Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Not Right Here Right Now (Forecasting Your TV Series)

Thanks to Caroline for forwarding me this article from Broadcasting & Cable magazine about what the U.S. cable networks have in development or are looking for these days. This is the kind of info you should be reading today if you are thinking about developing a tv series. What's on television right now is important, but what will be on a year or two from now is much more important. Why?

Because nothing hits the air the minute after you come up with or even sell the idea.

Read and get up to speed. More after the jump as the cool blogs say.

By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 12/11/2006

In 2006, cable continued to solidify its reputation as a place for “edgier fare” and a nurturing environment for originals, an antidote to broadcast TV, where expensive laggards are quickly shuffled off to hiatus.

As the cable networks move into 2007 and look to build on breakout successes, star talent and interesting options abound, along with some hard decisions about what to greenlight.

“A couple of years ago, we had to convince people cable was a viable place to bring a series,” says Michael Wright, senior VP, original programming, for TNT/TBS. “In some ways, cable is a better place. We make an earnest effort to really support a show and give talent an environment where they want to work and play.”

Top female leads appear to be the most courted set for strong roles in the coming year. TNT is working on Grace, a pilot with Holly Hunter as an Oklahoma City detective whose sister was killed in the 1995 bombing; and Lifetime has ensemble drama Army Wives slated for March, starring Kim Delaney and Catherine Bell.

Next summer, USA will run limited series The Starter Wife, with Debra Messing, and could greenlight To Love and Die in L.A., a pilot with Shiri Appleby as a woman who discovers her father is a contract killer. And FX in January offers the new Courtney Cox gossip-mag drama Dirt; also in development is a pilot with Glenn Close as a New York litigator who mentors a younger lawyer.

“It's amazing to me, given where we were a few years ago: We can now field a group of talent that could rival any [broadcast] network in television,” says FX Network President John Landgraf. The network has also set a first-quarter premiere for The Riches, a drama starring Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard as a married pair of con artists.

The pay-cable networks will, as usual, lead the 2007 charge into boundary-pushing fare. HBO is working on David Milch's dark surf series John From Cincinnati and Gavin Polone's adult-themed relationship drama Tell Me You Love Me.

Meanwhile, Showtime is developing Darren Starr's Manchild, addiction-focused Insatiable, and David Duchovny's producer/star effort Californication, about a women-obsessed, self-destructive writer.

With the bigger entertainment networks having tested the waters for several seasons, 2007 will bring original scripted shows from new players. In the summer, AMC will debut its first original drama series, 1960s-set advertising drama Mad Men. The channel is also set to play way against type with Breaking Bad, a pilot about a terminally ill teacher who deals meth to support his family.

As A&E debuts its pricey acquired version of The Sopranos in January, it's seeking both a limited series and an original drama for 2008. Executives are looking at several self-contained choices as companions for both Sopranos and CSI: Miami.

Says A&E Executive VP/General Manager Bob DeBitetto, “A light musical dramedy romp is not a format we're going to be doing.”

Other networks are content to keep things lighter. Bonnie Hammer, president of USA and Sci Fi Channel, says USA will be doing just that, possibly greenlighting Burn Notice, which focuses on a blacklisted Special Ops agent. Sci Fi Channel, meanwhile, will develop shows in a more “earth-based” vein. "Nothing is dark or dysfunctional,” Hammer says. “The whole [USA] brand is looking to do interesting character-driven drama with a little twist of escapism.”

TNT, the “We Know Drama” network, is developing pilots on a heart-transplant surgeon (Heartland) and a police drama that moves in reverse time (The Line-Up). Meanwhile, corporate sibling TBS heads a list of networks targeting the funny bone. It will pump its money into developing both scripted and unscripted comedies for prime and late night.

And Comedy Central plans a slate of at least five new primetime series: January's The Naked Trucker & T-Bones Show, February's Sarah Silverman-scripted series, and improv shows Halfway Home, American Body Shop and Lil' Bush. The network's success with The Colbert Report allows the aggressive plans. “Colbert has been nothing short of a gift to us in so many terms,” says Executive VP, Original Programming and Development, Lauren Corrao. “It's allowed us to focus our development on what we consider to be our prime, from 10 to 11 p.m.”

So there you have it, a wee bit of intel. And let's be honest, this is just the stuff they're super keen on or have already committed to. Simmering under the surface at all these networks and the companies/studios that provide to these nets are dozens and dozens and dozens more series in various stages of development.

And what does this have to do with you?

Well, I know I'm not the shit but every single time I've pitched a network an idea I have for a series that's even remotely inspired by a current trend in television, I've always heard back: "Oh, we've already got something like that in development." I've grown to count on it.

And it's quite common to sit down with friends and writers and creatives and have them test a pitch they're working on that's trying to capatalize on a current trend. And it may be a great concept, but the reality is they'll be working it up for, let's say... 3-6 months - to come up with a bible and a pilot script. And let's say all goes well and get the interest of a studio/company and network and it gets put into development.

Now in Canada you can pretty much count on a year of working out the kinks (I know, I'm being polite here) of your show before getting any sort of greenlight to go to camera. In the U.S. your mileage may vary, but 9 months is the fastest anyone I know of coming up with the concept and pitching it and getting an order for a pilot script and then shooting that pilot and then eventually going into full production. This kind of speed is designated to the Sorkin's, Milch's, Hanson's, Kelley's, etc. of the tv universe.

And let's not forget the endless stories we've read and heard of series that finally got to air after getting turned down at every single network. It doesn't take much to realize that for something to get turned down that much, it had to be kicking around for a while.

Nevertheless, you get lucky and have a green light, but that process of crewing and staffing and casting can last 3-6 months. So now we're approaching two years from now. Say you shoot 13 episodes over a 100 to 140 days. In the States generally things will go to air about 3 months after you've started shooting (in my experience you'll be shooting episode 7-10 of a one hour series as the first one hits the airwaves). In Canada, you'll generally complete production of the entire series and it will air sometime within the following year. Sigh.

So that's anywhere from 2 1/2 to 3 years if you are really fortunate and all the pieces fall into place. Think about that a minute. And keep thinking about it as you start turning that cool notion into a series concept and so on... 'will this still interest and entertain and feel relevant three years from now?'

Not right here right now.

Cool video week continues - Van know the title.


DMc said...

Thanks for that. Good article. Better analysis. I actually pitched the Army Wives thing informally to a Canadian prodco and someone i knew at a network and they had a a big fat "eehhh."

Mad Men is the one I'm salivating for. As well as John From Cincinatti. Darren Star's Manchild should be interesting. I'm a big fan of the British original.

I think we have to face, all of us, whether in Canada or US, cable is it.

Let's hope Astral buys Alliance Atlantis -- then has to do a big benefits package to pump money into TMN development.

That's my Christmas, anyway...

EditThis said...

Sometimes it will make your head spin how quickly a show will go into production - and I work for a Kelley - when you KNOW they've been working on it for a year. Then all of a sudden, it's rush, rush, rush. At least in Canada, you guys seem more likely to let your shows air the full 13 or whatever before they get canned, instead of the early 2 episode death if the network has a bad feeling.

wcdixon said...

Welcome editthis...

I love comments that include: "...and I work for a Kelley". Please enlighten us!

Without going on about it since its been discussed ad neuseam in most Canuck tv blogs, the downside to shooting an entire season and then airing in entirity is you don't get to hear viewers response and reactions to elements/characters while you're making program and adjust accordingly. And if its airing a year after it was produced, so often it can already feel dated or lack relevancy.

So it goes...

Bill Cunningham said...

Well to add a bit of frosting to this good slice of poundcake post, I heard from the set that it looks like HUSTLE has some friends over at Fox, who are looking to pump $$ into producing more eps. per year and broadcasting them on Fox. Kudos ground troops are excited.

(I visited the stages where they were wrapping series 4, and got a t-shirt and some gossip. Saw Robert Vaughn, Napoleon Solo himself, SCORE!)


This will probably end up being another American remake series LIFE ON MARS...knowing the folks at Fox.

EditThis said...

Aah...I should have said I work for THE Kelley, as in the David E. one. I work on Boston Legal. He's got a new show that's starting to shoot right after the New Year (for "13"), and the production schedule is already CRAZY, before even shooting a foot of film.

wcdixon said...

Figured that was the case, editthis...very cool.

Caroline said...

I see a new role for myself in blogland... the muse. Works for me ... I don't have to comment or opine, just inspire.

So, DMC, I will ask one question ... who's buying Global? The sale sign's out.