Gentle readers, I am going to check out Community on your say-so. I'll let you know what I discover.
I'm done with the gender thing for awhile (hooray! say you all), with one final note -- WonderCon would totally and completely fail the Cornell Ratio. In fact, of the ten participants on a Writing for Genre TV panel, there are two women. Now, if we're talking about comic books and whatnot, it might be tough to find more women to put on a panel, and that's work that should be done in the future. But a Writing For TV panel? Seriously? Two? That's IT?
Some serious TeeVee scholars gave the business about the TeeVee model and how it's being ruined/isn't being ruined. This started with this post about how The Sopranos ruined episodic television. The short version is that the blog fellow thinks The Sopranos' tendency towards serialization made other networks/shows realize that they don't have to do traditional episodic television anymore. Episodes don't have to stand on their own, and this blog fellow considers this a move towards the novelization of television, where "installments" replace "episodes." To which I go, "The Sopranos? Really? That's your bete noir?"
It was entirely possible to pick up an episode of The Sopranos and figure out what was going on. And while The Sopranos wasn't episodic in the same way something like CSI is, it was episodic. There were episodes, and things happened in them, and then those things were wrapped up. Yes, the show tended more towards serialization but not any more than your average nightly soap, and it certainly didn't give anyone license to go crazy and serialize the shit out of everything. The blog fellow then goes on to talk about the USA shows, which he figures are the standard-bearers for episodic television. The USA shows, in fact, are not episodic because USA invented episodic television. The USA shows (by which I refer to USA, TNT and those types of cable networks that require something very specific) are an outgrowth of network television, y'all. If you're old enough to remember Quinn Martin, then you know what I'm talking about. USA is doing Quinn Martin shows. They're doing 80s detective shows. This is a model that isn't working on network TeeVee right now, so these cable nets have taken it and have run with it.
So the contention that USA somehow INVENTED the model that has been around since fucking DRAGNET is bizarre.
I think the uproar over the ending of the first season of The Killing has emboldened people to write this sort of thing. But the problem with The Killing wasn't that they didn't solve Rosie Larsen's murder. The problem was that the marketing for the show TOLD the audience that you would find out who killed Rosie. That's not the show's fault. But sure, if you buy into the marketing and you are watching the show for that specific reveal, then you feel ripped off. Because you WERE ripped off. But that has nothing to do with the quality of the show. Consumers do not like dishonesty.
So this guy thinks The Sopranos started us down the slippery slope where all the networks are crushing on serialization. This is simply not true, because they are not. At this point, I don't think anyone even considers HBO, Showtime, AMC or Starz as actual television. People are not being fooled into thinking that you can sell an HBO idea to NBC. The business has become incredibly specialized and if you're blogging about television, shouldn't you know this? I was having this very conversation the other day. When you come up with ideas to pitch, you can no longer take one idea all around town. When this began, you had network ideas, and cable ideas. Which was a bit of a pain, to have to develop more ideas. Because prior to the beginning of this fragmentation, writers generally had one idea that they pitched to the networks. If you didn't sell it, then cable was the dumping ground. But as the business changed and networks passed on more stuff that cable was able to turn into hits, people started turning more towards cable and developing just for them. Hence the network ideas, and the cable ideas. Cable networks started developing their own identities.
But then cable, led mostly by the success of the USA shows, began to build on that. More cable networks developed more identities. And as these networks are mostly owned by the studios that own broadcast networks, the success of that model started to bleed into networks. Establishing a brand identity is crucial to the success of a network. I know that's obvious, but I think it can get a little muddled because the broadcast networks are having a tough time. There's no viewer loyalty because we can basically watch anything we want whenever we want to watch it. So people don't settle in on CBS. They don't watch ABC, or NBC. This makes branding incredibly difficult. But over on USA, every show has the same structure, feel and look. They don't have to branch out and do comedy, reality, family drama, or darker shows. The broadcast networks are, I think, struggling because they still adhere to an old model. It's SO much easier to cross-promote your shows when all of your shows are watched by the same audience. The broadcast networks seem to think that this is still happening for them, but it isn't. So cross-promoting a drama during a comedy or a reality show (which causes its own sets of problems on broadcast) isn't going to work. It's not the same audience. But cross-promoting The Royal Pains during Burn Notice, that is absolutely going to work.
The scope has narrowed so much that a network's brand identity can't exist in comedy, drama and reality. It just can't. When Lost became a hit, then the networks all wanted the next Lost. This is not a successful strategy, because Lost was unique... like ALL hits are. And that's what made it a hit. But rather than accepting the alchemy of the situation, the networks tried to deconstruct what made it a hit. And that's impossible. They still try it because in the corporate atmosphere that these executives unfortunately have to occupy, they generally aren't going to get fired if they build a show based on what came before. But if they take a chance on something and it fails, then they can be considered to blame. So it's fairly obvious why they take the route they take, and who can blame them?
So the executives are getting more specific with what they want. For example, a network may tell the writers they have on deals (these are mostly the writers who will sell projects, BTW) that they want a modern take on The Count Of Monte Cristo. While there are all kinds of things wrong with this that go straight to the heart of what makes television work in the first place, for right now, this makes sense. The broadcast networks have put themselves in the position of having to narrow their focus. So it's better that they tell writers exactly what they need instead of pretending that it's still all about a writer's passion. That's not where we are right now.
Where we are is, writers have to come up with ideas for each outlet. We know this, but the industry hasn't quite caught up with it, which makes "development season" rather a cluster-fuck. Everybody needs to understand that we are no longer going to be able to take out one idea and ride that sucker all the way to the end of the pitching season. Producers are starting to get this, which is fantastic. Now everyone else needs to get onboard. We don't have the luxury to just be dreamers anymore. We have to be practical and proactive. Writers and producers and agents and managers have to become marketing professionals and develop specifically for each market. This is super tough for a lot of writers, who may struggle with one idea for a year and put all of their hopes on it. This is somewhat easier for writers on deals, because they know going in which market they will attempt to crack. For the rest of us, who are on our own, that's a shitload of ideas to prepare. Not only is it about coming up with the idea, but then you have to create an entire television show - which takes a long fucking time - only to pitch it at one or (if you're lucky) two places. And unless you're pitching at HBO or Showtime (and you're not), you have to make sure the show seems episodic. Easier if it's a cop show. Harder if it isn't. Because at the end of the day, they all still have syndication in the backs of their minds, and you have to be aware of that. If someone tells you that your show doesn't feel like a show, that probably has a lot to do with it.
What is truly frustrating is that even with all of these different and unique markets, there still isn't a strong place to sell a genre show.
We're still not working with a new business model, but I think we're getting closer to doing that. Nobody knows exactly what it is, but I think the first step has to do with the stories. What do networks want to hear? Who do they want to hear it from? How will writers react to being directed in a much more stringent way?
Personally, tell me what you want and I'll come up with a pitch. I think we need to be this way but it's tricky because agents and producers don't all seem to get this yet. Instead, you wind up crafting pitches in a black hole and then find out afterwards that you can't pitch them anywhere. That's a huge fucking waste of time. I am giddy when a rep sends me a list of demands from a network. Giddy! Because the directives are getting so specific so if that's what they're looking for, that makes my job easier no matter what anyone thinks. PLEASE JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT, HOLLYWOOD. I don't need my ego stroked here. I want to sell some shows.
And that is, to me, the state of television at the moment.
So when some blog fellow talks about how there's no such thing as episodic television anymore because The Sopranos ruined it, he doesn't know what he's talking about. He hasn't done the work necessary to understand the state of the business. It's one thing to glance at the surface of things and it's another entirely to get down into the gutter and figure out what's happened to the business that has created these symptoms. I think that's much more interesting than complaining about people mainlining seasons of Breaking Bad.