Damien on… The Death Of The Pilot
This has nothing to do with aeroplanes (airplanes).
In America, TV movies – A.K.A. “made-for-television movies” – first began appearing in the Sixties. Television had advanced to colour (color) and its budgets were getting bigger.
However, they still were not THAT big – a famous actor once said the difference between acting in TV movies and theatrical ones became apparent when he needed guidance on how to play a scene and went to the director and asked, “How do you want it?”
If the director gave him instructions on the subtleties and style of the performance he required – it was a theatrical movie.
Whereas if he screamed, “NOW – the next set-up is waiting!” – it was a TV movie.
But in the Seventies, things changed. Whilst stand-alone TV movies still appeared – most were really PILOTS.
Every year, several dozen TV movies would emerge and for most of the audiences, that was that. But Behind The Scenes, statistics would be obtained from ratings companies and forms would be filled in by demographically-selected viewers and the next season, a number of SERIES would burst forth – based on those TV movies.
The forms they took varied, though. Some would feature the same actors, characters and situations as the TV movie had – others would feature major CHANGES – while a few might only retain the basic PREMISE of the original.
These were down to the REACTION the TV movies had received.
I recall one series that had retained all of the actors, characters and situations from its pilot – but where the pilot had been a PERIOD piece, the resulting series became CONTEMPORARY. One suspects that while audiences had liked the premise, they had had trouble identifying with the period.
Or possibly, the network chief had decided the period aspect was unnecessary – and had pointed out the COSTS of period filming.
Anyhoo, the pilot system worked well – so given the current drop in TV audience figures (thanks largely to THIS medium) and today’s DIRE financial climate, it is highly surprising the networks decided to DUMP it.
These days, series get green-lighted WITHOUT recourse to floating a pilot. Of course, they only get six episodes – then they wait for the ratings on the first three. If the numbers are favourable (favorable) the network orders seven more.
Sometimes a series TAKES OFF and they order another eighteen, to take the number to a full season. While at other times, they wait for the thirteen to finish and if they like the numbers – they order a full season NEXT year.
But this is MURDER on production companies, who are left on continuous TENTERHOOKS.
Given that today, theatrical movies are almost exclusively no-brain, FX-laden, PG-13 blockbuster remakes, sequels, prequels and video-game spinoffs aimed at KIDS – and as a result, most of the creative talent has drifted over to television and who can blame them – it is hard to understand why this manic system has supplanted the tried-and-tested tradition of PILOTS.
I mean, even SIX series episodes represent FOUR HOURS of screen time. Whereas the humble pilot runs a mere sixty-two – or at most eighty-three MINUTES – thus costing a FRACTION of the amount.
The result of this madness is that GOOD series appear, then get re-scheduled and often CANCELLED at a rate that leaves viewers’ heads spinning. And all of this at a time when they are abandoning TV in their millions to go surf THIS media.
TV executives need to RETHINK things – and one good idea would be to REVIVE the PILOT.
[In the unlikely event a TV exec actually comes across this piece: please – take a Valium, sit down and leave a comment. Tell us WHY your industry STOPPED making pilots.]