“You don’t get it!” shouted Sam-I’m-the-Man, a TV producer. “I have a track record of creating big hit shows!”
“The hell I don’t!” insisted Sam-I’m-the-Man.
“You’ve created one show,” I said.
“A goddamn hit show!”
“One show,” I repeated before pointing out this relevant factoid. “One show is not a track record. It’s more like a point of reference.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he indignantly pressed.
“One hit. One point of reference. Two hits. Now that’s more than one. Two might be technically considered a track. A really short track. But a track nonetheless. One is not a track. It might be the promise of things to come. More often than not, it’s an anomaly. And I got history on my side.”
About here you might be jonesing for your own point of reference. Who’s this knucklehead I’ve haphazardly named Sam-I’m-the-Man? And why the hell was I lecturing the producer of a hit TV show on the difference between a track and a point of reference?
A dear friend of mine—a talented and working actor I’ll fondly call Mikey—rung me up to get my two cents on a TV idea he’d been noodling with a producer pal of his. The pair had also teamed up with a Super Cool D-Guy who, at the time, was running the production company for a popular TV actress. The trio was looking for a writer to develop the idea into a TV pitch, and mine was the lucky number that appeared to have been drawn. The concept had some spark to it so we were soon kicking the idea around over lunch to see if we could put a little flesh on it. Meetings at my home office followed. The characters and the pilot story were taking a coherent shape, as were the relationships and command structure that would hopefully become an actual TV show.
As the creator, writer, and producer of the show, my job was going to be clear. If the show took sail, so would I, being contractually adhered for a minimum of two years.
“So what are the other guys going to do?” asked my TV agent.
“Producers,” I obviously answered.
“Non-producing producers,” he added. “They won’t be tied to the show?”
“How can they?” I asked. “One’s an actor with another career, the other’s developing for an actress who doesn’t want to do TV anymore…”
“And then there’s Sam-I’m-the-Man,” my TV agent said. “Where’s he in this?”
“Well, he’s got his other show already on the air,” I said.
“I thought he was in a consulting role.”
“Which is what he wants on our show.”
“Do we need him?”
“From what I know, the idea started with him,” I said. “So yeah. Where the show goes, he goes.”
“Like I said. A lot of non-producing producers.”
“You mean, non-writing producers,” I clarified.
“TV, dude,” said my agent. “If you don’t write, you better bring a hell of a lot of something else to the dance.”
Okay. So maybe my TV agent didn’t say exactly that. He was, in fact, kind of dull when it came to dialogue so I thought I’d give him a little topspin. But the gist is accurate.
“Listen,” I conceded. “All three of ‘em brought it to me. Can’t just chuck ‘em. I figured we wouldn’t be able to carry them so that’s why I offered them all a co-creator spot. That way…”
“Awfully generous of you,” said my agent, mentally calculating the reduction to his ten percent as my weekly “created by” fee would be cut by a whopping seventy-five percent.
“I know, I know,” he corrected. “But this ain’t the movies where you get to stack on a thousand non-producing producers and all it costs you is space in the credit block.”
“Mikey, the actor. He’s a close friend. I can’t not include him in his own original endeavor.”
“Well, if we sell it,” said my agent, “He can carry the other two clowns out of his end of the deal.”
“Let’s sell it first,” I said, eternally optimistic that if perchance we made it all the way through the TV pitching gauntlet of studio and network and contract-making, we’d all find our happy levels. After all, a deal of any kind is better than no deal whatsoever.
Or so I reckoned.
As I directed my melon to putting the right finishes on the pitch, I finally began to imagine just how it was going to work with my three partners–the non-producing producers. Though I hadn’t yet graduated beyond the pilot-writing process, I knew enough that mounting a TV show was an enterprise requiring Herculean attention. Faced with the portent of studios and networks firing content canons at my head–and knowing my non-pro-pro-pards were planning to be persona non wherever once the show began to roll–I decided to seek out another partner who would have my back when guns started blazing.
“I want to see if we can interest King Kong in coming on board as a partner,” I suggested to the trio. My sales stump to them was that beyond our killer idea, none of us were exactly a reason to make the show. Studios and nets were never going to hand us a show without a show runner. May as well be a company of our choosing instead of theirs. Thus, I suggested King Kong, a literal eight-hundred pound showbiz gorilla with whom I had a strong relationship.
“Love King Kong,” sounded the Super Cool D-Guy.
“Why not?” added Mikey.
“I don’t think we need ‘em,” argued Sam-I’m-the-Man, looking somewhere between hurt and insulted. “After all, I’m the one with the hit show on the air.”
“But you said you didn’t want to run the show,” I said.
“I don’t,” he said. “That’s not my talent. I’m an idea guy. I want to be free to come up with other shows.”
“Thus, we bring in King Kong,” I said. “If they come on, they are in for the duration.
“It’s a good idea,” chimed Super Cool D-Guy. “Smart way to go.”
“I totally agree,” said Mikey.
We could all see that Sam-I’m-the-Man wasn’t pleased. He looked like a toddler who was desperate to stamp his feet, clench his fists, and kick over the Lego tower we’d all built.
“Look,” I tried to salve. “Let’s take the pitch to King Kong. See what they say. And if they want in, let them sell us on their role.”
It appeared a plan to move forward was agreed upon. I put the King Kong meeting into motion. A date was inked. And like a ball of static electricity in search of lint, the size of our pitching coterie escalated from four bodies plotting in my office to eight bodies in King Kong’s company conference room.
Mikey prepped the room, Super Cool D-Guy lit the excitement fuse, and while Sam-I’m-the-Man sat back as if everybody should applaud his hit TV show presence, I unleashed my best self and pitched the crap out of our show.
And damn if they didn’t love it. The room had that after-burn smell that comes from finishing each other’s sentences. Even Sam-I’m-the-Man cracked an accomplished grin. Cliché as it sounds, we might’ve even high-fived afterward.
I skiddaddled my way back to my suburban hacienda, left word with my agent then sparked up the barbeque grill. As I awaited for the rep’s return call, my mobile phone trilled with King Kong’s caller ID scrolling across my screen.
“So after your pitch,” began King Kong’s prez of production, “We had our own little powwow on how we were to proceed.”
“I would expect so,” I said.
“Love the pitch,” he continued. “But I think you knew we’d love it.”
“And we know what you can do with it as a writer.”
“But?” I cued.
“Your partners,” he said ever-so-politely. “A lot of non-producing producers.”
“I’m aware,” I said, going on to explain the genesis of the project, including my relationship with Mikey the actor and my plans to include all three as co-creators as a way of compensating them should the show get picked up.
“Very generous,” said the King Kong prez. “And not surprising coming from you.”
“But…” I cued again.
“Sam-I’m-the-Man,” he said, gingerly pausing. “Just how well do you know this guy?”
“Besides some meetings and a few lunches,” I said. “That’s about how well.”
“He’s not a friend?”
“No,” I said.
The King Kong prez took a moment, clearly putting thought into his next words.
“How do I say it?” said the King Kong prez. “Because I want to be polite here.”
“Enough with the suspense,” I strongly encouraged. “Just say what’s on your mind.”
And that’s precisely what he did.
Next week the conclusion of Sam I’m The Man
- More articles by Doug Richardson
- Writers’ Room 101: Pitching Tips
- Legally Speaking, It Depends – Producers
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