Monday, October 24, 2016

"How (I Think) It Works (With 'I Think' In Brackets Because I Am Never Entirely Certain)"

This is a preamble that I sense will expand into a “thing”.  Not a big thing, by which I mean not a long thing but still big, wherein “big” means “significant” rather than extended.   Though I should move this along before it ends up being both.

I shall start with the “What I Learned As A Television Writer” version, providing credibility to what would otherwise be a dismissible “Who cares what you have to say?” personal opinion.  (AKA – virtually everything I have written to date.)

Over the years trying to sell half-hour comedy series ideas to the networks, I came to realize and then had stitched on a “Sampler” and mounted prominently in my office – I actually didn’t but I should have – I have learned, then forgotten, then inevitably – and always painfully – relearned this unassailable lesson:

“What they (the network) has trouble with at the beginning is what they have trouble with at the end.”

What do I mean by that.

The network likes you.  You have a respectable reputation, earning you the opportunity to come in and pitch series ideas, maybe not to the network president, but to at least somebody in the building.  And they also validate your parking, so if you “strike out” with your pitch, you do not have to shell out (albeit a deductible) twelve bucks for the experience.

You come in and persuasively pitch your idea to the network.  It is perceived to have merit, and bolstered by your demonstrable track record, they say, “Okay”, meaning they order (authorizing payment) for a pilot script. 

Inevitably however, they have reservations.  Which fly obliviously over your head because they have already said, “Yes.”  (You would actually prefer to head off to work with a ringing “Vote of Enthusiasm.”  Unfortunately, their idea of encouraging cheerleading is a “Vote of Serious Concern.”)

Example of a network “reservation”:   

“We appreciated your pitch.  But there is a question whether your idea has ‘General Audience Appeal’.”  (At a time, with only three networks, “General Audience Appeal” was entire ballgame.  Niche Audience Appeal” was an unequivocal “Goodbye”… and hold on for Netflix.)

A couple of months later, you deliver your the finished pilot script.  Shortly thereafter, you get a call from the network:

“We had a meeting and decided not to move forward on the project.”

What happened? 

Sometimes, you ask, sometimes you don’t.  (Because who cares?  They are said, “No.”)  If you do ask, concerning the above-mentioned example, you hear this:

“We loved the writing.  But in the end, we believe your idea lacks “General Audience Appeal.”

Ring a bell?

Which – believe me – does not make it any easier. 

But there you have it.

What they said with at the beginning was what they said at the end. 

They may have enjoyed the writing, but they adamantly “stuck to their guns”, losing the writer time, precious hope and the illusion that a quality effort can alleviate all concerns. 

It can’t.

(A paralleling example on my way to what brought the subject to mind in the first place:


Am I wrong about this?

What was problematic at the beginning is problematic at the end.

“He had these stubby, little fingers.”

“She used to go up ‘on the end of every sentence’?”

You didn’t know it, but it was sadly over before it began.)

What specifically am I talking about today?

The Dodgers.

Who just lost to the Cubs who now advance to the World Series and the Dodgers won’t.

One hundred and sixty-two regular-season games, plus two series of playoffs.  And then they’re eliminated.  To understand their – to me, predictable – demise, you look to the “Day One” – and never ameliorated – deficiency of the team:

Not enough starting pitching.

A good team.  Hit a lot of home runs.  Played commendably in the field.  But anyone willing to face reality could see from the first day of Spring Training…

Not enough starting pitching. 

(And how could anyone have thought otherwise?  I’m no baseball genius.  The truth was staring you right in the face.  When they brought in a “Reliever” in the second inning.)

Nine months after the season began…

What was the deficiency at the beginning was the deficiency at the end. 

Look at that – it was a preamble that expanded into a thing.

Oh well. 

At least it didn’t come as a surprise.

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