Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


There's No Crying In Pilots
May 9, 2014 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Actual Network notes given to actual shows BONUS: What network notes say vs. what they mean.
posted by The Whelk (43 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
"'Taxi' (the show) never worked because it was about a bunch of losers." - NBC

I feel like this one line explains so much about why TV is the way it is sometimes.
posted by The Whelk at 11:18 AM on May 9 [25 favorites]


This is great. Thanks for the link.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 11:20 AM on May 9


"That's not a witch law." – WB

Well, of all the networks, they would know.
posted by Think_Long at 11:20 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


Even without the context of what they're specifically talking about, a few of these I feel like I might possibly agree with.

"Your script is a little too diarrhea heavy."

"It's too network*."

* Unless they mean the movie Network.
posted by doctornecessiter at 11:20 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


"Our audience is walking around the house doing chores so you can't just use shots, you have to actually 'say it.'" - E!

at least they know their market.
posted by The Whelk at 11:26 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]


Without context it's really hard to judge these. I mean, even some of the dumb sounding ones it's easy to create a context in which they're good advice. "That's not a witch law," for example: it's important that fantasy worlds have rules and that the writers don't casually break the rules they've established. Or "dumb her down, she's not that smart" (at which we're obviously meant to roll our eyes and say--"those darn TV networks, always hating on smart women")--but if that's about a character who has actually been established as dumb, it's perfectly sensible to say that she's been made too smart in this particular passage of this particular script.
posted by yoink at 11:26 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]


Some people shouldn't work in television, they just happen to run it instead.

Of course, there's the best response to network notes ever (from Sports Night).
posted by zachlipton at 11:30 AM on May 9 [9 favorites]


"It's too 'History' for us." – History
posted by gottabefunky at 11:36 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


I'm with Yoink, I wish there was a bit more context here, but I suppose that's where they might start to encounter problems. The CBC one about "the president can't be black"--I have no idea what show that would be because I don't watch a ton of CBC, but this is Canada's national broadcaster we're talking about and sometimes shows produced under that mandate can skew nationalistic. In Canada that often means taking a shot at the USA, so perhaps this just meant "let's not actually make this explicitly about Obama" when it's an unflattering dig at our neighbour to the South. Also another possibility is racism.
posted by Hoopo at 11:45 AM on May 9


yoink: "Without context it's really hard to judge these."

On the other hand, some of them are eminently judge-able. :)

"Can you make it look more like a legitimate time machine?" - Disney

"What is Yemen?" – UPN

"No one in America knows or cares what time it is in that part of the world. Just make it daytime." - Lifetime
posted by zarq at 11:46 AM on May 9


"Really like the story, but what is East Germany"

I work with teenagers and as far as they are concerned, the Soviet Union may as well be the Roman Empire for all the significance they see in it.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:50 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I work with teenagers and as far as they are concerned, the Soviet Union may as well be the Roman Empire for all the significance they see in it.

In Soviet Russia, Spartacus is you!
posted by zombieflanders at 11:54 AM on May 9 [15 favorites]


I remember being really surprised when I found out that Berlin wasn't a city on the border between East and West Germany.
posted by ODiV at 11:56 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]


What is the provenance for these actual notes from actual networks?

Oh, never mind. Right at the top it says "Submit yours: TvNetworkNotes@gmail.com"

Great! They're going to love the notes I got back when I pitched M*A*S*H. And the Honeymooners.
posted by General Tonic at 11:56 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


the Soviet Union may as well be the Roman Empire for all the significance they see in it.

Give it time, maybe they'll get a Soviet Union of their own
posted by Hoopo at 11:56 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


Maybe "What is Yemen?" was meant in an existential sense.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:58 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


In Soviet Russia, Spartacus is you!

I generally dislike the "lol you owe me a monitor" jokes but I was taking a large sip of miso soup when I read this and man that could've been real, real bad.
posted by griphus at 12:01 PM on May 9 [3 favorites]


On the other hand, some of them are eminently judge-able. :)

Even the ones you cite, though, one can imagine unspoken parts of the conversation which would make them perfectly reasonable:

"Can you make it look more like a legitimate time machine?" - Disney

I know that's supposed to be funny because "what does a time machine look like?" But imagine your job is designing a "time machine" for some sci fi show. Does the fact that "nobody knows what a time machine looks like" mean that you can just grab the first thing you see in the props room and scrawl "Time Machine" on it and head home? Obviously there are things that an audience will read as "plausible looking time machine" and things that they won't read as "plausible looking time machine." So, in context, I could see this note being perfectly reasonable.

"What is Yemen?" – UPN

This is one which, like a lot of them, seems to me to be quite probably intended to mean "you haven't made it clear to the audience what Yemen is/why it's important in this context" not "I've never heard of Yemen and would like you to explain it to me." It reminds me of grading essays where I might write in the margin "which poem are you discussing now?" meaning not "I don't remember which poem these lines come from" but "you haven't adequately introduced this turn in your argument to the reader."
posted by yoink at 12:02 PM on May 9 [9 favorites]


But ... but context makes it harder to laugh at how obviously bad at their jobs these industry professionals must be! Stop it!
posted by kafziel at 12:05 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]


"I thought we were going for California fat." - MTV

Is "California fat" pudgy but tanned, or is it the same as "Texas svelte"?
posted by murphy slaw at 12:09 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I get it now. These are actual notes just like Conan used to do the Actual Items bit.
posted by General Tonic at 12:12 PM on May 9


While there may be a reasonable context for many of these notes, I would point to two problems with that interpretation: 1) It means that network executives understand television writing as well as or better than professional television writers; 2) I have seen many actual television shows, which seem to be written more according to the "dumb executive demands" interpretation than the "reasonable when contextualized" interpretation.
posted by kewb at 12:13 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Unless they mean the movie Network.

Man, if Howard Beale were to do his thing today, he'd be drowned out by the current cacophony.
posted by Spatch at 12:14 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by chambers at 12:19 PM on May 9


"Can we make sure she's more bitter with life so we're ok with her dying?"

GAH! This is SUCH a pet peeve of mine: when you can tell that we, the audience, are being groomed to not mind when something bad happens to a character.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:20 PM on May 9 [10 favorites]


Heck, some of these make perfect sense even without context.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:21 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


Given the news above,, I'm definitely going to stay with "network executives really are that awful."
posted by kewb at 12:33 PM on May 9


I was just listening to a podcast, I can't remember, maybe it was Scriptnotes, anyway someone in the industry was talking about how notes to you as a writer are...notes.

But on the network side, that's people's jobs. And some junior exec may have spent two weeks working up something to say in front of her boss to sound involved and insightful and prove she's not spending all 8 hours of the day playing Candy Crush. This may be the only time this month the boss hears her contribute.

Also, some of those notes come from really smart people who work for really stupid people and/or have to deal with advertisers. And then some of them are just from stupid people.

Part of the job of being a writer is to know which ones you have to care about. "We know we asked you for this...but you don't have to give us everything we ask for."

So they're not necessarily any less absurd in context than they are out of context.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:51 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


"Prince is too old. How about Madonna instead?" – NBC

Prince Rogers Nelson: 7 June 1958
Madonna Louise Ciccione: 16 August, 1958

Eh, why not?

Michael Joseph Jackson: 29 August 1958 - 25 June 2009
posted by droplet at 12:54 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


So they're not necessarily any less absurd in context than they are out of context.

Oh sure. There are obviously all kinds of moronic notes handed down from execs to writers (although I've also heard very good writers say that they've been impressed by the quality of the notes they received--even on network shows; though to what extent they're just being polite and hoping to keep getting work, who knows?). My point is just that getting them in this decontextualized way--without knowing what show they were for, or what character they are talking about or what the situation was--leaves you unable to separate the genuinely loopy from the sensible-in-context.
posted by yoink at 1:03 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the "What is -place-" notes are more "have we established for the audience what it is well enough?" rather than "I, the person writing this note, do not know what it is".
posted by flaterik at 1:53 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I totally agree with the context comments, but thankfully there are some that are almost impervious to that.

Aside from a deliberate joke, I can't imagine the context for this one for example:

"I've discovered the secret to hit comedies: one word titles. Think about it...Seinfeld, The Office, The Cosby Show.." - ABC
posted by wildcrdj at 2:20 PM on May 9


Obviously there are things that an audience will read as "plausible looking time machine" and things that they won't read as "plausible looking time machine."
You mean like a DeLorean?
posted by fullerine at 2:36 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


I've worked on a bunch of pilots that never saw the light of day or ran one or two episodes. If you've ever met a producer or network exec, not a single one of these is surprising, context or not. These are people for whom context is nonexistent and whatever you hold sacred is just tinder to get their "creative fires" burning. They have an idea and nothing else matters. Space battle in the middle of your sitcom about a family from Queens? Sure! Why not?
posted by nevercalm at 2:38 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


You mean like a DeLorean?

"Plausibility" will vary with the context of the show. What we'll buy in a comedy is one thing, what we'll buy in a hard Sci-Fi context is another. In a story with magic a "time machine" could be a rock or a turtle. But even in the comic context of "Back to the Future" the "time machine" wasn't the DeLorean--the DeLorean was just the device required to bring you up to the right speed in the right place. We still needed to see lots of wires and gadgetry and digital-readouts and hear lots of chat about "flux capacitors" and so forth to be made to believe that this DeLorean had been converted into a time machine.
posted by yoink at 2:56 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


The CW was onto something with that jacket. Beginning of the end.
posted by fshgrl at 4:09 PM on May 9


You know, you read Save the Cat and think for a minute you might like to write for film or television for a living. Then you see something like this and realize that you'd last maybe a month before you'd be challenging someone to a duel.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:10 PM on May 9


I've worked on a bunch of pilots that never saw the light of day or ran one or two episodes. If you've ever met a producer or network exec, not a single one of these is surprising, context or not. These are people for whom context is nonexistent and whatever you hold sacred is just tinder to get their "creative fires" burning. They have an idea and nothing else matters. Space battle in the middle of your sitcom about a family from Queens? Sure! Why not?

Worked for Family Matters.
posted by kafziel at 10:30 PM on May 9


For an interesting definition of 'worked'.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:31 PM on May 9


Whenever I see one of these user-contributed lists, particularly if they provide a "submit yours" email address or submission form, the awareness that some significant proportion of them are going to be made up pretty much kills the funny.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:42 AM on May 10 [1 favorite]


GAH! This is SUCH a pet peeve of mine: when you can tell that we, the audience, are being groomed to not mind when something bad happens to a character.

I'm sure there's a TVtropes name for this, but I call it the Moral Calculus. And it bugs me too. In order for the protagonist to be permitted to injure or kill someone in pursuit of their mission, that character has to have demonstrated some vile character trait. And it's so mechanical and rote, because it's always like, "oh, look, he's assaulting his girlfriend" or "of course he's robbing them" and so on. Faceless security guards and random goons have it the worst -- they are given virtually no moral capital, they're just meat to be sliced by the protagonist as he goes about his duties and then completely forgotten about. You don't even have to paint someone as a rapist or whatever if you don't give them any lines and hand them a weapon and a black turtleneck and show them to be working for the antagonist. That's an instant get out of jail free card. Like, you can almost imagine two protagonists talking to each other about how the antagonist harmed someone they hold dear and how that makes them the worst, when someone points out that they killed like 5 random goons on their way out, only to be met with completely blank stares along the lines of "I did what now? But this guy harmed $friend!"
posted by Rhomboid at 10:35 AM on May 10 [3 favorites]


You mean like a DeLorean?

Nah, everyone knows that time machines are Phone Booths, of either the payphone or police call box variety.
posted by radwolf76 at 11:23 AM on May 13


"What is Yemen?" – UPN

Jeez, don't they remember that one episode of Friends?
posted by Chrysostom at 8:55 PM on May 23


« Older 101 Things To Love About NYC, 1976 via and gloss...  |  WhatsApplebee's: Connect. Shar... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments