Monday, October 23, 2017

Here's an idea broadcast networks will never do:

First some background.

Table readings are an important part of any scripted form process. TV shows, plays, movies – there is great benefit from assembling a group of actors and hearing your script read aloud. Especially for a comedy.

Now the key of course is to be objective and invite people who will give you an honest reaction to the material. Assembling an audience of the actors’ parents is not the best way to determine whether your script works. And if you as the writer just laugh hysterically to everything that is being said you’ll have no idea what you’ve got. So what’s the point?

Table readings for sitcom pilots have become major pressure cookers. It used to be the actors would sit around a conference table and the writers, networks, agents, etc. would ring the perimeter walls. Actors were able to relate to each other because they were face-to-face.

But now there are so many network people, studio people, agents, managers, production companies, pod producers, etc. that the actors have to sit on a stage all facing out like being on a dais. And there can be close to a hundred people in the audience. It’s just insane.

Pilots get axed at table readings. Actors get fired at table readings. Networks’ enthusiasm for the project could go from high to low depending on the reaction. Things have gotten so crazy that now a lot of producers have pre-table readings to prepare for the actual table readings.

Okay, my idea that networks will never do. This is primarily for comedies.

Sometimes pilots don’t necessarily read funny. Especially if they’re character-based. And many network development executives don’t know how to read a script. They can’t picture it. (Yes, I know. Isn’t that their JOBS?) Also, networks tend to foist casting choices on the producers that are wrong for the parts.

So how about this? Each pilot script gets a table reading before the networks decide which shows they’re greenlighting for production. And here’s the kicker: the creator of the show casts it. That way the show has the best possible chance of showing off its potential. You don’t need to fill the cast with stars. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t. But this gives young unknown actors a chance to get network exposure. And who knows? If the pilot does get made perhaps the network will want some of those unknowns to reprise their roles. TV makes stars, and this way you’d have more young actors given a chance to be seen and maybe breakout.

You could have these table readings at the network. You could schedule several for the day. A hundred people don’t decide which shows get picked up so you don’t need a hundred people in the room.

I guarantee you that at least two pilot scripts that didn’t seem impressive will suddenly knock everybody out. And a few of the scripts that were real jokey will be exposed for how lightweight and glib they really are.

The networks could make more informed decisions. They could discover new talent. They could really get a sense of what the writer had in mind. And it wouldn’t cost them a dime. The creators do all the work of assembling and rehearsing the cast.

Doesn’t that make sense? Like I said, it probably won’t happen. Networks don’t like giving up control at any point of the process. Allowing writers to follow their own vision and present the show they want to do (even for an informal table reading) would set a very bad precedent. Better to keep things the way they are – with a 95% failure rate.  Yep, that’s obviously a better system.


Peter said...

Ken, you'll get a kick out of this. It's a reaction video called DO COLLEGE KIDS KNOW 80s TV SHOWS? The theme song of each show is played and they have to say if they know what show it's from. If you want to go straight to the Cheers part, it's at 7:25:

Roseann said...

Very good points, Ken. I know, in fact, that most TV series are cast with unknowns. They are cheaper and don't have a lot of demands to start with. When contracts are negotiated for 7 years upfront unknowns are a less expensive option. Most are found through Casting Directors. How many new talent have their foot in the door of a Casting Agent? Your idea is real a win-win situation. It's so difficult when the network bean counters have so much say in the casting of a TV show. It DELAYS everything.
I worked on a Pilot: the episode had 20-25 possible regulars and until 5pm the night before shooting we had no set casting.... They couldn't decide... after 5pm we had actors from all over NYC coming in for fittings because they had finally decided... It was a Wardrobe Supervisor's nightmare...

Dr Loser said...

Heck, I'm not sure even I would be able to remember most of those. And I watched then.

Call me irrational, but I tend to remember TV programs because of the content, not because of the theme tune.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I'm available, Ken. Call me for your next pilot.

YEKIMI said...

A Friday ?: Have you ever been offered [from a network] the job of being in charge of say the comedy division, green-lighting new shows, etc? If not, would you ever consider taking the job if offered? With so many choices of non-traditional networks, and I'm talking ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX as being traditional, it seems like someone would have offered you a chance at doing that by now. Or maybe they have and you've turned them down?

Diane D. said...

It is so strange which subjects will generate enormous numbers of comments and which ones won't. I thought this topic would be of great interest to Ken's many readers who are, themselves, involved in writing/television/comedies/acting; and I was eager to see what they would have to say about his idea. I was going to resist making any comment, because I always feel it must be annoying to have people who know so little about it throwing in their two cents on a subject so obviously intended for insiders. But only 5 comments? And some of them off topic? (160+ on your favorite cartoon!)

So I am forced: it sounds like a great idea, and brings me to a subject that has always puzzled me: Why has the writer always had so little control over his/her creation? It's always seemed to me that everyone involved in a production (actors, director, producers) is more famous, makes more money, and has more control than the person without whom there would be nothing to produce, direct, or act in. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe it's only those of us who are not part of the process, who get that impression. But if that is true, wouldn't Ken's idea give some of that control back to the people who should have it? And it would be at a crucial point in the process---when the creator would still be creating.

Apologies for any ignorance displayed.

ADmin said...

Man, that sounds like a terrible system the way it is now. Fired for a table reading? Wow. From reading your blog over the years, I'm inclined to believe you see the value in outside input and collaboration, but how do you feel about "Comedy by Committee" like that? Is it as frustrating as it sounds? (Invitation to vent!) :)