NBC Effectively Cancels Pilot Season

Posted on January 26, 2008

In a surprise move, NBC has cancelled pilot season. Jeff Zucker, the head of NBC Universal said that the move will save $50 million by reducing the company's reliance on expensive pilots.
The decision to eliminate most pilots was made as the company looked for ways to cut costs in response to the Hollywood writers' strike and the slowdown in the economy, Mr. Zucker said. "It's clear we are in a recession in the United States, and we're going to have to manage our business accordingly," he said.

Networks like NBC have long relied on big-budget pilot episodes of television series in an effort to attract advertiser support for the rest of the season. But Mr. Zucker said the pilots, the first episode of a show and whose production cost has shot up to $7 million for an hour from about $3 million three years ago, were a poor indicator of the future success of a series and many never move beyond the pilot stage. "So you're spending money on programs you're not going to get," Mr. Zucker said. He said NBC might still commission "one or two" pilots a season, but would not do so as a matter of course.

Other networks are making similar calculations. A senior executive at one of NBC's competitors said Tuesday that "we will definitely do fewer pilots than we have before." This executive, who asked not to be identified because the network has yet to make its plans public, added that it had cut the number of scripts ordered for next season in half.

Mr. Zucker acknowledged that one reason for the decision was that NBC has suffered from weak prime-time ratings for the last several seasons. "Sometimes you see the world from a different perspective when you’re flat on your back," he said. "At NBC Entertainment we've been flat on our backs for the last few years."
This is not good news for fans of scripted television with decent budgets. In fact, it's not good news for anyone in the industry -- especially screenwriters.

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