Learning About Pilot Season Through Pie Charts

By Tim Surette

Mar 01, 2012

So far this pilot season, the five major broadcast networks (for the sake of this article, let's say The CW is a major network) have announced a total of 87 television pilots, all of which will battle each other to the death for somewhere around 35 to 40 slots. We'll be discussing some of the individual pilots over the next few weeks here at TV.com, but today we're going to look at the big picture and posit all kinds of weird theories about what's going on in the minds of studio execs, what you can expect to see on your TV screen later this year, and a few bits of useless info we found fascinating.

The information below is based on The Hollywood Reporter's list of pilots in development.

Who's got the most pilots in development?

Look at NBC and ABC go! I guess that's what happens when you trail the leaders by so much. Aside from a few small victories, NBC and ABC aren't even in the same league as CBS and Fox when it comes to total viewers or ratings, so it's spend-spend-spend time. Pilot season is going to be especially important for NBC. With new management in place (hello, Comcast!) and a reputation that needs fixin', it's no wonder the network is looking to sweep everything off the table and start from scratch.

Is comedy or drama prevailing?

The even distribution of comedies and dramas at ABC and CBS tells me they like where they are now, though leaning toward comedy is the typical way to go. And why not? Both networks have hot comedy blocks and a good foothold in the drama department. But look at Fox: Man oh man, the suits there been dying to get into the live-action comedy biz for years now. New Girl needs some company, so the network is stocking up big-time on laughers. As for NBC, well, it needs a little bit of everything except singing competitions with swiveling judges. It's not surprising the network's development slate is slightly comedy heavy; the once-powerful Thursday comedy block NBC has been known for is decomposing before our eyes. In contrast, The CW has tried the comedy thing before and failed spectacularly, despite my efforts as Vice President of the Aliens in America fan club.

Comedy: Multi-camera or single-camera?

Look at how jealous of the ABC and NBC comedy blocks Fox is! All 11 comedies that Fox has in the works are single-camera, a clear sign that the network is looking to follow suit with a single-camera comedy block anchored by New Girl. That just goes to show you how one hit can shape a network. If I Hate My Teenage Daughter was a hit and New Girl was a flop, comedy development at Fox would look a lot different. CBS going heavy on multi-cam pilots shouldn't be a surprise—the network is known for cardboard houses and canned laughs. What is surprising is that CBS is trying a single-cam offering at all. I'm giving that lone single-cam comedy zero shot at making CBS's schedule, and that's if I'm being generous. As for NBC and ABC, they're working with a pretty standard split of single-to-multi: 2-to-1 seems to be the magic ratio, where the idea is to hope for a hit and award-worthy single-cams, and fill in the rest with budget-friendly multi-cams.

Drama: Will cops, lawyers, and doctors reign?

What I really wanted to show here is what's going on at ABC and CBS. Bread, meet butter. When you comapre CBS's drama pie chart to its comedy pie chart, you see a network that has no intention of change. Until CBS's current plan stops working, the network will stick to it. How much does ABC like Once Upon a Time and miss Lost? Enough to stack its pilot season with fantasy shows and serialized thrillers. ABC is also continuing its trend of chasing female viewers, with enough soaps to leave the country clean enough to eat off of. Fox only has five dramas in the works, which is a bit worrisome, seeing as how its Monday nights are wide open. Did Fox stay away from sci-fi and thrillers after getting burned by Fringe, Alcatraz, and Terra Nova? Or did it stay away from the genre because it's bringing some combination of those shows back? As for NBC, it's throwing shows at the wall and seeing what sticks. It's a rebuilding year for the Peacock, for something like the eighth year in a row. Hello, Pittsburgh Pirates of television! Full disclosure: The CW shows were really hard to categorize. If there was a teen category, it'd be a solid teen color.


Networks are always adapting to trends and figuring out what works for them and what doesn't. CBS loves where it is and will continue to churn out multi-camera comedies and procedurals until America tells it to stop. ABC is really trying to carve out its place as the home for female-friendly fare, yet it's still taking chances on serialized thrillers and searching for the next appointment-TV drama. Fox is really late to the live-action comedy party and trying to play catch-up. NBC is scrambling to find an identity and at this point will try anything. "Cross your fingers and pray" is the office motto for NBC. And as it walks the line of extinction, The CW is hoping familiar and copycat brands (gotta milk that Hunger Games craze!) will keep it afloat.

What do the pie charts tell you about the state of the networks? And how awesome are pie charts?

Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

  • Comments (20)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • elainecleo Mar 08, 2012

    CW a teen network, let me see, I am 73 and most of my friends over 50 watch Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries, Hart of Dixie, Nikita & Ringer. I watch more shows on CW than any other network. Maybe we are all going back to our teen years. ;)...NOT

  • codakatz Mar 11, 2012

    Same here. I'm in my 60's and watch more shows on CW ("Supernatural", "The Vampire Diaries", "The Secret Circle" and "Nikita") than on NBC (nothing, now that "Chuck" is finished) and Fox ("Bones" and "Fringe". Dropped "House" after the first 2 episodes this season, and couldn't get into "Terra Nova", "The Finder" or "Alcatraz") combined.

  • Neejan Mar 08, 2012

    The CW is one of the best channels with great shows.

  • Miss_Mouse88 Mar 07, 2012

    I used to watch each network pretty evenly, but with some of my favourite shows winding down (The Office, House, likely Community as well :( ), with others slowly declining in quality my attentions have shifted. I mainly watch ABC for comedies, the CW continues to grow on me with TVD and TSC being 2 of my favourite shows. Though CBS is keeping me a constant viewer with HIMYM, POI and The Mentalist.

  • chas031 Mar 05, 2012

    What do the pie charts tell you about the state of the networks?

    1/10 of the story. Where are charts for production costs + studio fees+ consultant fees + insurance costs+ maintenance costs + lawyer fees + distributions costs + franchise fees + union fees + overrun costs + trailer rentals + craft services + emergency service fees+ focus group fees + EXECUTIVE SALARIES - advertising income??

    Now, slice THAT pie!!

  • gizmo1022 Mar 04, 2012

    Pretty much all the shows I watch are CBS.

  • angrodpallanen Mar 08, 2012

    I'm so sorry.

  • juan137946 Mar 04, 2012

    ABC ftw, its the best network with some great shows this year. OUAT, Revenge, Suburgatory, and Pan Am though being cancelled, and with the news of their pilots that I've heard they'll have great ones next year

  • Dracomom Mar 03, 2012

    Love pie charts- PI day is 3/14 (first 3 digits of that 22/7 number we all had to use in geometry class?), which I'm told is now a national holiday (to encourage kids to think math is cool!)

    As for shows- Love the sci-fi/ fantasy idea, but that's what they told us Terra Nova was going to be... At least ABC hit it with Once Upon A Time, so it's even money if they'll come up with anything else watchable.

  • TrevPlatt Mar 03, 2012

    This inspired me to tally up which networks/channels I prefer and rather surprisingly CBS and FOX won with 12 programmes each! I thought it would have ABC, which was comfortably 2nd with 9, NBC was slightly adrift with an uninspiring 3. (The CW had 6)

    Of the future shows I'm keeping tabs on NBC have 11 and ABC have 10 so I guess that could be considered a good thing for the two of them.

    Of the others the BBC came in with 11 current programmes, Showtime 10 and FX 8 - even MTV beat NBC with 4.

  • lalaforever1989 Mar 03, 2012

    Really want some apple pie now. Thanks

  • aarongutch Mar 02, 2012

    These pie charts show decisively why I'm barely watching CBS. I'm not a fan of procedurals (Exception Castle). I like continuity and CBS is all procedural, all the time. I also prefer single camera comedies (Exception BBT and HIMYM). Plus i'm a huge sci-fi fan. I like me some guilty pleasures too (Revenge, CW). So basically, except for a few comedies, CBS is barely even on my radar. ABC, though, is killin it IMO, even if they are trailing the other two.

  • eggbert63 Mar 03, 2012

    You might like Person of Interest. It's a procedural, but it's getting some heavy serial elements.

  • See More Comments (6)