Some Things Secret This Way Come

Mar 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Big Brother is not to be trusted, according to the many government- and reality-based conspiracy tales brewing at the broadcast networks this development season.

Secret plots and government cover-ups have replaced the not-so-friendly aliens and scary monsters that lurked on the networks’ drama pilot slates last year.

“Last year it seemed like the big idea was sci-fi conspiracy,” Katherine Pope, NBC’s executive VP and top development executive, said. “This year it’s more earthbound.”

Several drama pilots hark back to 1970s-era, post-Watergate feature films like “Three Days of the Condor” and “The Parallax View,” said Dan Erlij, a television literary agent for United Talent Agency.

“These are in response to a feeling of a lack of faith in the government,” he said, noting that it addresses what some series creators feel is a “sense of unease and discomfort in the country.”

But like last year, the “big concept” and “ticking clock”

elements that have been so successful for shows like ABC’s “Lost” and Fox’s “24” and “Prison Break” are still very much in vogue, even for the newest network on the block, The CW.

The CW President of Entertainment Dawn Ostroff last week picked up the Sony pilot “Runaway,” which features an entire family on the lam after the father is accused of murder. Using a seminal, shocking event to kick off a series is increasingly important in the current marketplace, she said.

“It’s a very crowded landscape, and there’s a lot of choices for viewers,” Ms. Ostroff said. “In this day and age [we] can’t assume the viewers will find a show. It’s got to have some kind of hook to it that makes it stand out.”

Fox, one of the few networks not to jump on the sci-fi bandwagon last year, has picked up big-event drama pilots with themes “pretty close to what we were looking at last year,” said Craig Erwich, executive VP of programming for the network.

He noted that the “year-long mythology” of “Prison Break,” which featured a dramatic opening and is working toward a climax that has been building over the course of the season, is a theme Fox is once again mining in this crop of drama pilots.

“Action serialized series, soap operas for guys, those are fairly healthy on our plate,” Mr. Erwich said.

While Fox is not overindexing on drama pilots that are heavily female-skewing, the network “is mindful we have equity in ‘Ally McBeal,'” he said, noting that Fox is returning to a wedding photographer pitch it first considered five years ago and a female lead crime pilot.

But even if networks have themes they’re targeting, scripts stand a good chance of getting picked to pilot if they work, regardless of story line.

“At the end of the day, you really respond to what the writers are excited about,” Mr. Erwich said.

Network Drama Pilots Chart 1

Network Drama Pilots Chart 2