Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Stupid pilot notes

Pilot notes can be maddening. And we’ve all received them. Usually they’re of the “can we up the stakes?” or “can we make her nicer?” variety. Whatever they can do to make the show more formula. And if the exec just spent the weekend attending the Robert McKee seminar, look out. He’ll try to turn every show into CASABLANCA.

And this happens more than you think. Often times networks have agendas and the purpose of their notes is to steer you in the direction of those agendas.

Case in point: A project David and I once had at Fox. Now I should point out that this was several years ago and they’ve gone through four or five regimes since then. So the policy back then is not necessarily the policy they follow today.

Our pilot was an upscale workplace comedy featuring three really bright young men. I mean, Aaron Sorkin bright. The network really liked the first draft and had minimal notes. One was, could we do a scene in a restaurant or bar? Just someplace away from their office. Fair enough. We asked if we could adjust one of the scenes we already had and just move it to a bar, and they were fine with that.

Then they said, “Oh, and we want a hot babe. We need a smokin’ hot babe”. We said, “No problem. We’ll need a waitress anyway”. And they said, “Oh, not just for this show. We need her to be a series regular.”

Now this threw us a little. I asked, “To do what?”

And this was their answer:

“We don’t care. We just want a hot babe in the show”.

We busted out laughing.  What else could we do???

Now they could have said, “We feel it would provide balance” or “it would be nice to have a woman’s perspective in this show” but we all knew that was bullshit. They just wanted tits! This was Fox. On a creative level this addition made no sense, but hey, I applaud their honesty.

Eventually they passed on the show, felt it was too sophisticated and more of an NBC series than Fox. On the other hand, there was one character they really loved. Guess which one.


RockGolf said...

So, Ken, did you give the hot babe that Fox requested the same smarts (or higher) as the Aaron Sorkin clones, or was she written as a dumb blonde?

Two follow-ups, possibly for Friday questions: Which IQ is easier to write for: smart or dumb? And which do networks prefer?

Anonymous said...

More importantly... whi IS that in the pic?

MBunge said...

"On a creative level this addition made no sense, but hey, I applaud their honesty."

Would Hollywood be a better place to work if all "meddling" was that straightforward? It seems like it would make it a lot easier for creators to handle network/studio input while also making it clearer when such input become excessive.


positive affirmation said...

I dream to work and live in hollywood to see the beautiful girls.

AlaskaRay said...

positive affirmation said...
"I dream to work and live in hollywood to see the beautiful girls."

Been there... done that. It's not as great as you might think it would be.


Adrienne Parks said...

Ah, yes. Notes. Can't live with 'em, can't green light without 'em. I remember sitting in Steve White's NBC offices with about fourteen executives all of whom were giving me notes. Exactly like you said. One would say something like "I think we need more X"; the next would say "I think we need more Y": a third would say "No, we definitely need more Z." After about two hours my head was spinning. I went home and called my then manager at ICM. He said, "Just forget them all. Write anything you want. They'll think that they gave you 'your' revision." Of course said agent went on to head a major agency; ultimately I went into the proverbial "recovering screenwriter" 12-step program. adrienneparks.wordpress.com

Jason said...

Those execs speak for this television viewer. They may not be classy, but they're not wrong. And it sounds like they weren't dishonest either.

TL said...

Anyone watching the second season of Human Target, which added two women to the all-male cast, much to the detriment of the show's quality, can see that Fox's current policy is very much the same.

Phillip B said...

Could have been worse. They might have wanted a dog, a talking rabbit, a zany neighbor, a space alien or a wise cracking child.

Not that any of those requests ever really happen

TD said...

I've had a number of useful or at least not necessarily awful notes over the years, but I'll never forget this one on a first episode:

"Thank you for so thoroughly addressing our notes. Show is now boring for some reason. What can be done about this?"

I kiddeth you not.

Blaze said...

It may or may not help morale to know that "notes" happen in most creative endeavours. As a graphic artist, I've been bombarded by the same contradictory directions and impossible suggestions as we examine the first draft of the logo/pamphlet/book layout.

I thank the gods when the company has a Boss willing and able to make definitive final decisions. All too rare an animal, sadly.

YEKIMI said...

Heck, here I thought the headline would be something along the lines of "Note: Do not fly plane into mountainside, Do not bang stewardess without turning on autopilot first, Use large amounts of Listerine after leaving airport bar." Glad to see it was about a different kind of pilot.

Rick said...

This is off topic but... check out the world's biggest fan of M*A*S*H -

Anonymous said...

Ken, have you ever come across, either yourself or through an acquaintance, a situation where a pilot was radically changed for the better after the showrunner received notes from the network? Can you name any shows and indicate the changes that were brought about?

FYI, the girl is Nerissa Starr (just place your cursor over the gif/jpg and her name appears in the file name).

scarves said...

Thank you for creating memories of the heart.

Anonymous said...

why would a "hot babe" not fit in in an environment where bright young people work? are you suggesting that bright young people are all men?

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a comment Norman Lear made about an NBC comedy called We Have It Made, "The show features a young woman with two, count them, two breasts. If the show is a success, next year there will be a show about a woman with three breasts."