Maintaining Integrity

Here are a few more true stories from my experiences in TV land ( I’ve mentioned these here before in the early days of this blog)…

Before starting a pitch,  I like to ask the execs what they are looking for. At a recent meeting at a network, the exec said: 

wide open,” she said. “The only things we don’t want to hear are cop
shows, science fiction shows, anything set in the past, military shows,
buddy detectives or stuff with monsters.”

I could think of only one genre she left out. “What about a medical show?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “We don’t want those, either.”

* * * * * *

We were writing our first episode of a detective series. We turned
the script in to the network executive for his notes. The first note
was in scene one, act one.

“The hero doesn’t know what’s going on,” the executive said.

“That’s right,” I replied. “Because it’s a mystery.”

“You can’t do that,” the executive said. “The hero should be ahead of the story.”

“Ahead of the story?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“The hero should know,” the executive said.

“Know what?” I replied.

“Everything,” The executive said.

he just arrived at the scene,” I said. “He’s taking his first look at
the body… and you want him to already know everything?”

“Is he a
hero or a complete moron?” The executive asked. “Nobody wants to watch
a show about a guy who’s lost, confused, and stupid.”

“It’s a mystery and he’s a detective,” I said. “He’s going to show us how smart he is by solving the crime.”

“If he was smart,” the executive said, “he wouldn’t have to solve it. He’d already know.”

“So what’s the mystery?” I asked.

“There isn’t one,” the executive said.

“So what’s our show about if there’s no mystery to solve?”

“You tell me,” the executive said.  “You’re the writer.”

* * * * * *

Bill Rabkin and I were in middle
of writing an episode of “Spenser: For Hire,” which was airing at 10
p.m. on Saturday nights. In our episode, Spenser sees a woman jump off
the roof of a building, so he begins to investigate why she wanted to
commit suicide. He discovers she’s fleeing her brother, with whom she
shared an incestous relationship. The network loved the story.

get a call on a Friday from the network. They had just decided to move
“Spenser For Hire” to 8 pm on Sunday, sandwhiched between “The
Wonderful World of Disney” and “The Dolly Parton Show.”

our episode didn’t seem quite right for the Family Hour, unless your
idea of family is rather twisted. But the network didn’t think it was
quite as big a problem as we did.

“We love everything about the
script, so all you need to do is take out the incest,” the network exec
said, “but maintain the integrity of the story.”

10 thoughts on “Maintaining Integrity”

  1. Yes, I’ll have a bean burrito, but hold the beans — oh, and the cheese. Beans and cheese give me gas. Oh wait. Are those whole wheat tortillas? Hold the tortilla, then. What do you mean nothing is left? Don’t you sell hot sauce?

  2. After blinking several times, what could you possibly have said to the second executive (the one who wanted the mystery solved before the show started)?

  3. After blinking several times, what could you possibly have said to the second executive (the one who wanted the mystery solved at the beginning of the show)?

  4. If I still had a blog, I’d tell you about the weirdness I’m experiencing with having a studio deal, but no network deal… it’s a whole new hell for me – the studio “coaching” me about going to the network to pitch.
    On some levels it’s good – they know (or at least I hope the know) how to tailor the pitch based on which network exec we’re targeting. On the other hand, it’s like I have to come up with 5 different versions of the same freaking show.
    Have you ever been through this?

  5. Love your war stories. I find it amazing that 1. you still have your sanity and 2. you haven’t been driven to assault and battery of the morons – I mean, executives – with whom you must work.

  6. Totally off-topic, but how different is writing with a partner versus writing alone? Do you always do scripts with a partner? Always the same partner?

  7. I can only conclude that Lee and Tod are really one and the same person. No one can maintain your sweetness and light persona while confronting people like these. Hence, the need for “Tod,” who can call these idiots fucktards.
    I’d suggest psych help, but it seems you have a handle on it already.

  8. I bet when people were watching “Pilot Season” on Trio (was it Trio?), they probably thought this type of story was pure fiction. No executive could be that dumb, could they? they’d be thinking….
    That’s the type of reaction you’d get if you turned these stories from the front lines into a movie.
    I always echo Morley Safer when it comes to TV executives: they should be nibbled to death by ducks.
    And to think that during a daytime show (‘The View’!), Donald Trump mentioned that if he wasn’t the father of Ivanka, he’d probably be dating her.
    And your show was to risque for the 9 pm hour?

  9. Just found this after seeing the DM episode Trash TV I. These real execs are worse than the ones in the episode – is that why they did not realise they were being made fun of.


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