Sunday, September 30, 2007

It's the TV season of the nerds

Writers are always asking networks what they’re looking for each development season. This is a typical conversation I imagine from last fall.

Nerds are in this year. We want to do nerds. Move away from the handsome golden boy types.


But make sure you also include a smoking hot chick.


Because who the fuck wants to look at nerds? Creepy, weird, ugly little freaks.

So why do you want to do shows about them?

Zeitgeist. Why do we do anything? Those Judd Apatow movies are killing at the boxoffice. Please God, let torture porn run its course.

Y’know, you had Judd Apatow doing shows for you and you canceled him.

I know! Why didn’t he tell us who the fuck he was then? How are we supposed to know?

So what’s the point of the hot chicks?

They like the nerds, find them endearing, attractive.


Who the fuck cares? They just do. There’s only so much ugly we can tolerate on any given show. Have you ever watched television?

O-kay. Then what if the beautiful woman likes them because they’re smart and she appreciates intelligence?

Ughh! How you gonna get laughs out of that? No, if we’re going to do nerds we gotta make ass-fun of them.

Apatow doesn’t do that.

His gargoyles can swear. We don’t have that luxury. See, the fun is these socially retarded geeks say the most inappropriate things to her. Like, for instance, hot chick says “So what did you guys do today?” and one of the nerds says, “We masturbated for money.” Big laugh.

Wouldn’t the girl be repulsed?

Well, in real life, yeah. Hell, she’d spray them with mace.

But what does she do here?

Just accepts it and moves on. Maybe finds it endearing. “Oh-those-wacky-nerds” kind of thing.

But that doesn’t make sense.

Do you want to get on the air or not? Comedy is not exactly king.

Okay. Then what if I do a drama? A drama with nerds.

Let me check the numbers on NUM3ERS…yeah, okay, that could work.

So it has to be a procedural show?

God no. The Zeitgeist has passed. We're practically at CSI: DES MOINES. No, it's Superheroes this year.

You want a nerd who’s also a superhero?

Ooooh, I like that. But he can’t have powers that conflict with any of our other superpowers.

So that leaves what, he can open a checking account without standing in line?

What if he’s super-smart? You can’t do that with a cheerleader. Super-super-super smart. Like he knows everything that’s in every computer in the world. Yeah. There’s this program and it gets incorporated into his brain. No wonder the smoking hot chick finds him a catch.

There’s a smoking hot chick in this one too?

More so than ever. You won’t have the gold of masturbation jokes to fall back on.

So I guess there’s this experiment or operation and a chip gets inserted into his brain.

Conflict. There’s a BIONIC WOMAN remake being developed. That’s how she gets her super shit. The trick with that show is finding a chick who's kick-ass but not turn-off scary. The answer is probably British.

So how does our super nerd get this program?

I know. He just stares into the computer screen when it’s being run. Maybe thousands of pictures. They fly into his brain somehow.


Yep. That’ll work.

What’ll work? What are you talking about?

Do that. Make him an everyman. Cast him with a cute guy who can look a little nerdy. In this case it's okay to go Jewish, just not too Jewish. Give him an Apatow friendly job – whatever the 40 year old virgin did, throw in a hot blond so America has a reason to watch, maybe add some funny idiot friends, an action scene or two, and I think you got a sale.

Okay. Just so I know, if I wanted to take a year off, what do you think will be the zeitgeist next season?

SURVIVOR with kids.

You’ll have your nerd script in two weeks.


Anonymous said...

Those that can't do teach. Those that can't do or teach become network execs.

When the Grant Tinkers and Brandon Tartikoffs helped allow the creative people to do what they do best, create, everyone involved, including Tinker and Tartikoff, benefited in the end. Why don't more execs today follow in their footsteps?

Tinker - a great name for too many network execs today. Tinkerers.

RAC said...

SURVIVOR with kids? Well, if KID NATION is any indication, we'll be watching a whole season of exploitive child neglect. I hope one is a comedy, though, perhaps about nerdy boys competing to win a playdate with a child beauty pageant winner, and it should be called LITTLE MISS NERD OF THE FLIES.

R.A. Porter said...

I finally watched the Chuck pilot. What a pile of crap. Here I thought NBC had over-hyped Bionic Woman. Who knew the machine had worked even harder for the Nerd Herd?

And the damn network execs can't even follow through on their own stupid ideas. The "hot girl" was the least hot girl in the cast.

Anonymous said...

All this time I was trying to figure out how they came up with big bang theory... I thought it was just a ex-jock exec who remembed how fun it was to pick on nerds in highschool and wanted to apply that to his adult life too.

WF said...

I've only been watching Ken Burns' war series all week. Does he count as a nerd?

blogward said...

Judd Apatow...Woody Allen for the Teletubby generation.

Jeff Vogel said...

Here's what ticks me off about this.

I am a nerd. I have always been a nerd. I write computer games for a living. All my friends are nerds. My wife is a nerd. All our children, with luck, will be nerds.

I have never seen anyone wear a pocket protector. Not even as an ironic statement. I have never even seen a pocket protector. Hell. I can't remember the last time I saw someone wear a shirt with pockets.

The guy who had Chuck wear that pocket protector can take it and massage his prostate with it.

- Jeff Vogel

l.a. guy said...

A little off topic but while we're complaining about idiot network execs I'd like to echo something posted last week:

Michael Zand said... "Speaking of comedies, did anyone see the second episode of "Back to You?" It was 100% funnier than the pilot and has me hooked."

I had actually intended to watch but forgot. His post made me want to check it out and thanks to the internets you too can watch it courtesy Fox's website.
(Click on 'Watch Full Episodes')

It's too bad this wasn't the pilot. It is a much funnier episode with a genuinely original sub-plot involving a reporter doing a demonstration.

Watch it before the next episode airs and the video goes away.

Since Ken is friends with so many of the shows' staff I figured he wouldn't mind a little viral marketing.

Paul Atkinson said...

"Judd Apatow...Woody Allen for the Teletubby generation."

I'm pretty sure I'm in the target audience for Judd Apatow movies (I'm 23), and I'm WAY too old to have watched Teletubbies. Hell, I was too old for Barney. It was Sesame Street and the Muppet Babies when I was little.

The Teletubbie generation watches stuff like "You Got Served" and "Step Up".

Anonymous said...

Honestly, is there an original idea out there? How many sitcoms aren't essentially a variation on the dysfunctional family with stereotypical personalities? Even the good ones.

Smart one, smart ass one, cute one, neurotic one, spacey one, dumb one, heart of gold one, etc.

I guess I like crap because I enjoyed the pilot of Chuck. It wasn't classic, but it was certainly preferable to the Bionic Woman (which is the same exact show as Chuck).

Anonymous said...

You are actually the second person to make the CSI: Des Moines joke. Joss Whedon also made it here

Brilliant minds really do think alike.

And yes, if you are wondering, I am from Des Moines, which is, of course, the only way I would have ever remembered that.

I'd also like to say as a Des Moines native that I'm truly honored to have my town lambasted not once but twice with that reference.

Maybe this means they really are working on a CSI: Des Moines. Hell, it would have to be better then Chuck.

Sebastian said...

Spot on Ken.

I watched David Duchovny's "The TV Set" this week and found it boring, uninteresting and didn't understand it at all. I guess people who deal with network execs laughed their collective asses off watching this movie. How lead bought the Mercedes. How he acts the way Duchovny wants in the test and then goes totally over the top in the actual filming. How Sigourney Weaver changes the whole thing completely. How that BBC America exec totally sells out...

Anyway - as kind of a nerd (I'd call myself a lazy nerd since I watch too much TV and don't really work as a programmer though I could ;-) ) all the pilots you had in your scene repulsed me. "The Bionic Woman" is a bad remake. They basically went through what I would use as plot for the whole first season in just one episode to get to the action faster. I really tried to suspend my disbelief but after about half an hour I couldn't take it anymore.

"Chuck" is appalling. It insults my intelligence. Even if you are as intelligent as a dog you would find holes in the whole setup. The only thing funny in the whole episode is the ninja-fighting sequence where in my humble opinion a guy-ninja steals a computer - and we are later supposed to believe that that was a girl fighting the guys. "Chuck" didn't display any nerdness. He was a regular actor in a nerd job, with a nerd shirt, with nerd stuff - and behaving, acting totally non-nerdy. Not even geeky. The people who wrote this don't get nerd and that's why it will bomb. Man they expected me to believe that he memorized all the security camera footage of the whole world plus all of the CIA's intelligence data via PICTURES watching them for about half a night. Ridiculous.

"Big Bang Theory" on the other hand I found totally boring and unoriginal when I first watched the leaked pilot, but when I watched it again I found it more interesting. It is at least as good as "The Class" which was horrible in itself (just like "Joey") which is why I think "Chuck" will be canceled pretty soon, but BBT will get at least a whole season because of the eye-candy and the offensive jokes. The writers really do get nerd right on BBT but like you mentioned, what on EARTH makes the hot piece of ass eaven TALK to the nerds, let alone ask them to pick up a TV set, how would she even CONSIDER taking a shower in a shower that is used by people who obviously have to masturbate a lot (even for money) and how would she stand to talk to these guys for longer than 30 seconds? They don't say anything interesting. They are creepy.

I guess they tried to make the lead appeal endearing to the hot girl. I picked up on that the second time I watched the show but it is REALLY hard to catch that through all the total and utter crap they have the guy say (or his friends). Hell I would probably use mace against these guys. Just creepy. Just like "Two and a half men" but with no apparent reason for the cool part of the cast to hang out with the nerdy part. Not one.

About "Back to you": I didn't think the second episode was particularly more funny than the first one. The sex jokes start to annoy me. They really have to get to more substantial things soon. They say they had sex once. You can joke about that for two days straight, ok, but now stop it already. Please.

Again, I think it's a continuation of "Frasier". Honestly - he was a radio anchor and at the end of Frasier went to get his woman, this pretty much is it with a kid thrown into it. I like it. The worst thing they could do is have Grammer tone down his Frasier or Patty Heaton to lose too much of her Debra.

Anonymous said...

You forgot...

Network Exec:

Oh, and don't forget to add a black character.


As a nerd or as a hot girl?

Network Exec:

Who cares? I just want credit for adding diversity. They give us awards for that.


Wouldn't it be smarter to just cast a minority because he or she is good, not because of their race?

Network Exec:

Well, if you go by THAT criteria, I wouldn't have THIS job.

Emily Blake said...

Okay, nerds, you may not be aware of this but Chuck isn't for you. It's for people who can suspend their disbelief, which nerds never do because they enjoy pointing out everybody else's flaws way too much to have any fun.

I liked Chuck. I'm willing to buy the premise, although I admit I was hoping it was a chip or something in his brain, but I can get past the premise enough to enjoy the show.

And by the way, first Anonymous, I am a teacher who can also do. So suck it with that stupid quote.

One of my coworkers wears a pocket protector. He is such a dork.

R.A. Porter said...

Emily, we nerds have loved the following entertainment vehicles over the years:
- Star Trek in most of its incarnations. (Seriously, did anyone like Enterprise???)
- Star Wars in most of its incarnations (kill the Ewoks, kill the Ewoks)
- The Adventures of Briscoe County, Jr. (actually, anything Bruce Campbell has ever done, including his Old Spice commercials.)
- Anything Joss Whedon has ever touched, looked at, offered advice on, or sneezed in the general direction of

In all of the above (that's if you're willing to cut out SW episodes 1-3) we're pretty happy to suspend disbelief, turn off our stream of criticisms, and have a good time.

Hell, I can enjoy the original Bionic Woman for all its cheese, but not the new and "improved" version (btw...Ron Moore is very happy that everyone knows who the talent in that partnership is). I can enjoy Reaper quite a bit (at least, if it holds up past the pilot) even though I don't believe in God or the Devil. I can't enjoy Chuck in all its unintended awfulness.

alan said...

I don't mean to be all that is evil, but I really liked the Big Bang Theory. If you haven't seen it, give it a chance. It's only 22 minutes of your life.

Anonymous said...

Omigod, R. A. Porter, your viewing list has proved, once and for all, that I am a nerd.

Eh...I knew it all along.


R.A. Porter said...

Nikki, it's okay. Embrace your nerdiness and you'll be happy. Re-read the Hitchhiker's Guide if you have any questions!

Alan, I tried watching BBT, but turned it off during the cold open once they started discussing the "protocol" for leaving a sperm bank. The protocol is: get up; walk out. I already knew I wouldn't want to spend any more time with those two than I had already.

Mary Stella said...

After this pitch, the Network executive sat down with other writers and said, "Ok, those insurance ads with the cavemen -- great Q scores. We can do something with that."

I hate the ads and can't imagine a television show less interesting to me. Of course, for the next several weeks (I'm optimistic!) all of my tv viewing revolves around baseball since my Phillies are in the post-season for the first time in 13 freakin' years!

Anything Joss Whedon has ever touched, looked at, offered advice on, or sneezed in the general direction of

I think Joss Whedon is a writing god among men. Bring back Buffy! It's not like Sarah Michelle Gellar's movie career has skyrocketed.

Sebastian said...

Hey teacher, leave us nerds alone :-)

Easy comparison: I believe "John Doe" and "Kyle XY" because I wasn't given a bogus explanation WHY those two have all their knowledge. I also believed "Johnny Mnemonic".

Asking me to believe that you could get the information of a video into a series of non-sequential images is asking me to be dumb. I mean really dumb. So dumb to believe that Heidi Klum would find me endearing if I told her I just masturbated for money.

Paul said...

I liked Big Bang Theory. I find the nerds amusing because they're so stereotypical, and I find Kaley Cuoco charming. It's not realistic, but I don't really want to watch shows that are. I get enough reality from real life.

I'm waiting to see if Back to You gets better. The first episode was up and down, and the second one was better but seemed to use the same jokes over again.

l.a. guy said...

Sebastian said... About "Back to you": I didn't think the second episode was particularly more funny than the first one. The sex jokes start to annoy me... You can joke about that for two days straight, ok, but now stop it already. Again, I think it's a continuation of "Frasier".

I don't think that's a fair criticism of the second episode; the vast majority of the jokes had to do with Kelsey Grammer's goldfish, Fred Willard's obsessing about a magic trick and the taser field report.

I do agree that far too much of sitcom dialogue relies on sexual innuendo and the like. It just seems lazy to me, and it's been done to death, so it rarely makes me laugh.

But what do I know...

BigTed said...

TV nerd: Skinny, kinky-haired, slightly Jewy guy with offbeat good looks, possibly wearing glasses.

TV writer: Same.

TV nerd: Brain is filled with millions of images from TV and the Internet.

TV writer: Same.

TV nerd: Paired up with a hot blonde who seems to find him kind of sexy.

TV writer: Same, but she'll have to convert.

Loren said...

I'm reminded of some advance review of "Chuck" that said the lead actor conveys 'nerdy' in the same way that Hollywood thinks Anne Hathaway conveys 'ugly.'

To be honest, though, despite its aforementioned problems (which did irk me), I enjoyed the Chuck pilot. Not enough, though, to give up "Prison Break." If it'd stayed on Tuesdays, I'd probably be watching.

Beth Ciotta said...

Sad, but when you put it your way, Ken--hilarious.

Emily Blake said...

Okay I admit, the first episode of Chuck required me to suspend disbelief. The second episode required me to shut my brain down and pretend I never had any logical thoughts at all.

But Reaper is still really awful.

Dave said...

I already read your post yesterday (and passed it on to a few friends since you were dead-on), but I had to come back tonight as I'm watching episode 2 of the Big Bang Theory (which really is very, very bad) to say at least it has one redeeming quality - it's got an honest-to-god opening credits jingle! Even if it's all jumbly, sped up, and impossible to recognize(much less sing along to) - IT'S A FUCKING JINGLE. Who says the sitcom's dead ;-)

Anonymous said...

The producer of Big Bang theory has an interesting (splash? tag line? What's it called?) at the end of the show. This one displayed for about 2 seconds, just long enough for me to think "what was that?" and rewind my TiVo. Tonight's was #184:

Don't fall for a woman who has had sex with one of your rock n'roll heroes. No matter how emotionally evolved you think you are, you will never enjoy listening to Eric Claption again.

Don't lurk around web sites where people comment about your work unless you're drunk. Don't use emoticons. You're too old to communicate like a twelve year old girl.

Don't forget that you are the product of a culture that went stark raving mad about ten thousand years ago. Adjust your thinking accordingly.

Don't answer TV critics questions about the state of TV comedy. It's a trap.

Don't eat anything bigger than your head. True in the sixties, true today.

Don't believe that crap that you're as old as you feel. Your feelings lie.

Don't hug men while shaking their hand. Enough already with that. The shake/hug (shug?) is probably something Roman guys did when their empire was in decline.

Giles Bowkett said...

I write Web applications for a living. I speak at programming conferences. I build Lego robots for fun. I am an actual nerd.

(And I'm interested in screenwriting.)

Anyway, as a bona fide, dyed in the wool geek, I've given only two shows a shot, BBT and Beauty & The Geek. I found B&TG so compulsively watchable that I skipped a real-life geek dinner. Big Bang Theory, I couldn't even make it to a commercial break. Literally, 5 minutes of my time was too much to ask for. And I had been interested to see what they did with the show. I had been looking out for it.

The only geek show I've seen recently that I can recommend was "The IT Crowd," which is a British show. Given the whole "zeitgeist" thing, plus the success of "The Office," it's weird to me that this show didn't get the import treatment. Not only is it a sometimes very funny show, it also has really the only plausible setup for pairing nerds with a hot chick - it's a workplace comedy where the hot chick "manages" the nerds.

Sebastian said...

@la guy: of course you are right about the goldfish jokes that's why I said the episode was still "good" instead of "so/so". Look at "Two and a half men" - they are doing those jokes in the fifth season now and it still works for them :-) I just feel like the difference between Frasier and Debra and their new characters shouldn't be their love for love for dirty jokes.

@anonymous: Chuck Lorre has been adding those Vanity Cards to the credits of his shows for ages.

They include: The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Dharma & Greg, Cybill, Grace Under Fire

Visit to read all of them. He got in trouble with the at least one of the networks for adding one to a show if I remember correctly. They are quite fun at times but not that as fun as the new post on this website here every day.

Woops now I nearly slipped on the slime I produced ;-)

Concerning the IT Crowd: I hated the one episode I saw so I guess I have to begin from the start. But then again I also don't really like "Spaced" - it has a couple of big laughs but isn't nearly as great as Simon Peggs films. Or Fawlty Towers :-)

Don't mention the war ;-)

Loved the "Luftwaffel" joke on sundays Simpsons :-D

Anonymous said...

The only people I saw with pocket protectors in my life were math teachers.

Anonymous said...

did i read r.a. porter's comment correct-- did you say the hot chick in chuck wasn't hot-- the show isn't that good but she is hottest thing to come on tv in a very long time-- the scenes in her hotel room were the only reason i came back for week two and the fight scene in week two will bring me back for week three... shallow but true

David K. M. Klaus said...

The only guy I ever knew who wore a pocket protector was the late Dan Alderson, graduate of CalTech, who worked at JPL and wrote the software NASA used to navigate Voyagers 1 and 2. He had a real need for it because of the multiple types of pens he carried, all of which he actually used.

Anonymous said...

Kevin- who WAS that executive who canceled both of Judd's shows? I was trying to think who it was but it escapes me. Thanks!

elic said...

I am going to start wearing pocket protectors just for fun. @!!!!!!

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