Thursday, 21 June 2007

How and why really bad ideas end up on tv

tv secret:
Crap ideas aren't on tv because the people who work in tv are stupid.

People often sit in front of the telly and wonder how someone, somewhere thought it was a good idea to make the drivel they've stumbled across channel-hopping to avoid Piers Morgan (we've all done it, come on)

The reason shows that stink of cat crap get on air is because of the development 'process'. It's called a process but it's as random as hurling the aforementioned cat crap from a tall building and hoping it'll hit Piers Morgan. Although don't let me discourage you from that course of action.

Telly is full of veh veh intelligent people, often posh, skinny, over-educated, sickeningly trendy and with hair styles entirely made of 'product'. How come they thought that thing with Anthea Turner showing people how to clean an oven is a primetime treat for the nation?

Let's take a guided tour of the oh-so-odd art of developing a tv show. For me it starts in a pub. I say "wouldn't it be good to do a show called [insert rhyming title here: I like rhyming titles. They're good.]" My senior development staff (ie two blokes who want a free drink with me in the pub) laugh and scoff and suggest making a cartoon about a cow that's a king or a fruit machine full of real fruit (to use two actual genuine examples).

And then I write the show with the rhyming title anyway, pitch it, sell it and we all work on it for 18 months. And it's my turn to laugh, oh yes. HahahahHAHAHAHhahahah. Like that.

Errr, where was I?

So people 'brainstorm' ideas with other telly types. 'Mind drizzle' in our case. It's usually in some obscenely coloured meeting room with tins of Red Bull, empty A4 pads and bent paperclips. The people in question are Better Than Normal Telly Staff - to work in development you're sorta kinda given a job over and above Junior Pet Shit Scooper Upper on Celebrity Pet Pyschic Uncut. It's a promotion. And really good fun - you do get to say "wouldn't it be great to do a show about people with enormous growths in their anuses and show it at 8.30 on Channel 4 when the viewers might be eating? HahAHAHAHhahahah." (This show exists. I've seen it)

But then the telly types read the 'briefing notes' from the last time a Senior TV Commissioner deigned to talk to the companies about what sort of shows they want. They aren't too specific - they don't say they want shows featuring feline excrement bouncing off an ex-Mirror editor's fat balloon face, for example.

No, they say they want 'edgy', 'modern', 'pacy', 'sexy', 'punchy' and other meaningless things. A certain other blog of a pretend tv controller uses the word 'itchy' when he describes the kind of pretend shows he pretend wants. It can't, and doesn't, mean anything. So you haven't got any direction at all really. But that's inevitable - the channels can't say they want a show just like Britain's Got Talent because it would make it look like they just want to copy the latest hit format. And that won't do, it's wrong on so many reasons. They have to pretend they want something newer, better, innovative and fresh.

They don't, of course. They want a version of the biggest new hit currently on air. They all do. And God knows they'll be sent it by everyone pitching ideas anyway. But no-one lets on.

The broadcasters occasionally say they want 'less reality shows' or 'more formatted fact-ent' but then always add, 'but it's up to you guys, the thing we want the most is the thing we don't know we want!' and everyone laughs and goes to the pub and thinks up cartoons about aborted foetuses. Or maybe that's just my staff...

And so the poor, poor development types go slowly mad, writing up all kinds of shows on the whim of their bosses and the channels. The success rate is inevitably low so after six months you go mad, mixing together all kinds of formats and constantly thinking "there's a show in that!" even when there's patently not.

I once had to write a daytime show around a footballer and his lovely wife. We had no idea what to do with them, just the channel thought they might be the new Richard and Judy. We stuck 'em in the Cotswolds and filmed her making doillies and him watching lambs being born - well, they both said they loved the country and it is the kind of light pretty-to-look-at twaddle the channel said they wanted.

Making the pilot episode was a nightmare. The footballer started to, er, have conflicts with his Pritt-fingered missus, the lambs wouldn't come out when we wanted them to, and it pissed with rain all the time. The channel ended up turning down the idea for the bizarre reason it looked 'too pretty'. Now I've had some rejections in my time but that one took the biscuit.

So, although it's hard to do, have some sympathy for the poor dears who have to think up rubbish telly. You can simply press the channel up or down button and the show disappears. They could end up making hundreds of episodes of it, living and breathing it to earn a wage. Not nice when it's Piers Morgan's Swollen Bumhole Birdshit Cavalcade.

1 comment:

Glen Benson said...

Totally agree - the rot begins with the Commissioning Editors, trying to desperately create their perfect schedule (in an era where its less important) and then you have dumb-assed exec producers trying to second guess-them.

I'd argue the exec producers go some way to being the worst of the lot - making pointless changes at the eleventh hour to please their commissioning editor into commissioning yet more pap in the future (no doubt after sexual favours).

Hope your career is going well!