For those fortunate enough to work in television, pilot season can be an endless source of bellyaching. The hassle of unforgiving deadlines. The craziness of the rush into production. And oh, the traffic on the way to the table read.
The focus on volume and speed has a way of obscuring the magic of seeing something great leap off the page and come to life. The modern era of uber-producers who field multiple projects year after year overshadows the scrappy determination of the little guy or gal who doesn’t lunch regularly at the Grill, but does have an engaging story to tell.
Those folks can still get lucky in pilot season (see: Cristela Alonzo), but the openings are few and far between. Pete Correale is among this year’s seekers. The seasoned standup comic dreams of becoming an overnight sitcom sensation, albeit one 18 years in the making.
Correale landed a deal this year with CBS for a romantic comedy based on standup material about his marriage that he has honed since Bill Clinton was in the White House. The comic has had plenty of near-misses in pitching sitcoms. This time around, he has the help of a bulldog producer, Aaron Kaplan, and a comedy specialist in producer Tracy Katsky. The project came to the Eye already packaged with a showrunner well-known to CBS, Marsh McCall, and talent in Correale. And it’s designed to be a multicamera format, which makes it an easier fit with other shows on CBS’ sked.
“I didn’t get into standup to do a sitcom,” Correale says. “I got into it because I love standup and I love talking about my life. But it started to be glaringly clear that this is sitcom material. … My wife is not a ball and chain. We’ve been together since the first joke. She’s my best friend. Even when I’m pitching networks, I tell them that my marriage is my greatest accomplishment.”
The show is rooted in Correale’s life in New York City, and the experiences of a blue-collar couple who finally save enough money to buy into a Manhattan co-op.
As Correale relates the building’s stories of the woman who clogs the hallway with three strollers (“she’s only got one kid!”) and the tale of the lovesick CNN cameraman who lives his life on speakerphone, you can hear how many times he’s made the pitch.
McCall and Correale hit it off during a previous attempt to develop a different project together. He has faith that the showrunner understands his voice and can execute a salable version of his life. Or more accurately, his previous life. Correale and his wife, Jackie, now live about 500 miles upstate, in the town of Fredonia, N.Y., which is next door to her hometown of Dunkirk.
They moved after Jackie got pregnant and wanted to be closer to her family. Pete was on the road so much that it no longer made sense to live in Manhattan. For a guy who grew up in Suffolk County on Long Island, small-town life and fatherhood has given him perspective. He wants his shot at a show more than ever — he’s not getting any younger — but he’s prepared for what may come. Maybe he’ll be doing a pilot in L.A. in a few months, or maybe it’ll be “Hello, Edmonton!”
“It’s an age and experience thing,” Correale says. “On some level, I know I’m not going to die if it doesn’t go. The earth isn’t going to stop rotating.” He notes the experience of comic friends like Tom Papa who have been in the same boat.
“I’m very realistic. I know the odds are stacked against me. But in a situation like this, you gotta enjoy it. You gotta go for it and be excited. If you’re not, what’s the point?”