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.
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.
A Neilsen rating is expressed as a fraction. The numerator is called the “rating”, the denominator is called the “share”.
This is a percentage of all the Americans that own a TV set. In other words, it expressed how many Americans were watching that particular show, regardless of whether or not they had the television turned on.
This measures the percentage of all the individuals who are watching TV during a particular time slot. In other words, while ratings measure percentage of the population whether or not they have the TV sets turned on, shares only calculates the percentage of all the TV sets that are turned on at a particular time.
So if a show has a 2.2/11 Neilsen rating, this means that 2.2 percent of the entire American population watched the show, and of the population that had their TV sets turned on, 11 percent of those people were watching your show. For a primetime show, you are mainly looking at the population between the ages of 18-49. There are 135 million Americans in this age range. So when a Neilsen rating is given for a prime time network show, it’s usually a percentage of 135 million people.
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.”
A an instructor once told me that selling a TV show is one of the hardest things you will ever do in the entertainment industry, even if it’s an amazing TV show. One of the best things to increase your chances of selling your show is to acquire an asset pertaining to your show. In other words, acquire something that once you have it, you are completely set apart from anybody else who may have a similar idea. The best assets are the ones that make you the only person that can produce or sell the show. This could be the rights to a comic, book, or a magazine article. This could be a friend, a relative, or even your pet. Whatever it is, make sure you own it, and make sure it sets you apart from everyone else.