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January 13, 2014

Fox Waves Bye-Bye to Pilot Season

TCA: Fox Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly says "R.I.P. Pilot Season," announcing that Fox will be the first broadcast television network to bypass the long-standing, annual production ritual.

Juliana J. Bolden
  • Kevin Reilly (c.) with actresses Hannah Simone (l.) of New Girl and Mindy Kaling (r.) of The Mindy Project.

It's the end of pilot world as we know it, says Fox exec Kevin Reilly.

Seated onstage between two cartoon-projection tombstones with the words “R.I.P. Fox ‘Pilot Season’ 1986-2013” on them, Fox Entertainment chief Kevin Reilly told journalists at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour today that the network will officially bypass traditional pilot season for 2014.

He and the studio have been wanting to do this for a long time, he revealed.

Reilly said that pilot season was built for a different era: “It was built in a 3 network monopoly when we had all the talent and all of the audience. It’s highly inefficient.” 

He observed that one reason certain cable nets are producing such high quality product is that they do not subscribe to the typical development calendars and conventions as broadcast networks.

“We, as networks, will produce 80 to 100 pilots,” he explained. “After the pilot season is over, we screen them and schedule them and announce them in a compressed and crazy, condensed two week period – and we go to the upfront.”

Selected pilots then have roughly 6 weeks to get into production and get on the air. “Honestly, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the talent is able to produce anything of quality in that environment.”

When they are competing with a huge swath of cable that has a lot of flexibility in when the shows can go on,” Reilly said, “cable networks are able to course correct creatively and reshoot and recast.”

And most every first season show, whether doing well or or struggling, could benefit from course correction and further cooking, Reilly declared. He underscored his thoughts with those of writer-producer Damon Lindelof (Lost, Star Trek Into Darkness), who discussed life outside the broadcast product pipeline at recent HBO press conference for new series The Leftovers.

“Damon obviously has had a lot of network television success,” Reilly recalled. “He said, ‘When you slow down the conveyor belt, the quality goes up.’ I agree with him and that’s what we want to do.”

Fox has nearly a dozen studio projects at various stages of development and production, Reilly said, including Batman prequel Gotham from Warner Bros. Television and helmed by showrunner Bruno Heller (The Mentalist).

Fox is not "making declarations of what anyone else should do," Reilly said. The goal here is to find better, more talent-friendly ways to produce programs and to service viewers and advertisers. 



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