One of my favorite shows is Discovery Channel's "Pitchmen." While it misses Billy Mays (as does the world), it still features Anthony Sullivan, pitchman par excellence, Yoda to other pitchmen and developer of product. The slogan is "simple solutions for everyday problems," and Sullivan sticks to that like... something that sticks to something else. Aspiring pitch people and inventors pitch their products to Sullivan and he tells them why they will or will not work in the direct response market. He's so good at his job that the show is completely fascinating. Because after awhile, you start to anticipate his response to a product.
Although Sullivan has inventors pitch to him, he rarely turns a product down because an inventor doesn't pitch well. And believe you me, the majority of them are NOT pitchmen. But then it's rather a separate skill, pitching and inventing. Sullivan isn't an inventor. He's a tremendous salesman, though. If he can immediately see how a product should be pitched, then he's hooked. But he's also been hooked by a product and initially flummoxed by how it should be pitched. Regardless, when you see the final commercial you get it.
I am in love with the culture of direct response and the history of pitchmen. In one episode, for example, a legendary knife worker comes out of retirement to demonstrate a new set of knives. It's an interesting subculture, to be sure.
Another reason I love the show is that it does relate to what we do in television. We have to pitch, too, and we have to be just as clear and concise as the pitchmen. Our product -- our idea -- has to have that "why didn't I think of that" element. It has to be familiar enough, yet different enough. It has to fill a niche, but not create one. It has to be, in essence, a simple solution to an everyday problem. As I said above, the big difference is that in direct response, the pitchman is generally separate from the inventor. The pitchman helps the inventor achieve his or her dream.
In TeeVee, pitchman and inventor are one in the same. And there are very few people who got into television because they could sell. Oh, many people discovered that they have the skill to sell, to pitch. But a rather large majority of writers would be just as happy not having to sell (hi, here's one!). It used to be that pitching was an aid, and not the whole enchilada. You could be somewhat proficient and still sell your idea if the idea was a good one. But the more corporations seized power, the more important pitching became. Because corporations, as we all know, are not about creativity. We all know what happens when sociopaths create art. Hitler and John Wayne Gacy come to mind. Ideas are commodities, not inspiration. They have to be unimpeachable. And this is where pitching comes in. It is entirely incumbent upon the pitchman to do all the work. Think of it as a baseball pitcher not having a catcher to throw to. That's what it's becoming.
AMC has taken a unique stand on this. They have something they cheerfully call a Bake-Off, where they have writers come in and do an entire presentation on their idea. To how many people, I do not know. Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, as writers we all have our entire pitches prepared. We know what the pilot is, we know who the characters are, we know everything about our world and we have at least the first season figured out. So it's not as if AMC's asking writers to do THAT much more work than they would ordinarily do. But see, the Bake-Off is for people who have already SOLD pilots to the network. THEY HAVE ALREADY SOLD THEIR SHOWS. And AMC is asking these people to pitch AGAIN in the hopes that they are good enough salespeople that the network will pick their show up to pilot. The show that already had to be unimpeachable when it was sold now has to be superunimpeachable. It's bananas on bananas. While it's good business practice to make sure you extinguish problems, it's another thing entirely to work over an idea to such an extent that you strangle it. This starts to have an effect on the market, in that audiences start getting bored.
EVERYBODY is trying to get into AMC and it's certainly no secret why. They've got the best shows on television. But when that happens, a network can afford to get very selective, which means that they can pick and choose who they want to be in business with. Not that they don't already do this, but it's made even more evident when things aren't working elsewhere.
But making people perform like this, I dunno... it smacks of gigantism to me. Sometimes success breeds success, but sometimes it breeds a quick path to failure. It's just a little too "The Next Great Restaurant" for its own good. If AMC ever erects enormous statues outside its offices, then we'll know that the fall of a civilization is imminent.
Yeah, we have to verbally pitch our ideas but now they're expecting us to be Anthony Sullivan. And that's not fair.