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$10 Million for a Pilot?

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Newsgroups and TV blogs have been buzzing about the reported $10 million budget for J.J. Abrams’s Fringe pilot—about twice as high as most TV pilots. “That’s a movie budget!” gasped one fan-site poster. Well, that’s certainly where things are headed. One of the paradoxes of the TV business has been that even the most eye-popping budgets are peanuts compared with those of feature films. (Variety called the $25 million price tag for Abrams’s Cloverfield “shoestring.”) But according to longtime producer Marshall Herskovitz, the cost of TV pilots in general has shot up, to more than $5 million an hour from $3 million several years ago. And for Fringe, Abrams shot a two-hour action show that opens with a flesh-eating virus set loose on an airplane. “Viewers are a lot more sophisticated now,” says veteran director and producer Harry Winer. “They demand greater production values, more-complex stories, and higher-quality special effects. And now, with HD, there’s no room for error.”


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