Early Later

Hosted by

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

A few years ago, I went to cooking school, briefly, and I learned a lot. But one of the most interesting things I learned was about food safety.

The worst thing you can do, apparently, is keep food kind of warm. They call that the "danger zone" –- the temperature, somewhere between 40° and 140°, when bacterial growth is at its most powerful and efficient. Cold is okay; hot is okay, but the danger zone is not okay -– that's when tiny invisible microbes bloom in the Chinese chicken salad, and then later, briefly, in your GI tract, causing all sorts of humiliating problems. The lesson learned here is: don't let your food linger in the danger zone, or be prepared for nausea, painful abdominal bloating, and explosive incontinence.

Which brings us to network television.

Summer is the danger zone. Summer is that warm season when the shows that are premiering in the fall are in production and moving along, and the people tasked with developing new shows, for the distant future of next year, are doing the development executive equivalent of sitting out on the kitchen counter between 40° and 140°.

People, in other words, are having meetings. Development executives are going on retreats and off-site brain-storming sessions, clipping articles and surfing the web, gathering in little clumps in conference rooms all over town, thinking and thinking and thinking about your television and what should be on it.

This happens every year. And every year, right around now, the call goes out to the writers in town -– that is, those writers who don't have actual shows on the air that they should be writing –- to come in and have a meeting. To come in and sit in the danger zone with the various executives and come up with something.

"We're all starting a lot earlier this year," an executive said to me last week. "We're really trying to get ideas in pipeline a lot sooner."

Of course, this particular executive said those particular words to me last year, and the year before that, too. And the point really isn't that they're all trying to get a jump on the development year -– I mean, they don't decide which pilots to make until next January, and they don't decide which pilots to order to series until next May, so it's hard to make the argument that getting started earlier is really all that urgent. The point, though, is that all over town they're having these meetings, and the first rule of a meeting is, you have to have something to meet about. But unless writers are having ideas and coming in with pitches and "getting started a lot earlier this year," then the meetings don't have little bullet-point agendas and action-task-list-follow-up memos.

What they want is for you to come in now and get a script in the pipeline. What they want is for you to give them a reason to meet.

The problem is, the sooner you get into the pipeline with a pitch or –- God forbid –- an actual script, the longer it lives in the danger zone. You see? Getting started early is great if you're the executive, but not so great if you're the writer. A script is like homemade mayonnaise –- you don't really want it sitting out on the kitchen counter in the danger zone. You want them to eat it fast. But they're not really going to eat it until January. And mayonnaise -– even the stuff you get at Smart and Final -– isn't really going to keep that long.

So the trick is timing. I've seen great scripts just fade away and lose their momentum just because they were delivered too early, and gave everyone enough time to think and meet and discuss and rethink and rewrite and rework it until it was teeming with gut-busting microbes. And I've seen terrible one-joke pieces of nonsense appear in November and sail through the process as what we call "late pieces of business" -- too late for any notes or second drafts or meetings with action points and task memos.

Honestly, though, the process of developing television is pretty much guaranteed to involve a certain amount of bacterial infection and gastric distress, no matter when you pitch for next season. So if the danger zone for food is somewhere between 40° and 140° – say, 80° – it's the perfect temperature for going to the beach.

Trust a writer to figure out an elaborate justification involving meetings, executives, and food safety, for rationalizing, let's face it, laziness. I promise to think about this. On the beach.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll attract pity. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long