Marshall Herskovitz says he has secret plan to rescue TV pilot system


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‘The pilot system is utterly broken,’ declares veteran producer Marshall Herskovitz.

Speaking at the Producers Guild of America’s ‘Produced by’ conference on Sunday morning, Herskovitz expressed deep frustration with the current model in which the networks order one episode of a potential new show before deciding whether it’s good enough to be made into a regular series.

‘It’s a huge waste of money,’ Herskovitz says. And what makes things worse, the producer adds, is if a producer’s TV pilot doesn’t get picked up, then it’s basically a ‘worthless piece of ...’ Well, this is a family blog, so we can’t reproduce his entire quote.


Herskovitz we agree knows a thing or two about the pilot system. He’s been producing TV shows in Hollywood since the 1970s, with such series as ‘thirtysomething,’ ‘My So-Called Life’ and ‘Once and Again’ among his credits. And he’s president of the PGA (we mean the Producers Guild of America, not the golf thing).

And although observing that the TV pilot system is broken is about as profound as observing that the Social Security system is broken, Herskovitz at least says he’s trying to come up with a better method. He’s a little vague on details. But he says he’s talking with other industry hotshots to develop a new system that can be presented to the networks. Herskovitz declines to tell us who he’s enlisted in his covert operation. But he did hint afterward that he’d like to get a greenlight from a network on a series and then pre-sell distribution rights overseas to finance it (something akin to this has worked for years in independent film, with mixed results).

Don’t be surprised if advertisers are part of Herskovitz’s Secret Pilot Fixing Plan, however. He worked with Pepsi on his Internet webisode series ‘quarterlife.’ Herskovitz thinks that in the next three to four years there is going to be an interesting power shift between networks and advertisers, with the advertisers having a lot more clout in the creative side of TV shows, just like they did in the 1950s.

Herskovitz is right that the system needs overhauling. To his point that a dead pilot is worthless, the problem from the networks’ point of view is that a dead pilot is worth more than one given new life on rival network and becomes a hit -- making the programming geniuses at the first network look, you know, foolish. ‘Third Rock From the Sun’ and ‘The Cosby Show’ come to mind.

The PGA president acknowledges that the networks have been ‘unmoved by our arguments’ about the current system. They might not want to be so dismissive. After all, the networks also blow a lot of their own money making ... how did Herskovitz describe it?

-- Joe Flint

Michael Quinn Martin