We've been extra busy lately! Because of the wacky development schedule (i.e., there is none), it's impossible to predict when the buying season is. And because of the added layer writers have to go through to get to the networks, everything's been pushed later. The extra layer, if I haven't mentioned it before, is the POD layer. POD refers to producers with overall development deals. What that means is, a studio pays a non-writing producer (think Bruckheimer, only a zillion more of them) to develop pitches with writers. So writers have to go pitch to PODs first and then, if the producer likes your idea, you go pitch to studios. Then, if the studio likes it, you go pitch to networks. This is now an almost mandatory step that makes the buying season later and later. The problem, as I see it, is that many of these PODs have new shows on the air. So they have to focus on getting those shows up and running before they can hear pitches.
We used to sell pilots to networks near the beginning of August. But now, we're meeting with producers. And with the growing prominence of cable, any actual buying season has really been shot to hell. Although these PODs have deals with studios, they do not have deals with networks. A studio can go anywhere, network or cable. So a POD might not necessarily give a shit about the network buying season. This complicates matters. Because a lot of people -- writers and especially agents -- are still locked into the old way of doing things, which is that you go to networks first. But when you see how the networks handle the new shows, it makes sense not to leave cable out of the loop. I would rather get to do my show the way I want on SciFi than get cancelled on a network.
Anyway, we've been really busy choosing from our vast storehouse of pilot ideas (heh) and then pitching them to producers. What's nice is, we finally decided on three ideas and we really feel that we're in the zeitgeist. We may not actually be ahead of it this time! We've had producers liking different ideas, which is also good. We're also pitching a great pilot with two fantastic producers who totally get it. We're hoping to get studio meetings soon. And we're still working on features and whatnot.
We also found out what a few of the networks are looking for. Great, right? We can tailor shit right to 'em! ABC is looking for "blue sky" shows. And NBC is looking for shows that don't have anything to do with death.
Now, go figure out what to pitch them. I DARE YOU.
NBC, for its desire to stay away from death, just bought a show about cops who police demons, vampires and werewolves. Maybe they just mean actual human death. Huh. I just don't know WHAT to think. But I do know this -- that show already aired. It was called Special Unit 2, and it was on UPN. I know writers who sold that same pilot several seasons ago. So I'm wondering, maybe there's something unique about it, you know? There must be some special twist that I don't know about. Because otherwise, how the hell would a network buy that show? I know they like ideas that are familiar, but SERIOUSLY. It doesn't get more familiar than that. I'd be really interested to find out from the writer exactly how the show was pitched. Because I'm not seeing it. Fox also bought a supernatural show, a drama they're fast-tracking in case of a strike. It's a show about three families in three different time periods who live in the same haunted house.
I don't know how this show was pitched either, or the particulars. It's an intriguing idea, until you think about sitting down in the writer's room on day one and trying to break these stories. Sometimes, shows that seem to have the clearest, most elegant concepts are bitches to break. Shows with gimmicks just don't work. Simple is better. Okay, maybe not as simple as the paranormal cop show, but you get the point.
The fact that these shows were sold might give one hope that genre television is on the comeback. What's funny is, a lot of people have been referencing The X-Files lately. Not as in, "We're looking for that show," but like, "Man, don't you miss that show?" I'm wondering if people are looking at the pilots they're hearing, the shows that are already in trouble for fall and the graveyard of TeeVee we've seen since X-Files went off the air and getting nostalgic. Finally, heads are clearing. Right? Aren't they? I don't know. But we have to think so. If you believe in a show, you have to believe in your ability to tell the story and you have to believe that the person hearing it will love it. Otherwise, there's just no point.
But this is a business, and the people hearing your pitches are in the middle of hell week. They've got shows for fall that they're still dealing with and they've got a bazillion pitches lined up all day, every day. They'll be nice, and they'll try their best to listen and pay attention and get your enthusiasm. But they're human, and that won't always happen.
So it comes back to you, the writer. The only purity that exists in this business is when a writer has an idea, and creates a world out of that idea. The one thing I can assure you of is, everybody will have an opinion of that idea. Some opinions -- notes, really -- will be helpful, and you should not dismiss them out of hand. But it's very hard to destroy the purity of that moment of creation and throw it out there for tired, scared, busy people who simply don't have the time or the energy to understand and appreciate the purity of your idea. They're gonna hear the logline and if you're lucky, they'll listen past that. Maybe it'll be what they're looking for -- one of sixty drama pilot scripts that network will develop this year. But mostly, it won't be quite up their alley.
It's easy for us, the writers, to bag on the executives and the producers. There are some lousy ones. But there are some terrific ones, too, people who are just as genuinely enthusiastic as you. But while you can always fall back on your creativity, they have to think of the business end of it, sometimes exclusively. And sometimes, your project will suffer. I know what you're going to say, gentle readers -- writers have to consider the business end of it, too. Yes, that's true. However. It's easy to get caught up in it, to second guess your idea because it's not saleable enough. It's easy to listen to people who tell you that, too. And hey, we all do it, and we'll all continue to do it. But when you're working on a pilot pitch, all you have to do is answer one question: Is this a show you could work on for five years?
That's really all it comes down to.
Jesus, I don't know what the crap this maudlin post is about!
Dave mentioned an unfortunate Michael Bay story about developing Friday the 13th. Yeah... this shit just gets stuck in development hell because there's no deadline for it. They can develop a movie for fucking EVER. And then the things suck anyway. The movies that seem to work are usually left alone. The ones that don't? Well, the idiot American moviegoer will see them anyway, which is why crap like Rush Hour makes money. Whatevs. Stupid moviegoers. Demand better entertainment! This is a business! If you don't go see this shit, they'll stop making it.
Poldevia wanted to know what genre spec to write. That is indeed an interesting question!! I don't see people writing a lot of genre specs. There isn't much on that would work as a sample. You can't write a Battlestar Galactica. DO NOT WRITE ONE OF THESE. Although I read one that knocked my socks off, an executive either isn't going to read it or doesn't watch the show. This does you no good. Supernatural isn't a bad sample. Even if an exec isn't familiar with the show, it's a pretty standalone set-up. Standalone ALWAYS helps you, because your spec will be useable longer than it will for an ever-changing serialized show. Do not write a Dr. Who. Trust me on that. Bad idea.
Jesus, what else is on? Eureka? Hmm. I don't know about that one. I think the show's pretty tough to write so unless you really have a handle on it, I wouldn't go there. It's also risky because of the Sci-Fi Channel angle. Most execs have no idea what's on SciFi. SciFi also just premiered Flash Gordon. I admire the attempt and I worked with the writer on a show years ago. I'm not sure it totally works for me. But I have to say, it's Canadian content and it only feels like that occasionally. The lead is okay; it's Flash freakin' Gordon, so he's not loaded with personality anyway. Dale is played by Gina Holden, who was also in Lifetime's Blood Ties. I really like her. Dale's a totally different character than the character she played on Blood Ties. If you didn't catch that show (most people didn't -- it's on Lifetime, for God's sake), you might want to take a look. I think it's on iTunes. I actually thought it was pretty fun! Canadian content, but REALLY well cast and the episodes were fun. The show's based on Tanya Huff's books, which are also fun. I think it's interesting that the most fun, engaging genre show on now is a Canadian content show on Lifetime.
It'll be interesting to see if anything hits this fall. There's a LOT of genre -- Pushing Daisies, Reaper, Bionic Woman, Moonlight, Sarah Connor Chronicles, New Amsterdam (pushed to midseason, but everything's midseason on Fox anyway), Eli Stone... I feel like I'm leaving something out. Anyway, one of those is bound to hit. Well. You'd think so. If, say, Bionic Woman hits right out of the gate and doesn't fall off too much for three episodes, I'd take a look at writing one of those. It's always good to be the first one.
I do recommend writing a spec pilot if you want to work in genre. I know, I said not to right away but try expanding your horizons a bit with the specs. Write something character-driven, something that has a bit of humor, like Psych or Dexter (why aren't there more of these?) something along those lines. A spec like that can cover a lot of shows. You've got your character, your procedural, your humor. And then write a spec genre pilot. They're A LOT easier to write than pitch. They're very tough to pitch, because you're doing more than you are in a pitch about lawyers. You're world-building, and when you pitch you have to be VERY clear about the rules. When we sold Heroes, most of our concentration went towards that. If an exec has even one question, your pitch may not make it up the ladder. So consider a genre pilot, coupled with a show spec that's a little out of left field.
If we sell a genre pilot this year, I'll tell you how we pitched it. If we don't sell one, well... obviously, we need to go back to the drawing board on how to pitch them.
I think I figured out how to put our pilots on the internets. I put up four PDFs. Real Life is a newish pilot that we're tinkering with. It's a spec with some genre elements. Storyteller was a show we sold to Lifetime a few years back. Dan Brown's horrid tome hadn't come out yet and we did it first anway. Town Called Malice is the most recent. Not genre at all -- we describe it as the anti-Gilmore Girls. I've always wanted to do something music-based. This is one of those pilots that, if people don't like it (I'm talking to YOU, Mark Gordon development person!), I don't care. They're wrong. And then there's Utopia, which we wrote for Paramount a few years ago. I love this pilot, too. We totally have a whole series worked out for it. It's sort of an update of The Prisoner. I hope somebody who reads this blog (and isn't my writing partner!) will recognize where the names came from. WITHOUT GOOGLING THEM! I hope you enjoy these scripts, y 'all.
Go here, and tell me if it works:
Until next time, gentle readers...
np - Sea Wolf, "Leaves in the River." They're from L.A. AND THEY'RE AWESOME!