Thursday, July 19, 2012

Long not so lonely road...

My last blog was about s handful of old TV shows from the 60's and the theme they all seemed to have as compared to the present. A lot of my friends in their 50's and 60's complain about how bad the shows are now and  in some ways, they are bad.

I seem to be inbetween in that discussion, there certainly were bad TV shows (My Mother the Car?) but there was a middle ground of discovery that seems to be lost now. Of course we didn't have dvds or internet where we could watch and rewatch and rewatch TV series or movies on out TV or iPhone.

For us every episode was a 1-of as they say in TV language, meaning that episode you would watch one night would be gone forever, it might replay once but that was it. That episode was gone.

But something else changed, not for the better particularly.

Most of the TV shows even up to the 70's had one story editor and a producer and most of the scripts were assigned to freelance writers, with exceptions like Rod Serling who wrote many Twilight Zone scripts  himself. Sterling Silliphant wrote a lot of Route 66 scripts as well. There were a few others also.

But it changed in the late 70's when writing staffs became more popular. There were writing staffs on sitcoms even in the 50's, but maybe two or three. Variety shows like Sid Caesar's Show of Shows had a bigger staff including Woody Allen and  Mel Brooks.  Those shows needed a lot of laughs and so had big staffs.

By the late 80's dramatic TV shows began to get larger staffs and today you can see head credits, wherein you see a dozen or more names with titles like producer, executive producer, co-executive producer, co-producer and a few more names.

But they're all writers, with the exception of a real producer, the guy who actually makes up a budget, hires crew and cast and worries about over-spending. Some drama shows have 10 to 15 writers.

So what's my problem?

I worked on several TV series where there were, at the most, 4 writers but the best show I worked on had 2 and 1/2. Let me explain, there was the showrunner, myself and an assistant director who was being tested as a potential writer. It was a good show because the show runner was good. I've been on series where the showrunner isn't good and it becomes a contest over who has power over who.

On that one show, we did 13 episodes, I had 2, the showrunner had 4 and 1 for the new guy. We also farmed out a handful of episodes to freelance writers. 

If you wonder what 3 writers, or for that matter 15 writers, do in the writing room? Mostly argue. But with 3 we settle it quickly, with 15 I can't imagine anything getting settled. It's like having 15 opinions on a movie, with lots of yelling. It isn't all yelling but there is a lot of ego, depending on who has more history and awards.

What often happens is tha the loudest people get heard more, although the politics after the meetings can usurp previous agreements wherein the star actors can access the showrunner, who often is the creator of the show, to fix their lines of dialog without having to deal with other actors. And their egos are even bigger.

So you can have a dozen writers and a handful of actors who all think they're right. And the question is; is the show better for it?

I think no. One of the executives who helped create 100 TV channels (now more than 400) said that when they created all those channels they envisioned bold new dramas and other shows for every niche audience there is.

But he admitted, what they created was mediocrity.  

A few shows work with a large writing staff, shows like Breaking Bad, Madmen and a few others but today the Emmy Awards were announced and none of the major networks were up for best shows. Even with all those writers they have.

What's that old expression? Too many cooks spoil the soup? 

(Mon: The death of Variety?)

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