Tag Archives: Network

What is a backdoor pilot?

For all intents and purposes, a backdoor pilot is still the first episode in a series, however, it’s filmed like a standalone movie. Often times these pilots can be two hours long. The episode still has inherent commercial value, so they can still air it if they decide not to order to series.  Networks do this to hedge their risk and use it as a proof of concept to see if the show is worth turning into a series. They will air it, see what type of ratings/reception it receives and use that information to determine whether or not they will order to series.

The term “back door” comes from a tactic that networks often use to test spinoff series. What they do is produce an episode within a series that introduces new characters and “sneak” this episode into the season…hence the term “back door”. The network will use the ratings and viewer feedback from that episode to decide if they want to create a spinoff series. The best of example of this is NCIS which is a spinoff from JAG. In season 8 of JAG, there was a dual episode that introduced the characters for what would become NCIS. And then, in season 6, they aired the two-part episode “Legend” which introduced the characters for what is now NCIS: Los Angeles. Again, this all goes back to strategy of creating a TV episode that “test the waters” to see if it’s worth bank rolling into a new series.

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What is a first-look deal?

Let’s say you just directed a film that won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, or you’re an actor attached to a film that did gangbusters in the box office, or you’re the creator of a nationally syndicated TV show. You are what we call a PROVEN TALENT. The studios and TV networks need people like you to create content for them and hedge their risk in this volatile business. To do this, they will offer you a first-look deal.

This is an agreement that’s made between an above-the-line talent and a movie studio, network, TV studio or production company (for simplicity sake, let’s call this “the company”). Most A-list actors, directors, producers and writers have an overall deal. This agreement basically states that the talent must allow the company right of first refusal to produce, finance and/or distribute any of their projects. In other words, the company gets first dibs on anything the talent develops. If the company passes on the project, the talent is free to shop that project elsewhere. In return for this arrangement, the company will pay the talent and annual fee and cover all their overhead expenses to run their company. If it’s a movie studio, the company will provide office space and other amenities on the lot. Another benefit for the talent that the company will funnel all their property to them. So if the company acquires a huge property, they’ll approach their talent with overall deals first. For example, Disney owns THE PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and since Jerry Bruckheimer has an overall deal with them, they will go to him first to produce the film. Or when Paramount acquired Transformers, the first person up for the job was Michael Bay since he had a first look deal with the studio.

NOTE: This is different from an overall deal where anything the producer develops must stay within the studio and can’t be taken elsewhere even if they pass.

If you want a quick reference on where the latest overall movie studio deals are, search Variety for their latest “Facts On Pacts”.

Here are some overall deals you should know:

Disney
Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Boxing Cat Films (Tim Allen)
POW! Entertainment (Stan Lee)
Mark Gordon Company

Warner Bros
Appian Way (Leonardo DiCaprio)
Carousel Productions (Steve Carell)
Green Hat Films (Todd Phillips)
MalPaso (Clint Eastwood)
Life’s Too Short (Chuck Lorre)
Lin Pictures (Dan Lin)
Ninjas Runnin’ Wild (Zac Efron)
Pearl Street (Ben Affleck, Matt Damon)
Revelations (Morgan Freeman)
22nd & Indiana (Bradley Cooper)

Universal
Aggregate (Jason Bateman)
Apatow Productions (Judd Apatow)
Blumouse Productions (Jason Blum)
ImageMovers (Robert Zemeckis)
Imagine Entertainment (Brian Grazer, Ron Howard)
K/O Paper Products (Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci)
One Race Films (Vin Diesel)
Wild Wild West  Picture Show (Vince Vaughn)

Sony
Happy Madison (Adam Sandler)
Overbrook Entertainment (Will Smith)
Scott Rudin Productions
Smoke House (George Clooney)
Syco (Simon Cowell)
Trigger Street (Kevin Spacey)
Hey Eddie (Kevin James)
Laurence Mark Productions
Original Film (Neal Moritz)

20th Century Fox
Bad Hat Harry Productions (Bryan Singer)
Film Rites (Steve Zaillian)
Lightstorm (James Cameron)
Peter Chernin Film
Red Hour Films (Ben Stiller)
Scott Free (Ridley Scott)

Paramount
Plan B (Brad Pitt)
Bad Robot ( JJ Abrams)
Di Bonaventura Pictures
Platinum Dunes (Michael Bay)
Sikelia Productions (Martin Scorsese)
Four By Two Films (Sacha Baron Cohen)

Lionsgate
Tyler Perry Productions

What does it mean to sell a TV show with a penalty?

If you’re one of the lucky ones who sell a TV show to a network, often times they’ll pay for  your pilot script (or pay to have your pilot written if it hasn’t already been done so) and that’s the end of the road for you. They might even produce your pilot and never air it. I’ve watched dozens of pilots that have never seen the light of day. To avoid this, high profile producers/writers will demand a penalty in their purchase agreement. This is also referred to as a PUT PILOT. What this means is that if the pilot doesn’t get produced and aired on TV, the network must pay a huge fee to the producer/writer of the show. This can range for low six figures to low seven figures depending on the contract. I’ve even seen deals that include a series penalty which means if the network doesn’t order the show to series, they must pay a penalty. Networks can also use this as incentive to make sure the producer/writer sells their show the them and not one of their competitors.

What is an Executive Producer for TV?

Not to be confused with an Executive Producer (EP) for film, the EP for a television show is the highest title you can receive for a televisions show. There are usually several executive producers of a television show and it includes the showrunner(s), high level writers, and non-writing producers. Television EP’s are ultimately responsible for producing a great televisions episode every week for the network.They report directly to network executives and they make all the creative decisions for that particular television show. Of the EP’s, it’s the showrunner that holds the highest title. They’re the ones that usually receive the “created by” credit at the end of the opening credits.

The saying often goes, “In movies, director is king. In TV shows, EP is king.”

What are TV affiliates?

These are privately owned television stations that are partnered with a broadcast network. In most cases, the network pays their affiliates  a fee (network compensation) to broadcast their shows and in return, the network is allowed to sell the ad space and keep the ad revenue for themselves. There are, however, some local ad spaces that the affiliate will sell on its own. In some case, like with the CW, the affiliate station will pay a fee to CW (reverse comp) and generate revenue through selling ad space.