The Runaway Train

Corey Miller, a story editor on CSI: MIAMI, has an excellent post on his CBS blog this week about the pressures of series production.

Our shooting schedule lasts ten months out of the year. The writers
work eleven. The writers spend the month of June spitballing stories,
thinking about possible character arcs, and honing in on breaking the
first few episodes. We try to get as ahead as we can during this
period, because once shooting starts, there’s no turning back. We have
to have a new script completed every eight working days until the end
of the season. And we’re doing twenty-five.

As far as when the episodes air in relation to when they were shot, there is no pat
answer. It really depends on a number of things. This season, we began
filming our first episode on July 18. But it didn’t air until September
19. So there were two months in between. The episode that I’m doing
that shoots on December 7th is tentatively scheduled to air on January
30th. So you can see how that window has shrunk a bit, the deeper we
get into the season.

It’s all due to that pesky train, because once it is in motion, it’s a runaway.

He uses the runaway train metaphor and for good reason.  When I’m producing a series, I inevitably have the nightmare that I’m on a train, shoveling scripts into the boiler to keep the engine going…and that I just can’t keep up.

2 thoughts on “The Runaway Train”

  1. What must be “really” tough (unlike the far more satisfying CSI:LV) is coming up with absurd premises to keep David Caruso as the action hero every week. I mean, the character is supposed to be the head of the forensics lab rather than Elvis Cole slash Joe Pike, isn’t he?

  2. I think I’ve asked this before, but I don’t recall seeing an answer:
    I’ve always wondered why US TV productions work to such long ‘seasons’ for each show?
    British TV seems to have gradually cut back its season lengths over the years. In the 1960s, 50 episodes per year wasn’t unusual. (“Doctor Who” started during this period. They’d even write episodes with some lead characters missing to allow the actors their statutory 2-week holidays.)
    This production treadmill had been cut back to around 22 episodes per season until the late ’70s, (including most of the ITC serials like “The Avengers” and “Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)”), but seasons became much shorter during the 1980s.
    I have noticed that there are fewer writers involved in a British series here. Usually it’s just one writer for each episode, often with input from a script or story editor. (I.e. no “writer rooms”, except in soap operas.)
    I can appreciate that US TV networks can justify spending more money, thanks to their large home and export markets, but the British also export plenty of shows, produce DVD box-sets and so on, so money can’t be the sole reason for longer US seasons.
    So… why aren’t seasons shorter in the US?


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