Writers strike a great opportunity for networks

Thu Dec 13, 2007 6:41am EST
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By Nellie Andreeva

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Hollywood writers strike might very well be the force that finally breaks the archaic broadcast development cycle.

The TV networks and studios have been trying for years to transition to year-round development, avoiding the huge cost of shooting pilots that mostly disappear without a trace before the season starts in September.

Now the prospect of a long strike might present the best opportunity yet to do that. Several networks, including Fox and NBC, are said to be working on new development strategies, including forgoing pilots altogether or borrowing from the cable development model.

A drama pilots costs between $5 million and $10 million to make. Sitcoms are almost as expensive. With most networks ordering 20-30 pilots out of more than 100 scripts and picking up about a quarter of them to series, pilots have become a major drag on the conglomerates' bottom line.

Last month, News Corp. president and COO Peter Chernin touted to investors the savings in pilot-season costs that the Fox Broadcasting parent was making because of the writers strike.

NBC is going further, eliminating pilots in some cases and going straight to series.

"Pilots are ridiculously expensive, you're fighting for the same pool of talent and they don't represent what the series would be anyway," one top network executive said.

Reserved in the past for rare cases like Dick Wolf's "Law & Order" spinoffs, NBC has applied the straight-to-series approach to three scripted projects this year, a drama called "The Philanthropist" from "Oz" creator Tom Fontana, and two dramas the network picked up at a reduced license fee -- the anthology series "Fear Itself" and action-adventure "Robinson Crusoe."   Continued...