Funny But

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Funny But

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Let me tip toe carefully here. I don't want to make anyone feel bad. I've had some shows cancelled myself -- all of them, actually -- so when I begin this week by drawing your attention to the dozens and dozens of billboards up around town, all advertising a television show that is no longer on the air -- a show that, to be honest, aired only one time before it was scraped off the prime-time schedule like something squishy and smelly from the bottom of a shoe -- anyway, when I mention it, please know that I do so know, with the love.

This is a sneaker-wearing town, of course, and sneakers have those notoriously intricate treads -- lots of crevices and grooves -- so that when something is stepped in -- something really awful and smelly (remember: I'm saying this with all the love and respect in the world) -- it's hard to get out. You can't just drag it across the corner of the curb. It lingers. It embeds itself. Which gives you time, as you search the house for a nail or an unbent paperclip, to think about how you stepped in this mess to begin with.

I've always said that the reason so much of what we watch on television is so awful is because so many educated people are involved in producing it. Educated people are always trying to figure stuff out and trying to fix stuff and trying, especially, to develop systems and methods for removing things like lucky moronic stumbling around from being successful. Because luck, see, anyone can have luck. Anyone -- even a really, really stupid person -- can stumble around and somehow put a hit show on the air. But it takes a smart person -- a savvy operator, a clever hit maker -- to carefully assemble a good writer, a name star, a hip premise, a multi-million dollar promotion budget, and focus-group and market-test himself into a big pile of the kind of thing you step in and can't scrape off, the kind of show you cancel after one disastrous broadcast.

Because by the time you get to the big office with the important title and the nice chair and the two assistants, it can't have been luck, right? It can't just be, hey, wow, look at me, I'm not even sure how to work the conference call button on the phone, let alone know how to create a hit television show. It's got to be, I'm a smart, disciplined, creative visionary who knows what America wants to watch, and knows how to put together a winning network schedule.

Of course, there's no way to know that. If you look at a list of some of the biggest hits of the past few years, what you're looking at is a list of shows that somehow slipped through the system, that somehow beat the odds of bad testing data, oddball premises, unknown cast members -- all of it. And the reason there are so few real hits these days, is because the people tasked with choosing, developing, and ordering shows are getting smarter and smarter. They know which kind of shows lead out of which kind of shows best, which actors resonate with viewers more, which settings pop, which story structure grabs...the know everything. So while you're driving around town, please do your best to ignore the huge billboards advertising a show that was guaranteed to work that somehow didn't.

So my advice, if you're listening to this and you happen to be a decision-making network or studio executive -- is for you to simply allocate a certain number of projects -- say you're going to buy 20 pilot scripts, you allocate 10 of them for the I-know-I'm-a-moron pile. That is, 10 scripts you buy because you're smart and good at your job and you know what's going to work and you're absolutely positive these will; and 10 you buy because you're smart and good at your job and you know what's going to work and you're absolutely positive these won't.

Look, let me tell you a story about two people who ran the same network at different times. One of them is one of the stupidest, most irritating people you'll ever meet. The other is a smart, witty, intelligent person. Guess which one put on the most hits?

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll get competitive.

For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long