Caution: Harsh reality ahead.
Many creatives in TV have got it backwards.
They create the product they want to create, without knowing whether it’s a product anyone else gives a rat’s ass about.
The other night, I was reading my Twitter feed, when I encountered this:
I wish the business of television was less about “packaging & selling” a show and more about making a series you were passionate about.
Now, I’m not a creative. I’m just an entertainment lawyer with 20+ years of experience helping bridge the gap between the creative and business sides of our industry.
But wow! What an astounding lack of clarity about the nature of the television business this demonstrates.
What’s more, this tweet came from a hollywood insider. Someone whom, (you’d think) should ‘get’ it.
Passion doesn’t pay the bills
IT’d be lovely if we could all spend our time focusing only on the things we feel passionate about, and never have to worry about the market that consumes the stuff we produce. Sadly, life doesn’t work this way.
Television is a business. Every business needs customers to survive. If customers don’t want what you’re selling, you’re dead. That’s why smart businesses begin with the end in mind. They survey, study, and investigate the market. They determine what their customers want (not need, but WANT), and then they develop products that give it to them.
TV is no different. But, many of the “creators” in the TV business never learned about business; they learned about art. Well, sorry… that’s not going to pay the bills.
What the REAL product is…
The television business isn’t about buying and selling Art, or even good quality programs. It’s not about buying and selling programs that make audiences think, or that change the viewer in some way. Television is about selling advertising. It’s about making and airing programming that attracts the largest number of viewers, and about keeping those viewers engaged with the programming, so they stick around and see the commercials.
The shows you and I love to watch on TV aren’t the product… they’re the BAIT. They’re that new, shiny thing that attracts our attention and holds our focus so the network’s real customers, the advertisers, can sell us stuff. That’s right. The TV network’s customers aren’t the viewers, they’re the advertisers. Viewers are the PRODUCT. The program is just there to keep the product docile, and pointing its eyeballs in the direction of the sales message the advertiser is delivering.
Now this is not to say that quality doesn’t matter. Obviously, in a competitive marketplace, the “better” programming will attract a larger audience, and thus generate more profit for the seller. But what makes a show “better”? Is it really the quality of the writing? IN some cases, sure. But sometimes, it’s about the overall package. If you’ve got a star audiences love, the script may not matter much. Even without a major star, if the cast is good-looking, funny, charismatic, or controversial, it’ll attract viewers, even without a great script. Without rising to the level of art. The point is, you need to create the bait that attracts and holds viewer attention. So, ask what, really, does the viewer want? And give it to ‘em. If that means “packaging and selling”, well, welcome to the real world.
So, if you’re a writer, director, producer or any kind of creator and you’re not mindful of how the business really works, you’re bound to be disappointed with the quality of what you’re working on. Audiences just aren’t that interested in thought-provoking, challenging or mind-changing content. They just want to be entertained. Sure, it’s nice when the entertainment has some kind of a message, but that’s not what’s important to the viewer. Viewers want to be able to turn their brains to “standby” mode and consume a few hours of material that doesn’t involve any intellectual heavy lifting.
So, sure… follow your passion. Create what you want. But please don’t complain that it’s not selling, if you haven’t first figured out what viewers WANT, and found a way to give it to them.
What do you think? Am I being to harsh? Too hard-boiled? Let me know in the comments below.