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Saturday, October 21, 2006

I'm reading Desperate Networks, a mildly informative bit of journalism about how the various networks have been faring over the past few years, the executives and their shows, and the competition between them. It's one of those journalistic pieces that adds up a lot of interviews into a probably fairly accurate overview of what happened, without giving deep insight into any of it. I don't particularly need to know which exec passed on Desperate Housewives; I'm more interested in knowing why. Other than, "didn't get it." It's easy to say that the system is inefficient, and it's not hard in retrospect to point out who's a boob. It would be interesting to understand better what exactly doesn't work, and how it could potentially be fixed.

It is mildly interesting, though, to hear just how hard it was to get some of the biggest hits of the past five years on the air. American Idol, CSI, Desperate Housewives, Survivor: each of them nearly didn't get on the air. Each of them got rejected all over place, often repeatedly. CSI only made it on the air because someone finally nixed the Tony Danza that was originally on the schedule.

One is inclined to think that the system discourages people who know what they're doing from doing what they know how to do. I don't believe that networks are staffed by idiots. No one survives at a network without being very canny, unless they're close personal friends with the head of the network. I do believe that the system encourages people to make bad decisions.

Unfortunately this is a book meant to celebrate the people who got it, not to dissect why other smart people didn't get it. Which is unfortunately, because you can't fix the system if you don't know how it's broken. How does a stinker get on the air while a future tentpole gets a pass?


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I think people are also afraid to voice an individual opinion. Everything is done by group concensus and even if you disagree, you don't want to be seen as a lone dissenter.

I know two people at different companies who passed on CSI. And both had the same story. The committees were worried about the budgets, and that it was too smart for network tv ... too much science for the average viewer. After the fact they found there were several individuals who were in agreement that CSIbut was a great concept and worth a shot, but nobody wanted to be the only one to say it.

There are more stories like these than we want to know. My Big Fat Greek Wedding could have been the biggest Canadian movie of all time, but everyone here passed on it more than once. It took Rita Wilson to see its charm and the rest is history.

By Blogger ME, at 5:36 PM  

Here's the New Yorker review of the book, if you're interested. Fairly critical.

By Blogger Katya, at 12:12 AM  

Art is not math. All it boils down to is educated guessing.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:27 AM  

Hmm, I know a guy who did NOT pass on CSI.

Last time I saw him he was sitting on a bench in Forest Hill looking like a million bucks, and licking an ice cream cone like he didn't have a care in the world.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:09 AM  

Jutratest, true enough, but if the dozens before him hadn't said no, he wouldn't have had the chance to say yes. When you are lower on the food chain, I think you have more incentive to take risks.

By Blogger ME, at 8:05 PM  

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