I would very much like to see the mathematical formula for upfronts and staffing season. At this point, I don't even think it's possible to see the length of staffing season with the naked eye. There was no preparation. No gearing up. No flurry of calls and meetings. It was just... over.
Obviously, this was a weird year, what with the looming strike that destroyed development season, and then the actual strike that destroyed pilot season. But I've noticed that every year, we all go, "Well, you know it WAS a weird year." Now, it's not possible that all the years are weird. Applying Occam's Razor, it's more likely that this is just the way things are gonna be. In other words, no real staffing season. No real pilot season. Sketchy upfronts by networks whose hearts just aren't in it anymore. No pattern to any of it. And as the economy tanks even more, who knows how things will wind up?
Everybody in TeeVee knows that regular staff jobs have practically dried up, especially at mid-level. But what's also happened this staffing is that even the upper-level people are struggling. There just aren't enough jobs. I know I've said this over and over and JESUS, ENOUGH ALREADY, but the studios and networks could make these shows cheaper if they didn't have six or seven executive producers on one show (see Life On Mars). But executives and high-level producers, big old giant apes, have much more power than everybody else. So it makes sense that they will continue to receive the big paydays. Staffs will remain minuscule, and shows will suffer for it.
For those of you trying to break in, know that just being good at your craft isn't going to be enough. There have always been too many writers and too few jobs, but never like this. Making a living on a TeeVee staff isn't the norm anymore and it's not likely to change. I think everybody -- writers, producers, executives and agents -- needs to accept that and figure out alternate ways to make a living in this business.
Anyway, the upfronts yielded few surprises. Well, scratch that -- NO surprises. Since the networks didn't make many shows, it wasn't too tough to figure out what would get on. What is interesting is, there are several genre shows, and some of them will be on CBS. Speaking of good old CBS, everybody knows that they canceled Moonlight. Many reasons are being paraded around the internets but I wouldn't put too much stock in them. It all comes down to one thing, and one thing only -- money. Nobody knows about the backroom deals and squabbles that go on at this time of year. Sheer quality, or the lack thereof depending on your viewpoint, is probably the least important thing during this week.
It's all about the Benjamins, baby.
So now we move into Phase Two of the year, which is about getting noticed, standing out, and writing those specs nobody could write during the strike. This is shit I'm just not comfortable with. I prefer to let the work speak for itself, or not, depending on the executive or showrunner. But that's simply not good enough anymore, as you will learn if you don't brand yourself and don't promote yourself (which is my problem, actually).
Once you've broken into the business and people become familiar with you and your work, they take your competence for granted. In other words, it's assumed you can write. What else you got?
I mentioned that heinous (but utterly fascinating) VH1 show, "I Know My Kid's A Star." One of the things the casting director kept trying to drill into the moms is for them to identify and cultivate their kid's brand. The moms completely drew a blank on this one, because to them, it was enough that little precious was a STAR, Goddammit! She didn't need no stinkin' BRAND! The only mom that managed to figure this out to any degree was the mom whose little precious ended up winning. And I'll say this -- she was the ONLY mother who seemed to give a shit about her daughter as a PERSON. She never got so swept up in the madness of competition and potential stardom that she forgot about her kid.
Anyway. Branding is totally fake and stupid and seems pointless, but it's important. Crucial, even. Because if there are four hundred people who can write, they may as well throw a dart... unless there's something about one writer that makes him or her stand out. Have they written a published novel? Comic books? Do they have an insanely popular, gorgeously written blog? Are they playwrights (this still seems to matter, BTW)? Poets? Lovers? Thieves? Fools? Pretenders?
Agents can only do so much of this. You gotta help 'em out. I've had a hard time with this because, as I mentioned above, I've been in the "let the work speak for itself" mindset. But if your agent can call an executive or a producer and sell YOU as a high-concept idea, it's going to be that much easier to get the meeting. So you, the writer, needs to make that shift and brand yourself. One of the other reasons I have a hard time with this is because I like so many different genres. For example, our pilots run the gamut from an ice-skating family drama to a conspiracy drama influenced by The Prisoner. How the fuck do you brand THAT?
I don't know yet. But I also don't know if I'm comfortable, in this climate, putting all my eggs in one basket. Because what if we decided to take the sci-fi thriller route and all people were looking for was a family drama writer? I think you have to do three times as much work because you have to brand yourself for each genre. That means you have to have the credits AND the samples. It's easy if you're strictly a procedural writer. Being branded as one, if you can get on staff, is incredibly lucrative. We've been on procedurals and have written procedural samples but we're not branded as procedural writers, so we don't get put up for those jobs. Once THEY have decided your brand, there's very little you can to do change it. So it makes sense that YOU direct your own brand and don't let them decide for you.
I'd love to know, from the writers who read the blog, how they feel about branding and if they feel they've either been successful at it, or have successfully defied it. It's an interactive blog today!
In the interest of self-promotion, I wanted to mention a few ongoing projects, notions and possibilities. We're currently working on a few feature specs, one horror and one thriller; two spec pilots, neither of which is genre (oh, branding, fuck off for a minute. They're filling holes); moving forward inch by inch on a graphic novel (which I'll talk more about as it comes to fruition); coming up with internet ideas; we've already gotten our pilot ideas together and will be pitching soon, hopefully; and I'm over halfway done with the YA novel.
That should all be vague enough.
I'll get to some comments in the next post, which I swear won't take this long. It was just a crappy, stupid week. But I did want to comment on Marc Bernardin's response to the female superhero post. He mentioned Wonder Woman and Storm. Wonder Woman is pretty much the only self-sustainable female superhero and I wouldn't include Storm because I was trying to think of female superheroes who weren't specifically a part of a group. So no Invisible Girl, no Storm, no Jean Grey. I thought of Catwoman, too. I've been woefully out of touch with comics in the past few years but I was really enjoying the Catwoman comic. Aside from Catwoman and Wonder Woman and lamer heroes like Witchblade and Barb Wire, though, I can't think of any actual female superheroes. Well, Promethea, I guess, but to me, that comic was more of a metaphysical exercise than a superhero book.
So I decided that I'm going to come up with a female superhero who has her own world. It's probably not viable as a comic because if female superhero comics sold well, there would be more, but... it could be a fun exercise. I might post some of it here when I've had a chance to work it out more.
Lastly, the Preakness is on Saturday and it's Big Brown's race to lose. He's the 1-2 favorite, which is shockingly short. But I don't think there's another grade one winner in the field and his biggest competition, Behindatthebar (ridiculous name), was scratched. Even if Big Brown bounces, he should still handle this bunch. There will be an exciting new shooter in the Belmont, though. Casino Drive is a colt who won his first start in Japan, at nine furlongs. He then shipped to the U.S. and won his second start, the Peter Pan Stakes, also at nine furlongs. So he's unbeaten in only two races and he'll be probably second choice in the Belmont. How can a horse with only two lifetime starts be second choice? Well, because he's by Mineshaft, a horse of the year and classic sort, and he's a half-brother to the last TWO Belmont winners, Rags To Riches and Jazil. Yep, the mare Better Than Honor has foaled the last two winners of the longest dirt race in America and has the second choice this year. That's pretty bloody amazing.
So good luck, Preakness horses!
np -- Elephant, "The Violet Hour"