TCA: Fox says it is getting out of pilot season

Fox Broadcasting says it wants to reinvent the way it makes television shows.

Specifically, it wants to do away with what is known as pilot season, a frantic period in the spring in which the broadcast networks order scores of scripts and then make dozens of trial episodes known as pilots before selecting a handful of new shows for their fall schedules.

Pilot season came into existence not long after Philo Farnsworth invented television, and is the beat that the television industry marches to. Networks duke it out for the best talent in front of and behind the cameras and then parade the end result to advertisers in glitzy presentations over the course of one week in New York City.


Though Fox will still have a fall schedule and big presentation for advertisers this May, the network said it no longer wants to play beat the clock when it comes to making new shows.

On the set: movies and TV

Instead, Fox said it will develop shows the way cable networks typically do, which is to order shows straight to series far in advance of their premiere date. One reason cable networks operate in this fashion is because they have far fewer hours of original programming than their broadcast counterparts and hence can be more painstaking in the production process.

Fox isn’t planning on cutting back on original programming. In fact, the network said it is embracing a yearlong approach to scheduling new shows. It wants to rethink the way it swings for the fences.

By exiting pilot season and the competition that goes on between networks and studios for actors and writers in favor of a more measured approach, the network hopes that it will improve its odds for success.

“Look at the batting average, we couldn’t do any worse,” Fox Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly said to reporters while unveiling his strategy at the semi-annual Television Critics Assn. media tour in Pasadena.

Indeed, most scripts never make it to a pilot and the majority of pilots never make the final lineup. “You don’t throw 10 [pilots] at the wall and hope you come up with one,” Reilly said in describing his frustration with the current process.

Reilly, who cut his teeth as a programmer at the Fox-owned cable network FX and he played a key role in the development of the hits “The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck,” said the current system was created for a three-broadcast-network world and is no longer workable in today’s competitive landscape.

“It was built in a three-network monopoly when we had all the talent and the audience,” Reilly said, adding that “it is nothing short of a miracle that the talent is able to produce anything.”

To be sure, Reilly has spoken for years about the need to dismantle the current system. Other networks have shown little inclination to follow that lead, and though Fox said it will make fewer pilots this season, it is not getting completely out of the pilot business yet.

ON LOCATION: Where the cameras roll

Reilly said that part his goal is to cut down on the panicked overhauling and reshoots that often happen after pilots are ordered.

“I think we can build a more talent-friendly way of doing this,” he said, adding that the new approach will give the network more scheduling and marketing flexibility. The network is currently in various stages of production on 10 series that will debut over the next 12 months to two years.

As for Fox’s performance this season, Reilly expressed happiness about the performance of the new drama “Sleepy Hollow” and the comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” which just won the Golden Globe for best comedy series.

However, he expressed concern about the network’s veteran shows, particularly the musical talent show “The X Factor,” which may not make it back for a third season.

“The show underperformed this year,” Reilly said.


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Twitter: @JBFlint