Guys. Seriously. It's long canceled. The actors have scattered, the writers are gone, IT'S OVER. LET IT GO. Don't waste your money, because it isn't going to happen. Create your own show about a nuclear apocalypse (that's what it was about, right?). Give it some biblical name, and off you go.
I fear that this is the way the Moonlight campaign is going to go. While I appreciate fans' dedication to their shows, there comes a point where you should bow out gracefully. For Jericho fans, that point came about six months ago. I don't think people understand that the studio has to be invested in wanting to save the show. If the studio doesn't want to shop it around, it's just dead. The studio owns it, gentle readers. Not the fans.
This has been a pretty busy week. We're working on our brand, which means we have about six balls up in the air right now. Our pilot ideas are ready to go, and we're hopefully going to start development earlier this year. You know, earlier than two weeks before the writer's strike. What that means is, concentrating more on cable and less on network. Which is fine by me.
Staffing season is, apparently, over. And good riddance to it! Like the rest of the business, staffing looks like it's changing, too. Back in the day (several years ago, to be exact), staffing went from around mid-March to mid-May. You'd have a flurry of meetings with studios, networks and showrunners, then you'd sit back and field offers. Yeah, that was the life!
People will say the strike caused the extreme shift we saw this year but I don't think the strike had as much to do with it as others do. Staffing's been on the wane since networks and studios decided to save money by cutting, well, staffs. The shows that are well staffed are the returning shows, and anyone would be a fucking nut to leave a returning show. In this climate, if you have a job, you don't budge.
This all seems fairly obvious, but the industry is still acting like it's the same as it ever was. There was an article in the L.A. Times about how network TeeVee is changing. Or, as I like to call it, withering and dying. Network viewership is dropping, while cable viewership is building. Because of declining network ratings, sweeps periods are losing their value (finally!). But agents and executives and producers/PODs will still think network first, cable second.
Look at what is on the networks, though, and compare it to what's on cable. First of all, no show can touch Mad Men. That show's existence means that Breaking Bad is the second-best show on AMC, the Alydar to Mad Men's Affirmed. However, it would be the best drama on any broadcast network. When I look at USA, I get exactly who they are and what they're aiming for. When I look at NBC, I gotta say, I'm a little confused. I've been blathering about branding lately. So what is NBC's brand? Is it weird that I instantly understand USA's brand? I mean, USA isn't a powerhouse like NBC. Even more weirdly, they're owned by the same folks. So what's the deal?
Why do I think ABC Family's brand is cleaner than ABC's? Honestly, the only broadcast network that picked up shows I understand is Fox. Fox used to be the genre network and this year, they'll be running Sarah Connor, Fringe and Dollhouse. Fox has also grown shows into hits -- House and Bones, for example. Okay, I think they kinda did it by accident, but still. And this is the network that has American Idol, for crap's sake. As for CBS, well... they're doing the same thing they've been doing since they launched American Gothic: trying things out of their bailiwick. And when the shows don't get Criminal Minds-type ratings, they will turn on them and rip out their throats.
This means you, The Ex-List and Harper's Island. Run for cover.
So networks are entrenched in their old ways, and so are the people selling to them. Each year, even though they deny it, the networks generate a wish list of shows they're looking for. These lists go to agents, and the agents send them to their clients. These lists are less than illuminating. I talked about this before, when Ben Silverman decided he wanted "blue sky shows," whatever those are. When the network doesn't have a brand or identity and they use such vague, unquantifiable words, it's impossible for a writer to develop an idea that fits into the network's mold. And it's not like the development execs always know what the big guy wants, either. Hence the zillion pitches and mountains of scripts ordered.
Of course, they've all decided to punish the writers this year and buy less.
When I'm coming up with pilot ideas, they break down into two categories -- network, and cable. Guess which category has the most ideas? There are pilots that could be pitched to networks but mostly, I'm thinking cable. Because they're not as locked into a standard development season. Sure, they don't buy nearly as much, but if the networks are going to buy less, that sort of evens the playing field. Cable pays less, but there's less bullshit and as we've seen especially over the past few years, the quality of cable shows outstrips that of network.
I'd rather have a chance to get something on the air because that is, after all, the ultimate goal. It's easy (or it was easy, awhile back) to get mired in the circle of development. Sell pilots, write scripts, collect the money. Maybe it's good the networks are forcing us out of that business. But I think the networks will find that it hurts them, as more and more writers turn to cable and, eventually, to the internet so they can actually get shit on.
The amount of bullshit on network shows, especially new shows, is torrential. Look at the notes process. The studios and the networks have always given notes and because they're putting up the money, they have every right. But they're treating the writers like automatons. When they dive into the notes, they frequently do so without any indication whatsoever of what they thought. Knowing whether an executive liked the story document/outline/script has nothing to do with ego. This is about context. If you have no idea what the executive thought, you have no idea how to address their real issue behind the notes, and no idea how fucking long you're going to be on the call. It should be common courtesy to give the writers an inkling about what you think, yes?
That's another reason cable wins: fewer executives, fewer projects, more time spent on each project. I want to see the day when the majority of writers take their best ideas to cable FIRST. And not just HBO or Showtime, but USA and Sci-Fi and FX and AMC.
I mean, why not give that a shot and see what happens?
Speaking of network, Horace wanted to know:
What's with the "Remote Free TV" thing that FOX is plugging for "Fringe" and "Dollhouse?" I mean, giving back some time for the show is fine, and Whedon, at least, will know how to use it, but will Abrams? He's all short scenes, quick-cuts, and pretty much short acts. Michael Gleason or Stephen J. Cannell would be worthy of the extra time.
You're assuming that JJ Abrams has anything to do with Fringe. He's certainly not running it. I don't know what's up with that idea, but I'm sure it comes out of some marketing meeting. Also, it's super hard to comply with the running time. We're edging towards half hour and if your show has a plot, that makes it very difficult. But one reason running times are shorter is because these shows are so massively expensive. Fringe is more expensive than most, and I assume they'll be given even more money for the extra minutes. I've been on many shows that have episodes coming in short because they just can't afford to shoot the whole script. This is directly at odds with Fox's notion. I like the idea of it. As the L.A. Times article says, it puts the focus back on the show. But is it financially feasible? What happens if Fringe tanks?
I'm going to miss Josef. Was he running the Black Crystal business? And what's with his surname change? And why was Chip sacked?
I don't know the answers to any of those! I might if I'd been on staff, but freelance is a different animal.
I think there's a bit of reverse-snobbery here in Britain, in that most production companies like to pretend they're turning out something more than mere 'product', hence a writer being too keen to use that sort of language would be frowned upon quite severely. In fact, I suspect the best position a British screenwriter could adopt is that of a sort of gentleman hobbyist, who spends most of his time gazing nobly acrosss his estate, but spending the odd afternoon in the shed, turning out a perfectly proportioned Final Draft document or two.
Here, we're all, "Hurrah! I'm officially a whore!" Crass Americans.
Also, I'm umming and ahhing about asking my agent how he pushes my 'brand', but I suspect the dread word 'quirky' might bob to the surface, like a turd in a birthing pool, so I may end up just leaving it.
Ugh. Quirky. It connotes so much, and unless you're Diablo Cody, all of it is bad. Quirky means small and out of the mainstream. Quirky doesn't make any money, and people don't understand it. Quirky. Ick.
np - Shake Some Action!, "Shake Some Action!"