Tag Archives: series

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 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.