For every pilot that gets picked up during upfronts, there are literally dozens that don’t — but that fact doesn’t make things easier on the folks whose shows get left behind. ”It really is a crapshoot,” says Chris Alberghini (Reba), an executive producer of the Tori Spelling sitcom Notorious, which NBC didn’t pick up, despite plenty of pre-upfronts buzz. ”You condition yourself to expect the worst because you can have everything come together and still not have your show get on the air. It’s a profoundly disappointing experience.”
The emotional rollercoaster begins as soon as a pilot is ordered. ”We shot the pilot at the beginning of April and we were getting really funny dailies,” says Paul Feig (Freaks and Geeks), director of another highly anticipated — yet ultimately rejected — pilot, Early Bird, based on Rodney Rothman’s memoir about a twentysomething who moves into a retirement community. ”Then we started hearing ‘Oh, it’s the hot one.’ I was feeling very optimistic, so when suddenly the word came that it didn’t [go]. . .it was quite a shock. It just feels like Freaks and Geeks all over again.”
Most TV actors have long since learned not to get their hopes up. ”If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be,” says Kevin Hart, who starred in another bypassed NBC sitcom, Dante. ”Each year you show up with a smile and go back and deal with the same process all over again.” Hence the importance of a fallback plan: Feig is heading into production on the film version of Jerry Spinelli’s book Stargirl, and Hart has two movies in the can: The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Dying for Dolly. Alberghini and producing partner Mike Chessler (who also worked on Notorious), meanwhile, are mulling another collaboration with Spelling.
Despite the setbacks, the players remain undaunted. ”It’s exciting to embark on a new project,” says Alberghini. ”We’re lucky to be able to do this,” adds Chessler. Cracks Alberghini: ”That’s what you try to remember when the upfronts are happening and you’re sitting at home alone.”