Thursday, August 31, 2006

Whither, television?

So. My writing partner and I recently sold our fifth TV pilot. The other four were all dear children who weren't quite motivated enough to move on and actually be filmed. One of them, Heroes, seems to be on the TeeVee in some strange alternate NBC universe, where being a superhero is a drag and not fun at all. However, the creator is some fella named Tim Kring, and not us. Hmm. Only five years ahead of the curve on that one. We were a little more than five years ahead of the DaVinci Code curve, but that's another rant.

This isn't a rant. For those of you who don't know how TeeVee works (all zero of you reading this blog), here's a primer. After the upfronts in May, when the networks present their new fall shows to the advertisers, everybody in Hollywood goes to Hawaii. The writers get started on those new fall shows in June. Around that time, the executives come back from their vacations and start taking pitches for the following TeeVee season. By September (it's weirdly late this year), the networks have bought hundreds of scripts. The writers write them and the development people start getting scripts in by Christmas, which are kicked upstairs in January. Then starts the part of the process that has to involve some kind of black magic ritual -- choosing which scripts to film. Most of the scripts are rejected, but those either produced by Bruckheimer, written or directed by a feature writer/director or directed by David Nutter, are shot (the Nutter shows are now completely bypassing the process. He signs on to direct, the thing goes into production). Production is wrapped by April, the Bruckheimer shows are ordered to series at the upfronts, and the whole thing starts all over again.

Here's the thing -- when the execs buy scripts, the fall season hasn't started yet. So the networks have no idea what's going to work. If you've wondered why network schedules don't make much sense, that's one big reason. Say you have a nighttime soap that's kicking ass. You happily order companion shows for it -- other nighttime soaps. Then the soap tanks, and all you've ordered are soaps. See? Nightmare.

So the networks really have to straddle the line. There are a few things you can be certain of -- they'll always buy procedurals, and they will always hate genre. For those of us who aren't quite as enamored of CSI, pitching can be tough. You have to find a way to care about solving yet another murder, and then you have to get the executive excited about it. While most pitching is dreaded, I actually like pitching pilots. Because you get the exec engaged in the world you're creating and you make the characters real. When you've done that -- and the logline is clean and simple -- you'll sell a pilot.

Usually, you pitch to a studio and if they like the pitch, then you go to a network. The studio actually produces the pilot and the network pays a licensing fee to the studio for the right to air the show. Sweet, right?

We've always gone in with a studio but this time, we went to the network first and then backed into the studio with a production company. And I don't think we've had a smoother time. The network pitch went really, really well. They really got the show and we could be enthusiastic about the characters. Our producers championed this from the first time they heard it and believe me, these are guys who know what makes a show. So this pilot already feels a little different than the other four. A bit smarter, more motivated, perhaps...

Now that the pilot is sold, we have to, erm, write it. We're currently choosing a pilot story and when that's done, we'll break the story and write an outline. I'm not going to tell anyone what the pilot's about because dammit, this time we want to be ON the curve!

That's the process thus far. A few meetings, general discussion about the pilot, that sort of thing. Now the real work starts.

Oh, and I'll try to remember to do the music thing when I'm posting. So:

np - Bob Dylan, Modern Times.

Q.E.D.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

WorldCon and other animals

I've been to conventions before, most notably ComicCon. But this was my first WorldCon.

It was weird.

The world of science fiction fandom is indeed a different one than that of any other kind of fandom. Those involved are hella serious and very focused... to a fault at times. I was disappointed in most of the panels. The topics were either an easily answered question or more of a discussion of tastes than an actual panel. If this is something you already do with your peer group, it can be frustrating. And the make-ups of the panels were sometimes odd.

The interesting thing about this convention was that on some level, it was exactly like the other conventions I've been to. There are more aspiring novelists here than at other conventions, but there are also some aspiring TV and film folks there. The problem with having a panel on how to break into the business -- whether it's books or film/TV -- is that there's really only one answer to that question. How do you break in? Write your ass off. If you've got one script or book that you carry around on a velvet pillow and consider your masterpiece, I assure you that it isn't. Writing Is Hard. If all you want to do is succeed, look elsewhere. If you absolutely MUST write, you don't need to be told to write. You'll already have a lot of material that's been written and rewritten. THEN -- and ONLY then -- can you ask the question about what to do next. But until then? WRITE. There. A panel in less than a paragraph.

Now comes the time in the blog where I decide whether or not to name names.

I suppose I shall.

So I went to a panel -- Is Art the Inspiration For Madness? The panel was supposed to be about how responsible writers are for their work. Trust me. This topic sounds more interesting than it is. But there were three very interesting panelists -- Joe Haldeman, Tim Powers and Nick Sagan. All well-respected, thoughtful writers. And then there was Elizabeth Gilligan, a fantasy writer who's published two novels. Now, I've never heard of Ms. Gilligan. But as she would tell it (over and over again), she's an expert in poisons and (I think) alternative medicine. There was one line in the panel description that she took to heart -- "Is there a responsibility not to show how to make a bomb?"

The woman riffed on this for virtually the entire panel, drowning out the other panelists, who were all too polite to just tell her to shut the hell up. She did other boring, heinous things that you don't need to hear about. She was (I suppose) somewhat qualified to be on this panel -- she has, after all, published two books. But she was on another panel titled Fantasy On Television that she was NOT qualified for and she did the same damned thing on that panel.

This kind of shit drove me crazy. There would invariably be an interesting person with an informed opinion or an expertise and three other idiots espousing their uninformed opinions. I don't want to hear those people talk. That's not why I'm here. I mean damn, I was on a Star Trek panel and didn't feel qualified for THAT, but at least I have some knowledge of how television works.

So Elizabeth Gilligan and others like you, stop interrupting interesting, smart people with your brainless chatter, you blithering misanthropes.

The best part of WorldCon was hanging out with friends and meeting new people, and then seeing them win awards at the Hugos (John Scalzi!). Harlan Ellison gave a fantastic, wicked performance at his talk and then later at the Hugos. Connie Willis (a good sport) and Robert Silverberg were damned funny at the awards. Tim Powers was a freakin' rock star god all week, and deserves to be such outside in the Real World. Doselle and Janine were everywhere, and the party followed them. Dave, David Lloyd, Jaime and especially Nick made the week really worthwhile.

It was a weird but a very fun week.

This seems like a long, pointless post that will just disappear, unread, into the ether, so I'll stop now. Tomorrow, maybe a little about TeeVee.

Or maybe I'll talk about ponies.

Monday, August 28, 2006

This is my first ever blog post. I feel sort of... awkward. I've never kept a diary or a journal, but I have posted embarrassing stuff on the internets before. Now, however, this is all mine. Maybe I'm the only one who will ever read it. Who the hell knows?

I guess I'll start with what possessed me to start this thing. I'm a TV writer and although I had to skip Comic Con this year, I did attend the World Science Fiction Convention. In nerdspeak, that's WorldCon. Every bloody fool there asked me if I had a blog or a website. Geez, isn't it enough that I have e-mail? I hate being behind the times -- beside the times is a much more comfortable place -- so here's a blog. I hope you're all happy.

So I mentioned that I write for television. This blog is actually a good chance to do something I've wanted to do before. My writing partner and I sold a pilot a few weeks ago and I thought I would document the process, which will hopefully culminate in us shooting the pilot and getting the show on the air. It hasn't happened with the other four pilots, but this one feels different. I hope it will be interesting to those who are curious about how television works. I'll also just talk about stupid crap that other people talk about on their blogs. I'll rant against Bush, praise Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (I am, after all, one of those Dreaded Hollywood Liberals), keep you updated on obscure sports you don't give a crap about, plug stuff my friends are doing, get opinionated on movies, books, TV and music, and post pictures of my cat.

A typical blog, wot?

Hmm. It's still a little awkward. So that's all for the first post. Next, I'll tell you how to sell a TV pilot to a network, and talk a little about WorldCon, which was way more fun than it had any right to be. I want people to post comments and ask questions. And if nobody ever reads this thing, I'll ask my own questions. Which might be entertaining in a whole different way.