I know two very successful practitioners in dramatic television who tried but were unable to make it in comedy. Sometimes, only the distancing perspective of time allows you realize you are one television genre away from hitting the bulls-eye. Who knows? Maybe even today, they regard scoring big-time in a neighboring arena as a palliating consolation prize.
“I got drama. But what I really wanted was comedy.”
“I got Miranda. But what I really wanted was her sister.”
Or maybe they’re grownups, and they came to realize they’d been aiming at the wrong target, and were eminently grateful in the end to have hit anything.
My story is somewhat different. I did fine in comedy. But it occurs to me that my actual métier was reality television.
Which I could not have participated in at the beginning of my career because, aside from Candid Camera, reality television did not then exist. I could, however, have jumped onboard subsequently. I believe I’d have been a “natural.”
As frequently mentioned, I have always been an enthusiast of the real and the actual, favoring non-fiction over its fictional alternative. Why, my mind tells me, should I be interested in the romantic entanglements of fabricated characters? Or their life and death struggles, for that matter? Fictional characters can’t die. So what’s there to worry about?
I have always believed that everyone’s personal biography is potentially fascinating. But in scripted television drama, if you are not a doctor, a lawyer or a police officer, your only reliable spot on the television spectrum is “Viewer”, consuming series about doctors, lawyers and police officers.
Maybe in fiction, that’s true – though I doubt it. But even so, fiction is no longer the whole story.
Long ago, I recall watching a one-hour documentary concerning the “Specialty Personnel” at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. Interwoven in the program were the daily sagas of the Head Doorman, a wedding planner and the hotel’s concierge.
The show was totally engrossing to me. Regular people, tackling the everyday crises associated with their work.
Two thoughts occurred to me, possibly three – I have not listed them yet. One: If I’m fascinated by the day-to-day challenges of these everyday vocations, others across America (and Canada) are likely to be also. Two: If, as I imagined they would be, a lot of people are interested – then that’s a show. And Three – it turns out there were three of them after all: It is possible – even, likely – that there are enough fascinating venues whose day-to-day activities could be chronicled to fill an entire weekly schedule.
And I am thinking this before there were any reality series on television.
Oh, look! (Note: This actually happened.) There’s media mogul Ted Turner trodding the treadmill at my very own gym. Is that an omen, or what? Y’know, I could saunter right over, pitch Ted my idea, and who knows? I could wind up Creator and President of television’s first and only…
Now normally, I am not “that guy” who has dozens of crazy ideas they are certain will make millions. And, being not normally “that guy”, I was convinced that the only idea of this magnitude I had ever come up in my life with was a sensational one. I was ablaze with excitement and inner conviction. It was like “finding religion.” Only it was Reality TV.
I raced home from the gym and told Dr. M about my idea, and about pitching it to Ted Turner.
She did not care for it. Her critique in a two words:
If I’d been in the proper frame of mind, an idea about a reality network considered “unrealistic”? – I might have found that ironically humorous. Instead I just fumed.
And I ultimately forgot about it.
Later, reality television revolutionized the medium. (I had admittedly no Survivor or Big Brother scenarios in mind. But my son-in-law Tim recently edited a weekly “First Responders in New Orleans” series, and that was exactly what I was talking about. The “First Responders” show was produced by Dick Wolf, the mastermind behind the Law & Order empire. I bet his wife didn’t tell him it was “unrealistic.”)
I believed an idea of that scope and magnitude would never occur to me again. And for more than twenty years, not a single one did.
And then, recently…
The idea came to me one evening while watching television. I believe I am really on to something. Are you ready?
“The Car Chase Network.”
Twenty-four hours a day – nothing but high-speed car chases. Broadcast live. Or rerun, when there aren’t any.
You’ve seen them on TV, right? On the local news broadcasts? Car chases are invariably their most highly rated segments. They are absolutely hypnotic.
No one can turn away from a car chase. You are captivated to the very end.
Well can you imagine a TV network devoted exclusively to just that?
I called Dr. M into the TV room. Instead of foolishly explaining my idea – and getting shot down in flames again – I simply said to her, “Watch.” Dr. M would be the perfect “Guinea Pig.” If she succumbed, I would be certain I had something.
Dr. M sat down and began watching the car chase.
Dinner was indefinitely postponed.
She could not take her eyes off it.
Does anyone know where Ted Turner works out?