What's been bothering me about TeeVee lately, and probably why I am desperate to get back to rewriting the two novels, is how inorganic everything is becoming. There used to be a rhythm, a pattern to a TeeVee script -- a teaser and four acts. So each act would work towards a suspenseful or interesting act out. But now there are six acts of these things and that just doesn't give you as much time or space to build story. Coming up with four cool, suspenseful act outs is much different than coming up with six. Naturally, it wasn't the writers who came up with this. No self-respecting writer would dream of something so hideous. Everybody's still struggling with it, and I wonder what it'll be like when it goes to eight acts. Or will there just be a commercial after every scene? I don't fucking know. But it's making it more difficult to tell a compelling story. And tags suck. I hate tags. Tags are scenes you would never show in a four-act structure.
So the method of storytelling is changing. Budgets are shrinking, but production values continue to grow, which makes for a challenging relationship. And then there's the weakness of the dollar, which doesn't help any show that's shooting in another country so they can save some cash.
But then cool things happen, like Mad Men gets nominated for all those Emmys! The nominations were quite interesting, seeing as how more cable shows were recognized. And not just HBO and Showtime. Both AMC shows were given the love. Breaking Bad had two key nominations -- Vince Gilligan was nominated for directing the pilot (a writing nom would have been nice, too) and Bryan Cranston got a much-deserved acting nomination. I was also thrilled that John Slattery was nominated for Mad Men.
Here's a look at how the top drama categories broke out for cable versus network:
Three of five drama directing nominations.
Half of best drama nominations.
Four of six best guest actor in a drama nominations.
Four of six best actor in a drama nominations.
Three of five best actress in a drama nominations.
Three of five best supporting actor in a drama nominations.
And ALL FIVE best drama writing nominations: two for Mad Men (including one for the best hour of TeeVee all last year - The Wheel), The Wire, Damages and, hold onto your fucking hat -- Battlestar Galactica. If you're gonna recognize the show, the writing's the place to do it.
So what the hell's going on? Is the Academy getting wise? Has network fallen so far that even an idiot can see how much creatively stronger cable is? It's very reminiscent of the Oscars, where the nominees and winners were, for the most part, movies that didn't make any money. So somebody somewhere is recognizing quality. Is cable the new independent film? Do art and commerce now have two separate worlds? Because it seems to me that cable and network really are separate, almost the way comedy and drama are. Will that continue to happen? Or will cable eventually get eaten by the commercial machine and turn into the vast wasteland network occupies?
Those are ALLLL rhetorical, folks.
I want to talk about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog and Batman (no, it sort of goes together) but I'm gonna save that for the next post. So onto some comments!
I have a different perspective on "I created the show but I'm not the showrunner." My suggestion would be to cultivate the showrunner, not the studio. The studio put the showrunner there instead of you; they listen to him. If he feels you're endrunning him, he can kill you on the show by telling the studio you're being "difficult". They will fire you.
But if they don't KNOW you, then of course they're going to believe the showrunner. Which was kinda the point.
My instinct would be to suck up to the showrunner. Make him look good. Make his life easier. Since you created the show you have the right to tell him when you think he might be missing something important. But it's his call.
In other words, treat the showrunner the way you'd treat a showrunner. It's his show. Make his life easier and everyone will be happy and you'll be hired again. He might come to lean on you more and more as he comes to trust you. Make him look bad, complain about him behind his back, and you'll be gone before you know what hit you.
This is what you'd do if you were simply on staff, but it's really quite different if you created the show. If you created the show and Bob Showrunner is running it because you haven't run a show before, it's YOUR show. You shouldn't defer to the EP. He should defer to you in creative matters. He should try to produce YOUR vision of the show YOU sold. And you, as the creator, will ultimately need to be seen as someone who can run a show of your own without any help. I've seen show creators NOT cultivate studio and network execs, and I've seen EPs take shows away from them. Don't go overboard about it, and definitely cultivate and use that EP. Learn from him. But it's YOUR show and the studio and network need to have a relationship with you.
I wish you would talk more about people asking for/demanding free rewrites. I'm going out with a feature spec and as I have no agent yet, I get very few people to read the spec as it is. When I find a producer who's interested in the project, he will invariably say he loves it -- but with some notes that he wants to see incorporated before he will take it to the studios.
Okay, fair enough. The problem is, each producer who "loves it, with some notes" has a different take. Their notes often contradict each other. And they all want free rewrites to suit their own particular whims. I'm sure these producers are asking many writers for free rewrites, stringing them all along, until they decide which project they're actually interested in producing.
Probably. This is a huge problem in features, and a slightly less huge problem in TeeVee. If all writers put their collective feet down, we'd STILL need the guild to do something about it, to enforce contracts. There are very few writers who can get away with this. So if you want to be in this industry, you have to put up with it, I'm sorry to say.
Regarding different producers, though, if they're not paying you and you don't like their notes, you aren't bound to take them. You can walk away. It's still YOUR script. Now, obviously, you want to get somewhere but if you find yourself stripping your vision away and tailoring it for one producer after another, that's not doing you any good. I think this is just something you figure out with more experience. You'll find yourself walking away soon enough. Just trust your instincts!!
I've done my fair share of free rewriting and just plain writing, way back when and fairly recently. Sometimes you'll write a pilot that you pitched just because you want to, or because you were working with producers who wanted to take it out. I've done this twice, I think. At least two that come to mind. One was a totally wonderful experience where we pitched a project with someone we ADORE. We didn't sell it but we wrote the pilot anyway, and it has been a great writing sample. The other one was the total flip side where we were treated very poorly. And that happened very recently. So no matter how much experience you have, you can still get screwed.
Erm, I hope that makes you feel better...
Where can we check on the syndication coverage of the various markets? I have a feeling that in my market it will be scheduled on one of the digital side channels at some ungodly hour during the weekend, probably after "Davinici's Inquest," "Cold Squad," or "Stone Undercover."
Heh. I have NO idea at all. I don't even know where it will be airing here. But I do know it starts the weekend of November 1, and that it's been sold to practically every market. If I find out anything more specific I'll let you know.
Kathryn (excellent name, BTW) says,
I'm more of an "aspiring" novelist, but I will say, one key difference is, you're really putting your eggs in one basket when you're writing a book. Spend ten years on one project, and if it doesn't go anywhere, you're so screwed. (And so despondent.) If you're coming up with ten pilot ideas a year and none gets picked up, well, you come up with ten new pilot ideas next year. It's not fun, but it's not a decade of your life, either. I try very hard not to work exclusively on one project.
That's a tricky thing too, isn't it? I tend to have a lot of ideas. Not that they're all brilliant. I just have a lot of them. And sometimes, you totally fall in love with one of your ideas and if you don't sell it, you write it. And then it sits there, and you hope that one day, it will become Mad Men. Or at least that someone will read it and love it as much as you do. It's hard when people don't like your kids!
But it's also a LOT easier to develop one idea, even if it's for years, than to always come up with ten different ideas, every year, in a shifting marketplace. That SUCKS. And if your novel idea is similar to something else already in the marketplace, that doesn't necessarily mean there's no room for it. It does in TeeVee, though, especially if you do genre. So you have to be both less attached and more attached to your ideas. You have to develop them fully and totally explore them, but then you have to move on. And sometimes that's hard. There's surely some kind of mathematical formula, maybe we can call it the entertainment derivative, that can calculate exactly where on the curve you need to be with an idea. I'd love to give that a shot.
Mr. Robert Meyer Burnett -- I'm totally on board with X-Files. Let's do it!!
np -- The Wave Pictures, "Instant Coffee Baby"