Are the Networks Going to Change the Way TV Is Made?

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At the Television Critics Association press tour this week, Fox's chairman rocked the boat by declaring that his network is doing away with tradition of pilot season. But is broadcast TV really on the precipice of change? 

Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly announced proudly on Monday that Fox will "bypass" pilot season—the yearly process by which networks order new shows—in favor of a model more akin to the cable system, whereby new series are developed year round. "I think these shows in this day and age, we can't be in the one-size-fits-all business," he said, per The Hollywood Reporter. "There shouldn't be a set order pattern. There shouldn't be a set time when we launch things. The audience doesn't watch midseason and fall season. They don't know about pilot season. They just want to watch a great show at the right time of year that's marketed to them, that they can be aware of. There are so many things, thousands of original shows competing for their attention right now, we just can't do it all at once." Reilly's idea isn't to look at a clump of single episodes, but rather entire shows, Lacey Rose and Lesley Goldberg explained, picking up series orders—like, say Gracepoint, the U.S. version of Broadchurch—throughout the year. 

It's clear to any television fan that while there is still plenty to watch on broadcast television, cable is where people go for quality, and doing away with pilot season—a period where a lot of ideas are dealt with in a very short amount of time—is helpful.  As Tim Goodman wrote in THR: "But as far as a revolution in the pilot process—dismantling it—the ultimate benefit is time. And time means patience, which can translate to better quality." Reilly quoted Damon Lindelof, the Lost creator who has headed over to HBO for his The Leftovers, saying: "When you slow down the conveyor belt, the quality goes up." 

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Among Reilly's other plans? Have shorter, more cable-like seasons for dramas—which the network has already done to great success with Sleepy Hollow—and schedule scripted programming into summer months. "As those words wafted out into the ballroom, even the most jaded among us must have perked up," Goodman wrote. "It certainly felt like change—positive change—wasn't just afoot, but already in motion. It was, in some ways, thrilling to hear."  

Of course, that's not sitting too well with CBS, the network that's still doing very well off the traditional "pilot season + 13-episode order + back-nine" model. At their TCA panel today CBS's entertainment president Nina Tassler defended the old way. Per Lacey Rose and Marisa Guthrie of THR, Tassler affirmed that "pilot season does work" for her network, and that she still believes in the 22-episode season. She also took a shot at Lindelof. "I want to hear Damon Lindelof complain about broadcast when he goes to the bank to cash his Lost checks," she said. (James Hibberd at Entertainment Weekly points out that Lost perhaps isn't the best example considering that Lindelof and executive producer Carlton Cuse wanted shorter orders.)

Fox has always been an outlier amongst its broadcast compatriots. It's not one of the Big Three.  But TV is changing, and Reilly seems to be aware of it. 


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.