The Mail I Get

I get two or three emails a day like this from strangers:

Forgive the intrusion. I want to connect with you and request your expertise as to the best way to pitch a series treatment to the cable and over the air TV networks.

I'm sure you've heard this story before. I have a treatment for a 60 minute scripted, dramatic series. […]My treatment is registered with the WGA and I have an NDA that I can send to anyone interested in reading it. Do you have any suggestions on who to approach and how? I realize I have no track record, but, I'm certain it will grab someone in the first 30 seconds.

I don't have time to answer the question individually for people, so I usually refer them to my book SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING and to this old blog post. Afterwards, they either tell me their situation is special because their Really Great Idea for a Television Series is the Best Really Great Idea for a Television Series to come along in decades…or they call me a jerk for not offering to read their Really Great Idea for a Television Series, refer them to my agent, and give them the names of people to contact in the industry.

And so it goes. You've heard it all before from me, again and again, and it's getting as tiresome for you to read about it as it is for me to deal with it. 

But this time I'm leading up to a variation I received on the usual request and I think the exchange is worth sharing with you. I got the following email a few days ago:

I'm writing you because I read your blog and I thought that you would be a great source for information on finding writers. I am currently looking for writers for a couple projects that I'd like to produce and/or pitch and I was wondering if you could give me advice on finding writers for TV and Film. Are there any great messages boards or events to attend? Also, I know you're not a lawyer, but how should I protect my ideas and the writers ideas/work if they were to send me anything. Hope you can help!

That was a new twist on the old question for me. So I replied:

First, let me ask you a couple of blunt questions…with no offense
intended (these are questions you need to ask yourself, too, before
setting out to work with writers). What does a writer need you for?
What is the incentive for a writer work with you developing your ideas
into screenplays or pitches…as opposed to just trying to sell his
own ideas? You mention that you'd like to produce…but do you have
any actual producing experience?

I got a very nice reply, but it was clear that she was still missing the point of my questions:

I appreciate you taking the time to get back to me. I'm actually an actress here in LA and I see so many voids on TV and in Film and it's really been frustrating me lately. I have several projects/ideas that I'd like to put together, not for me to act in, but to produce to fill those voids, specifically, in single camera comedy for TV. I don't have any connections in Hollywood or producing experience, but I have the passion and desire to do what I need to do to make things happen. Also, I know people with producing experience who would be more than willing to help me along the way. The only problem is, I'm not a writer and I feel that writing for TV, especially comedy, requires great skills. If all else fails, I will write. I just thought that in LA there has to be writers that are looking to get their work out there as well and who are trying to target the same audience that I'd like to reach. This is my reason for reaching out to writers.

Here's an excerpt from my response:

Please don't take offense at what I am about to say, I just want to be
honest and straight-forward with you, it is not my intent to insult
you or hurt your feelings.

In Hollywood, ideas are cheap and execution is everything. What is
NYPD BLUE? A bunch of cops in NY solving crimes. ABC didn't buy the
idea…they bought Steven Bochco doing cops in NY solving crimes. What
is EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND? A married guy with kids whose parents live
across the street. CBS didn't buy the idea….they bought popular
standup comic Ray Romano and veteran comedy writer/producer Phil
Rosenthal executing that idea. What is BOSTON LEGAL? A bunch of
lawyers in Boston. ABC didn't buy the idea…they bought David E.
Kelley doing lawyers in Boston. The networks buy voice and experience
and relationships and proven success. I'm saying all that because what
you have are ideas…and you are looking for writers to flesh them
out. But since you aren't a writer, and you aren't (as far as I know)
an actress who has a huge following or production deals, you don't
really bring anything to the party, so-to-speak. You don't have the
voice, experience, the relationships, or the proven success.

The best way for you to find writers is to network among your friends.
Perhaps you can find a friend of a friend of a friend who has writing
talent but lacks inspiration (perhaps a friend of one of those producers you know)
You need to find someone who wants to
work with you because they like you on a personal level…not because
you are offering any real opportunity…because, let's face it, you

Why not try writing the scripts yourself…why wait until "all else fails?"

I haven't heard back from her yet, but I'll update this post if I do.

5 thoughts on “The Mail I Get”

  1. I wonder how many people in the other fields of movies get these questions. I bet all of them. Directors are being stalked by the next great director, actors, producers.
    It really isn’t that hard to find out the information you need to know. The hard part is producing it and building a track record. There are no short cuts. Even the best actors, writers, directors, producers, have projects yanked out from under them because they weren’t good enough.

  2. Yeah, it’s kind of like that old Thomas Edison quote when asked what he would attribute his great success to: “1% inspiration and 99% percent perspiration.”
    In writing terms, I’ve noted down endless ideas (aka concepts) for books and movies, each of them took about ten seconds to think up, and usually I thought them up while shaving, taking out the trash, doing other menial tasks, etc. But the nuts-and-bolts work (aka execution) is where the rubber meets the road. Anything outside of that is just talk. (“Talk, talk, talk. Oh, sometimes I think I must go mad.” –Groucho Marx, HORSEFEATHERS)
    It must just be a coincidence, but for some darned reason people just don’t particularly like nut-and-bolts work. Maybe when they sit down to do the actual work it’s the weather? Maybe too hot? Maybe too cold? Maybe their chair isn’t adjusted right? Maybe they haven’t done enough research? Maybe they forgot to put on their lucky bunny rabbit slippers? As a writer, I’ve used all those excuses and more. But at some point you’ve either got to sit your butt down and type, or just give it up and look for other avenues of interest.

  3. Last night, while trying to fall asleep in between coughing fits, I thought up a concept for the worst television series ever.
    Cat Dudes!. Four single guys in the city who love their kitties. There is a hip-hop/thug-life guy, a bookish nerd, a blue collar guy, and a gay dude. They get together at the local coffee shop/bookstore to share their love of kittens and crack jokes about litter boxes.
    Sometimes they pursue madcap adventures while hunting down lost kittens, searching for sale priced cat food, or helping each other find dates in a world where men are supposed to own dogs. Each episode ends with a cat-centered moral or lesson: how to keep your cat from puking all over, recommended games, viewer submitted cat pictures.

  4. Wait! It gets better. I thought more on this during lunch.
    Character descriptions:
    Hip-hop character is named MC Tiger. Tiger has one foot in the gang-world and another in the work world. Catchphrase: Anything with “White Boys.” As in, “That’s wack White Boy.” Tiger is a fan of romcom’s and has secret gift for making finger sandwiches, “Martha Stewart is da bomb, yo.” [insert laughtrack]. Tiger’s entrepreneurial and salesmanship skills are often in demand.
    Bookish character is named Neil. Neil is a handsome but shy teacher. His secret hobby is making decorative iron work and welding. Catchphrase: Anything with “droll”. Example: “How droll!”[insert laughtrack]
    Blue Collar character is named Rick. Rick was once a rising superstar in the world of ballet until a tragic knee injury caused when he jumped in front of a moving bus to save a stray kitten. No one has to question his love of kitties! Catchphrase: The word “Beer”. “Ugh, I need a beer.”[insert laughtrack] “That cat’s almost as pretty as a cold beer on a hot day.”[insert laughtrack] Rick is also studying to be a masseuse.
    Gay character is named Bruce. Bruce was once a competitive race car driver in stock events until his homosexuality and love for kittens forced him out of the redneck world of racing. Bruce is also now a brilliant, but still unknown, actor and clothes designer. Catchphrase: “Fabulous!”[insert laughtrack]
    Episode One: Four Men, Two Girls, and a Kitten
    Main plot: Neil is woo-ed by a leggy, Italian, super-model living in Manhattan, Isabella Georgio. Neil is also dating an overweight, romance-paperback-loving, polyester-wearing, chocolate-obsessing, awful-hair-style gal from Queens named Franny McKendrick. Who will Neil choose?
    Sub Plot: an argument between MC Tiger and Rick turns intense and is set to cause a rift amongst the friends. The argument? Which is cuter, long hair or short hair kittens?
    The two plots merge when Neil has to decide whether to follow Isabella back to her villa in Rome or commit to Franny. Tiger and Rick have a Cute Competition – designed by Bruce – where the long and short-haired cats will face off to determine the winner. Neil decides on Franny when Isabella declares during the competition (in her thick Italian accent), “Who cares darling? When we are in Rome we shall get you two wonderful new dogs. You can leave your cats here in New York.”[insert audience gasps]
    The Cute Competition ends in a tie with Rick and MC Tiger switching allegiances [insert audience titters] and starting the fight all over again from opposite sides.[insert laughtrack] The ending has Neil and Franny sharing a chocolate assortment while Neil gives Franny a foot massage.
    Heck, forget getting me in touch with a producer. I need to be a network executive.

  5. Even better! Episode two will have a chance meeting between Rick and a beautiful ballerina he used to date. The ballerina will, of course, be wearing tights and have at least one scene with a tutu. She will poorly execute a few dance moves to cries of “woo!” and applause from the audience.
    Things are looking great for Rick: the gal digs him and even says he could get a job with her dance company. But, both the ballerina and dance company manager are allergic to cats! What will Rick decide?
    Meanwhile, where have all those mysterious hairballs in Tiger’s apartment been coming from? [Hint: hidden kittens!]
    -You don’t need to post this one, Goldberg. But I am on a roll and just wanted to share. –


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