So many comments! Cool!
Robert Meyer Burnett found me. Hey, Rob! Unfortunately, I haven't seen Friday Night Lights yet. I am very behind on my TeeVee viewing! At some point, I had to do TeeVee triage and just watch stuff I might actually get to work on. Ahem. I suppose I can watch whatever I want now. I'm not sure how involved Peter Berg is with FNL but I can't imagine he's too involved, given how much he has going on in the feature world (good luck making that Barbaro movie uplifting!). That credit may be a contractual thing, too. And no, I have not read the X-Files 2 script. I'm not sure I want to. Although now, I miss the show terribly! So maybe I would like it.
Defiant Dragon has gone above and beyond in breaking a pilot with episodes and character art. Is this a waste of time, or will it give a studio or a network more incentive to buy it? I'm wondering, since you mention character art, if this is an animated series. If so, I think the rules are a little bit different. If not, then yeah... you're probably wasting your time. The issue we've been seeing over the past few years is the the central idea of the show drives the sale. This doesn't mean the show is at all sustainable, by the way. But in features, it's primarily about the high concept. TeeVee's turning in that direction. While a high concept can on occasion drive a successful feature, it does not drive a successful TeeVee show. Although a TeeVee premise needs to be simple, do not equate that with high concept. It's not always the same.
And why, you may wonder, does a TeeVee premise need to be simple? Because you have to make 22 of these suckers, that's why. When you sit down to break an episode of a show, you need to have a story broken in a few days. If you're dealing with a dense show with a lot of rules, that's virtually impossible. You do not need to be trying to wrangle down your premise and redefine it every week. If you're doing a vampire detective show, say, then even if the episode is tough to break, at least you understand your main character and your show's premise. But something like "Pushing Daisies" or "Heroes," is much more complicated. And there are some shows that just can't be broken, but they get pitched, sold, written, shot and picked up to series. You don't want to be associated with these shows.
My advice, Defiant Dragon, is to try and get a producer invested in your idea. I think it's almost impossible -- if not just flat-out impossible -- to walk in and pitch to a studio. Even high-profile writers are looking to attach elements to their ideas even before they set the projects up. That's just the way the climate is right now. A good producer will help you navigate these waters. And by a good producer, I mean the person who groks your idea like you do. You don't need to just hook up with a producer for the sake of it. Find someone on your wavelength.
David wants to know what other genre samples he should write. Frankly, I don't know at the moment. The problem is, most execs and producers don't watch genre shows. They're afraid of genre shows. So if a Heroes spec shows up on some guy's desk, he's going to hide it under the pile of Ugly Betty specs. Writing a spec is all about showcasing your writing and if an executive can't see your writing through the terror of having to read a sample Battlestar Galactica, that isn't going to do you any good. So if you're a hard-core genre nerd, you may have to compromise a little and write a Medium or something like that. Sadly, the days of being able to write a Buffy or an X-Files are over.
But even though this fall season will be a disaster, something has to hit, so you may find yourself writing a Reaper or a Chuck or something along those lines. But don't do that right now! Wait until you know if the show's going to hit, and then if it's in the zeitgeist. And find out what other people are writing, too.
You can also use procedurals as samples for genre shows but don't pick the same old crap. Dig deeper. Write a Dexter. Write something with a unique point of view. Because for me, good genre is all about unique points of view. If I was staffing a genre show and a Dexter or even a Burn Notice came across my desk, I'd read that over a CSI any day. Genre is no longer just about what happens on a ship, my friend. Thankfully, it's going into a more character-driven arena, so make sure you have something character-driven in your arsenal. And since genre also tends to be fairly visual, choose a show that's visual as well.
David also wanted to know how to get his hands on sample scripts. The truth is, you don't really need to. Watch the episodes and take notes. Know what the show's structure is, and get as close to that as you can.
Dan Owen claims that I don't see the crap British TeeVee, and he's right! You guys have three zillion Goddam procedurals and horrid-sounding dramas. But I don't watch the horrid-sounding American stuff, either. What American TeeVee lacks, though, is daring in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre. We have a network called the Sci-Fi Channel, and even they can't get anyone to watch actual science fiction. So it's probably more a fault of the American TeeVee viewer than anyone else. But something weird happens in genre. There are different rules. Even though Heroes is a perceived hit (it really isn't, but whatever), networks aren't looking for shows like that. When they say they want their Heroes or Lost, they don't really. They want shows that get that kind of attention. Because at the end of the day, these people don't really get what makes these shows work and there are too few genre shows to develop a pattern. Also, genre is always very different, so you end up with arbitrary rules. The Dresden Files didn't work, so Sci-Fi decided no more fantasy or magic. They tend to choose an element to blame and you can't change their minds. Magic on TeeVee would be cool. REAL magic, not that fanciful, twee "Pushing Daisies" stuff.
Oh -- don't ever pitch a faerie show. Trust me. No matter how you pitch it, they won't buy it.
Back to British TeeVee versus American TeeVee. For the most part, I find British TeeVee more literary. I think British TeeVee leaves more to the imagination. American TeeVee would never do Jekyll. And it would NEVER do SIX episodes! We have a lot of shows here that should be limited series but that's virtually never an option. I've been looking at a lot of old British sci-fi and while it isn't all good, it's gratifying to see it get made. We don't get that here. As for Heroes blowing up New York, meh. Read it. I may be forced to watch this show at some point, depending on how a pitch goes, but based on what I've heard, it's a patchwork of superhero myths. Not really all that interesting.
Back to Jekyll. I personally adored it. I never thought it took the easy way out, even down to the bitter end, which I'm guessing was quite controversial. It was never going where I thought it would go and the big revelation, well... I didn't really see that coming. So I dug it. The acting was remarkable. Really. James Nesbitt? Total class.
Dan also laments the axing of Glen Morgan from Bionic Woman. What disturbs me about the whole situation is that whatever we see on the surface, it's a hundred times worse in reality. I doubt we'll ever know the real story but it'll keep happening, over and over again.
Neal wonders if shows like Seinfeld or The Simpsons would get on today. Probably not. But that's true of anything. Maybe X-Files would get on today, but... you know, I'm not sure. In this climate, it would probably be deemed too dark. It's got a clean, simple premise, but is it high concept? I really think the darkness and the conspiracy angle would get a pass. And Fox wouldn't be the network for it, either. Everything they've bought is straightforward, which leads to the question of what the hell their network identity is. Beyond American Idol, I have NO idea. Does anyone else?
Neal doesn't think the networks are competing with each other anymore, but with the cable networks. This is only partly true. All a cable show is going to give you is critical cache. If ABC ran Mad Men, they'd get a depressingly small number. The networks need to make up their minds. Either they're a clearing house for the lowest common denominator, or they aren't. I'm not seeing network execs really get behind a show, like they fucking LOVE it and would throw themselves on a sword for it. Their opinions change like the wind. They say they want their Closer, but they don't really mean that. What they mean is, they want the critical attention but they don't want cable ratings. I would love to see network and studio execs really get excited about something. There's no longer a sense of everyone being in it together, and that's too bad. It also doesn't make for particularly good TeeVee, does it?
Stephen Gallagher comments that Bionic Woman stole from Blade Runner, and that the big final sequence is given to Katee Sackhoff. Well. I suppose they had to steal from something, so at least they have good taste. And the evil bionic woman angle... by its very design, it marginalizes the main character. I don't know why people continue to do this. Of COURSE Katee Sackhoff tested higher than Michelle Ryan. She's got the showier role! You'd have to be an idiot not to see that coming. This is the whole virgin/whore angle of TeeVee, where there are explicit rules about the goodness of the main character that can't be broken. So to scratch the anarchist itch, they create the actual FUN character, and then everybody loves that character. What is UP with boring, lifeless leads? Is House the only lead who can have any attitude?
The biggest issue, really, is that when you're creating a show, you need to make sure that your lead character is special. Unique. Because otherwise, why are you telling their story? From what I've heard about Heroes, what develops is that the characters are not unique. That's not cool. It really isn't. At least with Pushing Daisies, that dude is TOTALLY special and unique. But why are we telling Jaime Sommers' story? This is something that people lose sight of, I think. But the very best shows feature characters who stand out, and that's why we are compelled to watch them.
Speaking of watching, I gather that this is premiere week, part one. Fasten your seatbelts. We're in for a bumpy night.
np - Yeti, Yume! This album is effing AWESOME.