Here’s a writer with a, possibly, overdeveloped hostility towards his “overseers”, who hasn’t participated in pilots for years, spouting off about the horrible inefficiency of the pilot process. Bias and credibility issues abound.
It’s true I am no longer involved in the pilot business. I just know that, during the time that I was, a period when the networks were prohibited from owning the shows they broadcast, they interfered a tremendous amount. Today, the networks own the shows. Would it be reasonable to believe they would now interfere less?
So there’s that.
Then, there’s the “argument” issue. In “The ‘Annual Inefficiency’ – ‘Take Two’”, (posted April 23rd, 2009), I specifically referred to arguments which “frame their opponent’s position in such an extreme manner as to make it appear ridiculous.”
So what happens?
Mike The Blogger refers to “your explaining that the writers are experts and the executives should not interfere…” Diane Kristine claims I want TV writing to work “with no interference from the people who hold the purse stings…”
Brrrrrrrrr. (That’s me, shivering with frustration, my jowls jiggling from side to side.)
It is not my argument that networks should never be allowed to interfere. I even indicated specific junctures where they are every right to. The thing is, there’s interference, and there’s interference. One, you could call “reactive interference”, where whoever it is, the networks, your spouse, the Crafts Services person, provides an honest reaction to your efforts. I’m in favor of that type of input. Sometimes a writer is too close to the material, and it’s illuminating to receive responses from an “outside eye”, professional or otherwise.
The other type of interference could be called “proactive interference.” This one involves – if it weren’t being practiced by “the people holding the purse stings” – egregious boundary crossing. Comments venture beyond, “That part was confusing” or “That made me uncomfortable”, to “our thoughts”, suggestions, which, because they hold all the cards, become not suggestions, but orders.
I wouldn’t think of walking into the networks’ offices and telling them how to program Thursday night. Why then do people, as equally as unqualified as I am to program a network schedule, feel so comfortable delivering their “thoughts”, which, invariably, send the project hurtling towards a migraine-inducing predictability?
Despite how it may sound, it isn’t (exclusively) an ego thing that sends steam shooting out of a television writer’s ears. Writers respond to the signals they’re given. Ask any writer who’s gone to pitch at a network. You can count on this. At some point, the network executive will gush about how thrilled they are to be in the “Earl Pomerantz business”. It’s quite a heady experience. Reassuring, even. Makes you feel like going out and buying something expensive.
You then go away and write the script, in the – you like to believe – unique and delightful way you write scripts. Call it “The Earl Pomerantz Way.” You hand the script in, and the network’s “headline” reaction is this: “We still love the idea. We’re just not crazy about the way you wrote it.”
Two reactions come to mind. The first one is:
“I thought you wanted to be in the ‘Earl Pomerantz business’.”
“We do. We just don’t want you to write like this.”
“But writing like this is what being in the ‘Earl Pomerantz business’ means.”
The second reaction is, “If you want me to write like somebody else, why don’t you just cut out the middleman and bring them in?” The answer is, they probably did, and when they handed in their script, they told them to write like somebody else. Possibly even me.
I may be on to something here. Maybe if every writer just moved one job over…
So there’s that. (Yeah, but you got paid a lot.)
Now before we move on, I’d like to reiterate, from a post on Major Dad (“Story of a Writer – Part Twenty B” – November 13, 2008), an example of a time when a network suggestion was gratefully and enthusiastically received. In the original concept of Major Dad, the Marine character was a widower with three kids from both the traditional sexes. The network suggested, instead, that the Marine character marry a non-Marine-loving woman with three daughters.
I immediately recognized this as a way better idea, offering a greater number of comedic possibilities. I thanked the network for the idea, and happily incorporated it into the show. It also helped that the suggestion came at the earliest stages of the series’ development. There was nothing to do over, because we hadn’t done anything yet.
So there’s proof. I’m not against network interference, just certain types of interference. Like damaging suggestions, offered at inopportune times, in a less than respectful “my way or the highway” delivery.
(And for that, I was labeled “difficult.”)
Diane Kristine references HBO’s short-lived series, John From Cincinnati. I never saw it, but I know it was written by David Milch, who has a spectacular track record (NYPD Blue, Deadwood, among others). John From Cincinnati was neither a commercial nor a critical success. Which, ostensibly, makes it “Exhibit A” for “‘Creatives’ Gone Crazy!” – the balancing “other side of the coin.”
I wasn’t there. But it’s imaginable that a major talent, working on a premium cable channel, would demand and receive unchallengeable creative control. He messed up on this one. (Commenters may write, saying they loved John From Cincinnati, but it’s generally conceded that the show was a failure.) Sometimes, as the great writer-director Billy Wilder used to say, you’re aiming at the wrong target.
Or, you have a bad day. Nobody bats a thousand. The question is, if you’re looking for a hit, who do you send to the plate, Manny Ramirez, or some guy who’s enthusiastic about baseball and has seen a whole lot of games?
Batters, like idea-suggesters on television series, are not all equal.
Laugh tracks and “incidental music.” Like all creative choices, it’s a matter of taste. If you want to add laughs, add laughs. But you don’t have to make it like New Year’s Eve.
Taxi had this cool jazz “incidental music” playing out of scenes. It fit the show perfectly. Again, it’s a matter of taste. The Taxi music enhanced the finished product. The same can not be said for “hwa-hwa” music.
Once again, I appreciate the comments. Keep ‘em comin’. They’re challenging. Plus, you never know when you’ll receive the gift of some delicious tidbit. Like the people who spent time and money redoing the Married With Children laugh track into German.