This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
The first thing an amateur writer does, when he sits down to create a television series, is to figure it all out. He'll map out characters, interrelationships, future story arcs, possible late season developments -– you know, actually create a series.
The first thing a professional writer does, when he sits down to create a television series, is to spend a few hours complaining about what's on television now, why they're not buying anything good, and to try to predict exactly how the project he's about to start thinking about –- or, more accurately, start thinking about thinking about -– is going to fail. At random times during the pilot process, either I or my writing partner will turn to the other and ask, innocently, "Why won't they buy this again?"
Part of the problem, really, is that you can't successfully map out a television series with any real accuracy. The only way to create a series is to write a good pilot script, and hope that you leave enough open-ended relationships – and that's really all you can do: hope; there's no science to it – that could potentially fill the empty lots of real estate called episodes two through two hundred. You build a house on a promising piece of land, and you hope that the house is interesting and roomy and attractive enough that you'll get enough money and enough customers to build the rest of the housing development. There. I've successfully compared the past 17 years of my life to trying to build one of those housing developments called "Pheasant Run Acres" or "Rolling Glen Estates" or "Syndication Rancho Robles" or "The Homes at Advance on Contingent Compensation at Episode 60 Paseo."
When you sit down and work out a series on paper, as amateur writers often do, they call it "The Bible," as in, "Hey! I've got a great series I'm working on. Want to read it? We've got an outline and a bible and everything!"
Meaning, "Hey, I haven't written the script!" Meaning they've convinced themselves that sitting down at the Coffee Bean, or wherever, scheming elaborately about characters and situations and possible future episodes is what counts as writing. But the only thing that counts as writing, unfortunately, is the stuff that goes between Fade In and End of Show, or whatever Final Draft 7 make you put at the top and at the end of a script. It's good to have an outline, of course, and a general idea of where the script should go, and maybe a fleeting thought about the series as a whole, but the truth is, all of the series bibles in the world are useless unless you've got an actual script to go with them, and if you've got an actual script to go with them, you don't really need a series bible, because the only law that really matters in television – and movies, and medicine and love and money – is, more of what works, and not so much of the other thing. No matter what you thought, sitting there at the Coffee Bean, should go into the bible.
The problem is, people often treat their series bible like some people treat the real bible, as the infallible word of God, or the writer, which is a distinction a lot of writers have a hard time making. Once, I was helping a young writer out with a pilot script, and every time I suggested a change, or an adjustment, or mentioned a part of the script that didn't quite pop for me, he answered with a series of objections:
"Yeah yeah, okay, but here's why I need that..."
"Oh yeah okay but yeah see I don't want to go there yet with the character..."
"Yeah yeah but see I kinda like the open ended I mean I kind of like that I don't do that here..."
"Yeah yeah I see what you mean but I',m kinda saving that for like a season one cliffhanger..."
He didn't get to the season one cliffhanger. He was too bible-believing. His was a biblically-centered kind of writing, the kind of writing that works at the Coffee Bean. For a writer, success in Hollywood is all about sitting down and actually writing. A script. In script format. With dialogue and slug lines and everything. To be a successful writer in this business, you need to forget all about the bible, just throw the bible out the window.
As it were. Or, well, maybe not.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll launch a new media enterprise. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.