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Pilot season: Lots of buzz and bull

May 11, 2009 |  7:48 pm

KjhjzvncGOSSIPSPIN How did the spin-off to the CW's "Gossip Girl" go from having hot buzz to the kind of buzz one associates with a pile of fertilizer? After all, the episode introducing the spin-off isn't airing until tonight and even has Gwen Stefani and No Doubt.

Well, gossip of course. While network executives are locked away trying to figure out a) what new shows to put on their fall schedules and b) how to get anyone to watch, everyone else in the industry is speculating about what looks good and what's dead on arrival.

Leading the charge are the agents who circulate so-called "hot sheets" updating their clients and anyone else who happens to get a hold of one on the status of the pilots at the networks. Most agencies are too smart to put anything overtly negative about a show in print -- retribution from testy network and studio executives always top of mind --  but they are more than willing to jump on the phone like bookies and play odds maker.

As one who used to have to play this game every spring, there are pitfalls in relying too heavily on agent spin. Often the buzz is on the money. But there are things to be wary about. Usually, if you survey three agencies, each will agree on 80% of the shows that look good and will vary on the remaining 20%, and it is that 20% where most have their own clients.

In other words, if one agency is buzzing about a show that no one else is talking about, put the phone down slowly and walk away.

A lot of hustling is done by reporters to get the schedule before it's announced. While it's a nice trophy, these days networks change their schedules more than the Red Sox change pitchers so it really doesn't mean much anymore.

Still, here's one tip on reading between the lines about the fate of a pilot. Nancy Tellem, the CBS executive who oversees that network's interest in the CW, told USA Today that the above-mentioned "Gossip Girl" spin-off is "definitely still a contender."  Animalhouse

That's sort of like when Hoover tells Dean Wormer in "Animal House" that the Delta House fraternity hopes its "mid-term grades will really help our average."

--Joe Flint

Photo Credits: Top: No Doubt by Michael Desmond/The CW

Bottom: Plinto, Bluto and Flounder from "Animal House"/Universal