This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
A friend of mine pitched an idea to a studio last week. There were about six people in the room. And they passed. And here's what they said:
"We like the idea a lot."
"No, we love the idea."
"Yeah, we love it. Really."
"But it...um...it doesn't remind us of anything."
"Yeah, it doesn't remind us of anything."
"It doesn't remind you of anything?"
"We like things to remind us of other things."
When you sell a pitch, usually they let you know later that day. Unless it's a slam dunk, or they know you're heading off to another studio or another network, in which case you sell it in the room, which allows you to say, in a pseudo cool casual voice, "Yeah, sold it in the room."
Sometimes, you don't know if you've sold it in the room. You finish your pitch, and everyone is smiling and laughing and saying, "we love it! We love it!" and then there's a silence and everyone smiles again until some brave, practical soul -- usually the writer -- says, "um, so, um...is it...I mean, do you...do you want it?"
And everyone says, "yes, yes, yes, we love it we love it, it reminds us of some really great stuff!" And then you get to walk around for the rest of the day saying "Yeah, sold it in the room," in a pseudo cool casual voice.
So the trick, as my friend who did not sell it in the room, or, for that matter, did not sell it later, outside of the room, did not know, is to pitch something that seems new, but that also reminds them of something else, something that's worked.
This sounds like a typical writer criticizing typical studio and network behavior, I know, but it really isn't. To be fair, when we're stuck on a joke or a story or a rewrite, we...steal from the old Dick Van Dyke Show. I mean, that's what you do when you're stuck: you steal.
I remember years ago, on a late rewrite, a writer pitched a story beat from one of the Milly/Jerry episodes where they get into a fight with Rob and Laura.
"That's just an old Dick Van Dyke episode," someone shouted.
"Right," he said, not getting it. "And it really, really worked."
"Okay then. Moving on."
And if it gets really late, it doesn't even have to be the Dick Van Dyke Show. I remember being in a room with a writer who kept pitching the same joke over and over. Finally, someone cried out in exasperation: "Stop pitching that joke. It doesn't work!"
The writer shrugged and muttered to himself, "Well, it worked on last night's ---Reba.'"
"Okay then. Moving on."
"You see," they told my friend the writer when he asked why it was so important that something remind them of something else, "You see, we like things to remind us of other things because then we know that it might work."
"But then you'll never have anything new," he said. Logically.
"Right," they said. "Right! So can you come back next week, with something new?"
"Something new?" he asked.
"You know what we mean."
And he did. He called me yesterday. "Sold it in the room," he said. I didn't have to ask what he pitched. I'm sure I've seen it.
That's it for this week. Next week we'll dither. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.