Monday, March 31, 2008

Internet Hype?

Lots of interesting comments on the last post thanks. I'm about to commit heresy. For the next twenty years at least, unless a HUGE player gets involved, TV will still be the primary method of delivering scripted entertainment. Forget all the 'let's do the show right here' bollocks.

There, I said it. Only small stones please and not the face!

Why do I think that? Because despite all the marketing hype, most people still like to sit down in their favourite armchair, watch their big screen HDD with dolby and tune out to their favourite programme.

Yep, to marketers the internet is cool and hip and trendy. But marketers deal in product, not entertainment or the reason why we like certain types of entertainment. With the marketers it's all about trends and statistics. They see a huge explosion in the use of the internet, a huge decrease in the TV viewer numbers on network primetime, put 2 and 2 together and get 17.

The internet is not the future of delivering scripted entertainment. It is the future of 'catch up' tv, 'dang I missed that' tv and 'I wonder what that's like' tv.

Watching TV is part of our social and cultural fabric. Prime time network ratings have gone down because people now have better things to do than sit down and make an appointment to watch shit. Pure and simple. Putting that same shit on the internet isn't going to make a whole heck of a lot of difference.

That's not to say that a ratings success purely on the internet isn't possible. Or internet streamed direct to the TV. And if someone has the balls to put up the cash for decent production values and promotion it might happen. But I think it will be the exception rather than the rule.

Sure, the networks can make a good deal of incremental income from the internet, but TV will still rule. Mass Entertaimnent has a lot more to do with why we view it than how we view it. But apart from porn and Youtube most of us don't want it huddled over our computers. So the Tv will still rule. The internet will be another way of feeding the TV, like another one million channels to surf. More fragmentation, more crap.

It's going to take a hell of a show to persuade the money men that a network level production value show on the internet can attract the same or more viewers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Moaning Old Bastard

Perhaps. But then I've been around a while and can see changes taking place over time. One thing I've noticed is the number of people I have meetings with nowadays who look like they've just stopped breast feeding. Now, I'm all for youth, but it seems to me a culture has developed of chasing the yoof market. The powers that be seem to have decided that in order to do this you need yoofs in charge.

Big mistake. Ideas are one thing. Execution is another. In this business, be it production, directing or writing, experience counts for a lot as far as producing quality is concerned. But it seems nowadays there is no 'apprenticeship' Dev Execs with no background of developing anything. Producers who were story editors for a couple of months. And the saddest by-product of all this is a gradual erosion of the respect for writers. And you know what? We've brought it on ourselves.

We've dumbed ourselves down to fit in with the wants and needs of people who have no business in this business. It's all about marketing and ratings and very little to do with quality. It's becoming like the film business. A load of dross with the odd gem which seems to appear more by accident than design.

Not only have we dumbed ourselves down, but we cowtow to the Indies who cowtow to the networks. Here's how it works. The network will issue an edict to producers on 'what they are looking for and what they are not looking for'

The producers then issue the same to writers.

Result? Some 12 year old at a network is dictating not only what gets seen on screen, but what ideas get written in the first place. And we all go along with it because we have to earn a living. Because while Network execs are on hefty salaries, us poor schlepps are freelance. Indy producers need commissions even more so. They have bigger overheads.

Originality is stifled. And even if some brave producer takes something risky and original to the networks, there is little chance of it seeing the light of day. It's a dogfight over an ever decreasing market, getting smaller because of fear of failure.

An example of this is THE FIXER. yep I watched ep 2. Nope it didn't get any better. It was as if someone had said ' find the dumbest person likely to watch this and then write it with them in mind'

The Americans do this type of show soooooooooooooooo much better. To my mind the reason being the showrunner system. The head honcho is usually a vastly experienced WRITER. Someone with dramatic sense and imagination. Of course they have network notes to deal with but they have the nounce and savvy to circumvent them or at least dilute them to do least damage.

In the old days when I were a lad, writers here were held in greater respect. That is one of the reasons why I think historically, drama was better. I think back to GBH, Edge of Darkness. The Singing Detective. I Claudius. Boys From The Black Stuff, and on and on and on. Do any of the shows I've seen in the last few years stick with me as much as those examples? Can't say they do.
And I don't think that's me saying pop music today is just a loud noise, like some curmudgeonly old git. I think it is an indisputable fact. Where are the classic series of tomorrow?

At some point the networks will realise that throwing the same old shit at the screen and hoping it sticks is not going to work. They'll realise that viewers are not stupid and stop the patronising twaddle I see on screen on a regular basis. If something is entertaining it doesn't matter if we actually have to concentrate on it a little. Drama is about truth more than clarity. I hope a lot of good people don't give up and leave the industry before that time comes. Or worse still, a lot of good people don't join the industry in the first place.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Write What You Know

A writer is an amplifier and a magnifier. Life is about things happening to people. Drama is about making some kind of sense of it.

The arena is unimportant. Pluto, Antartica, Croydon? Doesn't matter. The essential elements of drama are that it takes a universal truth about the human condition and presents it in a way that is recognisable, engrossing and thought provoking.

As Aristotle said, 'Everything else is shit' Well okay he didn't, but I bet he thought it. Most people, in their most honest, deepest, darkest hours will admit they don't know what the hell life's about. They get by day to day, taking the defeats and the victories, cursing the fates for the bad luck and accepting the good as their entitlement. The rest are sociopaths.

Convention keeps us sane. Drama, good drama, pierces that thin crust between our imagination and our 'race memory' need to sacrifice the individual for the collective good. It reminds us that individual emotion is really the overuling factor in our lives, not pleasing bosses, making money, owning things. It reaches you on a primeval, not superficial level.

It keeps you saner than convention. That's why it's been around for so long.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Writer has two faces

Actually the smart writer has several. Bear in mind I'm not writing this as a smart writer. Unfortunately with me, wysiwyg. But pretend I'm a smart writer and the advice holds good.

This is a very small industry. The smart writer is a good reader of those in the business who make decisions. Be it at script level like editors or producers, or at commissioning level way up in the ivory towers.

The smart writer then tailors their demeanour to suit those personalities. Compliant? Whacky? Scholarly? Take your pick. Give those people what they want and you will have a long and golden career.

Though having thought about it I should be talking about the super-smart writer. All writers are smart. The ability to create interesting characters and stories from scratch is proof enough of that. Something no one else in this crazy business can do.

One of the reasons I play internet poker rather than face to face is because if I were across a table the dumbest player there, apart from me obviously, would see whether I had pocket aces or bluffing on a straight draw on the river. I'm a heart on the sleeve kinda guy.

The super smart writer would clean up. He'd catch the tells. Know when to push and when to fold.

There's a helluva lot more to writing than just writing. Like in poker there's a helluva lot more to winning than just having the best cards.

But never forget why you wanted to write in the first place. If you go too far towards the corporate mentality your bank balance might be black but that little voice inside you will wither and die and you'll end up writing the likes of Rock Rivals for people who don't give a shit about writers, or care about quality. Yep it's those Shed girls again! I still haven't forgiven them for paying a writer half the PACT min. when one of them is a board member!

See, the super- smart writer wouldn't even bring that up in a blog. Aaaaaah Fuck' em. I never claimed to be smart.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Riding The Pony

On a recurring drama series, here's a typical exchange between a writer and script editor.

Writer: Yeah got the notes.

Script Ed: Great, can we have the draft like...yesterday?

Writer: No probs. Just a couple of points.

Script Ed: Fire away.

Writer: I'm not sure the suggestions for the B story are going to work. There's no motivation for the character to take that action, and it actually makes the whole strand seem a bit pony. [for non English readers - Pony and Trap - crap] I think it would be better if we came in on X doing Y and shift the emphasis to the Z character. This keeps the story arc but gives it a believable premise and doesn't change the character archetypes.

Script Ed: Mmmmmm. I see your point. Let me have a word with the producer and get back to you.

Cut To:

Five mintes later.

Script Ed: Sorry, had a go but the producer wants it as per notes.

What do you do? You ride the pony. The note might suck farts from swans, but you did your bit. Now comes the hard job. Trying to get a story that you think is a load of twaddle to work.

There can be any number of reasons why you are given notes that seem to make your episode worse and despite your best reasoning, aren't changed. Logistics, ignorance, power trips and factors relating to longer term arcs or production issues of which you are unaware and not likely to be made aware of.

When it happens, there's no point spitting the dummy out. Take a deep breath, roll up the sleeves and bend over.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


I'm not in the habit of reviewing programmes I haven't actually seen. But I've recorded this and will watch it when I get these frickin re-writes out the way.

But - from what I hear, ratings wise at least, the boys done good. Over 6 mill for a Monday night 9pm slot. ITV have taken a hammering recently on just about everything they've tried. Seems they might have a ratings winner here.

I saw the first few minutes of the opening ep, and a couple of things struck me. Got to love a drama with the balls to show the protag executing a middle aged husband and wife before the opening credits. Wasn't keen on the hokey voice over basically describing what we could see on screen. Anyway there are few things I bother recording so that's a start anyway.

I mentioned a few posts ago how ITV seemed to making a real effort to invigorate their schedule. Yep there have been failures, spectacular in some cases, but major props for at least trying. They deserve a winner and I hope The Fixer is it.

Funnily enough I pitched almost exactly the same idea a couple of years ago and was told there was no appetite for violent vigilante style programmes. Just shows to go you. Tastes change depending on who holds the purse strings at the time.

But here is an attempt to reach the under 60 audience and they've snagged a good cast to do it. It comes from Kudos, which if you ignore a couple of recent misfires, has provided some of the best stuff out there. Please God, let it be good and not another 'The Outsider'. If it takes off it might open the door for a few more action dramas to balance out the glut of relationship dramas and 'pipe and slipper' viewing.

I genuinely get the feeling that ITV is becoming the first port of call rather than the last. Which they will probably admit they were. They are willing to take risks. And risk is the key to producng drama that is engaging to a literate audience. So maybe that has been forced on them because of the dire ratings and sliding share price, but both those consequences are simply the result of the audience voting with their remote.

I'm off to dig up all those old pitches. The times they are a changing - maybe?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Ignorance Is Bliss

Two today. You can tell I'm avoiding doing notes. Heck my weekend was up the spout anyway, so I might as well procrastonate further today.

I got a call from a writer mate who'd just read the last post. In the discussion over the reasons for the rise of Gay TV an interesting proposition came out.

The less you know about writing the better.

The world is full of would be gurus telling you how to write and even what to write. It's a veritable Industry in itself. Some I daresay are worthwhile and valuable. Most aren't. They simply regurgitate the percieved wisdom of the analyst. Not the story teller. Most of them have very little in the way of actual writing credits and concentrate on packaging story and script into what is considered the executives' preferred formula.

Here's what David Mamet has to say about this 'formula' in his excellent Bambi Vs Godzilla -

''The middle men are bureaucrats, and they have a natural foe, and that foe is the script. For a star's grosses may be quantified, and a prediction (supportable even when proved false) may be made about his or her worth. But the worth of a script is moot.

How then to remove the potential (not for error, but for recrimination) of an unfortunate choice?

By removing the unquantifiable: the surprising, the unique, the upsetting, the off-color, the provocative; by removing drama.

A course in the business of screenwriting then, might teach how to recognise, in order to obliterate, drama.

Skill in this bureacratic endevour, unfortunately, will avail the practitioner little, as in shunning the original, he consigns himself to a limitless applicant pool - a pool made up of all those capable of suppressing, or incapable of possessing a love of drama.''

Now that's a fucking writer! And okay Mamet aimed that particular barb at Hollywood execs. But the same largely holds true for a lot of execs here. They are much more concerned with holding on to their salaries than taking a risk.

They look for a reprise of last years hit. The same but different.

So I guess what I'm saying is if you want some tips on how to break into the business then these ''gurus' might have something valuable to say. Providing they themselves have 'broken in' and sustained a career. Not always the case I assure you. But if you want to create something original and worthwhile then the only person who can do that is you.

That may reduce the chances of it being made, but it will be good for your writer's soul. I've said before, you have to write without fear. In order to do that perhaps a degree of ignorance would be useful.

One of the reasons I stopped reading scripts was I found myself advising people to ''shape'' their scripts into the ''perceived wisdom'. I was contributing to the lack of originality and didn't feel comfortable doing so. If I want to be a script whore that's down to me and my bank balance at the time. If I encourage others to do so then I'm perpetuating the flawed system.

The Trouble With Gay TV

Okay I may take a few hits for this, but it isn't meant to be homophobic. If anyone thinks it is, bite me.

I was looking at the ratings for the latest Shed productions OTT drama Rock Rivals. Kind of a 'Let's do Footballers Wives, Bad Girls, Waterloo Road again but this time we'll call it.........'

A fairly bad three and a half million tuned in. I think there are a coupleof reasons for this.

Firstly, I think the 'Reality' audience is largely mutually exclusive from the Drama audience. Simply grafting a reality format and drama format together isn't going to work unless you can convince both audiences there is more to see than melodrama and bad dialogue. Seeing Shed, a reality show based drama and Michelle Collins in the same sentence is enough to have me tuning out straight away.

Secondly it is yet another of those type of programmes I was searching for an adjective for - and finally settled for Gay TV.

Waterloo Road, Holby, Casualty, Rock Rivals, The Palace, Hotel Babylon, Torchwood [or Dr. Screw as my son calls it] and on and on and on and on.

There is nothing there to get your average bloke sitting down expectantly, and TV Bosses are wondering why the under 40 male audience aren't watching?

It's because there isn't much for them. Most drama seems to be female centric and so heavily PC as to make almost unwatchable.

Remember a decade or so ago when it seemed that just about every Hollywood villian was a Brit? There was a very good reason for it apart from the quality of the actor. It was because Hollywood knew Brits didn't give a crap if they were depicted as villians. We're pretty grown up here believe it or not.

We can largely separate what is crass and exploitative from what is clever and insightful. Unfortunately from what is on offer I don't think the commissioning editors and policy makers at the networks feel the same way. Hence the steady diet of pap. Innoffensive politically correct melodrama with a view to getting as few complaints as possible rather than as many viewers as possible.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

It's who you know

How often have you heard that phrase about breaking in? It's both a truism and a myth.

It should really be expanded to ''It's who you know who knows how good you are'' Because without the material ''who you know'' is irrelevant'

Yes for sure there are a few who get in with the brevette rank of brother -in-law, or the script editor given a shot. But unless you then consistently produce the goods those inroads are short lived.

In the great scheme of things there aren't really all that many people who make a living out of writing full time. Heck I know a lot of full time writers who can't make a living. I've hit that particular highway on a few occassions over the course.

But writers live on chances. It only takes the right person at the right time in the right place to say yes. They are more likely to be that person if they have read and liked several pieces of your work beforehand.

That's real networking. Without the material to back it up all the schmoozing in the world isn't going to help. It may open a door, but that door will knock your ass off and shut like Fort Knox if that's all you got.

It's about graft and craft and talent. Then getting it to people who can and will do something with it. A talent in itself.

Your script is your best networker, because let's face it, most writers are socially inept, cynical, sentimental introverts who spend more time absorbing than actioning. Or is that just me?

Well whatever. If we are, then in the words of my Jocko ancestors ''Here's tae us. Wha's like us? Gey few. And they're a' deid''!