This has happened to me a few times over the course of my career - A company will option a property and then shelve it. Here's what happened...
Once upon a time, I had (well, I still have it) a property called "Buzz & Dewey"... It's a show about a boy and his dog and they fight Vampires. It's very cool and has a lot of neat twists. I didn't write or pitch it as a TV show - I wrote it as a book for my son. I had no intention of getting it published - it was simply a book for my son and his friends. I made 10 photocopies of the 125 page manuscript and as I'd bump into friends, I'd hand them out.
One day I was at a broadcaster pitching a show - I happened to know this broadcast executive personally - he's a pretty decent guy - and he has a kid. So as I left the pitch, I looked into my briefcase - and there was my last copy of "Buzz & Dewey". I gave it to him as a gift for his son and left.
I recieved a letter from the broadcaster a couple of weeks later - they were passing on the project that I'd pitched - but LOVED "Buzz & Dewey". The letter said that they'd be interested in it, if I could get a production company attached.
At that exact moment, my phone rang. It was a large production company. Someone at the broadcaster had tipped them off about "B&D". They wanted to option the project and possibly put it into produciton.
The initial meeting was great. They offered me the moon. But when the paperwork arrived, it was Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The nice production executives had turned into monsters. The deal stunk like shit on ice. I don't know why I took it - they were rude and abusive - but I did. And once the paperwork was signed and they had "Buzz & Dewey" in their hot little hands - they shelved it.
Why? Maybe they had a similar project in the works and wanted to remove the competition? Maybe they were just buying up properties. I know that back in the day when I did development work at Nelvana, they had over 140 properties "on the shelf".
Long story short - when the option period expired two years later - the production exec had left the broadcaster - and the new person wasn't interested in the property. And so, "Buzz & Dewey" sit on my shelf - as cool as ever - waiting for their chance to shine.
So what do we learn from this? I guess, if something smells fishy - it is. I was recently in a meeting, invited by a large production company to talk about my new show. Everything was nicey-nicey, their staff were all polished up nice and shiny. And I was paying very close attention to what they were saying. When you came down to it - their deal stunk. I would have been better off dropping the soap in the prison shower - cause either way I was going to get...
I thanked them for their time and walked away. It was a bad deal - and if I've learned one thing in my sordid career, its... YOU DON'T HAVE TO TAKE THE DEAL. No one is holding a gun to your head - and if they are, its a bad sign.
Think about it.