Well, well, well. The fall season has arrived! First out of the gate was "K-Ville." anyone else watch this? If so, did you think it was as dumb as I did? It's not just me, right? Did the plot make ANY sense? Apparently, the network is trying to lighten the show up, which means that the premise -- cops in post-Katrina New Orleans -- is no longer the premise. This show sounds like another case of Fox's buyer's remorse. In essence, they buy a show and then they go, "Um... why is this show so dark? Nobody wants to hear about Katrina anymore." Then don't buy the show, right?? But they keep doing this. They keep putting shows on and then FINALLY figuring out what they've bought. It would save everybody a ton of grief if they could do this BEFORE they ordered it.
Next week, a number of high-profile shows premieres. So expect the blood-letting to begin. Even the press is getting involved. Kim Masters wrote a somewhat scathing article about the high cost of quality TeeVee. As most of you probably know, the network doesn't pay for production costs. The studio's responsible for that. The network pays the studio a licensing fee to air the show. This is supposed to offset production costs... at least to some degree. If a network really, really, really wants some big sweeps stunt, the studio can ask them for breakage on the episode, which means that the network would kick in some cash.
It sounds like every single show needs breakage this year.
Many sources say that "Pushing Daisies" is enormously expensive. Which is what happens when you create an entire world that you have to replicate every week. While they've probably got a number of standing sets, it's not as simple for that show to go on location because they have to design pretty much everything. But even shows that don't have to do that, like "Moonlight," are getting squeezed (also according to Masters' article). And we're not talking about cable or syndication here. These are big-time network shows, with decent budgets. So why can't these shows stay on pattern? Why is it such a struggle to adhere to a budget?
I have no fucking idea. But I think part of the problem is in the selling of the show. When networks and studios open for the development season, it's sort of like shopping. You've already bought stuff but you're tired of that stuff now. You've seen he limitations of last year's iPod. You're looking for the next generation. So that's sort of the mindset of these executives. NOW they're gonna make their names, with a show that YOU are going to pitch! It's SO exciting! Can't you just feel it??? So people come in to pitch. And the only way to distinguish your pitch from the eight zillion other pitches is to, well, distinguish it. Make it splashy. Cool. EXPENSIVE. This is an EVENT, network and studio peoples!! So they buy said expensive, splashy shows. And then the studios, in their effort to distinguish their shows to the networks, give pilots enormous budgets. Like, ten million dollars worth of budget. Two weeks to shoot. It's nirvana.
So you've gotten two weeks to make your pilot and ten million dollars with which to make it. Naturally, your show looks HOT. It's slick. It's wonderful. And the test audiences are absolutely floored. Why, it's like watching a MOVIE! I love this! So your show gets picked up.
Now, you have seven or eight days to make each episode. And around two and a half million bucks, if you're lucky. How the hell can you make your show for less than a THIRD the budget? Welcome to this year's fall schedule. This seems to be what's happening, what's going wrong with all of these shows. They're simply not constructed to be made for these budgets. And this is making the networks very, very cranky. They want their action bionic show. They want their TweeVee pie maker show. They want their vampire detective show. But the studios can't pay for them.
Obviously, something needs to change. I hope this year makes everyone realize that but based on what they're buying, it probably won't. It'll still be about pilot as sales tool. What they SHOULD do, if they had any balls, is order shows to series instead of to pilot. When they've got the scripts they want to consider for series, order five scripts. Then they'll see if the show is sustainable. Based on that (which will cost FAR less than a ten million dollar pilot), they can order shows to series. That way, you'll get a realistic series budget. Your pilot won't feel like an entirely different show. You will already have to adhere to a series budget in order to make your pilot.
They can still have upfronts, too. Just move everything up. Have the scripts in by February. Order your shows. Make the pilots, for reasonable budgets, and then go off to New York and prance around for the advertisers. It would also make life easier for showrunners and executives trying to staff these shows. Because the staffing would already be done by the time the pilots are greenlit.
They will NEVER do this, but it's something to think about.
The way it works now, it's all generated by fear and panic. The buying season this year is absolutely panic-based. I don't know if anyone bought a pitch they genuinely liked. I mean, when you see Bruckheimer getting a HUGE penalty with a remake of "Eleventh Hour," you know something's wrong. That show, frankly, sucked. Maybe Bruckheimerizing it will make it good, but I doubt it. I like the premise but I wonder if it's one of those premises that sounds great but can't be executed. Of course, they've decided a feature writer should write it. So good luck with that.
But it isn't only fear and panic. It's also about corporate interests. The intriguing and freaky thing about corporations is how featureless they are. A successful corporation seems to be a living creature that lacks an identity. People are pawns in a conglomerate. They only matter as bodies, not as individuals. So you wind up with the mentality that only the bottom line matters, and that people are interchangeable because they exist only to feed the monster. So in entertainment, ideas and the writers who create them are interchangeable. Part of that is because it's not like there's a dearth of writers out there. There's always someone new. So we're all expendable and nobody really matters.
This isn't meant to be some depressing Kafka-esque rumination, by the way. I mean this practically. I was watching a baseball thing awhile back about the Kirk Gibson homerun in the '88 World Series. And I remember being such a huge Dodgers fan, going all the way back. The Dodgers had an identity. They had Lasorda. They had Fernando. Hersheiser. That fantastic infield. They had players who STAYED. But then the O'Malley family sold the team and it became a corporate holding. So the magic of the team and of the players no longer mattered. And the Dodgers haven't won a Series since. Today, they've got a ton of super-talented young players. But why even get invested? That's not a team. It's a collection of people who are playing only for the corporate interest. That's the mentality of baseball and all professional sports right now. Players are really a dime a dozen. They're interchangeable. For the most part, they aren't identified with a particular team. A player rarely plays his entire career for one team anymore. Rooting for the Dodgers is about rooting for the idea, for the past. Not for the present. Not anymore.
And I think entertainment is becoming more like that. I think I've said this before but if you look at the really successful shows, they're creator-driven. But networks and studios, so caught up in serving the bottom-line master, can't go out on that limb anymore. I know a lot of really great executives, and I hope they're finding ways to survive this climate. Something has to hit the fan soon, I think. Will it be a strike? Eh. The Writer's Guild is great at whipping up the panic, which just served this year to screw writers over, but when it comes down to it, they lack the spine. There may be a strike, but don't expect the writers to get anything out of it. The corporations aren't going to be hurt by this, and that's all that will matter.
Was that cheerful, or what??? Onto some comments!!
Neal talks about taking a chance vs. playing it safe. This is definitely a part of it. But the problem is, us writers can take as many chances as we want, but that just means we won't sell. So like it or not, we have to give the networks and studios what they can handle. This is still a business, and it's not driven by the writers. But I think something all writers should do is to find another outlet for their creativity. Hopefully, we'll all get to do the shows we've dreamed of doing. But in the meantime, it's important to find something to write that is really and truly you. It could be prose, comic books, web shows, whatever. I started doing this and I have to say, I highly recommend it. Write what you want in between writing for business.
AJ wonders about the X-Files 2 movie. This is indeed another XF film but apparently, it won't be a sequel. It'll be a standalone movie. I have heard NOTHING beyond that, only that it looks like it's moving forward. I would love it to absolutely just kick ASS and show everybody in this industry how much we need that show! Also AJ, I'd love to link to you. Send me your link!
David is going to write a "Lost" spec and a "Dexter" spec. Good on you, David! I like the idea of a "Lost" spec. At least an exec will sit up and take notice when that hits their desk, and that's what you want. Don't be the 30th "House."
Shawna really likes "Chuck." I totally agree. For me, it's one of only a few shows that SHOULD work. The premise is very simple and you can totally see how it's sustainable. I haven't seen the "Gossip Girl" pilot yet, but the numbers look great for the CW. It held an awesome percentage of viewers from ANTM, which has so far been impossible. I hope "Reaper" works, too... if so, it looks like the CW is on track in developing their network identity. This is ALWAYS a good thing.
Shawna also says that I am awesome and that she liked "Haunted." Thanks, Shawna! We, too, thought Matthew Fox was a total star and it's great to see him get the acclaim he deserves, even if it's not on "Haunted." And good luck with your pilot!!!
Peter Noble wants to know what POD stands for. It's essentially producers on development deals. They've become mini-studios, providing content for the studio with which they have their deal. Mark Gordon, Bruckheimer, Joel Silver and JJ Abrams company are some of the more well-known PODs. A POD will generally develop several shows with different writers.
Some PODs are awesome. Some are not.
I hope this post makes sense. I have my doubts.
np -- The Parlotones, "Radiocontrolledrobot." It's still growing on me.