by Elice Miller
In the television business, producing a successful show involves many factors. There are normally three stages to television production, Pre-Production, Principal Photography and Post Production. The main locations where shows are produced are either Los Angeles or New York, however some other U.S. metropolitan areas are also used to produce a show. Before a show can even reach the stage or pre-production programmers will require a package. This is a collection of key assets that differentiate one property from another. The main performers, the producers and the story line are also closely related to the concept and how it will be executed.
Pre-Production is the stage of production which involves planning and development, financing and deal making as well as securing people to produce and appear in the television show. This is the period of time when a series is scripted, the actors are cast, sets are built and a production crew is hired. The producer or production company create a full-scale budget, schedule and production plan once a project is given a green light. The budget must be planned very carefully in order to assure that the project is delivered without exceeding the available funding and to make sure that the producer makes a profit. Pre-production on a show ends once the planning ends and content starts being produced. Most shows do not get a green light, because they cannot secure financing.
Once a network has given a script a green light, it will order a pilot of the television show. Television pilots are standalone episodes of a television series that are used to sell the television show to a network. These episodes are used as testing grounds to gauge if a series will be successful. Sometimes a network will pick up a show after watching a pilot but will not air the episode. Instead, it will be reshot and even recast after it is given the green light. Variety estimates that around 20 pilots are ordered by a network, which are typically made up of half comedy, half drama. About half a dozen of these are actually picked up to become the premier episodes for the show. The rest are passed by the network and generally never seen again.
The big five networks, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, and CW have ordered nearly 100 pilots for the fall 2013 season. The networks ordered a total of 87 pilots last year. The Hollywood Reporter offered a breakdown of the pilots ordered:
Grand total: 98 (vs. 87 in 2012)
Drama total: 50 (vs. 42 in 2012)
Comedy total: 48 (vs. 45 in 2012)
Single-camera total: 34 (vs. 30 in 2012)
Multicamera total: 14 (vs. 15 in 2012)
Just because a network has picked up a pilot does not mean that it will last throughout the season. If the television show receives low ratings within the first few weeks of airing, a network will normally cancel a show. This spring 2013 saw many new television shows get canceled. Zero Hour (ABC), Do No Harm (NBC), and The Job (CBS) are notable shows that were canceled after airing less than five episodes.
This is the phase of production when the actors are finalized for their roles and locations have been secured for filming. At this point the development team has created a plan for filming and financing the show. The term principal photography refers to the phase of production when the majority of footage and sound are recorded. This stage takes place either at a soundstage or filmed on location. Filming on location means securing permits to shoot in an actual real-life setting. Shooting a show normally means rigorous 12-hour workdays. Television episodes are filmed in groups called blocks, and rely on the availability of resources and the restrictions of the production schedule. Large sets can be altered to look like many different locations simply by changing set pieces or lighting. For example, a dark scary park can also be a beautiful garden by using contrasting lighting and changing a few set pieces. Techniques like this help to keep the cost of production down, since this is the most expensive phase of production. Most directors and producers will shoot the most expensive production elements first so that the budget can be allocated for the rest of the scenes.
Once the first few episodes of a show have been filmed, the post-production phase begins. All of the footage that has been recorded is edited and sequenced and special effects are added. Sometimes additional dialogue needs to be recorded in the studio and it is layered into the recorded footage. During this last stage of production the production team will screen episodes to their target demographic. This can help gauge the public response to the show and if it is negatively received then it can be altered or reedited before releasing to the public.
Production companies provide the physical basis for filming. Television programs are produced in a variety of entities, from small companies to large multinational corporations. Many corporations employ in-house producers for internal communication reasons. Outside production companies will handle Television networks and local stations will employ producers, who’s main job are to control costs and manage brand identities. Producers are held responsible for a television show’s overall quality and survivability. There are a variety of producers that work on a television show.
Typically, the main producer and the writer are normally the same person; this ensures that a producer can make sure that a project stays true to its brand. There are many different types of producers; the executive producer or the “chief executive” is in charge or everything relating to the production of the show. Executive producers can be the head writers of a show, the CEO of a production company, or a producer on the writing team and may serve on the board of directors. The co-executive producer is second in charge behind the executive producer, and assists with the development and daily management of the show. The associate producer runs day-to-day operations for the show.
Many stations will have producers that work on multiple projects for the network. For example, Seth MacFarlane has three television shows in production on Fox network. Another notable producer is J.J. Abrams, who has produced shows on multiple networks throughout the years.
1. The Business of Television, Bleumenthol & Goodenough