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Now more than ever, new models are in order...
Most of the big networks are scaling back development at a time when they really need more eyeballs. That would seem counterintuitive, but it’s all about saving money. CBS, for example, may be down to its last eleventy billion dollars. Sumner Redstone tragically may have to realize he is not Zeus.

Thankfully, there are pills for that.

For TV, there’s formula.

About three-quarters of the top 10 shows from week to week are scripted ensemble series, typically involving cops or doctors.

These shows require some degree of thought and creativity, which costs money.

Comparatively, the commercialized spectacle of people who can’t sing humiliating the tone-deaf is not as expensive. I understand that folks still love “American Idol,” but about three-quarters of U.S. TV households prefer scripted TV.

We three-quarters regularly burn sage sticks to bring about an end to “reality” TV once and for all. Either that, or give us a reality series resembling “My Name is Earl,” where Bernard Madoff is filmed spending the rest of his life trying to make amends to the people he robbed.

I’d like him to start with the 90-year-old guy handing out coupons in a grocery store because Madoff burnt through the old guy’s retirement savings. The show would have a built-in incremental revenue stream by letting viewers bet on the ultimate posterior kicking. Granted the legal trifle regarding gambling, but broadcasters could lead the way to lift gambling restrictions.

Then again, there you have the recent history of the mortgage industry…

I digress, which I do, because this is about TV and its very purpose is distraction. But for crying out loud, how long must we expect to be distracted by overweight people in Spandex knickers, marriage-desperate women and all manner of individuals allergic to real work?

How long?

Saving money on program development doesn’t have to mean fewer pilots, the failure of which gives us semi-retired child performers in ball gowns. It should instead instigate a change in the creative process.

A pilot shouldn’t have to cost millions. The entire first season of “South Park” cost Comedy Central the price of a Honda Accord. “South Park’s” not everyone’s cup of tea, granted, but the network’s hung its hat on the show for 12 years now.

Now consider the broadcast network pilot for an erstwhile series about modern-day cave dudes that was made in the apartment of some friends of mine. The producers removed every molecule of stuff my friends owned, created a new “look” in the flat, put my friends up in a fancy-schmancy hotel… and then precisely replaced every molecule of their stuff after the taping.

Someone, somewhere, apparently decided modern cave dudes required a certain living-space ethos to be believable. Yet even this meticulous home makeover was insufficient to salvage a really bad idea.

Maybe networks could take a tip from Doritos, which sets up a contest every year to let amateurs compete for Super Bowl air time. Some of the resulting ads are good, others are groaners, but Doritos saves a bundle on agency participation and they get a few contributions that are genuinely funny.

Pilot-making competition may or may not yield the next “60 Minutes,” but at least it’s something different, and there is but one certainty in today’s economy.

The old way of doing business is a recipe for extinction. – Deborah D. McAdams