Wednesday, March 02, 2005

[lovebites] How to have a hit TV show

Here’s a rant about network executives.

This is back in 1999. We’d gotten through the initial meet-and-greets with the execs at TV3, made friends, negotiated our creative positions and everything was approaching being lovey-dovey.

Cue: regime change. There’s a new CEO at TV3 and we get a new Head of Drama. This is the person we’ll be liasing with. Now both these people are due to speak at the SPADA conference for 1 hour only. But at the same time, the Weta guys from Lord of the Rings are having their first presentation ever about all the cool shit they’re about to unleash on us.

Now I’m a geek. Finding out about this stuff is essential to my well-being. And Sean and Andrew feel kinda the same. So we say to Larry that we’ll catch up with him later, we’ll just pop across to the LotR seminar rather than look at what TV3’s plans are for the next year.



Read the shocking true story of what happened next!



Pay attention. The point’s coming up in about 2 paragraphs, but it depends on what you’re about to read.

Larry reassures us that he knows the Weta guys. He’ll set us up with an inside look at the studio, so don’t worry about that, come along and check on what the execs have to say. We go along, we listen … and Larry never gives us that tour he promised.

Did Larry lie? That’s not important. What’s important is what he should have said, which is this: “Guys. Grow up. These are the only people who have to like our show for things to go well for us. We will go to their seminar, we will meet them and be nice to them … and in return you may have a shot at succeeding. So stop sulking about your little robot monsters or whatever, and get with the programme. Get in there. March. March!”

Why should he have said that? Why should he have slapped us in an inconspicous location until we obeyed with good grace and grins on our faces?

Think of a TV show like a product. That’s what everyone else in the ‘industry’ does.

The 2 basic things you do with a product are make it and figure out what to do with it. The people at the TV network are the ones who figure out what to do with it. Now think of it this way: you know all the politics and wrangling that go on inside your company? They go on inside a TV network. Only in a network, your performance is measured by Neilsen ratings every day. It’s paranoia and fiefdoms and people who want to get involved in the creative process. Hunter S. Thompson was talking about TV news when he said it was:

"... a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. "

But really it applies to all TV shows. Certainly, I copied it and stuck it to the wall of our writing office to look at when I was trying to get inspiration for a comedy scene.

Anyway, in that minefield of insecurity, belligerence and competing agendas comes your show. If people like it, it will get treated well. What determines likeability? Is it any good? Is it sexy? Will advertisers pay for time during it? Lots of other stuff, including …

Do the people who have just received this programme like you?

You see you need someone who will champion you inside the network. So as a writer or producer your goal here is simple and fundamental: Establish a good working relationship with whoever it is that you are dealing with at the network.

I’m running out of steam here, so I’ll go into details about what that relationship is and maybe another (maybe slightly more bitter) rant about what happens when you don’t realise that’s the goal later.
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