Rejected pilots get second chance

It's the final stretch of the development season. Soon dreams will be made for a handful of writers whose projects get on the air, and hopes dashed for hundreds of others.

In three months' time, scores of bound scripts and dozens of pilot tapes will head to their final resting places, the desk drawers of their creators and, occasionally, the shelves of development executives who loved them. But more than ever this season, there is a second chance for many of these shows.

This past week alone, two pilots of network development's past made a triumphant return: Fox brought back its 2001 one-hour pilot More, Patience, now redeveloped as a half-hour show--which was how writer Jed Seidel had originally envisioned it--and CBS reordered last year's drama pilot 3 Lbs.

Another blast-from-the-past pilot this year--Fox's multicamera comedy Becoming Glen, which originally was ordered by the network as a single-camera pilot in 2002.

Then there is Ugly Betty, an adaptation of the hit Colombian telenovela Betty La Fea, which, in its third reincarnation, is a go as a pilot at ABC. It has been a five-year effort for agent-turned-producer Ben Silverman, one of the executive producers of NBC's The Office.

"Part of the lesson of this project is that it's more of a marathon than a sprint," 3 Lbs creator Peter Ocko said in July, shortly after CBS passed on the pilot but kept the project alive with an order for an additional script.

The project is following in the footsteps of another CBS drama pilot, Numbers, which didn't make the cut the first time but was subsequently reworked and became a hit series.

With a staggering amount of new material pitched every development season, the resurrection odds for an older script that already has been passed on are minimal. But there are a few factors that can increase a show's chances.

"The key word is passion," Fox executive vice president of programming Craig Erwich says. "Somebody--it can be the writer, an agent, or an executive--has to not allow the project to die. In the back of their minds, all executives carry about 10 projects they wish they'd made."

For eight years after CBS passed on his drama The Truth About Joey Ice Cream, writer Paul Haggis tried to get the project, about four young Irish brothers in New York, made. Finally, NBC last summer picked up the script to a pilot and later to series titled The Black Donnellys. It didn't hurt that in the meantime, Haggis had become one of the hottest filmmakers in Hollywood after garnering critical acclaim for writing Million Dollar Baby and for cowriting and directing Crash.

Shonda Rhimes, creator of ABC's red-hot drama Grey's Anatomy, also is a writer whose previous work is being revisited after she made it big. Rhimes is writing a new journalism-themed drama pilot for ABC for midseason 2006-07 consideration. In reality, that project was developed a year earlier than Grey's and now is being reworked.

In this case, it was a combination of the writer's passion for her project, her increased profile, and the backing of an executive, Stephen McPherson, who developed the show as president of Touchstone TV and has now ordered it in his capacity as entertainment president of the Disney-owned studio's corporate sibling, ABC.

In another example of an executive helping to bring a project back from the dead, when drama development executive Jackie Lyons moved from ABC to USA Network in 2000, she took with her a script about a P.I. with obsessive-compulsive disorder. It had languished at ABC for two years because of difficulties with casting. That project became Monk


Together with another broadcast network pilot reject, UPN's The Dead Zone, the quirky series put the cable network on the map as a place for original programming.

Comments (4)
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Feb 22, 2006
I would rather watch a new show that someone is passionate about than a new show thrown together with big names and a big budget.
Feb 09, 2006
Everyone should get a second chance!
Feb 07, 2006
Cant wait
Feb 07, 2006
That's awesome. Congratulations, dedicated execs!