Typing Faster

January 4, 2010

It All Starts With Development

Filed under: Kvetch, NBC, the biz — petertypingfaster @ 1:44 pm

I’ve spent most of my day to day career working in development. I’ve worked at independent production companies, and I’ve worked at broadcasters. I’ve worked on development slates that were mostly documentaries, and I’ve worked on slates that were entirely scripted. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in that time, it’s this:

Development is really freaking important.

It’s were it all starts. If you have a weak development slate as an independent production company your bottom line is going to be hurting in a big way because no one’s going to buy your shows.

If you have a weak development slate as a broadcaster you better believe that no one’s going to be tuning in to see your new shows when they premiere.

If you want proof all you have to do is look at what happened to NBC.

NBC, who’s been in the ratings basement for the little while, just made waves by ordering 18 new pilots for this development season, up from the 11 that were made before the current season.

Why the change?

More new shows increase the odds of developing hits… The network…reduced development when “Seinfeld” and “Friends” led ratings in the 1990s, and continued to cut further. That left the New York-based network without enough material…

“In success we became used to making fewer and fewer pilots,” Bromstad said. “We have to take more swings, take more shots creatively, and have more back-up.”

Damn straight. It all starts with development. If you don’t develop new shows, then you run the risk of having nothing to replace the shows that are going off the air, which, I think we can all agree, is a pretty damn boneheaded play.

If you leave it as long as NBC has, then you start to really get into trouble.

“With rival broadcast networks riding a relatively high number of new hit shows premiering last fall, NBC appears to have the unenviable task of having to reprogram well over 20 percent of its prime-time schedule for next season,” Tuna Amobi, an analyst with Standard & Poor’s, said in an e-mail.

Leno’s one-hour show takes up five hours of the weeknight schedule, allowing Bromstad to focus on the remaining 10 hours from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., she said.

“We have so many holes that we have to essentially rebuild the schedule,” Bromstad said. “Not having the additional five hours has certainly relieved some of the pressure.”

Of course the fact that Bromstad seems to be saying that the Leno Show will be hanging around the schedule doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Whatever confidence I have left is further whittled away once I saw what kind of shows they were actually developing.

NBC will introduce “Parenthood,” a drama based on Ron Howard’s 1989 movie, on March 1, and comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s “Marriage Ref” on March 14. Both will be promoted during NBC’s coverage of the winter Olympics in Vancouver, Bromstad said.

Bromstad highlighted pilots including “Rex is Not Your Lawyer” from producers Gail Berman and Lloyd Braun. The comedy, starring David Tennant and Jeffrey Tambor, follows a litigator who suffers a break-down and can’t enter a courtroom.

The network is also working on a show called “Prime Suspect,” written by “Without a Trace” creator Hank Steinberg, Bromstad said. NBC is also re-making “The Rockford Files,” as well as concepts from “Star Trek” director J.J. Abrams and producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

NBC plans to bring back “Law & Order” next season, making the show the longest-running drama in TV history, she said.

So let’s see what we got:

  • A feature adaptation that’s already failed once as a TV series for NBC.
  • A new version of Seinfeld (because really does Jerry Seinfeld do anything but his schtick?)
  • A remake of a British series by the talent of Without A Trace.
  • A remake of The Rockford Files.
  • More Bruckheimer shows, presumably some variation of CSI.
  • More J.J. Abrams shows (no way will NBC get behind a show like Lost).
  • Bringing back Law & Order, the unkillable cockroach of network television.

I hate to say it, but that’s hardly what I’d call taking more swings, or more shots creatively. That looks pretty much like “more of the same to me.”

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same shit over and over expecting a different result. Well, if that saying holds true then NBC’s next nine months will probably be a lot like its last nine months.

Profit at NBC Universal slid 27 percent through nine months of 2009. Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Zucker, who signed a three-year employment contract, aims to turn the network around over the next several years.

“We shouldn’t be defensive about this. We shouldn’t do anything but say we haven’t done a good enough job,” Zucker said at a Dec. 7 investor conference in New York. “The problem is you can’t turn it around in a day. It takes time.”

It only takes time to turn things around if you actually change things up and do things differently.

And that starts with development. Develop some new, original, creatively sound shows, just like the ones you used to have on the air, and then maybe, just maybe, NBC won’t be the laughingstock of all the broadcast networks anymore.

See? It all starts with development.

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