People are still ranting viciously about the Lost finale. Fine, it's the Internet. That's what it's FOR. But then Futurismic got into the business of talking about shit they know nothing about. In the article, novelist Peter Watts was quoted. And no, this is not "Peter Watts" from Millennium. He would not be this stupid:
You know what the creators of epic, multiyear-arc television shows need? They need a novelist or two on staff. Or a playwright. Somebody who understands that an epic tale needs to be planned in advance, that plot is not something you work out after you’ve already written 90% of the story, that you can’t just throw a bunch of kicks and clues into individual chapters unless you have some idea what they fucking mean. It doesn’t matter how gobsmacking your twists are, or how effectively they entice your viewers to tune in next week: the reason we come back is because we want to see how all these intrigues fit together, what the payoff is. These guys can be absolute geniuses when it comes to microwriting: why haven’t they figured out that you gotta use that arsenal you’ve assembled on the mantelpiece, sometime before the end of the tale?
Lemme just start by saying that I have mad respect for novelists. I really do. It takes A LOT to get a book published. And there are, obviously, some remarkably talented genre novelists working out there today. But kids, there are more bad books than bad produced episodes of TeeVee. There just are.
If Mr. Watts knew a Goddam thing about TeeVee he'd know that for years now, playwrights have been motoring on over and creating TeeVee shows. Some playwrights have done very well. He may have heard of a fella called Aaron Sorkin. Others haven't had the cinematic know-how or the stomach for television. It's not too hard to figure out why. Novelists and playwrights share something in common -- solitude, and autonomy.
I don't know why this isn't just totally fucking obvious, NOVELISTS, but you write in your pleasant little room, on your nice computer, while you cat-blog or tweet about energy drinks between chapters. This being 2010, it's astonishing that people who SHOULD be more plugged in than my parents simply have NO FUCKING IDEA how television is produced. It's not a mystery, people; it's all over the Internet! Showrunners and TeeVee writers have blogs. You're reading one right now! There are even those book things y'all write. It is NOT difficult to find out how television is created. But since you don't seem to be AT ALL interested in lifting a fucking finger to find out, let me illuminate you.
We do not get to sit in a pleasant little office and write when we want. Well. Not when we're on staff, anyways. Have you ever written in a trailer while the studio built a soundstage outside your window? Have you had an office with a pipe coming from the ceiling that occasionally spews water? I'm guessing not. While you lot have folks who read and give notes (I hope, although some of you clearly do not), you get to CHOOSE who those people are. And their only mission is to focus on your words. You write what you want to write. Sure, your agent, editor and publisher may push you in a certain direction but at the end of the day, you're doing what you want. You're creating and maintaining YOUR brand.
Let's see that again: YOU ARE CONTROLLING YOUR BRAND.
A television writer does not have that luxury. We can't always do that, because we can't just choose to be on the shows we want to be on (or Breaking Bad would have a staff of 100,000). In fact, there are SO many factors that go into putting a staff together that it would boggle even YOUR literary brains. Suffice to say, putting a staff together is even more complex and frustrating now than it's ever been. One major issue is that staffs have shrunk. By half. So if I'm a showrunner, I'm only going to get to hire a few writers anyway. Why should one of them be a novelist or a playwright who has NO CONCEPT of what goes into making television? Do you REALLY think all writing is the same? Are you that stupid?
But you know what? I like you, novelists. So I'm going to help you out. Here are just a few of the things that you, as a television writer, will have to handle.
The writer's room. You can't sit in there and play with your precious ideas. You need to cut through the extensive pre-book noodling that you're used to. A writing staff won't put up with some asshole stopping the flow of the room. Not only that, but not everybody is going to think your ideas are genius.
You don't get to pick your readers, and you HAVE to outline. Extensively. Like, ten to twenty pages of outlining. You don't get to "find" your voice or your story or your characters. See, this isn't YOUR SHOW. It's someone else's show. And that person is YOUR BOSS. You will have at least one writer giving you notes. Probably, you'll get notes from the whole staff. After you've rewritten your outline (which, BTW, you will probably only have a few days to write -- no three pages a day for you!), it will go to the POD (AND THERE WILL BE ONE). You'll get a set of notes or two there. You'll rewrite again. Then it goes to the studio. Notes. Rewrite. Then the network. Notes. Rewrite. And then... you get to write your script, and the entire process starts over again!
But you're still sticking with it because GODDAMMIT, you are going to fix TeeVee. But let's back up a sec because now we're going to talk about production. As novelists, you can write anything you want. Explosions on the Moon. Spaceships. Dinosaurs. Whatever. But now you're on a TeeVee show and no matter how many shiny, beautiful ideas you have, they had better be on pattern. You get to write to a budget. Fun, right? Actually, it can be a pretty interesting challenge. You get awesome bottle shows out of writing for budget. Some of my favorite stuff I've written has been due to budget issues. If you are an experienced television writer, you know how to get the most bang for your buck. If you're a novelist, you so don't.
You are NOT going to get what you want. Being in television means constant compromise, more than you're used to. A lot more. And when you're dealing with physical production, with prep and the actual shooting of your episode, you have a billion fires to put out and a billion questions to answer. Some of these come from actors, so you'd better be ready and you'd better be CLEAR. Want to sit on a set all day? No? Then television isn't for you. But even when you're done shooting, there's more. Post-production! Some people think post is a drag but it's the opposite. NOTHING can make your show sing like post-production.
"But wait," you say. "I'm just talking about being on staff sitting in the room. I don't necessarily have to write scripts. I just want to help you with mythology and arcs and all that stuff you aren't equipped to do." Oh. Okay. So now I have to pay some layabout who isn't even going to WRITE? So that's one out of my four or five staff jobs? An entire salary from a tiny writing budget for someone who isn't going to do any of the heavy lifting? No fucking thanks.
You're still not convinced, because you say that there IS great television in spite of the obstacles. And sure. You're right. But do you really, honestly think that TeeVee writers just fucking do whatever they want no matter what? There are SO many decisions that go into making just on hour of TeeVee, you can't even imagine. EVERYBODY has a say in this. I wasn't in the Lost writer's room. I don't know how they worked. But the idea that a show creator should have everything worked out when they sit down on day one is fucking stupid. You, novelist, have clearly never pitched a TeeVee show. And you've never written 22 hours of one. All of this furtive "planning" Mr. Watts refers to would go right out the fucking window as soon as the production train leaves the station. Networks and studios throw ideas out. They want things changed. They want the show to be more episodic. They need to have only so many episodes with this actor. Testing tells them that this particular thing isn't working with the focus groups. And on and on and fucking ON.
But let's say that you, novelist, DO have it all worked out. You've somehow managed to sell a show, even though you've never done TeeVee or even film before. And you have worked out the intricacies of your plot. And it SO works! MY GOD YOU ARE A GENIUS. But then you realize, in the middle of the first 13 episodes, that you're burning through A LOT more story than you did in your head. Oh shit! WHAT DO YOU DO??? Or how about if you're working happily on a particular storyline but everybody else thinks it's ass. And those people hold the purse strings. WHAT DO YOU DO?
Yes, as a TeeVee writer you should know where your show is going. But you should not know EVERYTHING. Because it's simply not possible to have ALL of these factors, many of them potential physical obstacles, in your brain when you create your brilliant mythology. You fall out of love with characters and actors. You get different, better ideas based on, I don't know... YOUR FUCKING WRITING STAFF. Dailies. Production. Set design. Whatever. And that's the FUN of working in TeeVee.
One of my favorite stories regarding this is about Joss Whedon, a guy who's taken a lot of pummeling for not knowing shit. But see, he DID. He also followed his muse and when they were doing Buffy, Joss just thought, "What if Jenny is a gypsy?" And Jenny wound up cursing Angel, which gave Buffy one of THE BEST arcs ever on TeeVee. But if some novelist had planned all of the show out in advance, they NEVER would have been able to make that decision. Because there wouldn't be a fucking OUNCE of inspiration. But you, of course, are irritated that they didn't know how Angel got his soul from the very beginning. Do you see how stupid that is?
What's really irritating about this pronouncement is the inherent laziness in it. Some novelist wants to bring his self-identified "superior skills" to a poor TeeVee creator who's already done ALL the hard work of getting to the point where he or she can even SELL a pilot, write the fucker, and then get the show on the air.
So that happened.
Lest y'all think I'm excusing Lost, I'm not. I don't think it needs to be excused. I'm not "making excuses," as many of you have suggested, by claiming that the show is character-driven and not plot-driven. My POINT, which I'm sure I said fucking clearly, was that FOR ME, the characters were much more important than the minutiae of the plot. You simply have GOT to be open to changes and inspiration. A TeeVee show is not a novel. It's not just written and done. It's a living thing that YOU are in charge of maintaining. What Mr. Watts is suggesting will stagnate the show and slow down the process.
Now this gem from the writer of the article, one Paul Raven:
My guess is that they’ve never learned to because there’s never been a need for them to do so. And I find it interesting that the two TV serials I’ve enjoyed enough to really engage with in recent years were not written in response to the production schedule: Dexter, for instance, was based on the novels of Jeff Lindsay, and – despite its initially ridiculous premise – blew me away with its narrative tightness, and Sons Of Anarchy – which has some lumpy moments and clunky cliches, but otherwise moves very smoothly – is on many levels a retelling of Hamlet.
I love that he calls them "serials." I mean, really? We're not at Radio Ranch anymore. He seems to be under the impression that the only good TeeVee shows are those which are based on novels. Weird. As a TeeVee writer who's sold a bunch of pilots, I will say that Yes, I fucking DO know how to arc a series. But I also know to roll with the punches. And you guys just... don't. Most egregiously, however, Mr. Raven proves he has NO knowledge of how television works by stating that Dexter was "not written in response to the production schedule." I don't know how he figures this, aside from the fact that Showtime is on a different schedule than network TeeVee. Thus, he concludes that Dexter isn't on ANY kind of a schedule. Dude, production schedule and airing schedule are completely different. Dexter, LIKE ALL TELEVISION SHOWS, goes into production. You don't just have oodles of time to fuck around and do what you want. Every show has a production train, and that train always leaves the station. THAT IS A SCHEDULE. So your premise is ASS.
This was supposed to be much shorter but they just made me so GODDAM MAD. I know there are some comments to get to. Keep your hair on. I'll get to them.
Shit. I mean really.