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View Full Version : Thoughts on this year's sitcom pilots


Zodraz
04-06-2015, 09:29 AM
I recently finished reading all 40 sitcom scripts that have been picked up to pilot by the big four networks, so that I can let my agent know which ones I might be particularly well-suited for if they get picked up to series.

Here are some assorted facts that might be of interest:

(1) Network breakdown: ABC = 12, CBS = 9, FOX = 7, NBC = 12

(2) Only 12 of the 40 are being produced by a studio not directly affiliated with the network (i.e., CBS TV for CBS, Universal TV for NBC, etc.)

(3) 24 are single-cam, 16 are multi-cam. The single-cams range from 32-40 pages in length, with a median of 35 pages. The multi-cams range from 44-57 pages in length, with a median of 51.5 pages.

(4) 11 of the 40 make extensive use of voice-over.

(5) I've typically been reading 2nd or 3rd "network drafts" that have presumably already received notes from the networks. Yet 7 of the 40 explicitly use some unbleeped variation of the f-word in dialogue, and another 9 explicitly use the s-word in dialogue. (Obviously the f-word won't make it to air, just found it interesting that the networks don't seem to particularly mind its presence in the draft stage.)

Now for some opinions:

(6) There were only six scripts that I thought were great (i.e., if I were a Blacklist reader I'd give them an 8 or better):

(a) Angel From Hell (CBS, Tad Quill)
(b) People are Talking (NBC, DJ Nash)
(c) Taxi-22 (CBS, Tad Quill AGAIN-- though don't feel too bad/inadequate, he wrote it in 2013 and it got rolled over to this season)
(d) The King of 7B (ABC, Howard Franklin)
(e) Untitled Suzanne Martin project (NBC, Suzanne Martin)
(f) Fantasy Life (FOX, Tim McAuliffe)

(7) Then there were about 10 or so more that I would consider "good" (i.e., a Blacklist 7).

(8) But the rest were mediocre at best-- I would give the majority of the scripts I read no more than a 6 on the Blacklist.

(9) Which makes it very difficult for someone trying to use these scripts as a benchmark for their own pilots-- because many of these scripts clearly got picked up to pilot because the network wants to work with a particular writer (or attached producer/star) as opposed to the script's intrinsic quality.

(10) Interestingly, I thought the 12 scripts from other studios were on average significantly worse than the in-house pilots-- which I guess makes sense, since the networks probably get first crack at their studio partner's pilots, and snatch up the best ones. Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me if two or more networks ONLY pick up in-house sitcom pilots to series.

And lastly some pet peeves:

(11) OMG am I sick of voice-over-- especially if there isn't some in-story reason for the voice-over. Enough already.

(12) Please stop telling me in the action lines that two characters have chemistry. If that's something you explicitly need to tell me, then that's means you've failed as a writer.

(13) Almost as annoying are all the emotional beats underscored by an action line saying for example "this really lands with Joe." Ugh. I'm not sure why I find "lands" so much more aggravating than "that hits Joe hard" or whatever-- I think it's because no one actually use "lands" in everyday conversation ("Wow, Jen, the story about your sick mom really landed with me"), so using such a writerly phrase takes me out of the script. So I suggest you come up with a more elegant landing.

Anyway, thanks for listening to me vent!

And happy to answer any questions you may have while these pilots are still relatively fresh in my head...

Cooper
04-06-2015, 09:45 AM
I recently finished reading all 40 sitcom scripts that have been picked up to pilot by the big four networks, so that I can let my agent know which ones I might be particularly well-suited for if they get picked up to series.

Here are some assorted facts that might be of interest:

(1) Network breakdown: ABC = 12, CBS = 9, FOX = 7, NBC = 12

(2) Only 12 of the 40 are being produced by a studio not directly affiliated with the network (i.e., CBS TV for CBS, Universal TV for NBC, etc.)

(3) 24 are single-cam, 16 are multi-cam. The single-cams range from 32-40 pages in length, with a median of 35 pages. The multi-cams range from 44-57 pages in length, with a median of 51.5 pages.

(4) 11 of the 40 make extensive use of voice-over.

(5) I've typically been reading 2nd or 3rd "network drafts" that have presumably already received notes from the networks. Yet 7 of the 40 explicitly use some unbleeped variation of the f-word in dialogue, and another 9 explicitly use the s-word in dialogue. (Obviously the f-word won't make it to air, just found it interesting that the networks don't seem to particularly mind its presence in the draft stage.)

Now for some opinions:

(6) There were only six scripts that I thought were great (i.e., if I were a Blacklist reader I'd give them an 8 or better):

(a) Angel From Hell (CBS, Tad Quill)
(b) People are Talking (NBC, DJ Nash)
(c) Taxi-22 (CBS, Tad Quill AGAIN-- though don't feel too bad/inadequate, he wrote it in 2013 and it got rolled over to this season)
(d) The King of 7B (ABC, Howard Franklin)
(e) Untitled Suzanne Martin project (NBC, Suzanne Martin)
(f) Fantasy Life (FOX, Tim McAuliffe)

(7) Then there were about 10 or so more that I would consider "good" (i.e., a Blacklist 7).

(8) But the rest were mediocre at best-- I would give the majority of the scripts I read no more than a 6 on the Blacklist.

(9) Which makes it very difficult for someone trying to use these scripts as a benchmark for their own pilots-- because many of these scripts clearly got picked up to pilot because the network wants to work with a particular writer (or attached producer/star) as opposed to the script's intrinsic quality.

(10) Interestingly, I thought the 12 scripts from other studios were on average significantly worse than the in-house pilots-- which I guess makes sense, since the networks probably get first crack at their studio partner's pilots, and snatch up the best ones. Anyway, it wouldn't surprise me if two or more networks ONLY pick up in-house sitcom pilots to series.

And lastly some pet peeves:

(11) OMG am I sick of voice-over-- especially if there isn't some in-story reason for the voice-over. Enough already.

(12) Please stop telling me in the action lines that two characters have chemistry. If that's something you explicitly need to tell me, then that's means you've failed as a writer.

(13) Almost as annoying are all the emotional beats underscored by an action line saying for example "this really lands with Joe." Ugh. I'm not sure why I find "lands" so much more aggravating than "that hits Joe hard" or whatever-- I think it's because no one actually use "lands" in everyday conversation ("Wow, Jen, the story about your sick mom really landed with me"), so using such a writerly phrase takes me out of the script. So I suggest you come up with a more elegant landing.

Anyway, thanks for listening to me vent!

And happy to answer any questions you may have while these pilots are still relatively fresh in my head...

Very interesting and informative! When will you have the stats for the one-hour drama pilots?:bounce:

PS -- as I'm not familiar with how this all works, were these the pilots that were just purchased this spring (2015) or were they purchased last year?

Zodraz
04-06-2015, 09:50 AM
Very interesting and informative! When will you have the stats for the one-hour drama pilots?:bounce:
I'd love to also do this for dramas but unfortunately I don't think I'll have the time. Perhaps others could chime in with their favorite drama pilots?

PS -- as I'm not familiar with how this all works, were these the pilots that were just purchased this spring (2015) or were they purchased last year?
I guess technically most of the scripts were purchased in the fall (along with many others), but they weren't "picked up to pilot" (which means the network commits to actually filming a pilot) until I think late Jan.

Many of the pilots are filming now, and by upfronts in mid-May the networks will make their decisions on which of the pilots to pick up to series for their 2015-2016 schedules.

Cooper
04-06-2015, 11:34 AM
Thanks Zodraz!

Let's hope that some others chime in about the drama pilots.

Good luck with your staffing quest! (Out of curiosity, which of your top list would you pick to write for if you had your choice?)

Zodraz
04-06-2015, 04:36 PM
(Out of curiosity, which of your top list would you pick to write for if you had your choice?)
Probably "Angel from Hell", especially since it's driven by an intriguingly clever "Is she or isn't she really a guardian angel?" premise that I think would be a lot of fun to write.

Alfred Parker
04-06-2015, 05:04 PM
Totally with you, Zodraz, on the Tad Quill stuff. Excellent combination of heart and humor without vulgarity or pandering.

I read Angel From Hell first - then specifically sought out Taxi 22 because I liked the first one so much - and the second equally delivered. Really impressive too that they were so very different in characters, structure, the way they garnered laughs. Usually you read two pilots by the same writer in succession you see a lot of overlapping elements.

In fact, there's one writer with two pilots at different nets this development season who wrote the same exact joke on page one of both scripts... Oy!

But Quill's the real deal.