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Pilot season sees pokey pace

Early spring holidays disrupt traditional rhythm

For anyone with a stake in pilot season, the perception that pilot production is running later than usual has been the subject of staff meeting chatter and lunchtime dish all week.

But is it true?

Astute industry insiders observe that the early timing of the Easter and Passover holidays this year have contributed significantly to the feeling that pilots are running later this year.

The spring holiday break is a kind of mile-marker for the home stretch of pilot season. Bizzers are accustomed to returning from the Easter/Passover break and getting to see a fair number of early cuts on projects. Compounding the feeling of lateness this year is the fact that last year’s holidays arrived relatively late, with Passover beginning April 18 and Easter falling on April 24, which meant that most projects had already been delivered or were close to completion by the post-break week.

As usual, comedies are generally bringing up the rear of pilot production. One factor that pushed some laffers past their original target shoot dates was the rabid competition for the services of top-echelon comedy helmers, a list that includes James Burrows, Andy Ackerman, Pamela Fryman, Jason Winer, Marc Buckland and and Mark Cendrowski. Some of the heavy-hitter helmers were unable to get started on pilots until mid- to late-March after wrapping commitments to existing series.

A fair amount of early recasting decisions among topline and supporting roles also impacted skeds.

CBS’ untitled Greg Berlanti/Greg Malins project swapped out its leading man after a table read, moving quickly to nab the actor, David Walton, who’s generated strong industry buzz in his turn as the star of NBC’s “Bent.” Abby Elliott exited as star of one of Fox’s hot prospects, “Ned Fox Is My Manny,” after a table read and was replaced by Dakota Johnson.

Another factor adding to the more-frenzied-than-usual feeling is the increasing pressure on writers and their reps to line up prospective staffing options long before there’s any real certainty of whether a given pilot has a shot at a series order.

One rep referred to it as an escalating “arm’s race” in recent years where showrunners take meetings weeks before pilots are even completed, and show staffs are basically locked in as soon as a series order is announced at the upfront.

The clamor will only increase next week when net execs are expected to get started on small-group screenings of available pilots.

“Next week we’ll starting hearing about where the problems are and what’s looking good,” said a seasoned TV agent. “Right now everything is dailies and hype.”

Rightly or wrongly, if the production sked seems off-kilter this year, bizzers might want to mark their calendars early for next year, when the traditional rhythm will really be thrown for a loop with the even-earlier start of Passover on March 25 and Easter on March 31.

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