Thursday, May 15, 2008

It's that Upfronts time of the year

In case you might have blinked, the annual network Upfronts were this week. It’s the annual ritual where the major networks roll out their new fall schedules with great fanfare and entice Madison Avenue to buy advertising “upfront” for these new schedules based on a few clips and pilots that will be retooled or scrapped, committing billions of dollars on nothing more than blind faith. As I describe the process in my play – it’s as if you put an off-track betting window in a mental institution.

But this year it’s all been very low key, which begs the question – if the networks themselves aren’t excited about these new schedules why should we be? The networks claim they’re now adopted a new business model, programming year round. What that means is they’re waiting until midseason to roll out most of their new product (or recycled shows picked up after other networks canceled them).

In the past that’s been a good strategy, launch shows without the clutter and competition of all those fall premieres. But now that they’re all launching them together in January what’s the point? It reminds me of a bit from a HONEYMOONERS episode. Ralph and Ed have to move a heavy dresser. Ed gets the brainstorm that it would be easier if they removed the drawers. So they do… and then put them on top of the dresser.

Certainly the writers strike has been a factor. But I think the networks see that more as a convenient excuse to make fewer pilots and spend less money. In that regard I can’t blame them. For years they’ve wasted gobs of money on scripts and pilots that never got on the air. Their batting average has to be worse than Andruw Jones’.

But the answer is not to make fewer pilots. It’s to make BETTER pilots.

Hire the right people and let them carry out their vision. Trust them.

THE SOPRANOS never could have been hatched in the current system where the creator is bombarded with helpful input. Neither could SEINFELD, THE SIMPSONS, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES, THE WIRE, FAMILY GUY, LOST, ER, DEXTER, and all those other good, I mean HIT shows.

Take a chance – set up your own off-track betting window. Let someone like James Gandolfini star in one of your shows even though he has a face like a knee. Give a writer who’s old enough to have a colonoscopy a shot to do the show he’s always wanted to do. You could be hugely rewarded.

And that excitement that is so clearly missing this Upfronts season will be back. Your horse will finally come in. .. while the so-called “experts” put all their money on K-VILLE to win.


Keith said...

I think they need to start showing some of these pilots on their websites. Use the ones they are considering as replacment series. They can get fan feedback, generate some revenue and create a buzz.

This Space Left Intentionally _________. said...

Hey, take it easy on K-ville, I had a script that was supposed to go forward if there was a second season...

And like you I think the new business model, programming year round, is a good idea in principal...Problem is "principals" are somewhat lacking at some of the networks.

iabanon said...

it always amazes me how network executives fail to see the blindingly obvious. there are better ways to do things. most good businesses practice good business. but i see networks like governements. really good at just throwing away money for some inexplicable reason.
they're also really good at making the kinda crap which i don't understand how it got made in the first place. it stuns me actually.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

A stand-up friend of mine used to do one-and-a-half hour shows (which are more common here in Holland). He said every show had it's own rythm and the rythm dictated the laughs. Out of any nine jokes only six got a huge laugh. And if he took out the three weaker ones, he'd only get four laughs.

I don't understand our current obsession with acuracy. With governments going money away. Our unabillity to understand the scattershot approach.

Just a couple of days ago I read the advice in one of the posts here to write as many pilot scripts as possible instead of honing that one script to perfection and betting everything on it.

Making less pilots means more executives are available to assist the writers in making 'better' pilots. Making it even less possible for a fluke genius one that makes it's own rules to slip through.

A little wastfulness goes a long way.

Anonymous said...

I think this "new business model" of bringing out the shows midseason is more so they can sit out a potential actors' strike than due to the writers' strike.

Joseph Thvedt said...

which begs the question

No, it doesn't.


Mr. Language Nazi Person

Anonymous said...

Lost and Desperate Housewives were made in a previous system as opposed to the current one?


Anonymous said...

It would be unfair to pick on the network and advertising executives, since embarrassingly, I’m 18-34% certain I couldn’t do their job as well as they do. That said, I remember the annual NCTA convention I went to maybe 20 years ago with some folks from Showtime. Jerry Seinfeld was featured and came out into the hotel lobby in some sort of official schmoozing capacity. His first sentence was, “They told me not to make any jokes about television.”

VP81955 said...

Ken -- are you trying to throw all those super-important network research departments out of business with your radical ideas? (Not such a bad concept, now that I think of it.)

Anonymous said...

"Let someone like James Gandolfini star in one of your shows even though he has a face like a knee."

I spit out my drink a little at that one. Nice job.

"Give a writer who’s old enough to have a colonoscopy a shot to do the show he’s always wanted to do.

Hmmm. You wouldn't be referring to yourself by any chance, would you? ;)

Richard Marcej said...

I was watching a rerun of the BBC show "As Time Goes By" the other day on PBS and thought, this would make for an interesting American adapted series.

Get two older actors and let them star in a comedy about two former lovers reuniting some 30 years later.

Then I stopped myself. American networks actually airing a show where the two leads are over 39 years old?

What am I, nuts??

That would take the ability to "look outside the box" and American networks would NEVER do that.

Anonymous said...

They use video for colonoscopies. Plots have all kinds of twists and turns (plotz?) If we pooled all of ours we could hope for 13 weeks as a midseason replacement. Wouldn't be any worse than Deal or No Deal.

Aaron Carver said...

Most of the pilot money should go to funding longer development periods where the show creator, a small staff of writers, and execs hash out 10 solid episodes, to see if the series has real legs, and not just a good looking pilot. See "Blind Justice."

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

very nice blog... keep up the good work.. God Bless!!!

Annie said...

Good network execs (cough!) know when to lead and when to get the hell outta the way. They're in the minority, obviously. Most good ideas I've seen get picked to pieces by the 'CYA' squads, more concerned about next week's check than a vision. Same as the rest of corporate america. A little guts would go a long way about now.