Happy Election Day. Get out there and vote. This is part two of my interview with former President of Entertainment for NBC, Warren Littlefield. Part one was yesterday. Warren has a great book about his years at NBC and all the classic shows he oversaw. It's called TOP OF THE ROCK: THE RISE AND FALL OF "MUST SEE TV" and it's available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other venues.
Over the years as an executive and more recently a producer, you’ve read thousands of pilots. What are you looking for in a pilot script?
A strong original voice. I’m looking for a point of view. We’re in an age where we have more entertainment choices across all kinds of platforms then we’ve ever had before. So in this world of infinite choice, when I read something I do want it to grab me. It doesn’t have to be loud, but I want to be pulled into a character, understand what they’re dealing with. I want to be entertained and if I’m even enlightened that would be a bonus, but I want to be pulled into it, and how do you do that? That’s a feeling, that’s not a recipe.
And of course the other thing that is asked in most sales situations, whether it’s network or cable, “Why this? Why now?” Why you?” And so when a writer tells me an incredible story about his parents, his family – an experience that they had – and I understand that they’re writing from a really strong place, that always interests me. I want them to be connected. I’m not going to be terribly interested unless the writer is incredibly knowledgeable about the area and they’ve either lived it or researched it. That they know it really really well. And it’s not a good sign if I’m listening to a pitch and I’m more knowledgeable about that area than the writer.
And what about for comedies? How important is it that they be funny?
Oh God, that’s critical, isn’t it? You want to care, but you also want to know where the comedy is going to come from. I dare anyone to describe CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM without absolutely making me laugh by that description. You must be funny. That’s what you’re buying. You’re buying a sensibility. So you want to hear that in the pitch, you want to hear that in a spec. We want that specificity, that language to come through.
What do you see as the future of network television in this crazy multi-platform world?
The business model for most networks is of course that they’re not just a network. They are a content provider, and the business model today works if you have content that breaks through to ten million people, you own it for eternity, and you can market it across every possible platform all over the world. Networks are faced with more competition than ever. Their target is not fishermen. They have a broader focus. They need to hit not two million passionate viewers; their goal still is ten million devoted viewers. So it’s harder to be a broadcaster than a narrow caster.
But there are still plenty of examples of how it works. The value of live event television, which is something that networks do better than any other outlet – in sports, in live competition shows – of just how powerful and immediate the response is. And that’s something that networks continue to dominate.
Any last thing that you would want to add, besides “buy my book”?
I have a holiday gift – one other item that’s in my office – and it’s leather embossed and in gold lettering it says, “It’s about the writing, stupid” and that’s my reminder to everyone. That it all begins and ends with the words. If the writing is there, go for it. That’s what every buyer should be motivated by.
Once again, my extreme thanks to Warren Littlefield. Do buy his book.