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The Problem With Pilot Season

by  in Comic News, TV News Comment
The Problem With Pilot Season

It’s pilot season in television land, that time of year when networks announce all manner of new and exciting projects that we’ll probably never get to see. Can you tell what’s wrong with this picture?

I should say this straight off: I love pilot season. I know that I shouldn’t, but I love all the reports about what scripts have been picked up with what networks, what actors are attached and the whole shebang. It’s so … I don’t know, so filled with possibility and creation, even if it’s creation on an admittedly limited, “How can we come up with this limited spin on very familiar ideas,” scale. The way that American network television works, after all, seems to favor holding off on coming up with new series for most of the year and then exploding with all these pitches in a compressed period, which is … dizzying? Mystifying? Frustrating? All of the above.

As much as I enjoy it, though, pilot season seems so counter-intuitive to the process of making good television, though. It forces everyone involved in the process into a completely unrealistic, unhealthy mindset in one way or another, whether it’s artificially setting a deadline for projects to come together — How many shows have been retooled after their pilots were picked up? Doesn’t that suggest that they needed a little more time in development before the pilot in the first place? — placing all these projects in competition with each other for time slots that may or may not even exist yet, or placing an incredible amount of expectation and pressure on the one solitary episode to fulfill the potential of an entire concept, ensuring that it has to not only do everything right in terms of self-representation but also do it “righter” than the other, competing shows that TPTB will be watching around the same time.

(I always wonder how many potentially great television series have ended up not happening purely because the teams watching and evaluating pilots were in a particularly bad mood after the previous show they’d watched sucked all joy out’ve their hearts. I mean, that has to have happened more than a few times, right?)

There’s also something weirdly perverse about pilot season for those of us outside of the process, as well: What if I really, really want to see that new Rachel Bilson romantic comedy from Josh Schwartz, and it doesn’t get picked up? What about the much-discussed Wonder Woman at NBC? Or the new JJ Abrams projects? There’s so much time and effort put into making the world know about projects that may never come to the screen, and I’m not entirely sure why: To put pressure on networks to choose the pilots by gauging demand? To create buzz within the halls of those making decisions? Because these things always end up coming out, anyway, and this way you get to tell the world you’re working on something? Probably all of those, and then some, but still.

It strikes me that everyone would benefit from pilot season being ongoing – Or, rather, that there is no pilot season, but instead pilots happen when they’re ready, and networks make decisions for whatever season is lying ahead. It’d take the pressure of everyone, and might even result in some more developed, better shows all ’round. I’d miss the rush of news every single time I turned my head, of course, but I figure it’s one I can take for the team.

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