Here are some more Friday questions and answers sent in by you, the loyal or occasional readers.
Heidi Germanaus starts us off:
Ken, I have a pretty damn good idea for a t.v. show. How does a regular Joe Shmo get in a position to pitch something like that?
Heidi, I wish I could be more encouraging but the truth is unless you have a track record it’s almost impossible to get a network to hear your pitch. They’re more concerned with who’s going to execute the show than who brings in the best ideas. Generally you have to be on staff of a show for a few years or have a screenplay credit or two (and even then they’d want you paired up with an established show runner).
You might take your idea to a studio or producer but the best you can hope for is that they’ll buy you out – give you a nominal sum and politely ask you scram. If the project doesn’t go forward you still have a few thousand bucks. But if the project does go forward and becomes FRIENDS everyone winds up a billionaire but you.
I suppose you could make the pilot yourself and put it on Youtube and if it becomes a huge viral hit a network might take notice but that’s the longest of longshots.
In any event, write your pilot and use it as a sample. Maybe it will get you on staff of a show and two years later the networks will be coming to you asking “what ya got?”
Best of luck. I know it’s hard and frustrating.
From Dana Gabbard:
I just caught the pilot for Cheers which reminded me of a question I have long had. John Ratzenberger's Cliff during the first season or so seems to have a much more pronounced New England accent. Is the change to being less nasal deliberate?
It sort of evolved. Part of the problem with a pronounced NE accent is that it’s sometimes hard to decipher and that can be death for jokes.
Same on MASH. David Ogden Stiers originally wanted to do a thick Boston accent. We expressed our concern and he said, “Okay, how about this then?” He backed off of it just a smidge and it was perfect. For his entire run on the show he kept that accent at that exact same level. He’s amazing.
Do commercial breaks ever irritate you as a writer? Like,"Okay no matter what's going on with the story we have to get it to a mini-cliffhanger by the act break so the audience will come back!". I watch a lot of BBC shows where there are no breaks so the stories can develop at their own pace and I would imagine it is far more freeing for the writer.
The breaks bother me in that they take the audience out of the show. No one wants to be interrupted when engrossed in a story.
But if you have to have breaks, I don’t mind the two-act formula where there’s a spot break in the middle (we’re talking sitcoms here). You build to an act break at the midway point then set about resolving the story in the second half. That’s good storytelling, commercials or not.
I’m less enthusiastic about the three-act formula, which networks are insisting on more and more. Then you’re just going through hoops. A lot of shows deal with it by not worrying about building to an act break. They just tell their story and break along the way. It depends on the story obviously but I think dramatically the two-act structure is preferable.
For hour dramas it used to be a four-act structure and now it seems they have long first acts to get you sucked in then a bunch of breaks the second half hour. That’s got to be maddening, even for Jack Bauer.
And finally, from sophomorecritic:
Ken, my question is with pushing daisies, dollhouse, firefly, my name is earl, arrested development, commander-in-chief, aliens in america, ugly betty, and a number of others being cancelled so early in their run when they're clearly good shows, it's hard not to admit that the entire system is broken.
Why doesn't it discourage smart people to enter TV when the good shows don't get rewarded?
Unfortunately, those shows you cited all had disappointing ratings. At the end of the day it’s a numbers game.
But smart people keep coming back because some good shows do get rewarded. LOST, MODERN FAMILY, MAD MEN, BREAKING BAD, DEXTER, DAMAGES, GLEE – these are just a few of the good shows that have captured the audiences’ imagination. It’s hard. And it usually requires cable or a SOPRANOS credit. But it can be done.
Also, you can make a lot of money in television so that keeps smart people coming back because they like to eat.
One more question, which I'll post later today. Some photography is involved. What’s your question??? Leave it in the comments section. As always, thanks!