I wish I'd been able to make the whole con, because I had friends in town, dammit, and it's always fun to talk to smart people on a purely creative level. It makes you better equipped to deal with the bullshit when you remember why you do this in the first place.
But about that guy who pissed me off...
While TeeVee is the bastard child of movies, it is also, apparently, the bastard spawn of novels, as this one panelist indicated. Happily, I can't remember his name, which tells you something about how high-profile this mofo is. The panel was called "Is 'Realistic Fantasy' an Oxymoron?" and featured actual writers like Will Shetterly, Tim Powers, Sherwood Smith and David Anthony Durham. And this guy. Whose name I could look up, but choose not to. And frankly, the fact that I would have to look him up tells you something about his credits. The bulk of the panel discussed the "buy-in" with fantasy. How do you get readers or viewers to buy into your world? That was interesting, especially coming from Will Shetterly and Tim Powers, who write very different types of fantasy. Anyhoo, this asshat continuously bemoaned the notion that future fantasy writers are probably watching television and not reading books, which means that future fantasy is going to suck. Because it does not, of course, suck now. It's all literary and fantastic. All of it. But TeeVee is going to RUIN FANTASY. Since fantasy is currently populated by the Terrys Brooks and Goodkind and Robert Jordan, I don't think that's a cogent argument. Besides, he did it in that "now Daddy is going to lecture you" way that is always irritating.
Poor TeeVee. It can't catch a break. Right now, of course, no entertainment can catch a break. The studios and networks have made massive cuts, mostly in the assistant ranks (middle execs rarely get let go) and, at NBC, some higher-ups had to pay for what they'd done, which is waste an assload of money on underperforming shows. I'm not sure what equation was applied to ensure that the right people were fired, but I'm sure the heads of NBC knew what they were doing. They would never just pick someone as a scapegoat, right?
Even Knight Rider, which had been given a full season, is now stopping production on episode 17. NBC's done this sort of thing before (hello, Medical Investigation) so it's not entirely unexpected. The economy is freaking everybody out, so episodes are cut, budgets are slashed, writers are fired (lots and lots of writers), but the PODs still have their deals. Yep, people who usually add absolutely nothing to the production of a show are getting gobs of money per episode. And nobody seems to be saying anything about it.
There's a much more efficient way to keep a show going without absurdly firing people who are necessary to it. Stop paying pilot directors an episode fee. Stop paying everybody who works at a production company an episode fee. Just pay the people who actually do the work. Stop giving people who fail huge deals. Don't go and hire someone to take over a troubled show, give them gobs of money for a development deal, and then cancel the show. Apply the same fiscal responsibility that I have to on a daily fucking basis. This isn't rocket science. It can be done, and shows can be saved. But shit, when they fire co-exec producers from a show that costs upwards of four million dollars an episode and the guy in charge is still in charge... how is that going to help? These guys don't seem to recognize that there's a problem unless they're told by their uber-boss that there is. And then they start firing writers and assistants because they still cannot see what the real problem is. Ridiculous.
I don't know what this means for TeeVee, but it never means what it should. I.e., they won't go and find cheaper people for the job. They seem to pay "experienced" people even more money, especially when it comes to pilots. So is there going to be a pilot season for people like me? Dunno. I guess we'll wade in there and see what happens.
Adriano posted a link for a Hollywood Reporter article about how pilot-free series weren't doing well. What I love is the assumption that because pilots weren't made before the series were ordered, that somehow caused the shows to suck. Does anyone else believe this? It definitely saves networks and studios money but since they can't get it through their heads that there's a way to make pilots cheaper, they'll always keep making the same mistakes. What is totally missing from the people quoted in the article is the mention of quality, of good storytelling, of compelling characters. Because these things don't matter to the bottom-line execs. Their only focus is on profit and budget. So we basically have two industries here. One that is only concerned with money, and the other that is concerned with storytelling. There used to be a middle ground, uneasy though it was, but I don't think there is anymore. This contributes to the huge disconnect that happens when networks decide what pilots they're going to shoot and what shows they're going to pick up.
I don't know what any of this is going to mean for pilot season, but obviously a lot of midseason shows have yet to premiere so maybe things will settle down a little. We have to count on that, actually, because some of us gots to make a living, and with the shrinkage of writing staffs and almost total absence of upper midlevel jobs, it's all about pilots, baby. I'll keep you posted on how THAT goes.
The bottom line is, everybody is panicking. But no matter what happens, the industry manages to survive. The lack of a real hit this season has definitely hurt. But who's to say there won't be a big midseason hit? We're always working towards that hit. Everybody in the business does that. So maybe a bit of a freak-out is good. Let everyone panic, and then let's get the fuck back to work on trying to make good TeeVee, regardless of the odds of doing so.
One last comment...
The comments about the CBS template made me think of the supplementary materials on the "Millennium Season Two" DVDs. Specifically, how everyone seems all bent out of shape over Morgan and Wong's direction for the show robbing it of the chance of becoming CSI before CSI. At least that's how I interpreted it. Good grief.
You never get credit for being ahead of the curve. Ever. And for my money, Millennium was much more intriguing as an esoteric secret history show than it would be as a precursor to CSI. Because there were already precursors to CSI. Quincy, anyone?
I really wanted to make this post a bit shorter because I do want to blog more often. Yeah, I say that all the time, but this time I really mean it! And here's a present as a gesture of good faith: A little piece of cinema verite for you to enjoy.
Until next time, which will be very soon, or at least soonisher...
Okay, I can't stand it. The idiot panelist's name is Justin Lloyd. No idea if he's ever written a word.
np -- The Maybes, "Promise."