To Pilot or not to Pilot?

Sometimes a new show succeeds without any Pilot, and a network has to stick to their guns.

In the USA TV Pilots are practically mandatory before a new show ever hits screens -but in Australia where it’s far less common, new formats can be crushed in a matter of weeks.

So should networks actually invest more money to mount Pilots before a new show hits the screen?

That was a question tackled recently at the Screen Forever conference.

Ben Ulm, Head of Reality & Factual, ITV Studios Australia said the cost of producing shows in Australia requires that light entertainment shows become stripped across two or three nights.

“There’s been some brave decisions made in the last few years where shows are launched on air without the benefit of being developed in other territories. When they fell, they fell badly. There’s no real Off-Broadway in this country. You think of some of the successful original ideas from this country, from The Panel to The Project to Talkin’ ‘Bout Your Generation … there are lots of examples of that. Maybe there’s a clue there.

“But a lot of them get to develop on air… a strong premise good cast, but it’s pretty cut-throat.
At 1 minute past 9 careers swing. It’s ironic because the data across a month now is much more meaningful than what happens at 1 minute past 9. But we’e all conditioned to look at those ratings, and either have a good day or a bad day (as a result).”

Stephen Tate, Head of Entertainment and Factual Programs, Network 10 said none of those 3 shows were really piloted, but the network made a commitment to stick with them.

“Sometimes I think a Pilot is a reason to not proceed. I know that’s quite a controversial thing to say. But it gives people a reason to stand back and fold their arms and say ‘There’s so many reasons why this won’t work.’

“Sometimes I think you’ve just got to screw your courage to the sticking place and make a show, make it work, and keep adjusting it on air as we did with Have You Been Paying Attention? Sometimes you just have to stick with it and hone it so that it can actually end up being the powerhouse that it is.”

10 Responses

  1. The only thing commerical networks are interested in making are stripped contest shows, and they don’t get piloted. They have to be stripped 3 to 4 nights a week to take out the opposition, who are trying to do the same thing to you.

    In the US they make pilots because a minium series order is 13* $US 3m. It’s worth burning some pilot episodes worth $3m to avoid wasting $US 39m on shows that will never make a profit. It not exactly working well, few shows are getting renewed, few new shows are being made because of Covid and the US schedule is full of 10+ year old shows and repeats.

  2. Have any of 10’s Pilot Week options converted into a hit? No. I thought it was a brave and ambitious idea by 10 who are the most innovative and daring of the three commercial networks. But the output from this initiative wasn’t great. Perhaps it was just an off year in 2018, and 2019…

  3. I like 10s pilot week. The problem is for me they need to try shows at various times to gauge an audience reaction to it. A show may not work on a Monday but be suitable for a Wednesday night. Dancing with Stars would be a prime example. Did not work on a Sunday night but more suitable for a Tuesday nights viewing. Maybe they need to change it Pilot month and air shows around the various stations and various hours. Not a saturated airing but strategic times and placement.

  4. The problem with 10’s Pilot weeks is that they were comprised of cynical and unambitious projects that were green-lit by suits with no creative instinct (and considering what was green-lit, I shudder to contemplate what was rejected) and 10 were trying to save themselves the expense of stockpiling episodes of one-night wonders. Also not helping is that they keep drawing upon that kiddy-sized talent pool of theirs.

    Unlike the US, who produce 20+ episode seasons like clockwork, local productions are typically comprised of UK-sized seasons, but the quality scarcely reflects the quantity, and we’re often waiting 18+ months between seasons, by which time, audiences are likely to have forgotten far too much to want to recommit (with respect to scripted shows).

    With such an abundance of content available nowadays, why should the audience settle for mediocrity?

    1. The Free to Air audience should settle for mediocrity because they’re not paying for it. So they need to watch the shows that the grocery buyer and next car buyer in the room also would be interested in watching. Free to Air channels need to make shows, everyone Likes, for shows you Love head to subscriber services, that can cater to niche audiences.

      1. Yes youbpay for streaming services but if you liook at the content there is not much new stuff coming online. Netflix has a few new shows but equally has alot of old previously seen stuff as well. The difference mainly is you can watch it when you like where free to air has set air times. Having said that catch up gives them as.edge on that as well.

  5. “ Ben Ulm, Head of Reality & Factual, ITV Studios Australia said the cost of producing shows in Australia requires that light entertainment shows become stripped across two or three nights”

    Why can’t that run of episodes be spread over a longer time?

    Instead of having 3 episodes a week for 5 weeks (15 total wow)

    Why cant the networks air it once a week for 15 weeks.

    How does that affect the cost?

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