ABC & Fox Aim To “Bust The Pilot Cycle” As Broadcast Network Chiefs Debate Traditional Development Process

Broadcast network bosses have once again promised to “bust the pilot cycle” – five years after Fox’s Kevin Reilly infamously said ‘RIP’ to pilot season.

ABC Entertainment President Karey Burke, who joined from cable network Freeform, said she’d “forgotten how dumb it was” and Fox’s President, Entertainment Michael Thorn claimed that the new Fox would look to develop as much programming off cycle as possible and use pilot season to complement its schedule.

However, CBS Entertainment President Kelly Kahl stood by the annual development/pilot cycle, while Lisa Katz, Co-President, Scripted Programming, NBC Entertainment added that she likes the structure and momentum it brings.

Speaking at the HRTS The Network Chiefs lunch, Burke said, the current system doesn’t still serve the broadcast universe. “The sheer fierce competition for shared talent that we go through is not good for the talent. I don’t think were serving the creators well or serving the audience well. It’s got even more contracted from what I remember a decade or so. We’re trying to break out of it; we’re making a bunch of pilots this summer as we always do, but I would love to bust the cycle.”

In February, for instance, Fox handed a reboot of Beverly Hills 90210 (pictured) a six episode run to air over the summer.

Thorn added that the newly single broadcast network wanted to be “off cycle as quickly as possible”. “If we could design the way it would work, the bulk of our development and series would be ordered off cycle and pilot season, which I don’t think will ever go away, will complement it, instead of the reverse.”

With 20th Century Fox Television moving under Disney ownership, Thorn added that it might be an advantage as a non-vertically integrated network to find projects that fit. “Where maybe some of the rest of the town, if they’re still selling on a more traditional cycle, it might be a little easier to access people at other vertically integrated studios and try and make a move off cycle and try and get them to develop with us after their pilots have been passed on,” he added.

CBS’ Kahl said that he doesn’t hate the year round system, but added that may be because he doesn’t come from a development background. “There is something kind of exhilarating, maybe it doesn’t make much sense, where you have your whole team working in unison and in a couple of months you are finding out who can cut it and who can’t with shows and pilots. We can see who can deliver under pressure.”

NBC’s Katz believes that the pace of it means that some people “rise to the occasion”. “We would love to not be so competitive and fighting for the same resources but I think each year we have shows that we’re incredibly excited about and proud of so something’s working,” she said.

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