Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Pilot Week! An Industry Standard

Pilots have been around since the early days of television. Early television executives felt that the only way to tell if a show was viable was to see a sample of it on the screen. This was seen as being a strange method for determining the viability of a project by the legacy Hollywood studios who saw these pilots as a waste of money. While Walt Disney was one of the first studio chiefs who “defected” to television as a way to finance DISNEYLAND, he chafed at ABC’s insistence that he make a Pilot. In the end, he didn’t have to make a pilot, but that was still the exception and not the rule.

Part of the reason why the legacy studios were reluctant to produce pilots was because it was considered to be a waste of time and resources to produce something that might never air on television. Even if a show was picked up, the network would often request drastic changes which made the pilots obsolete. Characters would get recast, sets changed, and premises altered. Sometimes these changes were so drastic they required extensive reshoots. Many times the pilot had to be completely reshot; the original discarded or forgotten.

One of the most famous shows of the 1950’s was I Love Lucy. It became synonymous with early television and was one of the first shows to record on film. At the time, most shows went out live and were not recorded for posterity. Desi Arnaz, co-producer of I Love Lucy, anticipated a future in which reruns of television shows would be aired by local affiliates for a fee, providing a future revenue stream. Despite this visionary thinking, the I Love Lucy pilot had been discarded and was lost for decades until a copy of it was discovered under a bed.