Last night I was invited to a screening of a pilot for a television series as part of the Independent Television Festival, and it might just be a peek into the future of television development. Directors and feature films have been going down this road for years, and you’ve seen the results. Festivals like Sundance and SXSW swell with independent films, studios get into bidding wars for the hot movies, directors get plucked from the indie freshwater stream and dunked into the saline-rich waters of the studio ocean, and the wheels of film-industry keep on turning.
But what about television? It’s an expensive landscape to develop in, but Sex Ed: The Series was created solely as a spec pilot, and creators Tamela D’Amico (director/producer) and Ernie Vecchione (writer) shot it in 11 days using Panasonic HD cameras, and put together a fairly impressive cast that includes Joanna Cassidy of Blade Runner and Six Feet Under fame. During the question and answer session, it was very clear that they were looking for a cable network to step in and buy the series, and they were eager to put it through the development process. It was a bit rough around the edges, but you could easily see it turning into a series on Showtime or Starz.
The premise is fairly straightforward: it’s set in a sex education class at a small college somewhere in Anytown, USA, and there’s a multicultural gaggle of students that weighs heavy on the Caucasian side, with a few token students of other ethnicities tossed in to try and balance the mix. In the first class, ballsy Professor Trevase (Cassidy) tells the students “If you don’t like me, get out!” … and everyone leaves except for the main cast. Their first assignment: partner up and sculpt each other’s genitals. Predictably, everyone has a different reaction to this, and things play out accordingly. There’s a nugget of a possible overarching storyline at the end of the episode when Cassidy reveals to dreamy blonde student Dean (Matt Barr) that she has brain cancer, and she swears him to secrecy. Future assignments listed in the press notes include: threesomes, penis envy, breakups, and more.
Is this a harbinger of things to come? Television development isn’t any more expensive than shooting a feature film, and in some cases it might be significantly cheaper. Last night’s pilot wasn’t quite a full hour, and if you’re working on a half-hour sitcom, you could cut that in half. Plus, it has to look attractive for a network. It’s a like a live-action storyboard for a pitch session, making it that much easier to say yes or no. Will it change the fact of television development? That remains to be seen. But given the turbulent ebb and flow of independent movies, it makes sense that creative types might try their hand at putting a series together on spec.
We’ll see if Sex Ed: The Series gets picked up anywhere, and budding writers might want to check out the full script for the pilot, which was posted online.