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'Pilot Week' a Feeding Frenzy in N.Y. : Television: A last-minute effort to pitch shows to the networks draws producers, agents to a 'power' breakfast.

May 22, 1991|JOHN LIPPMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Like locusts descending on an Iowa cornfield, some of the most pestilent beasts known on the West Coast--Hollywood agents and TV producers--swarm each spring to New York in a last-ditch effort to sell their pilot programs to the networks.

It's "the annual salmon run," Columbia Pictures President Alan Levine dryly noted.

In the entertainment industry, the seven days leading up to Memorial Day weekend are known as "Pilot Week," when ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox decide their fall schedules, choosing from more than 100 potential shows.

It is also a time of year anxiously awaited--and dreaded--by TV producers; after all, whether a network orders a pilot for a series can mean the difference between buying that Porsche 911 Turbo or leasing a Honda Accord.

Nowhere can the swarm to get shows on the air be witnessed better than at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue in New York. For one week each May, the Regency becomes the Polo Lounge, Morton's and Nicky Blair's rolled into one: Temporarily transplanted producers, agents and studio executives camp out there to be on call--they pray for calls--from network executives for 11th-hour consultations on their pilots.

On Tuesday, the Regency held its third annual "power breakfast" for the titans of Hollywood--some 300 of them--who were in New York for the final stages of the pitching process. Nobody seemed to care much that NBC, ABC and Fox had already chosen their new fall schedules.

"We've worked hard at making this hotel Hollywood East," explained Jonathan Tisch, president of Loews Hotels, which owns the Regency, and nephew of CBS Inc. Chairman Laurence A. Tisch. "Although these people see each other every day on the coast, this is just our way of saying thanks for your business."

"I'm embarrassed to come to something billed as a 'power breakfast,' " confessed ABC Network Group Executive Vice President Steve Weisswasser.

"That's because they should really call it a 'selling breakfast,' " replied Tony Malara, president of CBS' affiliate relations division.

Packed into the Regency's ground floor restaurant, the cream of the television industry stood shoulder to shoulder, holding coffee cups and nibbling miniature sandwiches. Creative Artists Agency's Bill Haber, William Morris Agency's Jerry Katzman, Disney's Jeffrey Katzenberg all dropped in. So did CBS News anchor Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite.

It was schmooze time.

"Hey! King of the hill!" yelled Orion Television President Gary Nardino to Leslie Moonves, president of Lorimar Television. Lorimar, with 11 shows in prime time, supplies more programs to the networks than any other studio. "Congratulations on 'Gabriel's Fire.' "

Nardino was referring to ABC's decision to renew the series, which next season will be retitled "Bird and Cat" and will also star Richard Crenna. "Three out of the four networks have decided their fall schedules already," Moonves said, "so everybody is relaxed, the pressure is off."

Then what is the point in coming to New York and racking up $350-per-night hotel bills? "It's a rite of spring," Moonves said. "Everybody's here. You get your day in court on shows that are marginal. But 90% of it doesn't make an iota of difference. Could we have done the Crenna deal in Los Angeles? Probably."

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