Why Pilot Season Is No Longer a Necessity

Actually, in the words of Beloved Leader LB: “‘No longer a necessity?’ Goddamn it, it never was!”

Here’s the BigMedia perspective, however, from FX and Fox, courtesy of Indiewire:

john landgraf
Some suit from FX

by Alison Willmore

While the film industry continues to see seismic shifts in the way movies are made, released and monetized, the television industry is experiencing its own major changes. Viewers have been drifting away from live TV in favor of recording things on their DVRs and zipping through the commercials, or cutting the cord entirely and consuming series online.

Traditional Nielsen ratings are no longer an accurate reflection of the entire audience for a program, cable channels have caught up with the big networks and more and more venues for original series (like Netflix, DirecTV and Amazon) are popping up and offering ambitious shows comparable to what’s on air.

This shakeup is what made a pair of panels on the topic at the TCA press tour this week from two executives so interesting. Both FX president John Landgraf and Fox chairman of entertainment Kevin Reilly are looking at ways to adapt their networks, which are owned by the same parent company, for a changing world.

Landgraf, who’s one of the smartest executives in TV, noted 2013 was a year in which cable series like AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” and A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” were in the 20 most shows, and that scripted series in particular are exploding.

“In 2002 when we launched ‘The Shield,’ there were 33 scripted dramas or comedies on basic and premium cable,” Landgraf said. “This year there will be about 180. That is over a 500% increase. And it doesn’t account for the fact that internet delivered TV services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus are now rolling out their own original series.”

That said, Landgraf doesn’t see increased competition as the biggest challenge: “Somehow our shows seem to keep hitting all time highs every year.” Instead, the main problem he sees is the lost revenue from advertising as viewing habits change.

He pointed out that while “Sons of Anarchy” averages over five million adults 18-49 during its primary airing, only two million of those are watching live and only three million watch the commercials. Part of FX’s response to this has been to prepare an HBO Go-style on demand streaming service called FXNow, but another part has been to produce more of their own programming themselves. “Now I think we’re making shows for posterity.”

TV series are being made differently, Landgraf said, and they’re no longer “a disposable medium” in which a show is made primarily for the audience that watches it live. “Now I think we’re making shows for posterity. I think it’s not unlike a movie in that, yes, it does matter what the first weekend’s domestic U.S. box office for film is — but if a film is really good, it has a chance of having a long creative and financial life. People can still be discovering it, enjoying it, and you can still be earning money based on it 5, 10, 15 years after you make it.

“That’s the thing that’s most exciting to me about television,” Landgraf continued, “is that now television seems like a medium that has a long life. Therefore, it’s worth making things that not only galvanize an audience the night they air, but might be useful to someone 15 or 20 years later. And, of course, we own most of our programming, so we’re benefiting from both those revenue streams.”

He added that “the number of times when there were challenges over here on the ad sales front, the ownership of content has bailed us out. So it’s a nice thing, actually, to have some sort of more certain long tail revenue that sort of undergirds a more volatile thing like advertising sales.”

One of the reason’s television has grown in quality, Landgraf feels, is because everyone’s in search of those breakout, quality series (“there are so many hungry buyers”) and are spending more on production: “I think you can just see the canvas and the scope of television expanding. You just look at the sheer caliber of talent that we have on our air and the talent we’re developing with, and part of what’s happening is there’s just no distinction between film and television now. I don’t think there are any film actors, directors, writers, or producers who wouldn’t or don’t work in television. So the talent pool is way bigger than it was five years ago. And I think that it’s so, fortunately, knock wood, it’s large enough now to meet all those hungry mouths.”

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Peggy Bechko: Cornering Your Character


by Peggy Behcko

We’re writers. We tend to fall in love with our character. They become our buddies and we’re loath to hurt them or cause them extreme difficulty.

And yet that’s exactly what we have to do in order to produce a fantastic script or novel. You have to be downright mean, forcing your favored character into a corner with no obvious way out and very little wiggle room.

Those who read your novels or watch the movie resulting from your script have to see a character with a spine, convictions, and unique personality to cheer for. That’s what they’re there for. That’s why they read and watch movies.

Characters who don’t have a hook, who aren’t intriguing and able to face tough challenges and make forceful decisions are going to be like limp noodles – they’ll just lie there. And your readers and watchers will walk away.

So, what to do.

Make sure something that matters is at stake, then make sure there’s no easy way out so your character has to make a real choice and he has to act on that choice without any dilly-dallying. Here’s where you’re creating tension and that carries your story forward on a wave of anticipation.

Especially if you’ve made those choices difficult and not simply the choosing one lesser evil over another. Find every way you can to make it hard.

What if that character can either save a planet or save the one he loves?

What if an attorney is defending an accused serial killer he finds is truly guilty and what if that killer is his best friend from high school?

What if she has always wanted to explore the stars and gets the opportunity but has a family? Can she go? At what cost? What if she finds out the experiments in flight are the ones that will save the life of her daughter on earth – and that it is a one way trip?

Think about the questions that many must face in life – WHEN does the end justify the means? When is killing the innocent justified? Was ‘Spock’ right and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one? Can you kill a friend to save a city? Can you NOT kill a friend when a city will die if you don’t?

Hard choices. Slippery slopes. That’s what it’s all about. Put a ramrod in your character’s spine and get him or her out there. Make your readers and watchers ask, “how’s he/she going to get out of this one?” and then dig deep for the answers to those questions and find a way.

Pat your character on the shoulder, tell him or her you’re sorry, then throw them into the maelstrom. Emotional, physical, mental or all three – even better all three. Throw the worst possible at them and see what comes out the other side.

The Untold Legal Drama Of Coyote v. Acme

Cuz we all need something to love:

coyote v acmeby Geoff Manaugh

Back in 1990, in an awesome piece for The New Yorker, author Ian Frazier told the—shall we say—little-known story of Wile E. Coyote’s endless legal battles with the Acme Company. Now, the tale of Coyote’s legal tribulations, suing Acme for grievous personal injury and catastrophic product malfunction, has been designed and republished by Michael Bierut of Pentagram, featuring original diagrams by Daniel Weil.

Frazier’s premise is that Coyote has finally had enough of the injury, trauma, and humiliation inflicted upon him by Acme products—products that never seem to work as intended and that always, in the end, turn against the person (or, his case, animal) using them. So he has lawyered up and taken his case to court.

“My client,” we read on the opening page of the ensuing fictional legal argument, “Mr. Wile E. Coyote, a resident of Arizona and contiguous states, does hereby bring suit for damages against the Acme Company, manufacturer and retail distributor of assorted merchandise, incorporated in Delaware and doing business in every state, district, and territory. Mr. Coyote seeks compensation for personal injuries, loss of business income, and mental suffering caused as a direct result of the actions and/or gross negligence of said company, under Title 15 of the United States Code, Chapter 47, section 2072, subsection (a), relating to product liability.”

The dry legalese of Frazier’s text sets a perfect tone for this—and it is maintained consistently, going through “improper cautionary labeling,” for example, to a case of “sudden and extreme malfunction” in the case of Coyote’s spring-powered shoes.

However, if imaginary legal arguments aren’t quite your bag, Weil’s helpful diagrams of the offending products add an awesome level of investigative detail to the new publication.

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VERONICA MARS digital series winging its way to the interwebs

by Team TVWriter™ Press Service

veronica-mars-movie-posterThe CW announced today that a spinoff of the long-running show that’s about to hit the big screen will air online. It’s from Rob Thomas, the creator of the series and the upcoming movie.

The show will post on CW Seed, the network’s home for original digital series.

Sadly, the CW had very few details to share with the press today at the annual Television Critics Tour in Pasadena because the deal was justdone. CW Entertainment President Mark Pedowitz said Thomas is “thrilled” with what CW Seed is doing and already has some ideas about what characters could be featured in the spinoff.

They aren’t telling us about them, though, cuz…spoilers! (Or maybe cuz they don’t really have a clue since this all came together in a whirlwind just a few days ago?)

Swapping Jokes

Ken Levine AKA Our Pal Who Doesn’t Know We Exist, scores again!

tv-jokesby Ken Levine

Recently in a post I wrote a joke that some felt was too insensitive. Was it? You could argue either way. But I decided it was easier to just swap it out for another joke. I could have stayed with it, but in this case figured it wasn’t worth offending some people. I say “in this case” because in other instances I have kept original jokes that was controversial.

But I kept those because I thought they worked and were appropriate and those who were offended were overly sensitive. You can’t do humor without offending someone. I have never however, kept a joke because I thought it would be too hard to replace.

Professional comedy writers learn early that swapping out jokes is just a part of the game. Many young writers are very defensive. They like the joke they wrote, it took forever to come up with that joke, or both. But jokes often need to be changed. And not just because they don’t work. Actors have a problem, the network has a problem, standards & practices have a problem, legal has a problem, the scene changes and it doesn’t fit as well anymore, it’s funny but too jarring, it’s funny but makes the character seem too stupid, it’s too hard to shoot, it’s too similar to another joke, or of course – it’s too Jewish. You get the idea.

Comedy writers need to get in the habit of swapping out jokes. When my writing partner, David and I can’t agree on a line, rather than argue for forty minutes and one team member ultimately unhappy, we just throw it out and come up with something else. It’s easier, faster, and reduces a lot of unnecessary tension.

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