This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
If you have a kid, or know a kid, somewhere between the ages of 12 and 17, you know that when they don’t know the answer to a question, they don’t say "I don’t know." They say, "Iunno."
Saying "I don’t know" implies, in some way, self-reflection. I don’t know the answer to this question, it says, and this disquiets me slightly.
Saying "iunno," implies leave me alone, I don’t care, I’m on the Wii, that sort of thing.
Which makes sense, really, because any kid between the ages of 12 and 17 knows that his answer doesn’t really matter because he’s about to be told what to do anyway. It’s a conservation energy thing: why waste all of that breath and brain power enunciating the phrase "I don’t know" when you can just shrug and say "iunno" and keep IM’ing.
A writer friend of mine, a few years ago, pitched a project to the television studio division of a huge, diversified media conglomerate. It was a terrific idea, hilariously funny, and as he wrapped up the pitch, he told the dozen or so studio executives – and, a quick aside here: no matter what happens with the writers strike, no matter how many force majeured contracts, how many cost-cutting measures, how many slashed development budgets, somehow, someway, there will always be ten or so executives in every meeting –
Anyway, he wrapped up his pitch, and he told the assembled group that one of the best things about his project was how tightly it would integrate into their company’s new media strategy, and how easily it could fit into the web-based social network that their company had just purchased.
They looked at him blankly. What? They asked.
You know, he said, that big social network? That you guys just spent six hundred million dollars on. Aren’t you looking for ways to integrate that?
Iunno, was the response.
Six months ago, I was talking to an investment banker who does a lot of business here in Los Angeles, mostly with large media companies. I was trying to explain how the business works from the writer’s perspective. And I wrapped it up by talking about how exciting the new web-based distribution was, how cheap and effective and efficient.
"Yeah," she said, "but won’t that hurt you? People will naturally start making cheaper, shorter pilots, using the web as a test-market. And then when you distribute stuff on the web, you can’t control the scarcity element – it goes everywhere, all at once – unlike the old model, where you sell the same show 200 times to 200 domestic television markets and 50 foreign markets. Once something’s on the web, it’s everywhere. All at once. How do you plan to deal with that?"
"Iunno," I explained.
"Don’t you think you should think about it?" She asked.
"Shut up," I opined.
Last week, someone asked me if I thought this writers strike was a "tipping point," to use one of those annoying pop phrases. I didn’t know the answer, but I knew enough not to say "iunno."
Whether or not these past few months have been a tipping point, they’ve done one thing: they’ve changed the answer that everyone in the entertainment industry gives – and I mean, everyone: writers, executives, lawyers, directors, agents, all of us who have been riding this incredible gravy train -- we’ve all been giving the same answer to a lot of questions – like, how are we going to measure an audience? How are we going to pay for creative work? How are we going to share and mitigate financial risk? How are we going to develop projects more cheaply? – but now that answer has changed from a sleepy, distracted, spoiled "iunno" to a more realistic, more frightened I. Don’t Know.
Frightened is good. Frightened means we’re all finally paying attention.
And that’s it for this week. Next week, iunno. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.