Horror, Edgier Fare in Drama Pipeline

Feb 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

As the drama pilot pickup season for the broadcast networks closed last week it became clear that the success of “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” had a significant impact on prime-time development.

However, the influence of this season’s most successful new series did not manifest in the form of copycats, as has been the case in past seasons. Instead, the breakouts encouraged networks to explore underrepresented genres that still interest the audience, said David Janollari, president of entertainment for The WB.

One of those genres was horror, which explains a WB pilot pickup for “Supernatural,” the story of two brothers who battle fantastic creatures.

“That [genre] was very successful for this network in particular in the past,” Mr. Janollari said, referring to “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” “Also, look at the feature film landscape, with `The Ring,’ `The Grudge.’ I say the audience has a huge appetite for that kind of show.”

Jennifer Nicholson-Salke, senior VP of drama development for 20th Century Fox Television, said Mr. Janollari’s competitors also have rediscovered horror.

“The fact that nothing really scary was on the air wasn’t lost on the networks,” Ms. Nicholson-Salke said. Her company’s script “Briar & Graves,” about a priest who solves religious mysteries, was given a pilot pickup by Fox.

Morgan Wandell, Touchstone Television senior VP of drama development, said projects with complicated characters not usually seen on broadcast television have made it through to the pilot stage, including the lead character in his studio’s “Introducing Lennie Rose” for ABC, about a young woman who is a recovering alcoholic. But moving forward, he said, there is always the risk that networks will tone down edgy characters in favor of more traditional fare. Mr. Wandell said memorable characters can survive development as long as studios take care.

“At the end of the day, if the characters aren’t redeemable and there’s no hope, then yeah, it will be tougher,” he said. “But if there’s heart and there’s hope, we have a real shot.”

ICM agent Jill Holwager Gillett said the networks are also opting for hospital dramas that go beyond the traditional “disease-of-the-week” formula. CBS is developing a pilot about brain surgeons, while both NBC and Fox picked up fertility clinic pilots.

“These aren’t traditional medical shows,” she said.

Chris Silbermann, a partner at the Broder Webb Chervin Silbermann Agency, said that despite a few projects here and there, the development slates haven’t changed much this year, “except for the fact that people want really good character pieces and things that make a lot of noise.”

Mr. Silbermann said studios will now be spending time creating distinctive looks and feels for their pilots, elements that clearly benefited Touchstone last year with “Desperate” and “Lost.”

“I’m anxious to see what the production values look like,” he said.

Drama Pilot Pickups Chart 1

Drama Pilot Pickups Chart 2