In his farewell memo to Fox network employees last month, the outgoing head of programming Kevin Reilly, who just four months earlier had declared that TV pilot season was dead, added an urgent PS: “Don’t go back to pilot season!”
Fox just made clear it won’t be taking Reilly’s advice. The network announced it has pulled the plug on Hieroglyph, one of the shows Reilly had ordered “straight to series” last fall. The drama bypassed the usual network process in which shows are developed for several months, before pilot episodes are ordered, cast, and filmed, with only a fraction of those pilots ultimately being picked up as full series.
Reilly had criticized pilot season as a “highly inefficient” practice “built for a different era.” He envisioned Hieroglyph, a pricey action-adventure drama set in ancient Egypt, as Fox’s answer to Game of Thrones, and after shooting its first episode earlier this year, production was set to continue in the fall for an early 2015 premiere. But even before Fox named a replacement for Reilly, the network decided to cut its losses after being unhappy with the quality of Hieroglyph’s scripts.
Ironically, Fox ended up doing the very thing Reilly had tried to avoid: sinking large amounts of money into a show that will never see the light of day.
Pilot seasons have been widely criticized by those outside the major American broadcast networks. Kevin Spacey, a star and executive producer of Netflix’s House of Cards, gave a well received speech last year that derided pilots: “You have to spend about 45 minutes establishing all the characters and create arbitrary cliffhangers and basically generally prove that what you’re setting out to prove is going to work.”
Still, despite its recent actions, Fox hasn’t completely abandoned Reilly’s “straight to series” edict. It’s already heavily promoting its splashiest new fall show, the Batman prequel Gotham, which also bypassed the pilot process last fall.
While Reilly’s departure had more to do with declining ratings than a disagreement over the usefulness of pilot season, it has nonetheless given the network the opportunity to second-guess his decision. And while Fox could still pick up more shows straight to series, especially after the network hires Reilly’s replacement, its actions with Hieroglyph prove that pilot season isn’t going anywhere.