Every January, the five broadcast networks place orders for roughly 100 new projects — two-thirds of which will never be aired — in hopes of finding a couple of shows that can plug holes in their prime-time schedules, and a few more to which they can affix the ignominious title of “midseason replacement.” It’s called pilot season, and it's kind of like the draft, but for TV. All the networks are flush with optimism, feeling great about their new pickups' potential — still months away from the harsh realities that come with the start of the fall season, when they learn that their veterans have nothing left in the tank, their promising rookies can't stay on the court, and that project they passed on is averaging a triple-double in the ratings for a rival.
Of course, at this point there’s not much to go on, since few details about the project are released to the press. For the vast majority of pilots, the only info we get is the log line — a one- or two-sentence summary of the plot that is often vague and sometimes downright perplexing — and the names of the writers and producers. Casting is now under way on nearly all pilots, and the caliber of talent a project attracts can be a major clue as to the quality of the script. But that's pretty much it. By the end of this month, most pilots will be in production, plodding inexorably toward failure.
As Grantland's resident ’ship captain, I often feel pulled in two directions. One part of me feels it's my duty to let you guys know about every important development in the fanworks community; the other part feels I should at least pretend to only like Important TV shows like Homeland and Mad Men and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Earlier this year, on the heels of the lowest-rated drama debut in television history, I asked a relatively straightforward question: Is the CW even a network anymore? Harsh, yes, but not entirely unwarranted. At times it seemed that the broadcaster — cobbled together six years ago out of the froggy bones of the WB and its rival UPN — was less a commercially viable competitor to the traditional Big Four and more of a very public investigation into the possibilities of absolute zero. In June, the second half of a rerun of the putatively youth-oriented net’s retread 90210 garnered a 0.0 rating in the much-coveted 18–49 demographic, a number roughly on par with Mitt Romney’s projected percentage of the African American vote and my level of surprise when I learned that the CW’s most-watched show this summer was an “extreme” version of musical chairs hosted by Jamie Kennedy. Even the formerly zeitgeist-y Gossip Girl — now entering its sixth and final season as a world-weary Gossip Woman — only averaged a little over a measly million viewers per original episode. For those counting at home, or in Greendale, that’s one-fourth the audience of a mid-winter installment of the permanently beleaguered Community. So I ask again: If a tree fell in the woods on the CW — assuming the tree was underage, sipping an appletini, and listening to Sky Ferreira — would anybody even see it?
Sometimes just saying something is enough, right? Major League Baseball calls its championship the World Series, despite only representing teams based in North America. Zsa Zsa Gabor’s sketchy husband claims to be a Prince when he merely kicked a soccer ball with some royal kids. As Canadian rapper Drake put it, “I’m the greatest, man, I said that before I knew I was.” Self-definition is a bedrock promise of the American dream.