05/23/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

"The 'Annual Inefficiency'"

It's Pilot Season. The time of the year when the commercial television networks make sample episodes for series they hope will be more appetizing than the series whose sample episodes they made during Pilot Season the year before.

The problem is, the same executives, or people cloningly similar those executives, oversaw the making of last year's pilots, and the pilots of the year before that, ad backwards infinitum, and their perennial batting average is one that would, were they ballplayers, relegate them to the lowest levels of the minor leagues, or oblivion. Based on mathematical projections, which statistically sensitive networks apply in every area of their endeavor besides Pilot Season, there is no indication they'll do any better this time around.

It seems stupid. You spend millions on pilots. Most pilots never make the network schedule. And the majority of the few that do, fail. The casual observer might detect a substantial waste of money. Large sums, seemingly down the drain, with a not much greater success ratio than a blind brain surgeon.

"Dr.! You just drilled a hole in the anesthesiologist!"

Maybe the networks don't ultimately care, at least from a financial standpoint. Maybe they rely on some network version of an "R and D" tax write-off called:

"The writers stunk it up. Again."

It's good to have somebody to blame. And, unlike Albert Brooks in Lost In America, you may even get (at least a portion of) your gambling money back.

Look, I know how hard it's very hard to pick a hit show. I read a book once, saying how Desperate Housewives, CSI and American Idol were all rejected when they were originally proposed. Seinfeld sneaked onto the air, surviving long enough for the "bad testing", normally a series' death sentence, to be proven incorrect.

My issue is not the unfortunate decision-making. That's for the executives' bosses to evaluate. Though I'm not exactly clear on the standard they'd employ.

NETWORK BOSS: "How can I rationalize keeping someone whose decision-making ability is so abysmal?"

NETWORK UNDERLING: "You decided to hire me."

My beef with the television networks is narrowly defined:

Creative interference.

In my view, that interference takes a "slim to none" situation -- developing a potentially successful television series -- and turns it more closely, if not precisely, into "none."

Here's the question:

Why do smart people with beautifully fitting suits - I'm talking about network presidents -- allow -- nay, sir -- require their employees, who have no background or training in that area whatsoever, to, not personally respond to -- that, indeed, is their job -- but to dictate character adjustments and story "fixes" and to, God help us, pitch jokes to seasoned professionals who have engaged in exactly those activities their entire careers?

The networks' response to those seasoned professionals appears to have been adopted from the mantra of the Child Care industry:

"They can't go around unsupervised!"

The response to that response?

"How much has that supervision helped so far?"

The networks are protected in this matter. We'll never know what we didn't get to see (because the networks preemptively shot it down, by dropping the show, or by picking it up but only after radical alterations). This precludes us from making comparisons with what we did get to see. What we do know, however, is how good (and successful) what we did get to see turned out to be. It's not a very dauntingly high bar.

Moving on to this justification for network interference:

"It's our money."

I happen to be sensitive to this position. I can identify. Years ago, while renovating the crumbling craftsman bungalow we had purchased, Dr. M and I ran afoul of an architect who demanded that the house be remodeled according to his specifications rather than ours. We ultimately had to let the fellow go. The reason?

"It's our money."

(Also, it's our house. Which the network can argue as well - "It's our network." And now that they've been permitted ownership, they can throw in, "It's our show.")

The difference?


We knew what we wanted. (Networks want a hit show, but have no clue how to get one.)


Dr. M had done considerable research on craftsman bungalows. She was arguably more knowledgeable in that area than the architect. (Network executives may have a plethora of abilities, but few of them could ever be confused with experienced writers.)

And three:

The finished product was intended to satisfy, not an anonymous viewing audience, but us. And, returning us to Point Number One,

We knew what we wanted.

To which argument the networks might politely listen, and respond:

"It's our money."

Which brings me to my final point.

It's their money.

There are Business Affairs honchos, scrutinizing expenditures. There's a Board. There are shareholders. How do these people, the people whose money it really is, feel about the success levels delivered by the expensive efforts of Pilot Season?

Say something, you guys!

Or nothing ever is going to change.

DISCLAIMER: If I've written about this before, forgive me. I'm still trying to have an effect.

Earl Pomerantz's blog can be reached at

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