Ouija Board TV

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Our new head of programming…..

OK. This is not about VJs, ‘the revolution’ or my now defunct Bang and Olufsen system.

This is about producing TV shows… or at least pitching them.

*any references to ‘broadcasters’ from here on in is entirely fictional. Any similarities between them and any real networks are entirely coincidental.

We just finished a pitch session with a major broadcaster.

We had waited about a month for the pitch meeting and went in prepared. We had 10 shows we were pitching.

Nope…

Nope…

Did that one already….

Already producing that one with someone else….

We like that one a lot… but…..

Here it comes…

Past experience and our focus groups have shows that…..

There is a reason why most TV shows look the same. Why there are periods of about 30 home decorating shows on 5 different networks, or why CSI looks just like Miami CSI or Law and Order looks just like Law and Order Sex Crimes Unit? It’s pretty simple:

You have a machine in your living room that gives you up to date, minute to minute information on what networks are buying: Want to know what to pitch? – just turn it on and watch. Then, give ’em more of the same.

When I started in this business, I was told, ‘television is imitative, not creative. Just give them more of what they already make and you’ll do fine. ‘

There is a real risk-avoidance mentality among programmers.

So they read the ‘tea leaves’, or more properly, ‘research studies’.

This is too bad, and a remnant of another era.

If the Pope had focus-grouped the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, or relied on audience ‘research studies’, it would have been dominated by puppies with big eyes, maybe wearing funny hats. Playing cards.

“Listen.. Michelangelo… I know you like the thing with the fingers… God… Adam… but our research tells us that 87% of the population of Rome loves cute puppies.. OK? Puppies… not fingers!”

Have you ever seen a working focus group? They do them in places like Racine, Wisconsin. In the middle of the afternoon. They pay you $20 to sit in a room and watch a show with a dial that goes from ‘like’ to ‘don’t like’. You also get cookies and coffee. Then, they ask you what you thought of the show.

That’s it.

Who has free time in the middle of the day, even in Racine, to do this?

It’s a self-selecting group. But it determines what you’ll see.

Ironically, now there’s no need to sit and agonize over what you ‘think’ people will like. They’ll tell you!

So I tell you what – why don’t you commission 10 minute ‘testers’ of the concept we are pitching. We’ll kill ourselves to make ’em great. Then post them on your website. Let your viewers respond. Comment. Whatever they want. Tell us what you like and what you don’t like.

Go ahead, take a risk. See what the ‘people’ really want – as opposed to what the focus group in Las Vegas wants.

Hey… I think there’s a series in there… somewhere…. Whaddya think?

4 responses to “Ouija Board TV

  1. tell me again?

  2. we did it last season. didn’t rate well.

  3. Well, at least Beavis and Butthead got 7 seasons and a feature film – while Trading Spaces only got to 6. That gives me a strange comfort.

    Fox has taken American Idol to 6 seasons (a formula from the BBC) – while NBC could only get Star Trek to 3.

    A weird grass-roots thing happened with Star Trek after season 2 when NBC decided to cancel the series – the fans started writing letters. NBC decided to go ahead and run season 3, though in the Friday night “death slot,” and then cancelled the show because of bad ratings. However, someone at Paramount must have noticed that letter-writing campaign.

    Paramount acquired Desilu in 1972, and that brought with it the failed Star Trek. That “someone” (I don’t know who he, she, or they might be) at Paramount then took Star Trek on to 10 feature films (with an 11th in the works being produced and directed by the “Lost” co-creators) and four more distinct television programs (“The Next Generation,” etc.)

    What is it that the NBC executives knew that the rest of us didn’t? Did their tea leaves give them the wrong answer?

    For some reason, Paramount, airing the next 4 shows based on Star Trek decided not to go with a network, but went straight to syndication. Hmmmm, why didn’t they sell the show to a network?

    “Star Trek: The Next Generation” ran for 7 seasons, winning 18 Emmys. In season 7 it became the first syndicated show to be nominated for “Best Dramatic Series.” Star Trek is the second most prolific Sci-Fi franchise; beat out only by Doctor Who. If you include the “non canonical” animated Star Trek series plus the original NBC ones, you get a total of 726 episodes, 11 feature films, and 29 seasons (if you separate out concurrently running shows, 22 if you don’t).

    NBC gave up after 2 seasons, while a studio with vision was able to take the very same characters and plot and make 6 feature films, then take the franchise on to 4 new syndicated shows and 4 more feature films (with Star Trek XI coming in ’08).

    They must not have gotten the memo from NBC that the show was a loser. Maybe they didn’t like the split infinitive in “To boldly go…” The worst part is, they probably still think they were right.

    -Jim

  4. Network television = blech😛

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