TV. Friend, or foe?



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  • TV. Friend, or foe?

    Anyone here working on a script they hope will turn into a pilot for a TV series?

    What's all your opinions on TV? Is it the substandard form of film?

    With James Cameron (Dark Angel) as an example, do you think most writers/directors want to get their teeth into a successful TV series?

    Look at Buffy as well. Joss's film stunk, but look at how the TV series turned out.


  • #2
    Dark Angel is really a dilution of a Manga/Anime series called Battle Angel Alita(or GUNNM for the enlightened). Cameron still might make a more faithful adaptation for the screen, he says, but for now, we have to live with a teenage boy wetdream for a show. The Manga/Anime series is a pulls-no-punches action sci-fi starring a girl who hunts down criminals, and returns their nervous system for cash. Throw in a mysterios paradise city that towers over the slums she inhabits, and you've got a story that's a lot more mature, and a helluva lot more interesting.

    Personally, I think TV is a wasteland, with the exception of premium film channels, reality programming(like TLC, Discovery, Tech-Tv, Food TV), and of course Cartoon network.

    If I had my druthers, every contract for the sale of one of my plays would come with the promise by the studio never to develop a series without my permission and contribution.


    • #3
      "Personally, I think TV is a wasteland, with the exception of premium film channels, reality programming(like TLC, Discovery, Tech-Tv, Food TV), and of course Cartoon network."

      I agree COMPLETELY, with the addition of perhaps Animal Planet... Jeff Gordon is a hoot... Gotta have my AMC and TCM and A & E though...

      As for writing for TV, never thought about it.


      • #4
        TV is NOT a wasteland

        Television is a medium of communication. Film and print are other mediums. Saying that television is a wasteland because there is a lot of crappy programming is analogous to saying that print is a wasteland because of all the romance novels, OJ Simpson biographies and Star Wars novelizations. In any human pursuit there is a wide spectrum of quality. I seriously doubt that the percent of quality television is radically different than that of print, film or for that matter fine art.


        • #5
          Tv vs. movies

          Nobody sets out to make bad TV. Just like nobody sets out to make a bad movie. It's no more a wasteland than features. But it's free (yeah, yeah, pay TV and all that crap) and doesn't get the benefit of a $9 price tag to get us to give it the benefit of the doubt. Easy to flip channels. Hard to get out of your seat and leave, I think.

          TV is where innovation is king. Not all bad shows stay on the air, and the same goes for the good ones (anybody remember Action?). If a studio spends a hundred million dollars on a one-shot, they want Mel and Julia (smiling, please) and they need to cover all their bases, pull in as much first weekend money as possible and hope for good word of mouth.

          The average pilot costs $2 to $4 million dollars. Still big money, but you've got wiggle room for creativity and risk.

          Bottom line: TV is your friend if you're working on a show the producers and network both have enough faith in. It's still your friend on a crappy show, because it pays like stink.


          • #6
            A Wake-up Call

            TV, friend or foe? Excuse my bluntness here, but that's an idiotic question on every level I can possibly imagine.

            It's no secret that the majority of the writers on this board are either A: Professional FILM screenwriters or B: Writers who want to write for film -- and are currently writing a feature script, and/or trying to sell a few of them. So the potential bias here shouldn't surprise me. But if you want to call TV a "wasteland", then I'd point you to any month of any year -- tell you to look at what's playing at a theater near you and I wouldn't think it a stretch to say that that's a wasteland too. Just like the good to excellent films that do come out throughout any given year, TV is littered with good-to-excellent programming as well.

            The elitist attitude from writers that TV writing is second-class when compared to film writing tells me 2 things instantly: 1. Said writer has probably never sold anything or had anything they wrote produced and 2. Said writer has never written for TV in any form.

            Over the years, without a doubt - some of the best writing I've seen has been episodic TV writing. Just 3 weeks ago, an episode of "Once and Again" dealt with a certain subject matter in a way that was so utterly creative, different, enlightening, and life-affirming that I would challenge anyone to point out a film that's ever done even half as good a job in dealing with the same subject matter.

            Have any of you ever watched an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer?" How about "The West Wing" or "Sex and the City?" No? Maybe you should prepare yourself for Alan Ball's new HBO series, "Six Feet Under." Hmm... I wonder why such talented and successful film screenwriters like Joss Whedon, Alan Ball and Aaron Sorkin are now creating weekly TELEVISION shows? I'll tell you why: Becasue writing rules in TV like it never will in film. And therefore, the writer is King (or Queen). His or her vision will never appear on screen in a purer form then when it does on TV, there's no time to fiddle with it. (For better or worse.)

            Unfortunately I have no idea where the people who posted in this topic (so far) are coming from when it comes to what they've done -- writing wise -- or what their taste in TV shows are. But when I started out as a writer, the allure of film was everything for me. But at some point, TV provided work and ultimately, invaluable experience. TV made me a better feature writer (a better writer period), no doubt about it.

            But if all the struggling writers on this board want to ignore the amazing job opportunities that TV affords, then I can't encourage that enough. It's just that many more jobs for the talented writers who recognize what a great medium it is.

            Sorry if this came off as a rant -- but as far as I'm concerned, it's worth ranting about. You people need to wake the f--- up. Do you want to make a living as a writer, or not?



            • #7
              Re: A Wake-up Call

              rpm - lest I be misunderstood, I AGREE with you, but I wanted to ask, why do the WGA and the studios perpetuate the notion that television writing is less "valuable"?

              Made for television movies seldom garner a decent buying price, compared to theatrical features, and the WGA point system also favors film writing toward membership qualification. From the studio view, I would guess return on investment is important, or maybe they are just cheap bastards. But why the WGA?

              I am basing these statements on what I have read, and not from experience. I do remember Martell commenting on this topic once.


              • #8
                Innocent question

                Does anyone concretely know why the writer is king in tv and not in features? Why the former fact sounds natural while the latter feels like utopia? A different hierarchy, perhaps? Inherence? Beats me.


                • #9
                  Opinions, guys

                  Okay. First off, Buffy and West Wing are two of my fave shows. Ditto Gilmore Girls, which I think is one of the most clever bits of writing out there. And I think Third Watch is pretty darn keen too. I am NOT saying "oh, film writing is SOOOO much better and SOOOO much more lofty than TV." Not at all. Hell, you don't have to tell ME how much crap there is out there in the cinemas. And there are some amazingly great shows out there. However, in my OPINION, the majority of what's on telly is not worth wasting my time with. It comes down to a matter of opinion, just like Verbal and I were discussing re: humour.

                  I don't particularly like Friends, Just Shoot Me, Everybody Loves Raymond, Providence, NYPD Blue, Dark Angel, CSI, etc. and don't find them compelling. I don't find them amazing or anything else. Not saying that they SUCK, I just don't personally get all the hoopla. Of course, what I really detest are all the "reality" and game shows (Weakest Link, Boot Camp, Survivor, Chains of Love, Pop Stars, etc.) but we all know that has NOTHING to do with writing. So apparently I was hasty in my attempt to joke and agree with the others, but as we all know: humour is subjective.

                  Sure, I'd kill to write for Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Special Unit 2, I just hadn't thought at all of even trying to work on television. I got too much to worry about just trying to write screenplays. And I certainly do NOT understand why TV writers get flak or less recognition than screenwriters, when you see the quality of some of the stuff being put out and the work they have to put into it... So pax, guys.


                  • #10
                    Questions... innocent and otherwise.

                    I think I've calmed down... a little.

                    BABYNIBLET: Well said.

                    BILL: To me, in the day-to-day business of writing, I don't feel as if the studios or the WGA are perpetuating a notion that TV writing is less valuable. But come "awards-season" -- this tends to rear its ugly head. But from my personal experience, the professional writers I've met and worked with seem to have an equal respect for both.

                    When it comes to MOWs, there is a disparity when it comes to both price and respectability. I think the respect issue is changing a bit thanks to the types of TV-films outlets like HBO, Showtime and Turner are now doing. But price-wise, feature-films still reign, and I think they always will.

                    From my view, the WGA point-stystem doesn't favor film writing. I got into the WGA by writing 2 1/2-hour TV scripts (story + teleplay). Each was worth 12 points - doing 2 got me the 24 total I needed. One feature screenplay will get a writer in. But one could say writing 2 1/2-hours is actually less product than an entire feature, so I don't see how film-writing is favored. (The one drawback with TV is that it can take a while to accumulate all your points... and you have to do it in a certain period of time.)

                    Again -- speaking only from personal experience, I've never felt as if the WGA favors feature writers over TV. (Others may disagree here.)

                    I think with more and more established film writers crossing over into TV, the lines are getting blurrier and blurrier when it comes to the issue of "respect" and which, ultimately, is more valued.

                    JACINTHEE: IMO, writers have risen to the top of the 'power' chain in TV for several reasons.

                    1. The size of the screen. TV is (and has been) smaller. Inherently it's a less visual medium than film. Therefore, the pictures take on less importance than the words. Writers are in control of the words, directors the pictures. [With TVs getting bigger though, this could begin to change. We'll see.]

                    2. TV moves fast! Think about it. An average show has to crank out anywhere from 22 to 26 episodes a year. There's no time for development "hell." There's even less time to pass one script from writer to writer, giving high-paid "doctors" a whack at it. The episodic writer has maybe 6 weeks (from premise/outline to 2nd draft) to get it right. After that the show-runner or story-editor takes over and they may have only days to work on it before it HAS to film. Those air-dates have to be met -- no exceptions. When there's a problem with an episode, it ain't what angle to film Gillian Anderson from... it's how do we re-write this scene so it works. A writer is going to fix that, not a director.

                    3. Repetition. I definitely know this from exprience, having directed episodic TV -- at some point, there isn't a whole lot of visual creativity to be had for episodic directors. I mean, how many angles exist to shoot Alley McBeal's law office set from? 5 different directors have shot it 10 ways to Sunday already, and that was in season 1. A TV director is asked to keep a consistent look -- not to break out and mark a personal style. So again, the visual side of TV takes a backseat to the story, characters and dialogue... all of which the writer is taking care of. (I remember a few years ago, Tarantino directed an episode of ER and... uh, so what? Looked pretty much like every other ER episode to me.)

                    And I don't mean to take anything away from TV directors. The good ones are really good, and a huge part of the reason those shows look and move so well week to week.

                    That's my 2cents anyway. Hopefully some other TV vets can weigh in with their thoughts.



                    • #11
                      Thanks RPM

                      Even though the majority of people here are focused in on writing features, there is still a small minority here which are interested in writing for television. I am sure these people do not appreciate being told that the work that they appreciate and model after is nothing more than crap. I can only wonder what the response would have been had someone referred to the area of feature films as nothing more than a wasteland of 'crappy' production.

                      Personally I have always focused on writing for television rather than the big screen. I haven't had any success yet, but just like many of you plug away for success in the feature film area, I work away at achieving success in television. By no means is it any easier to break into television, than it is to sell your first feature.

                      So lets not forget that even though you personally do not feel there is anything of high quality on television, there are a few people here who believe that some of the most creative and brilliant writing in the history of the small screen is on the air right now.



                      • #12
                        Re: Questions... innocent and otherwise.

                        Thanks for the info RPM. I must admit in all my years of researching and learning the art form (screenwriting) I always skipped the sections on writing for TV. You have opened my eyes to a whole new world. Of the known authors (Field, Trottier ect..) whom would you recommend as a good read regarding writing for TV? Thanks again.


                        • #13
                          I wholeheartedly agree with RPM.

                          It's odd how aspiring film writers always dis TV. The best writing right now is in hour-long TV right now, in my opinion. If you want to compare some crappy TV show to film, compare it to Joe Dirt. There's crap everywhere. But there's more good writing on TV than in film (as a gross over-generalization). The reason why apiring writers always want to write for film is because (1) there's less work involved in breaking in to film because you can sell your specs whereas in TV, specs are only samples (note that I didn't say it's easier to break in, just less work involved) and (2) TV has always played second fiddle to the big screen in public perception.

                          But here's some reality for you:

                          (1) Most WGA writers work in TV. Film writers are in the minority. Most strike issues are TV issues. (Why do you think the WGA contract renewal always coincides with TV hiatus? Because TV writers are are break anyway and they run the guild.)

                          (2) The most highly compensated writers in the WGA are all TV writers (compare A-list writers John Wells and Paul Attanasio and you'll find Wells makes literally ten times more money).

                          (3) There's much more work in TV than film, depending on how you look at it, as much as by a factor of 10,000 to 1. Only 150-175 films are released by the "major" studios each year. That's 300 hours of "programming." TV's annual programming is roughly 8 million hours per year.

                          (4) How many truly good films are made each year? Say what you will about TV shows you no longer like, but it's generally agreed that Frasier, Friends, Will and Grace, The West Wing, Law and Order, ER, etc. are consistently good, week after week, year after year.

                          (5) In TV, the writer is king. In film, it's the director. That's because TV writers are also PRODUCERS. They call the shots, hire and fire the director, and run the show. In film, writers receive incredibly less respect.

                          I'm primarily a film writer, but I've also written a TV pilot for Fox and I can tell you, I totally respect the world of television, especially TV writers. And so should you.


                          • #14
                            So, say I want to break into TV writing. Other than writing a couple of killer specs, any advice? (I suppose this question is directed primarily to RPM, if he'd be kind enough to answer.)



                            • #15

                              Check RPM's response in the thread "first step in selling a pilot ?" under the writing for television section. It outlines the important steps for gaining television writing success.

                              Hope that helps