Fox is bailing out on pilot season, which network entertainment chief Kevin Reilly says is a relic of an earlier age that no longer serves the creative process.
Reilly made the announcement Monday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, sitting on stage between two projecting cartoon tombstones with the words “R.I.P. Fox ‘Pilot Season’ 1986-2013.” The announcement makes Fox the first network to abandon what has long been the pipeline for getting new shows on broadcast television.
The process involves networks ordering pilot scripts through the fall and early winter, deciding which ones to shoot, and then screening them in a flurry to announce in May which ones will become series in the fall and midseason. The series forces much of the talent pool in Hollywood to scramble — and compete — in a condensed timeline, and Reilly says it no longer makes sense in a world with hundreds of cable networks in addition to ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW.
The May announcements coincide with the network’s upfront presentations to advertisers, when they spotlight their upcoming shows. Reilly said Fox’s new year-round schedule wouldn’t hurt the network’s advertising.
He said networks sometimes perpetuate the myth that there is only quality programming from September to May, but that that is no longer the case. “There are advertisers that want and have money to spend in those summer months,” he said.
He told critics he wasn’t saying other networks necessarily had to follow his lead.
Reilly has already started making decisions outside of the traditional network schedule. One of the network’s biggest shows this season is “24: Live Another Day,” which debuts in May.
He renewed “Sleepy Hollow” for a second season soon after its first episode aired. The early decision will allow the show to start shooting its second season well ahead of the pack.
“We will be starting next year’s production of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ this March,” he said.
Reilly noted that Fox co-showrunner Damon Lindelof said at another TCA panel that “when you slow down the conveyor belt the quality goes up.” He said he agreed.
Fox — and all networks — have already started developing and producing shows outside of the pilot season pipeline. O’Reilly noted that Fox is currently developing or projecting ten different series, including the miniseries “Wayward Pines” and “Gotham,” a Batman origin story.
It remains to be seen how completely Fox will ignore pilot season. The network isn’t likely to pass on a hot script, obviously, just because it happens to cross Reilly’s desk during pilot season.