View Full Version : General questions about TV shows
07-02-2002, 10:59 PM
Can anyone explain about the television seasons? When they start? When they end? What programming fills the void in between?
Every year networks advertise for their big hit shows but then you never hear of them anymore. Do many new shows get cancelled each year?
And if you wrote a spec for a TV show, how would the process of getting it into the hands of producers differ from that of a feature spec?
07-03-2002, 12:00 AM
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> Can anyone explain about the television seasons? <!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
Yes. Anyone can.
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> When they start? <!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
At the beginning, AKA Fall.
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> When they end?<!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
At the end, AKA Late Spring
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> What programming fills the void in between?<!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
Re-runs, and new shows that are too bad to premiere in the Fall or Mid-season
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> Every year networks advertise for their big hit shows but then you never hear of them anymore. Do many new shows get cancelled each year?<!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
<!--EZCODE BOLD START--> And if you wrote a spec for a TV show, how would the process of getting it into the hands of producers differ from that of a feature spec? <!--EZCODE BOLD END-->
No. It wouldn't differ. It's still fu cking hard.
07-03-2002, 12:39 AM
"Anyone can" who actually watches TV. I don't unless it's Discovery Channel, History Channel, Learning Channel, AMC, techTV, News, Leno, Conan, or Sports.
I'm not sure I got more than I already new, even though I don't watch ANY shows out there. But since I don't know what kind of answer I expected, I thank you.
07-03-2002, 01:43 AM
If you already knew the answers, may I ask why you posed the questions?
07-03-2002, 02:21 AM
if you only watch non-fiction TV, why bother asking the q's Papa?
07-03-2002, 08:54 AM
Any tips or How-To book recommendations for PJ about writing specs for TV shows you have never seen?
When writing a spec, do you need to know the characters names?
In order to really make an impact, can you kill off the main character?
And can one attach themself to direct their TV spec?
07-03-2002, 10:15 AM
In answer to all the above.
07-03-2002, 10:24 AM
Okay, not to defend papajohn for unabashed ignorance -- though last I checked it's not necessarily a crime -- but why are the rest of you being so rude and abusive to him?
There are far easier and more productive (read: less insulting and demeaning) ways to answer inane questions. The path you chose speaks more about your own character than it does about pj's lack of TV savvy.
07-03-2002, 10:34 AM
Fredd: I said "Thank You". You answered my last question, which I didn't know. I suppose I was looking for more elaborate answers for the first ones. I was hoping someone who worked in television could provide answers with some depth.
Fwuffy: I have tried to watch certain shows from time to time. I just don't follow them. I asked the questions because I don't know, and just because it's rare for me to sit down and watch TV doesn't mean I'm not interested.
GW: I'm asking an honest question and you care nothing about helping me so why bother with posting/editing here?
gb: Thank you.
Guys, I only asked these questions because I don't know how the world of television works. I know there is a season that runs kinda like a school season with some crap in between. That's it. I mostly watch movies, that's what I write.
Why do I get the feeling I won't get an answer now that everyone has fired their self-indulgent shots of ego-edification?
<!--EZCODE ITALIC START--> Pigs don't know that pigs stink.<!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->
07-03-2002, 10:35 AM
The problem with asking about TV 'seasons' is that there's almost no set value for anything, but here are some general guidelines:
The TV season for network shows starts around September. The various nets usually pick a different week to roll out their new shows so they have a shot at a minimum of 1 week of getting people to watch the show. Some smaller networks, like Fox, try jumping the gun and start their new seasons in August, to give them a head start on the competition.
A typical season for a network show is 22 episodes. This is almost standard for network shows. For cable shows, some will have seasons of 13 episodes, and some will have seasons of only 8 episodes. Since cable doesn't compete with the networks in the traditional way, new seasons for shows on cable can come at almost any time of the year. Take "The Sopranos" as an example: David Chase apparently needs something like 13 months AFTER a seasons ends to write and shoot the episodes for the coming season, so fans have to wait more than a year after the cliffhanger to see the next episode.
If a network has enough faith in the show to warrant more than 2 or 3 episodes aired (if a network show gets to it's 4th show, odds are the cast can breathe a small sigh of relief), they'll usually go to at least 13 episodes, which is considered the 'halfway' point of the season (why 11 shows is not the halfway point for a 22 episode season is beyond me). At this point, one of two things happen: 1) If the show is doing hot, the networks will ask for the rest of the slate of 22 episodes and air repeats or different specials until the rest of the episodes can be finished in the May sweeps (more on that in a minute). 2) If the show is doing only so-so, but the network is willing to take a chance on them, they'll have a different show take the first show's time slot for a 'half-season', then bring back the original show for the May sweeps. Confused yet?
As you may know, the network shows are almost goverened by the almighty Neilsen ratings. While the networks check the ratings on a regular basis, they sell advertising space based on the ratings they can pull in during a 'sweeps' month, which is one of the following 4 months: February, May, September and November. Networks will pull out all the stops during those 4 months to get the highest ratings possible. This is why shows usually start their run in September, and finish off in May (the November and February sweeps, while important, are not as big barometers as the other two months are, since a network that finishes big in September can claim they have shows people will watch for the rest of the TV season, and networks with big sweeps ratings in May can claim they have shows that will lure people back for the coming fall season). It's also because of this that shows break up hot or promising shows - so they can have fresh episodes for the May sweeps. In order to fill the gap between December and March, networks will take shows they think have some promise but not a lot of faith in and dump them in during this time, usually running a 13 episode season to see how well it does. Very few shows that are shown in this time period make it big, but some do, as was the case with "The Bernie Mac Show".
Hope this answers your questions!
07-03-2002, 10:45 AM
Thank you, Sledge. Now THIS is the kind of answer I was looking for.
Thanks for taking the time to post this.
07-03-2002, 10:48 AM
<!--EZCODE ITALIC START--> I don't watch ANY shows out there.- PapaJohn<!--EZCODE ITALIC END-->
Maybe you should.
Otherwise, it's like asking about writing a novel when you've never read a book.
07-03-2002, 10:50 AM
To answer a couple of your other questions:
A lot of shows get hyped to the max when they're first coming out. Every network prays for the hit show that will carry that particular night through the season and beyond (think "Friends"). If a show is 'supposed' to do well, then does only okay or worse, it'll likely get yanked pretty quickly. It used to be that shows had awhile to build up their audience, but that's not the case nowadays. An excellent example is "Cheers". The show was one of the longest running shows on network TV and made carrers for Woody Harrelson, Kirstie Alley, Kelsey Grammer and Ted Danson (who had to wait until Becker came along to hit his stride). However, it didn't do all that great in it's first season. If they put Cheers on today, it would probably last about 2 or 3 episodes before getting pulled for an established show (I.E. one that's been around for more than 1 season).
As for writing a spec script for a TV show - you almost have a better chance of hitting the lottery than getting your new show made. Generally, what you would have to do is to get a job as a writer for a TV show, work there for a few years and THEN you could try getting your idea on the air. In order to become a writer for a TV show, you would have to write scripts for shows that are SIMILAR to the show you're trying to get on (nobody from the "Alias" crew will look at your "Alias" script, for example - they could be sued for using your idea, and it doesn't show any kind of various writing skills). Use that as your writing sample, work at it, bug Zoditch for help (:lol sorry if I'm a little presumptuous here!), and keep trying to become a writer on a TV show. Then, when you're established, who knows?
07-03-2002, 11:43 AM
GBBlueSky- I answered every one of PapaJohn's questions. Without being rude or offensive. He asked vague questions, I gave him to the point answers. I took his questions to be exactly what they were: Nothing more than passing interest.
The revelation that Papajohn doesn't watch television ensures that I made the correct choice in not wasting my time by going into detail.
Barry- Well said. Although an addendum: You can actually send scripts of the show to the producers of said show if they accept said scripts. Star Trek TNG was one of those shows, Buffy The Vampire Slayer was as well (though that is not policy any longer).
Another bit on Buffy- This is one of those rare Mid Season shows that made it past the initial season. So sure was Joss Whedon that he would not make it past that first season (which for him was only 12 episodes) that he wrapped everything up for the finale.
In regards to breaking into the TV Business with your own show: You can win the People's Pilot and garner interest. You can go down the same road as Joss Whedon, Alan Ball and Aaron Sorkin: Write screenplays. Or you can go the route Barry described: Establish yourself on another show impress the hell out of everyone, and pitch a new show (as one writer from Sex And The City did, most recently, though I believe Mid Season show ended up flopping).
The difference between Features and TV is that just because you get the show going, doesn't mean that you have a long term audience.
November is when the various shows find out whether they've been picked up for the rest of the season. Hence the November Sweeps that Barry was talking about.
For this year, May 13th-May 16th was the period where shows found out if they were to be picked up for the following season. This was also the time where Pilots found out if they had been picked up.
This period was quite exciting for Fox Television. It was Hail Mary gone right for Joss Whedon. Fox was deciding between it's two expensive Sci-Fi shows: Dark Angel (should it go to Season 5?) or Firefly (Joss Whedon's Pilot). The exec's chose Dark Angel. Joss Whedon spent approx. four days re-writing the pilot, handed it in to the Execs, and Dark Angel was booted, and Firefly was a go.
I'm sorry PapaJohn, that you were expecting more 411 than I was able to provide. You said later that you were expecting that someone "Working" in the biz would answer.
I'm not working in the biz. I'm just trying to.
As an aspiring TV writer these are the steps I can take:
2. Query Letter
Much the same as Feature Writing, no?
Living in LA is a MUST, for a TV writer. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that.
It is all who you know out here. I don't know that many people, but I get invited to enough parties, that I'm beginning to.
All the assistants on every single Pilot that will air next season know me. I'm a persistant little bugger. But I've made some friends.
Not unlike cold calling Executives for features, and making nice with their assistants.
The two businesses are very similar.
As I said before: It's Fu cking hard.
07-03-2002, 11:49 AM
All the shows get hyped to sh it because the Networks spent money picking them up. The Networks make their money back with Ads. If a show if flailing in the water, Johnson & Johnson will not be interested in spending money buying air time in that slot, because really is anyone watching it?
I almost had a job on a show called The American Embassy. It was three weeks into the Mid Season, and it got cancelled. Luckily, I made a friend on that show, who's now working on one of the new shows for next season. I made this friend by going to school out here.
The same thing happened with The Court, the Sally Field drama. I was soooooo close.
But that's the way TV goes.
07-03-2002, 12:03 PM
I don't <!--EZCODE UNDERLINE START-->watch<!--EZCODE UNDERLINE END--> ANY, as in I dont' watch any shows or (or tv in general) <!--EZCODE UNDERLINE START-->religiously<!--EZCODE UNDERLINE END--> or <!--EZCODE UNDERLINE START-->every week<!--EZCODE UNDERLINE END-->.
I'm not trying to be sh!!ty, people. I'm sorry I don't have time to sit and watch television all the time. If that makes it a passing interest according to you, I don't care.
If have to somehow "qualify" for a legit answer, screw it. Am I supposed to sit religiously through a TV season to understand it?
If you people don't want to answer the questions or feel I'm insincere, why do you bother to post? To look cool to others in your little DD cliques? It's fukcing rediculous.
This is really fukcing pathetic when you can ask an honest question and end up getting bashed for it. I hope you guys high-five yourselves and for a fleeting moment, feel better of yourselves for circle-jerking each other's egos.
07-03-2002, 12:03 PM
Actually, Fredd, if you're not in LA, the next best place to be if trying to break into TV Writing is right here in New York, where many soaps and sitcoms are filmed.
07-03-2002, 12:07 PM
I think people need to calm down a bit before this gets any uglier than it already is.
I assumed PJ was asking this question just out of general interest, which is why I made my posts as I did. If PJ is looking to possibly break into writing for TV shows, then you should be watching more TV, PJ, just like we as screenwriters have to keep watching movies and reading scripts. You need to know what's out there to get an idea of what works and what doesn't. There should be a difference between sarcastic and snide comments, and everyone here should just step back and take a breather. The question was asked, it was answered - that's all there is to it.
07-03-2002, 12:13 PM
Actually Barry, you'll find that many of the shows that are FILMED in NY are written in LA.
Soap Operas...I have no idea about them.
07-03-2002, 12:18 PM
Barry, you're right. If I DID want to write for TV I'd need to watch LOTS more TV. No doubt!
And if someone caught the notion I'm wanting to break into the biz with my own show-NOT.
It's not passing interest, it's (as Barry said) general interest in a genuine way.
I wasn't looking for a fight, but I know Gotham's always around when I need one.
Why can't helping each other be our FIRST priority, instead of judging, ridiculing, secondguessing, attacking? I mean some of you assumed I don't watch TV because I'm not interested when frankly my evenings are so hectic I rarely can sit down for more than ten minutes, let alone 30 or 60 mins to catch a show. Maybe I should learn to program the VCR. :D
Barry/Fredd : Thanks for all the info.
07-03-2002, 12:30 PM
Well, this area has certainly taken on its own life, hasn't it? Coolness.
I got here late (duh) because I made an agreement with myself to not spend more time online than I spend on my scripts. I now must confess an addiction and seek Betty Ford help.
Even though I think this thread started out with an acidic tone, the information that has resulted has been pretty much spot on. So there's a lot of good stuff here. And nothing that I would really disagree with from my experience. Maybe just make a more precise distinction between Cable and Pay Cable (USA is an example of the former, HBO is an example of the latter).
And, PJ, I will play a bit of the apologist in that I think that some of the early responses were in the tone of "Are you serious?" as a reaction to your questions. There is nothing wrong with asking very basic questions, as you know and I agree. Truth is, I have seen your name on here so often and interacted with you so many times, that when I saw your questions, I actually chuckled because I thought you were joking. I just assumed you knew better (my fault, not yours).
I still think a lot of good info came out here. So much so that I have no possible chance of inflating my ego by answering anything since it would be redundant.
Oh, wait wait! There is something I can comment on! The spec pilot thing. A new wave of change is taking place right now. There is a new trend to want to see spec pilots instead of pitches. Now you still have to get to that level of being able to pitch (established experience, feature writer, etc.), but spec pilots do have their uses. I just finished two of them.
The good thing about a spec pilot is that it is a mini-movie. You have to quickly start from square one and create characters, story and franchise. So it can show your best abilities in the most difficult of TV writing. Obviously, it is yet another spec in your stack and there is always the possibility of it selling as a series idea. The down side is that it doesn't show that you can adopt another series characters and franchise. But most showrunners I have spoken to about the subject say that they are more than willing to read a spec pilot as a spec for a pitch.
Oh, and Gotham, yes, you can attach yourself as director, but that's a rather amusing concept. Your spec is not intended to sell, so attaching yourself as a director means nothing. But telling them that you are attached will either be taken as humor or ego; the latter image won't help the sale. As far as selling a spec pilot, if that were to happen, attaching yourself as a director would take a lot of clout. (and, yes, I know you might have meant that question as a joke, but, hey, why not answer it?)
07-03-2002, 12:38 PM
James Cameron pitched Dark Angel with himself as the director for the pilot. The show lasted 2 seasons before being canned for poor ratings. Coincidence? Hmmm....
07-03-2002, 09:27 PM
Network v. Cable v. Pay Cable, specifically.
From what I understand, not only are the three interested in gross numbers, they are also especially interested in the demographic groups that make up the numbers.
Hence the sorta silly brou-haha over the ABC/CBS Letterman/Nightline thing.
Hence the net-lets begin by creating alternative programming (for teens and minorities, mainly), build audience share, and then opt out of their alternative programming to create more mainstream shows.
I suppose I understand the basics, but how does this affect the working, professional writer and those of us who are breaking in?
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