With many networks still premiering new shows, pilot debuts — usually slated for the fall — will continue for a while. However, as Fox president Kevin Reilly recently announced during the Television Critics Association press tour, Fox will skip the traditional pilot season broadcast. Instead, the network will work on developing whole series.
Reilly’s reasoning is simple. The current broadcast model is outdated and must be changed both to keep up with the times, and to allow for better quality of programming. Television pilots are used as a test to see which series will be successful. Networks order scripts for nearly a dozen pilots with the hope that a good number will be green-lit as fall and midseason shows. This process often results in a strong pilot episode but an inconsistent series.
Reilly’s new plan looks to fix that, and he’s already had some success. “Sleepy Hollow” and “The Following,” both projects that broke the traditional pilot system, were breakout hits for the network and have been well-received by critics. The defined and consistent tone of both shows from first episode to season finale is only possible when viewing a television series as a whole. This way, series can set the tone from the get-go, rather than spending half of the first season trying to find their groove.
However, the only way this is possible for shows — particularly dramas — is if they have shorter seasons. This is quite attractive to many showrunners and television writers who find the current broadcast method exhausting. Reilly’s new model gives them a chance to plan out an entire story arc from beginning to end without having too much time to fill in 22 to 24 episodes.
Cable has long employed this method to great success, as seen in the kind of acclaim and viewership shows such as AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones” have drawn. Moreover, it gives cable networks the freedom to introduce shows throughout the year. In a way, this reduces the risk involved as they don’t have to compete with all the new shows at once the way that network pilots often do. This means that Fox can debut its series when they are good and ready, allowing them more time to produce better television.
Broadcast shows already face stiff competition from online streaming and original programming from Netflix and Hulu. Skipping pilot season to focus on developing higher quality programming only benefits Fox in the long run, making it a real contender in the fight for viewership.
If Reilly’s plan proves successful, it might lead to other networks following suit. While this may result in short seasons across the board, one thing is for certain: no one complains about good television.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Jan. 27 print edition. Nivea Serrao is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.