The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

T is for Television

T is for Television

Once upon a time I wrote lots of television: Stargate,
Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, Baywatch...stuff like that.
Had fun, and made a lot of money. Then my
first marriage blew up, my wife moved from
California to Washington, and I went along to
raise my daughter. Ten years later I returned
to Los Angeles, and found that I couldn't work
in the industry any more: the entire model of
writing had changed. Freelancers were no
longer hired, and they didn't hire anyone for
staff who was over 40. I think that the
technical name for this is "screwed."

Well, a couple of years have passed, during
which I've written three books, and sold a
movie to Fox Searchlight. Still, the inability
to work in TV rankles me a bit...

But I wanted to give my impression of television,
as I experienced it. Television is the one place
in the entire writing field where the economics
most resemble a "real" job. In other words,
so many minutes of television must be
produced each month, broadcast each night.
In that sense, it's a lot like the auto industry,
and there are actual jobs with paychecks,
retirement, and medical insurance for those
writers who can handle the grind.

Now, cable television is different from broadcast,
so understand that the following comment
does not apply to HBO or Showtime:

"Television is a creative medium where the
viewers are not the clients. They are the
PRODUCT, and are sold to the "client" (the
advertisers) in demographically-designated lots."

If you understand the above quote, you will
understand much about the nature of the
industry, and why the quality of television
--positive and negative--is what it is. I don't
have a lot more to say, because I don't like
to teach things not a part of my direct
experience, and as I've said, its been years
since I wrote for broadcast.

But study that quote. It will serve you well.

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