“You find you’re rather desperate to hire certain people, but all of a sudden four or five different shows want them, too,” Tolan says.
Few if any in the industry think the pilot system works very well. (For further evidence, just note the drought in breakout hits in recent seasons, and the traditional high attrition rate among each crop of freshman shows.) But no one has found a better way of creating and identifying shows that will succeed.
So what are you going to do?
One of Tolan’s pair of projects is a half-hour comedy for Fox called “Council of Dads.” Based on the best-seller by Bruce Feiler, this show would be about a guy who dies, but, beforehand, assembles a group of five men, including his father, to help his wife raise their kids _ “and hilarity ensues,” Tolan says. Kyle Bornheimer, Diane Farr and Ken Howard are in the cast.
The other comedy, for NBC, is called “The New World,” whose characters (including Ed Begley Jr. and Robbie Benson) are historical re-enactors at a theme park set in 1637.
“I was trying to think of the worst possible work situation I could,” explains Tolan, who, as with “Council,” wrote the pilot script and served as an executive producer.
He says most of “The New World” was shot outdoors (“We actually built a pilgrim village”) in the Los Angeles area, while “Council of Dads” was based at a studio facility nearby.
“I would be shooting one show and, a few steps away, there would be rehearsals of the other,” says Tolan by phone from his Santa Barbara, Calif., home. “I’d be shooting one of them while rewriting on that set the other one. There were a number of times I said, `Now which show is THIS?’”
Each pilot was delivered in late April to its network. There, each is being subjected to scrutiny by network execs and test audiences.
The morning of May 16, NBC will unveil its lineup. That afternoon, Fox will make its schedule known.
Tolan won’t find out yea-or-nay on either pilot until the eleventh hour. So right now, like hundreds of others in TV’s creative community, he waits to learn his fate in the pilot sweepstakes.
He’s making no forecasts, but says he will be grateful to get either one of them on the air: “Two would be great, but I don’t want to be greedy.”
And he says he’s not fretting.
“I guess that’s how I’ve been at it this long and survived. You have to remember it’s a game and not take it too seriously, or you’d tear your hair out.”
Sounds like a man who has figured out pilot season.