Thursday, April 23, 2009

"The 'Annual Inefficiency' - 'Take Two'"

Sometimes this happens.

I have an idea I want to write, triggered by an inspiring insight as to precisely how to talk about it. I start writing, and it goes in an entirely different direction. I look at the finished product, and my inspiring insight is nowhere to be found.

Because that insight meant something to me – it sparked my original enthusiasm for the idea – I am understandably taken aback, looking at a post whose generating impulse is noticeably absent without leave.

This egregious omission causes me some concern. How did this happen? Is there something going haywire with my thinking apparatus? Is everything okay up there?

Since I’m currently studying Descartes’ Meditations at UCLA, I am also compelled to consider whether my cognitive processes are in the hands of some malevolent “evil demon.” Descartes considers this a legitimate possibility. Who am I to argue? I was inspired to write one thing, and then turned out something completely different.

Consider this “The ‘Annual Inefficiency’ – ‘Take Two’”, the impetus behind “The ‘Annual Inefficiency’ – ‘Take One’”, which, since I never thought there would be a “The ‘Annual Inefficiency – ‘Take Two’” was simply entitled, “The ‘Annual Inefficiency.’” (An unworthy homage to my favorite “Friends” joke – “Let’s go out for Chinese food. Or as they call it in China, food.”)

“The ‘Annual Efficiency’”, posted on April 21st, spoke rather energetically on the subject of network interference during Pilot Season. Summary? I didn’t care for it. I argued for allowing experienced professionals to do their jobs, a position which is controversial only in the context of writing for television. And movies, but I never did movies, so that’s for somebody else’s blog.

The rebuttal argument from television executives – or more likely their P.R. departments, since the executives themselves are too busy for rebuttal arguments – might go something like this:

“Nobody respects writers more than the television executive community. But what are they saying? We should put up the money, and then leave the process entirely in their hands?”

What’s fun about a bad rebuttal argument is that it frames their opponent’s position in such an extreme manner as to make it appear ridiculous. “What are they saying? We should simply walk out of Iraq tomorrow?” “What are they saying? We should allow the American banking system to collapse?” Remember Chicken Man? It’s like this style of arguing. “It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere!”

In the matter of the pilot development process, nobody’s clamoring for “all or nothing.” Simply a reality check. Possibly like this one:

A writer pitches a series idea to the network. The network listens to the pitch.

Network Control Point Number One:

They buy the series pitch.


They pass.

The pitch having been bought, the writer writes the pilot script. The network reads the pilot script.

Network Control Point Number Two:

They “Green Light” the pilot script.


They pass.

Having received the “Green Light”, the writer produces the pilot. The network screens the completed episode.

Network Control Point Number Three:

They put the show on their schedule.


They pass.

Supplemental Network Control Points:

During every stage of the development process, the network probes the writer’s intentions, commenting as to whether, in their opinion, the writer has delivered on those intentions, and if the network doesn’t believe they have, encouraging the writer to realize those intentions more completely.

Pretty radical, huh?

Everyone doing what they’re trained to do, the writer, trying their best to realize their vision; the network deciding whether the finished product meets its strategic objectives?

In theory, this is how the procedure is supposed to work. In practice, however, the experience is excruciatingly different. Why? Because the networks are not satisfied with what, objectively, appear to be a rather formidable series of control points. Instead, forgive me if I momentarily slip into dialect,

They wants it all.


MikeThe Blogger said...

Your explaining that the writers are experts and the executives should not interfere reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld doing a routine in "Comedian". In a stand-up bit he (jokingly) berates the audience for not laughing at some of his jokes. He explains THEY are not experts at humour; HE is and HE knows what's funny, and on like that. I thought it was a clever bit - I'm sure he didn't incorporate it into any future routines, though. ;-)

Jess Kiley said...

It's like Brazil, where 2 percent of the population owns 50 percent of the land. No, the HAVEs and the HAVE NOTs should not begin a war, you recall the writer's strike, where all my good thinking began...

however, executives aren't idiots, you've said so yourself, at least once. They love money as much as you pretend you don't. So, ultimately, have faith.

Jess Kiley said...

Oh, and if all else fails, call Regis.

(last double comment for the day, thank you very much)

A. Buck Short said...

Mike, here’s another topic-related corollary to your Seinfeld observation. About twenty years ago Seinfeld was a celebrity name brought in for the National Cable Television Association convention/trade show at the Anatole Hotel here in Dallas. About a dozen of us surrounded the comedian as he emerged into the lobby from the elevator. He scratched his head at the irony and said, “They just told me not to do any jokes about television."

Earl, you had me by the 5th graph. Descartes wrote a treatise called “Medications at UCLA?” I knew USC traced its origin to the Trojans, but didn’t realize the folks in Westwood went back as far as the 17th century. Maybe the gentleman would suggest the abduction of your inspiring insights has something to do with the difference between imagination and understanding, but contrary to the received wisdom, I’d venture this is something one cannot possibly know, because I’m the kind of guy who thinks meditatio is something you find in your salad mixed with the arugula and balsamic vinegar, and by the time I get to the end of one of the great mathematical philosopher’s run-on sentences, I’ve already forgotten where it all began, thus both proving and illustrating my point, whatever that was.

All I know is that I now find the empirical certainty that whatever thought on the tip of my tongue is bedeviling me at any given moment will spring to mind in total clarity precisely 4 minutes from the time I realize it’s missing, even if I stop thinking about it, to be far more annoying and disconcerting evidence of age-related dementia than the loss of the original thought itself. At the very least, it might represent an even more literal definition of the word “incognito.”

I enjoyed your point about the rephrasing involved with a bad rebuttal argument. As we learn more about the defense dept. interrogation memos, perhaps you might convince a certain individual that the excesses found within the traditional Rumsfeldian dialectical monologue is not necessarily the same thing as examining a hypothesis in the logical extreme.

As far as having inexperienced amateurs and dilettantes judging the work product of professionals, that’s exactly what I find most mystifying about jury duty – one of the few avocations where knowing less, and at best nothing, is considered to be an asset. As Descartes might have put it, “Go figure.”

Diane Kristine Wild said...

The problem with this argument, from the perspective of someone not in the TV industry, is that no job on earth works the way you want TV writing to work, with no interference from the people who hold the purse strings, with the experts being allowed full reign to do their jobs. The people paying for the product view the final product as their property. It’d be like letting your contractor decide how you want your house renovated, or a client letting the ad agency come up with whatever campaigns they wanted. Graphic designers, architects, retail stores – pretty much any job involving making or providing something for someone else - has to compromise their vision based on client input.

And playing devil’s advocate, sometimes being the creator of something makes you blind to its faults. Let even brilliant tv creators have free reign, you could end up with John From Cincinnati.

Jess Kiley said...

"No job on earth", again non-TV affiliate Diane, well I believe I've seen your NAME on tv. Don't tell me you don't fancy yourself a Cheers girl, in love with Ted Danson, or baseball players, or something similar.

I don't know berating peasants? What is it that you do besides suddenly start posting on Earl's blog out of nowhere? Must be one of Levine's ho's.

God I LOVE burning bridges....better than flags, I always say. Or at least mean to.

Jess Kiley said...

I'm the only devil's advocate around here, from the rest of you I demand logic. Except from Karen, who's still working through her issues.

Better than ANY of Lorne's dinner parties, am I right Earl? And it's free.

samuel.x.killer said...

i'm currently a comedy development assistant at a major tv studio and i can't argue with you, earl.

i will say this though - any network note can be handled with a "we'll take a look at it" and then they'll move on. then decisions can be made later about making changes. ultimately, though, no one but the network chief's thoughts matter, and it's at those control points you mention where s/he will be consulted and the real decisions will be made. but as a writer one has to impress the network chief, whether that's with or without network notes.

love the blog - thanks for posts like these. i'd love reading more like it. take three?

Diane Kristine Wild said...

Uh ... what? Do you think I’m Diane from Cheers? You realize that’s a fictional character, right?

I love this blog and Earl’s storytelling abilities and insight, and comment very occasionally when I can be moved to click on the RSS feed. My comment today stems from my usual habit of pointing out another perspective as food for thought. Specifically, that TV writers are not in a place apart when it comes to interference from above on what they produce. Expecting network execs to let the experts do their thing, and only say yes or no at every stage, is unrealistic, but it’s also not how things work in other jobs, either. And sometimes, just sometimes - not always or maybe even usually – collaboration between the business side and the creative side produces something people want to watch/buy/read/whatever.

Plus, there's what MikeTheBlogger alludes to ... a non-expert opinion is what the audience and the critics will bring to the show, so the non-expert versus expert argument doesn't work for me by itself. Execs have a terrible track record in picking hits ... but so does everyone else, from creatives to critics.