CBS, Fox, and the CW have all slashed their development slates for the upcoming pilot season, jettisoning dozens of scripts, and ABC is expected to do the same. Now that the writers strike has stretched on into what would ordinarily be pilot season, most of the projects cut probably couldn’t be made at this point anyway. All of the networks are still hanging onto a handful of pilots that can potentially be picked up for next season.
NBC, meanwhile, seems to be looking to eliminate pilot season altogether in the future. In an address to NBC Universal employees by videoconference, chief executive Jeff Zucker said the network was looking to save as much as $50 million a year by reducing its reliance on expensive pilots. Although NBC might still commission “one or two” pilots a season, he said they would no longer do so as a matter of course.
So what does this mean for us, the humble viewers? Fewer and fewer groundbreaking scripted programs like 30 Rock and The Office, and more reality fare like American Gladiators and The Biggest Loser. Thanks, Jeff Zucker. Thanks a lot.
The strategy may prove profitable in the short term, but it bodes ill for the future of network television. Sure, reality programming is cheap to produce, but it has a very short shelf life, doesn’t repeat well, doesn’t hold up to time-shifted viewing and brings in little DVD or merchandising revenue. It’s also a contributing factor in the chronic viewer hemorrhaging the networks have been facing, a problem highlighted by the dip in American Idol‘s audience this season.