My late grandfather always thought I was foolish to be a writer. The job market was too uncertain. Furniture, he said, was a safer bet. “Everybody has to sit,” he liked to say. According to an article in Variety about the current TV season, I probably should have listened to his advice. The networks are programming fewer comedies and more reality show…and scrapping the practice of airing primetime repeats (goodbye fat residuals!) on anything that doesn’t have CSI or LAW AND ORDER in the title…
For one thing, replacing repeats with original fare is going to add tens of millions to the nets’ programming budgets. But webheads figure they have no choice: If they don’t do something to stop audience erosion, they’ll ultimately lose far more due to declining ad revenue.
All of this comes as more bad news for TV’s beleaguered scribe tribe, particularly those who toil on sitcoms.
It’s become a cliche to bemoan the fall of the funny, but the numbers tell the story: For the upcoming, the nets have scheduled just 36 sitcoms — down nearly one-third from 50 last fall.
“Comedy is in a challenged state,” admits NBC Entertainment topper Kevin Reilly. “The best way to get comedy on the schedule right now is to keep it off in the short term.”
Combine that with a rise in reality skeins — as well as several new primetime improv laffers — and it’s a safe bet that agents all over town this week will be scrambling to find work for a slew of scribes. By one estimate, there’ll be 100 fewer staff positions available for sitcom writers.
The picture is a little rosier for drama writers… but not by much. Staffs are smaller, and more and more primetime real estate is owned by the same folks… (have I mentioned CSI and LAW AN ORDER?) who hired from within their own camps. The trend in drama is also to recruit the screenwriter of last summers big tentpole movie or cheapo horror film hit and give them a series… and pair the TV newbie with a wizened old timer (someone say in their early 40s) to help them run the show… and deal with the devastating realization there are actually 21 more episodes to write after the pilot.
I’m hedging my bets by writing books as well as TV shows…but books dont pay nearly as well as TV, unless you’re in the Connelly-Grisham-Grafton-Evanovich ballpark.
Maybe I should invest in a furniture store after all….