Pilot Season 2022: Projected Volume Well Below Pre-Pandemic Levels As Covid-Imposed Changes Take Hold

Three weeks into the new year, we’ve only had three January pilot pickups

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1/21/2022 6:20:00 AM

Three weeks into the new year, we’ve only had three January pilot pickups

During the holiday break, which traditionally shuts down Hollywood for the final two weeks of the year, top broadcast network executives used to spend a significant portion of their time reading pi…

.Pitch buying season, whose start had been creeping further and further into the summer in the years prior to the pandemic, was late in 2021 — and lighter than usual with fewer projects taken out by writers and fewer pitches taken in by the networks for (virtual) meetings. As a result, many of the projects were delivering first drafts to the studios — not the networks — before the holidays, making for a more restful holiday break for top network executives with no reading homework and a very stressful one for studio executives who fear the crunch that would come with a delay in pilot orders when up against the May upfront delivery deadlines. Those fears have been justified so far, with pilot orders tracking weeks behind schedule.

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Josep . Pitch buying season, whose start had been creeping further and further into the summer in the years prior to the pandemic, was late in 2021 — and lighter than usual with fewer projects taken out by writers and fewer pitches taken in by the networks for (virtual) meetings. As a result, many of the projects were delivering first drafts to the studios — not the networks — before the holidays, making for a more restful holiday break for top network executives with no reading homework and a very stressful one for studio executives who fear the crunch that would come with a delay in pilot orders when up against the May upfront delivery deadlines. Those fears have been justified so far, with pilot orders tracking weeks behind schedule. There are lingering effects from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out the 2020 pilot season by shutting down production and threw a wrench in the traditional broadcast cycle, with pilots filming in fall 2020 and winter 2021 and a number of projects bypassing the pilot stage altogether to go straight-to-series. All of the major broadcast networks ordered off-cycle pilots in 2021; a few of them are in contention for next fall. Before it was obliterated by the pandemic, the 2020 broadcast pilot season already had set a new low mark for volume with a little over 60 pilots ordered across the five broadcast networks after ABC and Fox had announced a shift to year-round development and pilot production (dubbed second cycle by ABC.) The 2022 pilot season is expected to be well below that pre-pandemic level, with a total volume of pilots in the 30s (conservative) 40s (optimistic) range. “I don’t think any network is going to do more than four pilots or either side of the ball,” one industry insider said. They’re going to be agents of their own doom.” Some of the reduction is due to evolving broadcast models and shifting cycles (I hear some nets in December were already taking pitches for the 2022-23 development season), and some of it is because of the increased financial pressure declining linear ratings have put on pilot spending, even with networks’ digital revenue on the rise. Setting aside more than $100 million for a handful of pilots to make it to series — which the Big 4 had done in the 2000s and early 2010s — is probably hard to justify in the current economic environment. Also, based on what has been working on broadcast the last couple of years, we should expect more procedural dramas. Dick Wolf now controls three nights on NBC and