What the High Number of Comedy Pilots Teaches us About the Comedy Writing Business.

"Comedy Pilots"

This funny picture of “comedy pilots” was taken from  here..

There are going to be a lot of comedy pilots that are going to be aired starting next broadcasting season–too many to keep track of in fact.  Fox has ordered eight, CBS ordered at least as many, and NBC ordered a bunch too.  If you’ve ever thought about writing a sitcom and trying to get a network to pick up up or are just curious, here are some things to consider.

Comedy Pilots Have a High Turnover

Most comedy pilots fail, which is why there are always so many being picked up every year.  The series that fail aren’t always the ones you’d expect to fail either.  When the Jeff Dunham show aired on Comedy central, for the first time, it was the highest rated pilot of the season (maybe in the channel’s history, but I’m not 100 percent sure).  The show, however, only lasted one season before it was cancelled.

There are a lot of factors that go into why a show gets cancelled.  It could have been put in a bad time slot, the show’s promotion might not be that good, the show may not resonate as much with the audience as intended, etc.

Networks Don’t Take Chances With Who They Work With

This includes both writers and actors.  If you read any stories about what pilots are being picked up, you’ll notice that all the writers mentioned have credits attached to their name.  In other words, you’ve probably either heard of, or watched, something else they’ve written.

The networks also make sure they can get familiar actors to play important roles.  An example of this is a pilot (untitled as of the writing of this post) airing on Fox that has Terry Crews (acted in Everybody Hates Chris) and Andy Samburg (acted on Saturday Night Live).

The reason the networks don’t like to take chances is because they could lose a lot of money if every show bombs.

The Emphasis Doesn’t Seem to be on the Premise

Seinfeld was a show about nothing, but at least when that aired nothing was different that anything else on the air.  In the show, George is quoted as saying “everyone’s doing something, we’ll do nothing.”

Unfortunately, the next season seems to be filled with it’s-been-done-before cliches (a lot of them anyways).  Do you want to see a comedy about a bitter, divorced woman?  Don’t worry, you’ll have two such shows to choose from.  Another pilot, being aired on NBC, “focuses on bright eyed and vulnerable Matthew being pushed by his three best friends to get back on the dating horse” (source: deadline.com).  That sounds like every single comedy movie for a youthful audience ever made.

Originally, I was going to make a list of who is airing which pilot, but as of right now everything is up in the air.  New shows are still getting the green light and not all the projects have titles.  When I know more, I will make such a list.


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