Monday, November 01, 2010

The latest trend in TV development: buying blogs and Twitter feeds

In addition to $#*! MY DAD SAYS networks are snapping up internet properties left and right for potential sitcoms. CBS and ABC each have two pilots and SHOWTIME just picked up one. (I don’t know what NBC is doing. They’re probably still dancing in the halls because Jeff Zucker is gone.)

At this moment there must be 10,000 hopefuls hastily creating blogs and Twitter feeds. Each looking for a hook. “My mom after three drinks. com”, “@theSexNun”, “Locked In My Room For Five Years”, “@HeathLedgerSpeaksThroughMe”.

They’re thinking, “This is great. I can break into sitcoms and I don’t have to go to Yale!”

What was once a forum for self expression has now become the next California Gold Rush. It reminds me of when my partner David and I sold our first script. We had been diligently writing specs for two years, taking classes, studying sitcoms. Once we landed a sale at least ten of our friends immediately began banging out spec scripts. The implication was obvious. “If these two idiots can make it, anybody can!” Of course, once they launched into their scripts and discovered it was a lot harder than they thought, all but one junked the idea. (and he also broke through and had a nice career.)

I suspect this will be the case with most of these new bloggers who have dollar signs in their eyes. After a few weeks of cranking out tweets and posts for a readership of four the SexNun will throw in the towel.

I know a number of established comedy writers who are very opposed to this trend. It’s hard enough to pitch and sell an idea. And this year there will be fewer open slots because “I’” and “Dear Girls Above Me” will have claimed them.

Aside from the golddiggers who will be cluttering up the blogosphere, I applaud the trend, and here’s why: What these blogs and Twitter feeds that have sold have in common is that they all have strong voices and personal visions. This to me is what television comedy needs. All too often sitcoms get so watered down by committee and research. And that has led to the generic, bland, familiar sitcom that has threatened to kill the genre.

To those bloggers who have landed a sale – first off, congratulations. But your big challenge now is to hold onto that voice. And it will be a big challenge. A similar trend occurred almost thirty years ago when (sparked by the success of COSBY) networks clamored to sign stand-ups to star in sitcoms based on their acts. But they were performers with proven material at a time when there was far less interference from networks and studios.

Most bloggers aren’t experienced television writers. In all likelihood you’ll be paired with established showrunners (so those writers who don’t sell a pitch may still hook on with a project). The blogger might have to really fight to maintain his voice and vision. I encourage you to protect that at all costs.

And for the rest of you bloggers, don’t be discouraged if your site is not discovered and becomes the show that replaces TWO AND A HALF MEN because Charlie Sheen is in Bellvue. There is the satisfaction of knowing your readers appreciate you. And isn’t that alone worth the effort?

Isn't it?

Okay, well, there are also GoogleAds.


Baylink said...

You glance off the edge, here, of something that's always sourly amused me:

"Let's buy this book, and make a movie out of it that shares nothing with the book except a couple of character names!"

Given that they paid for the title of the book and the characters *specifically* to draw an audience that liked the book, and then delivered something entirely different, you'd think that would a) be commercial fraud and b) not sell all that well.

But I guess the number of failures at b) justifies no one jumping up and down about a)...

Bandit said...

LOLCats, the series. Kill me.

On the other hand that Duke University student who kept track of the guys she slept with might be an interesting series, if you're fifteen.

Blaze said...

It's sort of sad how your earnest advice for the blogger to "keep their voice intact" has already totally failed with "!*$@ My Father Says". A quirky, fun twit feed has become, well, bland sitcom tofu.

As to buying titles, either blog, twit or print, all that matters is "bums in seats". Every year, people rush to the cinema to buy a ticket. "Last year they ruined my favourite book and apparently never ever read an issue of 'Zipper Man' comic, but THIS year, they'll be faithful and respectful to the material!".

The movie makers then hope fervently that the angry and disappointed fans are not vocal enough in their negative reaction to influence sales until the profit margin is made.

Ben K. said...

Mine's going to be called "Stuff I Watched on TV Last Night."

It writes itself!

The Rev Punk said...

It is a tricky area. I'm thrilled that the internet gives me (and everyone)the chance to find a large audience for our work - which just 10 years ago would have been seen - and undoubtedly misunderstood - by just a few development people etc. ...but you're right - I've had at least a dozen friends start blogs/twitter feeds in the past 3 months for the sole purpose of 'landing a deal' ... most of them have already stopped.

Mac said...

I think your gold-rush analogy is apt and it'll play out as the original did. A small few will do very well, most will end up back where they started.
Or not, and we're in for a decade of Twitter and blog-based shows. In which case I'll gracefully retire to the drawing room with a bottle of whisky and a handgun.

emily said...

Ken, your readers appreciate you. And is that worth the effort? I sure hope so.

ttv said...

If I know how to do it, I will.

David Schwartz said...

I've got to say, Ken, you are spot on with the idea that you can't lose your own voice when you produce a show you've sold. When you look at the shows that are the most entertaining, they are the ones where a person's perspective and voice has a continuing thread throughout the series. Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld, Susan Harris on Soap, Nat Hiken on Bilko, the Charles brothers, as well as you and David on Cheers. All of those shows stayed great when the people who had the original voice of the series continued to oversee the writing. When that was lost, the shows suffered significantly, even when they stayed good. And when you have a strong perspective (Louie C.K. comes to mind as a recent guy with a unique voice), it really makes your show stand out and be special. As a self-serving plug, I did a one person show last year, not so much because I wanted to be a performer, but because I was compelled to do it to showcase the material I'd written (the trailer is attached to my url). I believe it is that drive to express that which is most uniquely you, that results in the absolute best television shows.

lucifervandross said...

I get your point Ken, and you know I respect you (or maybe you don't, I don't post that often and I participated in one teleconference, you know now that i respect you). But i watched about 1 minute of Shit my dad says and had to change it because , well 1) 30 rock was on and 2) it was painfully unfunny. It was William Shatner saying unfunny things while canned laughter attempted to convince me it was a joke. I don't think the guy from the blog has anything to do with the show other than his intellectual property has been licensed. He's somewhere rolling in a pile of money, happy that his blog has turned into a book that has turned into a show starring one of our oldest and most beloved living jokes.

Everyone does webshows now, and none of those are flying off the shelves. Last week at the Austin Film Festival I met the guy who won for TV comedy writing (and after I read his spec, he deserved it) and he has a failed webseries under his belt. THe most successful webseries is probably The Guild, and last I heard (which was months ago) they only had two paid people on staff, and they weren't even making a living of it. Webcontent for pay is like a lottery right now. You have to be in it to win it, yes, but it is hard as hell to tell what is going to get that glimmer and what is just going to stay in obscurity.