This year’s pilot season is considered ‘unfinished business’ by many, as pilots have been ordered but few to none were shot. Even so and in these unprecedented circumstances as we battle a global pandemic that halted jobs, careers, and numerous cinematic projects, it still feels like business as usual in May of 2020. Three of the five broadcast networks have begun picking up series from the pool of pilot orders.

‘B Positive’, CBS’ new comedy, is the only one based on a completed pilot. The others were straight-to-series orders encouraged by two or more scripts and the creative reputations of their proposed showrunners. Forced to deal with expensive decisions (a high-end drama series could go anywhere between $50 million and $80 million), the networks have taken some measures to minimize the risk of investment by opting for projects that are either based on well-known IP’s or come from popular and accomplished creators/producers. Also considered are any big stars or big commitments attached to the project, though ideally the networks do prefer a combination of two or more from the above.


Over the past couple of weeks, seven straight-to-series orders have been made. Two of them are reboots (‘The Equalizer’ from CBS with Queen Latifah, ‘Kung Fu’ from the CW), one is a sequel to an iconic film (‘Clarice’ from CBS, a follow-up to ‘The Silence of the Lambs’), and one is a book adaptation (‘Big Sky’ from ABC, based on Cassie Dewell’s book series). We’ll also be seeing a ‘Walker Texas Ranger’ reboot starring Jared Padalecki of ‘Supernatural’ fame, and ‘Superman & Lois’, both straight-to-series orders by the CW since January.

Greg Berlanti and Chuck Lorre are CBS and the CW’s aces up the sleeve. Mr Berlanti’s company produces ‘Kung Fu’ and ‘Superman & Lois’, while Mr Lorre is a co-creator and executive producer of ‘B Positive’. The former also has nine other series on the CW, while the latter has three successful comedies on CBS. On top of that, Alex Kurtzman, CBS All Access/CBS TV Studio MVP and the architect behind the newer ‘Star Trek’ universe and co-creator of ‘Hawaii Five-O’, will be taking on the ‘Clarice’ project—likely his most ambitious endeavour yet.

David E. Kelley, one of the best TV creators of the past thirty years, will be writing and executive producing ‘Big Sky’, while Kari Lizer of ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ fame will create and produce ‘Call Your Mother’, ABC’s newly picked comedy series featuring Kyra Sedgwick. ‘Young Rock’ will be put together by ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ creator Nahnatchka Khan and Dwayne Johnson for NBC, as well as ‘L.A. Mayor’, which will be helmed by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock.

While no one can blame any of the networks for trying to play it safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to deny the benefits of an actual pilot season, which has repeatedly been the way to go through screenings and testing of dark-horse projects that might end up being incredibly popular—CBS’s ‘Blue Bloods’ and ABC’s ‘Grey Anatomy’ are but two examples. Broadcasters still plan on shooting some pilots later this year, but most will be rolled into the next pilot season.

There are also a few promising titles based on original ideas that don’t bear the usual signatures of NBC and Fox producers, which are the only networks that haven’t yet ordered series for any of their pilots. Among them, NBC’s ‘Debris’ and ‘Ordinary Joe’ stand out, along with Fox’s ‘Blood Relative’.

The current disruption of the flawed broadcast development cycle is clear, though, and it comes with unexpected benefits in the long run. Today’s programming choices might seem conventional to most, but the pilot season has been forced to change its pattern. Many doubt it will ever go back to pre-pandemic standards, which might in turn help bring fresh ideas to the table and push broadcasters into taking more chances without hanging everything on a single pilot.