Ian Gurvitz. Hello, Lied the Agent. Beverly Hills, Ca.: Phoenix Books, 2006.
The author, a writer of television shows such as “Wings” and “Becker” journals his writing experiences. Among the things readers learn is how he was developing a TV series for Tony Danza and discovering a competing writer was given the same assignment. He notes that’s how the film business works: people lie.
When a TV concept works, networks copy it. The networks don’t want to be left not cashing in on a good idea. This makes programs similar and dumber.
98.2% of U.S. households own at least one TV. Households own an average of 2.4 sets.
The key to successful shows are their execution. There are many good ideas, but shows need intelligence and soul.
The author does not recommend “how to “ books. He believes most people either can or cannot write.
Studio development executives are sales experts, as they need to convince networks to buy their show products. They need to be flexible to changing network demands.
Programming executives of current shows are liaisons between a show and the studio or network. Many of them are more relaxed. Some, though, attempt to interject their ideas into a show which can cause frictions.
Executives working on TV pilots tend to lack insights on creativity yet they often feel a need to provide their inputs. The author describes many of them as ‘much like a cow pushed out of an airplane might momentarily think it can fly”.
When pitching a show idea, Ian Gurvitz recommends being as entertaining and humorous as possible and then leaving. When seeing friends also waiting to make their pitches, engage in friendly conversation, realizing that, as the author explains “friends don’t want friends to fail; friends want friends to die After all, their success is your failure.”
The author warns that people in the business lie to spare feelings and maintain contacts. “I love it” is the only truly positive reaction. Further, a writer can gauge an agent’s interest by which meal they arrange meetings. Dinners are for their successful clients, lunch for clients with a chance of success, and breakfasts for clients needing a sale soon or the agent will stop representing them.
Networks often recommend changes to a pilot. 99% of the changes are adopted. Few other than Jerry Seinfeld ever get away with challenging a network’s desires.
The next step is producing an outline of the pilot story with the network’s changes. Then a new script is written, remembering that “writing is rewriting”. A multi-camera show script is 45 to 50 pages and a single camera show is 30 to 35 pages. The network will then send more notes. Often the networks wish for something new and for something similar to existing shows. It can be frustrating for writers to handle networks that want edgy and conformity simultaneously.
Casting occurs. Often a network will want an established star in a role, even if that actor doesn’t fit the part. Most stars are “children in adult clothes”.
Ian Gurvitz recommends for actors auditioning for a TV series to be great and then leave, don’t take in a prop, don’t overly compliment producers, don’t overly compliment the script, don’t discuss personal relationships with any producers, don’t change any word in a script, don’t ask what they’re looking for and instead give them your interpretation, children shouldn’t appear coached by a parent, if a part if offered accept it as is and don’t change it, and don’t campaign for more lines or work.
Hollywood describes things in one two ways. Things either went “through the roof” or “ they are ‘in the toilet.”
After the first production week, a series goes into testing before focus groups. Focus group members watch the pilot and turn a dial as they like or dislike what they’re watching. This is followed by questioning the audience in a group discussion. Then an analyst emerges and often predicts a show will fail, which is often correct as 85% of the time they do.
Once a show is picked by a network, it is important what time show it receives. Shows that premiere on a Monday through Thursday behind an established hit show at 8:30 or 9:30 pm have received good time slots. Shows that premiere on Fridays through Sundays or slotted opposite against another network’s huge hit have to quickly fit a strong audience or face early cancellation.
Networks are more prone to cancel shows quickly than in the past. Some shows used to have the support of the networks who gave them time to develop a following.
Premiere shows are sent to critics who usually dislike what they view. The author rates most critics as frustrated novelists or screenwriters who take their anger out in writing sarcastic wordplay reviews.
Ratings determine if a series continues or is cancelled.
A writer (circa 2006) can get $20,004 for a half hour script, $29,482 for an hour script, $41,480 for a 90 minute teleplay, and $50,000 or more for a pilot.
Most producers began as writers. Producers are experienced in the business.
Ian Gurvity states that writing involves taking ideas one has thought about over and over again and transforming them into a story. Much pre-thinking and passion are important.
The author mentions that laugh tracks are no longer used on multicamera shows taped before live audiences.