When you mentioned the pitch for "Almost Perfect" I couldn't help remembering how good the first season was, and then the network decided to completely change the premise - she lost the guy - and the show wasn't nearly as good.
As a peek behind the curtain in television, I thought I’d share with you the backstory to that whole sordid concept change.
ALMOST PERFECT was created in 1995 by Robin Schiff, David Isaacs, and myself. The premise very quickly: A young single woman in her 30s is struggling in her career and love life. And then on the day she gets the job of her life she meets the guy of her life, and both are fulltime jobs. How does she juggle both?
We cast Nancy Travis and Kevin Kilner as the couple. When we first brought Kevin to CBS to get him approved, the then-president thanked us for finding him. He was over-the-moon thrilled. As were we.
But during our first season there was a regime change at CBS. You see where this is going.
Our numbers the first year were decent – not spectacular but not Mindy-like either. We were originally on Sunday night, traditionally not a good night for comedy, and then moved to Monday where we fared much better.
Still, we were a show on the bubble.
So David, Robin, and I flew back to New York when CBS was cobbling together its fall schedule. That’s when we got the mandate to drop Kevin. There was no arguing the point. We fire Kevin or the entire show in cancelled and everybody is fired. And even firing Kevin was no guarantee we’d get a second year pick-up.
The next day the three of us sat in a hotel suite and desperately tried to come up with an alternate direction. Without that central theme, what were we left with? A single working woman is dating. Big whoop. There were dozens of shows with that premise including THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, which did it as well or better than any other show in history.
All day long we bounced around ideas and nothing seemed to gel. It’s like our series became its own spinoff.
Ultimately, we decided to go the dating route for awhile and hope that one of the dates could catch on and we could steer back to our original concept.
Here’s the end result: We did some very inventive and funny episodes, but coming up with each and every story was like emergency root canal in a Cambodian jungle performed by a villager.
We did a dream sequence show paying homage to different movie genres (including a splashy dance number), we had Nancy date a creepy guy who was a Nielson family (her job was running a TV cop show), we did one where Nancy overhears who she thinks is the man of her dreams but all she knows is that he spilled salad dressing on himself so at a big industry party she goes around checking out every man’s crotch. And we did one where she goes to a grief counseling class, doesn’t realize it’s for people who lost pets, shares her story and makes it seem like she had sex with her dog.
Meanwhile, we tried to work in some potential new boyfriends but no one clicked.
|Me directing A.P.|
Again, none of this surprised us. We knew the minute we had to let Kevin go that the series was in trouble because it was no longer ABOUT anything. We not only did the best we could, we wound up working twice as hard, but the end result was understandably disappointing.
The moral here – you need your show to have a theme, a purpose, a fresh point of view. Wacky characters trading zingers is not a series. That's four months of being stuck in the writing room for 20 hours a day/seven days a week, and then getting cancelled. That's satisfying every network and studio note (thus turning it into one big mish-mosh) because you have no strong direction yourself. It’s constant flailing.
In another couple of months the networks will once again open their doors to new pilot pitches. And a crazy high concept idea that’s not about anything may well sell. And get on the air. At that point I pity the poor writer. Because the misery begins promptly with episode two.
UPDATE: There have been a lot of comments about this post so tomorrow I will do a follow up, answer some of your questions, and fill you in with more stories. Y'all come back now, ya hear?