Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seasons in LA - TV

LA is all about seasons. There's a rainy season and a dry season. Ba dum dum. I'm actually not kidding though. At least in the TV world, everything is based on seasons. Many people will tell you that TV has moved from a buying season to an all year development season. While this is true in many respects, MOST projects are still bought in the same way they have for 50 years. So, let's take a minute to discuss how this works. Instead of starting in January like a real calender, we'll start in May, or, the development season. It's important to note that these are just guesstimate dates based on my own experience. Networks have ordered series in June and given script orders in February.


After upfronts, where networks announce their line-ups for the following fall, all production company switch from competing to get projects on the air to developing projects for the next year. Even the companies with shows on the air have to begin preparing their shows for the following year. This involves more than just getting a killer concept. They also have to attach writers, get proposals written, and if possible both attach actors and get artwork for pitches.

If you've gotten shows on the air, you begin the process of setting the show up and staffing said show. This is the busiest time of the year for writers, because agents/managers/lawyers are shoving scripts in new showrunner's faces, trying to get their clients on their show. However, this is also a huge time for all crew members as they are vying for spots as PAs, catering, Grip, Electric, and all manner of crew positions.

Shows don't have much time before they are expected to be up and running, so things usually happen fact and furious and people slow to pull the trigger don't get the job.


After projects are set up and production companies are feeling confident, producers, with writers in tow, go out to networks to try to sell the concept. While some shows are bought in the room, the vast majority are passed on, or made to wait for weeks on end while networks hem and haw about whether to order a script. Even if picked, unless you're JJ Abrams or Seth MacFarlane, you're not going to get a series order in the room. You're going to get a script order.

A script order for a production company means little less than squat. They don't really made any money off a script order since they're paying most to all of it to the writer. Even if a script is bought, produced to pilot, and ordered to series, a production company is going to deficit that money for 4-5 years until it's bought to series, as talked about here.


Most script orders, though not all, are given before Thanksgiving with scripts due by Christmas to review over the long holiday. This is really an extension of Pitching season, however it's worth mentioning in it's own section.


Starting a couple weeks after the New Year, when executive have had time to read all the scripts, pilot orders start trickling out. When pilots are ordered, a little mini spike in production happens. By this point and at every major network, the thousands of pitches have been whittled down to 100 or so script orders and those have been whittled 20 or so pilots. By upfronts, those pilots will be whittled again to a handful of projects which will get on the air.

Interestingly enough, just because a project is ordered to pilot doesn't necessarily mean it has or will have financing. Many scripts come from producers or writers without studios or financing behind them. As we all know, most pilots fail, and most series fail. So, in order for a studio to come on board, they don't only have to believe in the concept of the project, but believe they can sell it internationally and keep it on the air long enough to make a profit. While most of the pilots will find financing, some of them will fall by the wayside. Even others will have to go to several studios to make their case. It's a strange little twist which most people don't talk about.


In May, every network has a presentation of their products, their schedule for the upcoming year. Some would say this is where the production companies who received series orders have won, but we all know that 90% of pilots fail, so it's a little presumptuous for that, wouldn't you say?

I'm sure film also has it's seasons, spec season heats up after Labor Day and dies down in May, but I find the TV season much more interesting. So, what do you think? Are there seasons in LA?