Series starring Richard Dreyfuss gets network nod
As the networks unveiled their fall schedules last week, the casualty rate for rejected TV pilots soon matched the pollen count.
But what of the handful of pilots favored with a series nod? Winners in the so-called "development season," they are the projects that outwit, outplay, outlast in this version of "Survivor."
And, as with "Survivor," the outcome was cloaked in suspense.
CBS announced its fall '01 lineup last Wednesday in Manhattan. But just two mornings earlier in Los Angeles, Nicole Yorkin woke up still in the dark as to whether her project was among the chosen few.
With her partner Dawn Prestwich, Yorkin has written for such series as "Chicago Hope," "Picket Fences" and "Melrose Place," and they are co-executive producers on the CBS hit "Judging Amy."
This year, they also created a pilot about a history professor going through a midlife crisis. Called "The Education of Max Bickford," it snagged Richard Dreyfuss for the lead. He would co-star with fellow Academy Award winner Marcia Gay Harden, this year's best supporting actress for "Pollock."
In recent weeks, "Max Bickford" had begun to create buzz as one of the more promising projects in the development pipeline. It was seen as a shoo-in for a series green light.
Except ... you never know till you know. Yorkin, for one, didn't know.
Sure, people on many of the doomed projects already knew their fate when the "upfronts" began a week ago. A number of "no" calls had gone out the week before. But as late as May 13, at least one major studio remained in doubt about which, if any, of its pilots at CBS might be on the schedule less than 60 hours hence. Airline seats and Manhattan hotel suites already were booked; the only question remaining was, which producers and stars would occupy them on the victory trip.
"All weekend," says Yorkin, "you carry that cell phone and try not to check it too much. The one time I didn't carry it with me was Monday morning, when I took my son into school."
When she got back, her phone rang. It was Nina Tassler, CBS' senior vice president for drama series development, calling from New York. Prestwich, in her L.A. home, also was conferenced in. "You're on the schedule," Tassler told them. "Get on a plane."