What Hath Peak TV Wrought?

Remember when you could count on TV? You could schedule your life knowing what shows to watch and when to watch them? How sweet the past! How innocent! Just between us, TVWriter™ is mighty glad those days are over, but it turns out that there are others whose opinions differ:


by Lara Zarum

When I’m old and grey and yet still, in the words of Carrie Bradshaw jetting off to Paris, “impossibly fresh-looking,” I’ll sit my grandchildren on my lap and tell them the story of Peak TV: “Between 2009 and 2015,” I’ll croak, “the number of scripted series on TV practically doubled, from around 200 to just over 400.” To which my grandchildren will respond, “What’s TV?”

In a Vulture cover story that ran last week called “The Business of Too Much TV,” reporters Josef Adalian and Maria Elena Fernandez spoke to showrunners, writers, directors, crewmembers, actors, talent agents, and executives in an attempt to understand how “Peak TV” — a term coined last summer by FX president John Landgraf — has affected the industry. As Adalian and Fernandez illustrate, we’re in the middle of a boom time: from line producers to writers to port-a-potty rentals, demand is fast outstripping supply. Movie stars are commanding millions of dollars per episode of the next hot Netflix or HBO or Showtime series. There’s more opportunity than ever for a creator with a strong vision to get her show on the air.

And yet, and yet, and yet: it’s harder than ever for veteran TV actors to compete with those buzzy silver-screen names. A creator with a huge hit on his hands won’t see nearly the kind of payoff from Netflix as he would from a traditional network. The pressure to make TV episodes that look like movies — not to mention the demand for experienced crewmembers — has pushed up production costs.

If you care about television and also fear change, it’s a scary time. On a good day, it feels too good to be true — Peak TV hath wrought Orange is the New Black and UnREAL and Mr. Robot and a Hulu-assisted fourth season of The Mindy Project and myriad other blessings. But the big worry, according to insiders, is that we haven’t yet reached real Peak TV — that networks currently focusing on cheap-to-produce reality shows will turn to scripted series, a stock-market “hiccup” will scare the new streaming giants into cutting costs, and the bubble will burst.

In the past few years, streaming services have come off as the saviors of quality television. A show like Orange is the New Black, with its racially, bodily, and sexually diverse cast made almost entirely of women, would have had a hard time making it to air on a traditional TV network; the same has been said of Amazon’s Transparent, among the most critically lauded series of the moment.

But as one showrunner points out in the Vulture article, Netflix has started to rein in its marketing efforts for some original series….

Read it all at Flavorwire

The Whole Crazy Process Of Creating A TV Show, From Pitch To Pilot

Charlie Jane Anders, our favorite sf-fantasy critic, has turned her discerning mind to illuminating the darkness that makes websites like TVWriter™ and contests like our People’s Pilot Competition possible. That’s right, kids, it’s time to home right in on This Amazingly Cool TV Show Creation Thing That We (Try So Hard To) Do! A big tip of the hat to CJA:


by Charlie Jane Anders

During pilot season, tons of TV shows are ordered and then enthusiastically spruiked in trade magazines. And then, nine months later… most of them will not be on television. What is this mysterious crucible? Here’s our step-by-step guide to the process of pitching a brand new television show.

[Full disclosure: A TV show based on my story “Six Months, Three Days” is in development.]

Right about now, we ought to be in the middle of watching the first season of Hieroglyph, a show about gods in ancient Egypt that was “ordered to series” by Fox. But Fox pulled the plug on Hieroglyph, even after ordering a full season in advance, and we never even got to see it. That’s just one extreme example of a more common phenomenon — to casual observers, it looks like things are getting ordered all the time, then never showing up.

To find out more about the many stages of the TV development process, we talked to some seasoned TV professionals — some of whom are quoted below, and some of whom asked to remain nameless. So here’s a painstaking guide to the various stages of the TV development process, and all the jargon you’re likely to hear. (This is slightly more geared towards US broadcast networks, but the process isn’t hugely dissimilar across the western world .)

1. The Pitch

This begins in June or July for the broadcast networks. In a nutshell, you pitch a studio, and once you have studio backing, then you go to the network. Often, you’ll pitch a producer first, and the producer will have a deal with a particular studio that he or she will bring the project to. On occasion, a producer can go straight to the network, skipping the studio — but networks like to know that a studio is backing a show, because that makes it more likely they will actually get the show they ordered.

This process, from producer to studio to network, can take weeks — or it can go incredibly fast, if you have J.J. Abrams or Steven Spielberg on board as a producer, or if your show is based on a well-known comic book or beloved property.

Javier Grillo-Marxuach, creator of The Middleman and writer for Helix, explains:

It helps if you think of the studio as a bank. What they do, in the broadest and most essential sense, if advance a showrunner/show creator the money and resources to actually make the show in advance of the network paying their fees (networks basically “rent” shows for a premiere showing and a number of repeats. They also get a creative oversight because the fees they pay cover most of the show’s cost. That much said, if the show costs more to make than what the network pays — which is most of the time — then the studio has to deficit finance those costs, so their interest is to make sure the show stays around long enough to be sold into syndication, which is where they bounce back from the deficit.

Read it all at Lifehacker (Australia)

John Ostrander on Writing: The Faces We and Our Characters Show

by John Ostrander

Ostrander-2Every once in a while, I’ll come across a picture of me from back in my twenties and thirties or even earlier. I look at myself and what I was wearing and how I wore my hair (I had more hair back then to wear).

I sometimes had a mustache, I sometimes had a beard, or even big sideburns and that was always a little bit odd. My beard especially came in sparse in some areas, tightly curled all over, and a touch red. Likewise, I sometimes let my hair grow long although it too was very curly so it never achieved any great length. It was longer on the sides than on the top of my head; I referred to as a bozfro.

I suspect a lot of people look at these older images of themselves and go, “What was I thinking?” And yet, it was a choice that I made. Part of it would have been influenced by the fads and fashions of the time but did I really think at the time that I was looking good?

Occasionally, the look was a little subversive. For two years in college I was both a member of the Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC) and the Theater Department. This would have been in the late Sixties so the two were not especially compatible. Every Thursday we were supposed to wear our uniforms to school and to ROTC. This got me odd looks in the Theater Department; we were usually a rag-tag looking bunch of semi-hippies.

However, I also told the ones in charge of ROTC that I was in a play and thus has to keep my beard and long hair. (Not true usually but they didn’t know that.) At least once a month our commanding officer would announce to the assembled ROTC that the following week would be an inspection and we all should “shine your buttons, spit shine your shoes, get a shave and a haircut.” His eyes would then rest in me, “unless you’re in a play,” he would mutter.

That was a choice I made back then. Whether we realize it or not, we make those kind of decisions all the time. Every character that we write or draw makes those choices. Even if someone says, “I just throw on any old thing”, that is still a choice. It says something. It may be saying, “I don’t care how I look; fashion is not important to me.” Or it might say, “This way I’ll be invisible; I won’t look any different than anyone else.” It does say something. We are making statements about ourselves whether we intend to do so or not.

As much as the costumes they wear, heroes and villains are defined by the everyday clothes that they put on, the look that they assume. It says something about them. When I taught at the Kubert School, one of my lecture/assignments was to have the students research the clothes that the characters wore when they were out of costume. Bruce Wayne will wear something different than Peter Parker. They will shop in different stores. I wanted the students to be aware and be able to draw different types of fabrics. This all conveys something to the reader.

What a person chooses to wear says something about them, about who they are, about who they see themselves to be. It’s how they present themselves. It’s the same for all of us. What image of ourselves are we presenting? How do we want the other person to see us?

Every line drawn in a comic is defining a person, a place, the action, and every other bit of information. The reader takes it all in. It creates not only a story but a reality into which the readers invests themselves. If the artist, if the writer doesn’t put the information in there, it doesn’t exist.

Certainly, an artist can over render. They can noodle a page to death. They can add extraneous information, as can the writer. The key is to know how much information must be given, what can be implied, and what can be omitted. We don’t want to confuse the reader because that pulls them out of the story, out of the reality we are creating with them.

People, all of us, are like diamonds and each facet reveals some different perspective or glimpse of who we are. The question becomes what are we choosing to reveal and to whom and why, and what are we revealing without realizing it. That changes from moment to moment and person to person. As with us, so it needs to be with our characters. We don’t want to shortchange them or the reader.

That’s the job.

John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. This post originally appeared in his most excellent blog at ComicMix.

LA Must-See: “Forgotten Baggage” by Robin Walsh

One of these objects isn't an object at all - it's our wonderful subject: Robin Walsh!
One of these objects isn’t an object at all – it’s our wonderful subject: Robin Walsh!

by munchman

Robin Walsh, longtime TVWriter™ friend and puppeteer genius behind The Devil You Say and It’s a SpongeBob Christmas has a new must-see show for us at the Hollywood Fringe, but not with SpongeBob or Satan this time. This year’s she’s showing a work-in-progress version of her new show: Forgotten Baggage: Stories from the Willard Suitcases.

The true backstory:

In 1995, workers cleaning out the Willard Psychiatric Center in upstate New York discovered hundreds of suitcases from former patients packed away, their owners buried and forgotten. The objects within were time capsules of lives disrupted and interrupted, simultaneously rich with details about their owner’s past yet devoid of answers to how or why.  The suitcases were unfinished stories trapped in time.

Here’s where fiction comes in:

Forgotten Baggage is an evening told with Object Theatre, intimate and simple. Each scene is based on items from one suitcase, giving the objects inside a chance to live out their lives, if only for a brief moment. Essentially a work of fiction inspired by remnants of actual people, the tales have been gleaned from the objects themselves. Told both with and without words, the stories go from comedic, to fantastical, to tragic.

Together they weave a fractured yet cohesive evening, (echoing, perhaps, the mental states of the original patients). This Fringe production is a work in progress production, featuring 2-3 “Suitcase Stories.”

Currently in an early stage of development, this show is the recipient of a 2016 Henson Foundation Workshop Grant and is based on the photographic work of the actual suitcases by Jon Crispin.  For more information, please visit www.willardsuitcases.com.

Also be sure to see the Crispin’s wonderful photos at www.joncrispin.com.

After receiving the Henson Foundation Workshop Grant, Robin decided to bring a small piece of the show to the Fringe this year and get feedback to help develop the concept further. We at TVWriter™ think that’s a great idea and suggest you grab a friend and come on down to see what’s she’s been up to and help make it even better!

Tickets are free, or pay what you can. At the new Sacred Fools space, in the Studio Theatre (the old Asylum theatre space), at 1078 Lillian Way, off of Santa Monica.

Preview is this Friday, June 3 at 7 pm. And just 2 shows – June 17 at 8 pm and June 24 at 11:30 pm.  It’s a small theatre – so get your tickets now!


Hope to see you there!!! (Think you’ll be able to spot me?)


Amy Schumer’s Head Writer on Comedy and Her New Book

It’s one thing for Amy Schumer to have become redhot famous over the past 18 months, but lookee here – somebody actually has been smart enough to interview the head writer of  Inside Amy Schumer. We’re all richer for this:


by John Williams

Jessi Klein is the head writer for “Inside Amy Schumer.” She has also written for “Saturday Night Live” and “Transparent,” and has performed as a stand-up comedian. Her book, “You’ll Grow Out of It” (July 12), is a series of autobiographical essays about her life, career and aversion to taking baths. In a recent email interview, Ms. Klein discussed the book. Edited excerpts from the conversation are below.

Do you remember how old you were the first time you wrote down a joke?

I was always interested in comedy and was obsessed with Groucho Marx when I was 9. In college I joined a sketch comedy group (as one does) and I wrote mostly terrible, dumb stuff, but I do remember the first time something I wrote got a big laugh onstage and how thrillingly powerful it felt. I thought, “Oh … maybe this is what hot girls feel like all the time.”

Do you prefer to collaborate with people?

I’ve always loved collaborating because writing alone is so profoundly lonely. TV writing in a group is the most fun because in that situation, writing turns into mostly talking, broken up by occasional snacking. The pure isolation of solo writing taps into different kinds of thoughts. Things that are buried deeper in the mud get unearthed.

Does it feel liberating to have your name alone attached to something like this book of essays?

It’s pretty straight-up terrifying.

Did you set out for these essays to have a common theme?

I started to recognize a theme after I’d been writing a little while, which was exploring how, throughout my life, I’d always felt like an outside observer to my own experience of growing into a woman. I was really excited when I realized I’d discovered a theme, because it felt very book-y to have one….

Read it all at The NY Times