Welcome to the Massive Insecurity Show known as staffing season! You can throw all reason out the window at this time of year. But there has to be a way to make sense of it all, so I put together a list of rules to help you make it through:
1. If someone says they love you, that only means they don't hate you. It does not mean that they will hire you. Quite the contrary.
2. No matter what level you are, you will always be too expensive.
3. Even if you have twenty different samples, you will never have the exact right one.
4. The studio or network list doesn't mean anything if you're on it, but it does mean something if you're not.
5. Most people don't know how to recognize good writing, which is why having the exact right sample is so crucial.
6. You will always knock a meeting out of the park on a show that doesn't get picked up.
7. There is always one show that gets picked up that makes everybody in town go, "Where the fuck did THAT come from?" That show never lasts.
8. The rumors you hear only come true if they diminish your chances of getting a job.
9. Somebody in one of your meetings went to college with that psychopath you worked for.
10. Showrunners will never be impressed enough that you researched your ass off about their credits.
11. If you go into a meeting with story ideas, the showrunner won't want to hear them. But if you go in without story ideas, they will inevitably ask.
12. Every year, on every show, the number of gatekeepers you must impress grows by one.
13. The best pilot you read won't get picked up.
I'm shocked that there are only thirteen.
Since pilots are either being shot or are being edited, the rumors are starting to fly about what's hot and what's not. If you pay attention to this stuff you will go insane. Especially if you've met on any of these shows, or know people who can get you in. I think this year's still showing the effects of last year and things aren't quite settled yet. Also, cable's importance is taking a toll on network staffing. Pilots that need showrunners may have a tough time finding them because showrunners may also have their own pilots at cable networks. And if the decision is between running your own show and someone else's, well... that's really no decision at all.
Showrunners are under an intense pressure right now. They have to cut their show, take network and studio notes, read samples, find their number two, and try to put together a staff with what will be a frighteningly small budget. What we saw the last few years was that writers would take pay and level cuts to go on staff. I don't know if that will happen this year, especially for upper level writers who also have the option of selling to cable. They no longer have to wait until networks open up for development.
Back when pilots were being picked up, I was thrilled that there were so many genre shows. But now the same old thing is happening. People are ashamed of their genre shows, and genre writers are again being marginalized. Procedural writers are getting those jobs, because it's embarrassing to hire writers who are actually fluent in the genre. Apparently. This is aggressively stupid. TeeVee has been fragmenting, and the procedural world has, I think, become a world unto itself. Procedurals beget procedural writers, and they move from one Bruckheimer show to the next. This is not a slam against procedural writers. It takes a special skill to be able to break and write those shows. It's not really my first choice, although I've done some work on procedurals that I quite enjoyed, but the people who do it are very, very good at it.
But see, it takes a special skill to write genre, too. You have to think differently when you're writing genre, just as you do when you're writing a procedural. But a procedural is a socially accepted show, while genre shows are dirty and embarrassing and sub-real. Apparently, all we should aspire to is to elevate the genre so that mainstream America can understand it. I find that a little curious. I think mainstream America got Iron Man and The Dark Knight just fine. There's been a lot of talk lately about why audiences go to big genre movies but shun genre TeeVee, and the general consensus is that (A) Audiences love the big-budget explosions and effects of a movie, or (B) The genre shows suck, and audiences don't watch shows that suck.
Really? Don't they?
Yes, some genre shows suck. But some genre shows are really, really good and just didn't find an audience. Like non-genre shows that didn't find an audience. Yes, non-genre failures exist, and pretending they don't for the sake of proving a rule about genre shows is dishonest.
It's harder to market a genre show, especially when you're talking about the fifteen other TeeVee shows that are being marketed at the same time. That's a much different scenario than marketing a big-budget science fiction movie when you only have two or three movies opening that day. It is much harder to get a TeeVee audience to stick with a show because there are so many different options. Procedurals have the advantage there, because the marketing can be shorthanded. Everybody's seen a procedural, so there's not a lot of world-building that has to go on, and it's easier for an audience to grok what the show's about. But even procedurals fail. Having been on two of them, I can attest to that. It's just easier to assume that there's a problem with genre, though, isn't it? Especially with Dollhouse on the air. Dollhouse, everybody's favorite punching bag. More on that in another post. Because seriously, people. STOP IT.
I don't think it's the budget and the explosions that people miss in genre TeeVee. And I don't think that every genre show that fails does so because it's bad. I think most genre shows are more complex and as such, they require more attention. And a marketing department gets very impatient with that. It's hard to market and to promote. But look at some cable shows, like Breaking Bad, or Mad Men, or Damages. These shows are still on the air. They don't do massive ratings, but they don't have to. They are complex shows that emulate what I like best about genre shows. But on a major network, they're canceled.
Enough of that, because just talking about it makes me angry, and I'm already annoyed today. Sure, partly because Zenyatta scratched out of her race and now Jon Court's wife gets a new pair of shoes, but for other reasons, too. SO DO NOT FUCK WITH ME. Seriously.
If people outside the genre (let's call them executives at major studios and networks) want to elevate the genre, then we as genre writers should fight against that. But if it's also the genre writers who are ashamed of what they're doing, then that's sad.
There have been shows that have aggressively gone after genre writers, and those shows have worked great. But some people think that in order to have a big network hit, they have to hire procedural writers. It's an easy formula -- if you hire someone who worked on a ginormous hit, then your show has a better chance of being a ginormous hit. But I can only imagine how tough things are going to be in the writer's room on those shows. Executives do have that default position, that a show can get more of an audience if it becomes more of a procedural, but I strongly disagree with that. It simply hasn't been proven.
Genre writers aren't only going to write about spaceships and time travel, you know. Genre writers just have a slightly different way of looking at the world, and sometimes shows can benefit greatly from that. But people are afraid of it. You see it all the time, in cracks people make about geeks living in their parents' basements and playing World of Warcraft. Which I've never played, BTW. I wouldn't know the first thing about it.
What compounds that, too, is the fact that female genre writers are doubly creepy. For some crackpot reason, women are not considered diversity by this industry. That means that a showrunner is safe to hire only men. And that's what a lot of male showrunners want. So they do, and that's fine with everybody. Sometimes, someone notices and a showrunner is told to hire an upper-level woman or something. But it's rarely a number two, which means that this woman is upper-level in title only. Or, they'll go, "Fine, I'll hire a woman," and they hire a staff writer or a story editor. This is easy for them, because they're hiring a woman who doesn't have any inherent power. Of course, if women were diversity, then only lower-level women would get hired, so maybe it just doesn't matter, in the end...
np -- My Derby picks, which are: Pioneerof The Nile & I Want Revenge, plus big looks at Chocolate Candy, General Quarters, Hold Me Back and Desert Party. Going out on a potential limb here by throwing out Friesian Fire and Dunkirk, and maybe I'll be proven totally wrong, but I just don't believe in them.