Rather than making any comments on the new fall TeeVee season, I'm hoping to shine a small pinlight on the shows that didn't get picked up. I'll do that after I read all the danged things. I may be able to see a few, but it'll mostly be based on what I read. When I read them. Cough.
Just a general note on the pickups: Mostly they make sense. While networks aren't going to stretch themselves all THAT much, they didn't play it as safe as they usually do. I don't get the sense that these new dramas are as craven an attempt to cash in on something as they've been in the past. So hopefully these shows will continue to be creator-driven. We'll see.
One thing that's happened already, however, is that ABC has cut the orders of several of its new shows. Mostly notably they've cut the order of The River to seven episodes. The River is one of the few pilots I've read thus far and you are NOT going to be happy that they've decided to parse out only seven episodes. The River is one of those shows that demands to be lived in and you just can't do that in only seven episodes, especially if you've planned an actual SERIES. If The River had been designed as a miniseries, then fine. Terrific. But this is bothersome. Because why even order series if you're not going to at least PRETEND to commit to them? If you check out the comments sections of any TeeVee blogs mentioning this, you'll see a variation on "Well, I'm not going to watch THAT." So the suits' decision to cut the order becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
People who actually pay attention to TeeVee shows (in other words, NOT THE DESIRED DEMOGRAPHIC) have gotten wise to these shenanigans, and they aren't gonna play anymore. And who can fucking blame them? Why the networks don't look at their business model and realize that there IS room for limited series and miniseries is a total mystery to me. Is it about the ad rates? Are they screwing the advertisers over by cutting the orders of these shows AFTER upfronts? I have no idea. But if a network can't even commit to a show that they just ordered, then why should the audience?
So what are the alternatives? Cable, obviously, is a big one. Because cable is not in the habit of suddenly shortening orders, or canceling shows midway through a season. Even if a cable show isn't going to be renewed, they at least finish out the order. I say "not in the habit," however, because since all these cable networks are owned by network networks, who's to say this won't change in the future? I hope it doesn't, but the way corporate America is consuming us whole must give us pause.
There aren't truly other alternatives yet, not anything that's mainstream enough to make a cultural impact. But that doesn't mean that potential alternatives should be ignored. And something that seems to be gaining steam in the DIY market is Kickstarter. There are a lot of dumb-ass things on Kickstarter, but there are a lot of awesome things, too. If you haven't heard of Kickstarter, it's a site that facilitates crowd-funded projects. Anything from art projects to innovative products to short films to fashion lines. If it's a creative endeavor, it may likely be a Kickstarter project. What happens is, there are different levels of funding for every project. For example, say some filmmakers want to make a short film. They have a budget that they need to raise via Kickstarter. They produce a presentation, which tells potential investors about their goal. It's a pitch, basically. The monetary goal is divided into different tiers. Maybe you like the idea but can afford to pledge only ten bucks. Five hundred people can pledge ten bucks to fund the project. But maybe you've got a hundred bucks. Fifty people can pledge a hundred bucks and they get something in return. A copy of the film, perhaps. Or you're some rich fuck and you, along with five other people, pledge a thousand dollars to the project. For that you get to go to the set. You get an autographed script. A blow job. Whatever. If all the slots are filled, then the project is fully funded and it's a go. If the pledge amount is NOT met, then nobody pays anything.
Tell me that isn't fucking cool. It doesn't require corporate suits making arbitrary decisions that only have to do with business. You, the creator, are presenting YOUR VISION to an audience and they either buy it, or they don't. Kind of how it should work, right? No middle men involved there. If enough people are interested in your project, it will be funded. And who owns it? YOU DO. No strings attached.
Why is this interesting for television? Because there is a TeeVee pitch on Kickstarter -- a genre show called Divine. And the creative team behind Divine isn't made up of a bunch of starry-eyed dreamers. These are people with a lot of experience in TeeVee. Not only that, but they have a star/co-creator with genre cred -- Misha Collins, who excellently played angel Castiel on Supernatural. They made an initial outlay of their own cash to shoot two episodes of the show. With those in post, they want to raise enough money to shoot the next four episodes, which would comprise the pilot.
They also include a presentation, explaining what kind of a show they're making and what their goal would be. What's most interesting to me about this particular project is that they aren't setting out to just make a TeeVee show that coincidentally will be shown on the Interwebs. They want to make a show that will be watched on phones, waiting for subways, at coffee shops. Not the way God intended television to be watched but let's face it, this is a new way to do something that used to work -- serials. Make a show that the casual viewer can watch on his phone while he's waiting for his latte? Perfect. Serials were hugely successful back in the day (i.e., a time where things were a fuckload better than they are now). Serials keep people coming back because they are compulsively watchable, and they tease in a much more natural way than a forty-minute drama does. Three, five or seven minutes is the perfect amount of time for a serial.
The Divine team knows this. What they hoped to receive to fund their project (the filming of their pilot) was $10,000. They reached that goal in 17 days. What they got was over $20,000, thanks to 365 donors. The pledge amounts ranged from $10 to $10,000. The actual pledges ranged from $10 to $1000. the majority of the money was pledged by people making $10 to $100. Think about that for a minute -- they fully funded their initial project -- twice -- by being smart about it.
So if you came across a television show concept that you thought was great and you could contribute by pledging $10, would you? You know EXACTLY what you're getting. There will be no corporate interference. Your show won't get canceled before you've seen it. You've paid money and you will get precisely what you paid for.
If that's not the essence of capitalism, I don't know what is.
Now obviously, this doesn't translate to people making a living. And that is generally the thing that makes people think this is not ever going to make a difference. But just because it's not perfect now, that's no reason to think that in the future, as more and more people edge towards crowd-sourcing and funding, the creative folk won't be able to make a living. The more crowd-sourced product is out there, the more word of mouth it will get. It'll grow, if it deserves to, and and maybe there's a future in which we the audience become used to paying for our entertainment in a different way than we do now. The old business model needs to change. It's funneling too much money towards middle management and corporate CEOs. That's the way things are structured now so that's how the game must be played, but there's no harm in exploring other avenues. We may be rewarded in the long run.
Good luck, Divine team!
I was going to rant about an article I read, but I'm going to save it for another post. That's just me being lazy.