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to Netflix. While the deal saved the series, it also made Kimmy Schmidt the most recent show to receive an order without a pilot then never make it to broadcast air. NBC pulled the plug on miniseries Emerald City in August, then did the same with single-camera comedy Mission Control in October. Fox pulled the plug on drama Hieroglyph in July. ABC killed drama Members Only in November.
Straight-to-series orders had become the hip new thing in broadcast. At the TCA Winter Press Tour last January, Fox Entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly declared pilot season dead, saying his network would be “bypassing it,” then walked reporters through 10 pilot-free projects in development. One year later, most of those projects are dead or headed for cancellation, and Reilly is at Turner Broadcasting.
With the straight-to-series process producing too many false starts and broadcast’s loudest advocate for development reform now working in cable, expect the Big Four to fall back in love with pilots, inefficiencies and all.
CBS renewed two ambitious summer dramas, Under the Dome and Extant, in October despite disappointing ratings. Season 2 of Dome debuted June 30 to a 2.2 live-plus-same-day Nielsen rating, down 33% from the series premiere of its surprise-hit first season. The ratings never returned to season 1 levels. Extant, meanwhile, never lived up to its understandable hype (with executive producer Steven Spielberg and star Halle Berry), premiered to a 1.7 and never rising above that.
Both shows, however, are subjects of creatively structured deals with Amazon that allow the digital service to stream new episodes within an unusually short window of broadcast. Discussing Extant and Dome in July at the Fortune Brainstorm Tech Summit in Aspen, CBS Corp. president and CEO Leslie Moonves said, “The shows are successful before they even get to the air.”
With broadcasters programming year-round and more cable networks diving into original programming, such subscription video-on-demand deals are increasing in popularity. An agreement with Hulu made new episodes of WGN America’s drama Manhattan available the day after they were broadcast—and in summer 2015, CBS will premiere Zoo, subject to an SVOD deal with Netflix.
Comedy: Bust Or Double Down?
Kimmy Schmidt’s move to Netflix also signaled the depth of NBC’s trouble establishing new comedies. At the upfronts, the network unveiled seven new half-hours. Already this season, two of those have been canceled and another two, Kimmy Schmidt included, were pulled before they ever made it to the schedule.
NBC isn’t the only broadcaster struggling with the genre. Of the new comedy crop this season, only ABC’s Black-ish has found solid ratings footing. But ABC has already canceled two other freshman comedies, Manhattan Love Story and Selfie. Fox’s sole new fall comedy offering, Mulaney, had its episode order cut early in the season from 16 to 13. CBS’ The McCarthys has lagged behind the rest of the network’s Thursday-night comedy block in the ratings. Three of the Big Four—ABC being the exception—ordered fewer comedies for 2014-15 than they did for 2013-14.
Based on a Major Motion Picture
At the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s Fall Programmers’ Summit in November, moderator Andy Greenwald of Grantland asked about the “blockbusterization” of television, citing several shows in development that are based on movies.
“On behalf of the network that brought people Fargo, I apologize for whatever is going to come now next development season,” said Nick Grad, president, original programming, FX Networks and FX Productions.
Based on the Coen brothers film, the Fargo series was produced by FX and MGM. The latter is one of several studios attempting to leverage its film library at a time when networks are increasingly inclined to work with their own studios, but are also looking for ways to make their programming stand out. This development season projects based on American Gigolo, Minority Report, Rush Hour, The Illusionist, Marley & Me, Problem Child, The Money Pit, In the Heat of the Night and Uncle Buck are in the works.
“You can tell from the amazing amount of things [in development] based on movies that they’re trying to break through the clutter with something that people know,” producer Mike Royce, who is adapting Big for NBC, told B&C in November.