5/1/09 - network executives

In today's excerpt - network executives. Gary David Goldberg creator of such network hits as Family Ties, Brooklyn Bridge and Spin City, producer of Lou Grant and writer on The Bob Newhart Show, complains gently about the predictable interference from network executives and then extols the more enlightened touch of certain of these executives—including Brandon Tartikoff:

"We've finished four episodes now, and NBC has tested them. [NBC Executive] Brandon Tartikoff's coming over and he wants to talk about what they've discovered. He's been our biggest fan and supporter. ...

"NBC has been pretty good in terms of not bogging us down each week with a series of nitpicky notes. But occasionally they back-slide. All network notes are the same. There are really only three. And they never vary. Ever. Before the reading of any script I could put them in a sealed envelope. And at the end of that reading these will be the network notes. I promise.

"One: Move the story up. If the murder takes place in scene two, move it up to scene one. If it already takes place in scene one, move it up to the main title. If it's in the main title now, move it up to the song. Just move it up.

"Two: Hang a lantern on it. This means make your main story point so startlingly obvious, so starkly black and white, that it will be robbed of all the shading and complexity and ambiguity that make characters, and life interesting and compelling. ...

"Three: Raise the stakes. For some reason, every episode must have monumental consequences for all the main characters. Leaving them distraught, bereft, yet somehow enlightened.

"Never mind that the most successful TV comedy of all time, Seinfeld, rarely ever even had a story to move up. Didn't shine a flashlight, let alone hang a lantern, on anything. And had no stakes whatsoever to be raised.

"Brandon sits across from me now in my Paramount office, and he gets right to it. 'You've got lightning in a bottle here with [previously unknown actor] Michael Fox.' He hands me some pages that contain a summary of all the research they've done so far. Turns out even people who don't like the show like Mike. For the people who do like the show, they can't get enough of Mike. It cuts across all ages and gender categories. NBC would like the emphasis of the show to be more on him now. More on the kids.

" 'I'm not telling you what to do creatively,' Brandon went on. 'But I just thought you should see this.' That was typical of Brandon and one of the traits that made him such a great network executive. The best studio heads I've worked with—Grant Tinker, Frank Mancuso, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Alan Horn—all have that same manner and style. At the beginning of any 'creative' discussion with Alan Horn, he will say, 'At the end of this meeting you will do exactly what you want to do. I'll support you one hundred percent and I'll never revisit these issues again. But here's what I think.' Alan, Jeffrey, Grant, Brandon, Frank—put them in charge of any type of business, and within three years, that business will be preeminent in that particular industry. In the end, you don't want to fail because you don't want to betray the trust they have in you."


Gary David Goldberg


Sit Ubu Sit: How I Went from Brooklyn to Hollywood with the Same WOman, the Same Dog, and a Lot Less Hair


Three Rivers Press an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group


Copyright 2008 by UBU Productions


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