Friday, January 30, 2015

Let's Make a TV Show

Okay, we need to pack this place with more mind-feed to keep these idiots going about their business. Let's make a TV show.

Casting Call

First thing, stories need characters, so we gotta have one of those. Some white guy, kinda tall but not too tall, and we're thinking about the working masses here, so not someone too young or too old. White guy, just shy of his youth after makeup. We're going for standard success, so an American white guy.

This white guy, he needs to have one black friend. So, duh, one black friend. That's a no-brainer. We've got a show about a white guy with one black friend--no more than one--and maybe another friend that he can talk about white stuff with. And some hot girl, duh.

So, we've got White, our main character, and Black, his token friend (only one), and Hottie. We're coming along pretty well here.

Anything good needs an air of tradition, and tradition means Great Britain, because that's where everyone decent came from. As soon as you hear a British accent, just like on NPR, it proves that a show is cosmopolitan and stuff. Like, sophisticated. Not some narrow-minded thing about White and Black and Hottie. We're not going for a one-shot, here, but a major series. A definite win among western audiences.

So we need an Alfred to our Bruce. But who the hell wants to see an old person on TV? Not only are they gross, but they die, or get health conditions, and can't manage a sustained TV series. A movie, yes, but not a TV series that we want to be big-time. And younger Brit guys tend to be as ass-ugly as Prince Charles, which really stands out when they're not as old as Alfred of Wayne Manor. Unless they're black imports, and we already have Black, so how the heck will we reconcile this...?

Ah ha! We'll pull a Next Generation, and use a British actor to play our main role, but without allowing him to use his accent. So White will be British, but play a character who's not British. White will fill both the roles of White and Alfred, for only one paycheck.

All right, we are kicking ass, now. We have White Himself, Black Friend, White Friend, and Hottie, and White Himself includes Alfred. Five birds with four stones. Boom, baby!

But wait...we're trying to appeal to all those working schlubs, but it's not a TV show if you're not appealing to everyone. And Hottie can't get down with White Alfred, since there'll be an age difference between the blundering model we'll cast as Hottie, and the sophisticated old bum we'll cast as White Alfred. It needs to be absolutely clear that White Alfred isn't a fag, because there's already, like, plenty of those on shows that are about that, so he needs a girl. And it can't be Hottie since too much age difference is, like, no-no. So we need a hot older woman who can have sexual tension with the main character, while Hottie is there to appeal to younger fans. So we need Older Hottie, so the screenwriters we'll later contract to "write" this thing have someone to use when random romantic tension is called for with White Alfred.

There needs to be romantic tension for Hottie, too. So we'll need some other schlub to pursue her, bone her, lose her, and all that crap. For him, it's okay if he's weird-looking and fugly and all that, since Hottie attracts a different kind of viewer, and we need them to be jealous of White Fugly for occasionally succeeding with Hottie. Then they can watch our show and think, "I could be better than him, and I deserve Hottie more!" That'll keep them watching.

Holy crap, I just realized, if White Alfred isn't using his British accent, this isn't good enough. Because people think it's a cosmopolitan show if it's "international," which means a white British actor, but if he isn't using his accent, we're not getting maximum benefit out of casting him that way! But it's okay; we can save this. We'll make White Fugly someone international. International, but white, and with an accent that shows how cosmopolitan we are without us having to make the main character a non-American, e.g., uninteresting to like 99% of potential viewers.

Okay, okay...deep breath. Recap: we have for our cast of characters:

White Alfred, the Brit who's not a Brit.

Black Friend, who makes the show good-diverse, but who doesn't act non-white and make the show bad-diverse. This isn't some kind of crime drama here, after all. Actually, maybe if we go with a crime drama, he can act non-white, but if we want broader appeal, we'll stick with white-black for Black Friend.

Hottie, who is hot.

Older Hottie, who is hot but made up to be safe for White Alfred to pursue.

White Friend, who talks white stuff with White Alfred.

White Fugly, who is cosmopolitan, annoying, and gets to be occasionally successful with Hottie.


After characters, stories have plots. Fuck, I hate this part. I mean, we'll just hire some moron writers to type up little dialogues on their MacBook Pros, or save money by buying pre-written script templates and replacing the main characters with our characters, then having our contractors adding a few catchphrases and our-show banter in. But which script templates will we use? What's, like, the background story of our show? We need to give the screenwriters some kind of motivation, or they might go off on their own and start writing new shit that no one understands.

So, plot...plot...well, first of all, what are our characters doing? They can't be doing something new or original, because that stuff is confusing as hell, and no one wants to watch it. They have to be doing something vaguely familiar to most people.

Better yet, it needs to be something that requires no motivation. Understanding motivations and purpose is not something they all do well, thank Satan, so there's no need to hire someone for detailed character work that would help people analyze human behavior. They're not really interested in that, anyway, so forget about that.

Okay, something with no motivation. That means that we need to have a plot imposed upon our characters from without, time and time again, allowing our contract screenwriters to generate a series of recurrent shows that have simple beginnings and ends, and both stand alone and fit into, like, some kind of overall narrative. Like a sitcom where nothing really changes except a few characters leave and a few new ones show up, whenever someone gets a better offer in a movie for a season, or whatever.

A plot imposed from without is golden. Then each new contracted writer can open up a template and kick out a show in a handful of hours, tops. And our characters will just have problems imposed upon them from the larger world, which they have to solve. No one needs to be motivated, or have their actions explained; it'll just be stuff that happens. Even more than casting White or Alfred or Black Friend, this is the pillar of our business.

The best thing to do is to give the characters a job. A job, these drones understand, because they mostly have one. Some kind of job where things just happen to you, and you deal with them because, because, because it's your job. It's just a given. It's your job, so you do it. So, whenever some new thing happens at work, you deal with it, and bam, there's an episode. No thought necessary, no motivation necessary, no need for a character to develop over time, since they'll be at the job and the show will be about the job.

What are the best jobs for this? Oh, easy shit, like a cop, or a detective, or a soldier, or a doctor, or a teacher, or a drug dealer, or a business executive who's important but not quite completely in charge. Something like that, where White Alfred basically gets "assignments." Predictable problems just walk in the door, and he's supposed to solve them, and he has some latitude but not complete latitude, and he has to follow orders. He can be creative whenever the screenwriters think it solves a problem for them, and he can also follow orders whenever the screenwriters think it solves a problem for them. And no one needs to question his motivations, because that's just what he does. Problems come in, they're interesting, and whammo, there's an episode. Assignments can appear at any time or no time. Instead of being accused of deus ex machina, we'll blame it on the hurly burly world of criminal investigation or the stock market or war or the school board or whatever the hell else, where White Alfred has latitude until he doesn't, and then has to follow orders until he doesn't. So plots can just drop into his lap out of nowhere, but anytime he needs to he can suddenly get interested in someone's personal problems and we can ignore his job until it becomes convenient to suddenly have to un-ignore it.

People like sex, but this is supposed to be mainstream, so forget it. They also like punching, shooting, and violence, and they like arrogance, superiority, and mysteries. But we can't concentrate too heavily on all of those, or suddenly our show is "boundary-breaking," or whatever. We need to pick one and stick with it. It's either a drama, or it's action packed, or it's romantic, or it's...I don't fucking know. Anyway, so, our executive-detective-medic, or whatever he turns out to be, can either face a lot of mysterious drama, kick a lot of ass, or screw a lot of chicks.

Pick a number between one and ten. Seven? Okay, "doctor." Popular choice. Pick a number between one and ten. Twelve? Trick question: the first number leaves us with just "drama." Sure, there might be a punch or a pussy or two, but primarily we're dramatic/mysterious.

Okay, okay...deep breath. Recap: White Alfred will practice medicine, and he'll join up with Black Friend, Hottie, Older Hottie, White Friend, and White Fugly, solving dramatic mysteries. An ass or two will get kicked, a pussy or two will get screwed, but primarily, they'll focus on dramatic mysteries. Sometimes they will ignore White Alfred's profession and develop an inanely myopic focus on someone's personal life, and other times their profession will fix their purpose away from such things. To avoid confusing all the morons watching this, though, we'll make sure that, whenever someone's personal life intrudes, it will bear, each and every time, an eerily similar moralistic point to the one being addressed professionally (I think the screenwriters already know that, but I'm adding it to the file just in case we get a newbie).

The Setting

Duh. A hospital. Doctors who run their own offices don't meet enough people. How the hell will we justify Black Friend, White Friend, Hottie, etc., if it's just a doctor's office? More importantly--way, way more importantly--an independent doctor is boring, because then, whenever he doesn't like something, and is complaining about it, people will just say, "Why doesn't he just go home?" or "Why doesn't he just say 'no'?" He has to be at a hospital so he can both be independent whenever the screenwriters see that Starbucks is about to close and the script is due in an hour, and be grudgingly following orders whenever the screenwriters see that Starbucks is about to close and the script is due in an hour.

Not California; everybody knows that. And not Manhattan. Same reason. Everyone knows doctors are wealthy, so they can be from anywhere, and still leave the main characters come across as interesting and worldly. So long as we have Black Friend and White Fugly around, everyone will realize how diverse and cosmopolitan we really are. We could put them in (*&@# Kansas, if we wanted to, and these morons would still lap it up. They'll watch what I want them to watch and THEY'LL BUY WHAT I WANT THEM TO BUY AND THIS IS TOO HOW CULTURE WORKS AND I IS AN ARTIST!!!!213!!##!!!

Easy, easy...deep breath. Anyway, fuck flyover country. We know everyone hates it. And we need Black Friend, and since this show isn't about racism, and includes Black Friend, the show has to be set on either the east coast or the west coast, where people are better. It's just fine to have a show in flyover country with Black Friend, so long as the show has a heavy emphasis on racism. It's not like we're trying to win some kind of award, though, and then end the show after two or three seasons. This is just a money-generator. So pick a coast.

The west coast is basically sexy California or fuggin' hilariously pitiful Washington and Oregon. Hell with those two. California could be good--implies beaches. Beach scenes are mandatory if you do that. Like, cops chase suspects on the beach, doctors have revelations on the beach, teachers use the beach to teach important grammatical concepts...this could be hot. Do we want to see White Alfred on the beach, and Hottie in a bikini? Interesting, but it'll distract maybe too much from solving medical mysteries and interpersonal drama. Manhattan is too played and gritty. And the deep south is essentially flyover country, and who the hell likes Maine? How about New Jersey? It's within easy driving distance of New York, so everyone feels like they know it, especially because of mob shows, and yeah, the Sopranos did well, so everyone sort of knows New Jersey without really knowing it or having been there except during a layover.

Okay, New Jersey it is.

The Pitch

We have to pitch this thing to our friends, and even though we're all pretty close and will be splitting the cash, they won't let us do anything original that might, umm, cause the doofuses who're supposed to watch this know. So we need to get some kind of way to make our little drama appealing to our buds, and also to the people who are actually going to watch this stuff.

What do we know about these people? Well, they don't like new things, for one. So we need to buy the rights to something old and attach the title of that old thing to our new project. Or, we could be "inspired by" or "paying homage to" something old that was successful. Successful, and popular, with a guaranteed track record of providing mild entertainment to a bunch of idiots, making established culture look pretty okay, and commonly recognizable enough that, when people hear about it, they think, "Oh. Comfort level. Watch."

What sort of crap is still famous? They know about the Hindenburg, right? Yeah, but someone already did Titanic. Hmm, they like dinosaurs, but not as much as they used to. And they like samurais and ancient Rome, but this is about mysteries, dammit--you picked seven, so stop trying to slip in violence.

Hmm...we've got a pretty damn good idea all ready, but to make it really stick, to make it bigger than big, it needs more. White Alfred, White Alfred, White me, White Alfred...

Okay, okay, let's clear our heads. White Alfred the doctor, investigating things with his friend White Friend, assisted as always by his occasional sidekicks Black Friend and Hottie... These aren't murder mysteries, unfortunately. You did pick seven. We can go back and do murder mysteries soon, since those are so damn easy. I mean, someone gets murdered, what do you do? You investigate. So there's a show. But this guy isn't a cop, or anything...what can lend tradition to him? I mean, General Hospital? George Friggin Clooney? No, we need to draw on the deep well of human cultural tradition. This calls for something at least fifty years ago. Not the Bible...not enough mysteries there...the dark secret of a boarding school in New England? No...although New England will be great for the setting...

Oh, I know! "Mysteries." How about Sherlock Holmes? He's pretty famous. He wasn't a doctor, so our show will have nothing whatsoever to do with anything about Holmes, but we can lift a few surface details to make the pitch meeting easier. When people hear us say, "This is, like, a retelling of Holmes," they'll think, "Oh, I've heard that! I'll watch it!" And just like that, we'll be successful.

Okay, so, Holmes. We can't call it "Holmes," cause I think someone made a movie or a show about that already. But that's why we want to do this! It's guaranteed money, and the doofuses will watch it all night long!

Siiigh...those bastards, they got to it before we did. All right, Holmes, Holmes...Holmes sort of sounds like "Home," right? Especially to Americans. So, "Home." White Alfred needs to be named something that evokes "Home," so that when we pitch this, it's clear that it's a send-up of Sherlock Holmes, even though it will have absolutely nothing to do with Holmes. Isn't that hilarious? We're going to rip off Holmes without even actually ripping it off! It's, like, the next stage of plagiarism! Nothing has meaning, and yet, everything has meaning...kafka, dude.

...right? Anyway, off to make a pitch. Let's do this again next week. To excellence!

* * *

What did we just create?


  1. Please tell (I don't have a TV)

    1. It's called House. And it actually took three of them just to come up with the primitive portions of the "idea" that this post detailed.

      David Shore hails from a wealthy New York-based Jewish family. He came up with the idea of a main character being a version of Sherlock Holmes.

      Paul Attanasio hails from a wealthy old mafia family, sited in New York and New Jersey. He was responsible for coming up with the idea of "a doctor show." He had previously come up with a different doctor show called Doctor Doctor. His brother is an investment banker worth in the hundreds of millions, and the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers.

      Bryan Singer was also born to a wealthy Jewish family in New York, but grew up in part in a rich suburb of New Jersey. Like Attanasio, he turned to entertainment as the mafia metastasized into its modern phase. He didn't contribute any of the ideas outlined in this post, but he threw in some money with the other two families, and he actually directed two episodes of the show.

      Here's David Shore on the show:

      "We knew the network was looking for procedurals, and Paul [Attanasio] came up with this medical idea that was like a cop procedural. The suspects were the germs. I mean, germs don't have motives."

  2. Eh, should have gotten this, I've seen some "House". But could have worked almost just as well for "Bones" with some inversion.

    More depressing to me is that inner life of the characters is exactly the same, even across ostensibly different story lines (private struggle, then acceptance and re-integration).

    (and separately, I'm not too ashamed to admit I enjoyed some of the sexist punchlines in "House": " Don't worry, it's treatable. Being a bitch, though, nothing we can do about that" or (At Christmas) "Ladies, allow us to demonstrate once more how we know absolutely nothing about you"

    1. Well, yeah, in any of these things, a screenwriter can throw in some good jokes. It's so easy to watch western entertainment because its so anodyningly predictable. The progression is simplified, the motives are interchangeable, and the jokes are culturally relevant. It's the perfect stuff to eat to forget about it all.

      (I haven't been subjected to Bones, though I've been forced to experience much of House.)