Why a Failed Pilot Actually Means Success

Noah Hawley, creator of “My Generation,” reveals the open secret of pilot season for writers: “In TV, there’s no stigma to failure.”

The pilot writer in January, like Schrodinger’s cat, is alive and dead at the same time. As Feb. 1 approaches, sleep becomes fitful, your mind split between equally likely scenarios. Either 1) the call comes and the network picks up your pilot, making you busier than most humans, or 2) a different call comes, and the network passes on your pilot, making you unemployed.

Impossibly busy or unemployed. These are your options. And you must prepare for both.

For me, the call came on a Friday. It was from my producers, not the network, which (you guessed it) meant the cat was dead. “The network is passing,” they said, as if they couldn’t believe it. We had, after all, been told in recent days to interview casting directors. We had run through multiple drafts of a director list and had, at the network’s instruction, submitted the script to several names on the list. As other pilot scripts had fallen away, ours had remained on the “hot list.” So we were doing our due diligence, preparing to hit the ground running, egged on by enthusiastic network and studio executives. So that Friday morning, when we heard the network was going to make some pickups, everyone expected the best.

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