To continue from where we left off here:
So then we enter a new phase, “later 20’s early 30’s, the I’m out of the cocktail scene and have found the him or her that I want. We don’t have kids yet, but we realize now that staying in is better for us crowd.” These are the people who know when and what channel everything they watch is on, every day of the week. From the minute they get home, through to preparations of dinner, sometimes through its consumption and up to bedtime. These are the people who truly watch television and enjoy it, daily. They usually catch the movies on the weekend, a matinee when it’s less busy. (A misnomer if I ever heard one.) They have their shows that they watch with devotion and are usually a little reticent to take on something new. (It’s been my experience that when they do they REALLY do.)
Then you have the group that travels concurrent with them, the “ later 20’s early 30’s that have kids”. Pretty much the same rules apply, they come home and say goodbye to the nanny, and the box might be on, but usually as a distraction device while they attempt to shift out of work clothes and into comfy pants. The TV might stay on in the background while they scramble to get the baby/youngster/little person fed (usually ending up with more food on the kid, the floor and themselves), and remain on while dishes are stacked, tables wiped, teeth brushed, stories read and kids tucked in. After all of that, there is about a two to three hour window where there is finally some quiet, a chance to sprawl out on the couch and give over to the tube. Because that window is limited, these watchers gravitate to what appeals to them immediately, usually something mind numbing first, then something in a serial with a handsome but troubled lead and a gorgeous level headed partner. It engages them and for that window of a few hours they can give over to a show, maybe missing parts of it as there is always an ear out for a child, an eye on a monitor, not to mention the pull of the mobile device on commercial break. They also rarely go to the movies if it isn’t a kid picture, mainly because if they are spending money on a babysitter, chances are they want to have a conversation with each other over bite to eat and a glass or two of wine.
But here is where things get interesting. You also have two more groups of people that have evolved. You have the mid 30’s to early 40’s, both with and without kids. What the execs seem to forget is that there is an entire generation of people that were more career minded, that waited to have kids and approach television in a very different way. They are far more selective about the time spent in front of tube, not only for their kids, but for themselves as well. They get informed. They do their research. They pick their spots, and engage whole-heartedly when the time comes, but what they don’t do is waste their time on things that aren’t engaging them on multiple levels. This is a demographic that simply wants and needs more. They need multi- layered characters and relationships, they need depth in drama and logic in purpose, they need comedy to be both cerebral and physical, everything must stem not only from situations but also from who the characters are and the honesty of the relationships they share; Extraordinary people in ordinary situations, Ordinary people in extraordinary situations…
This is part of the reason why cable programming and things like Netflix work so well, they are catering to a new type of viewer, one that simply doesn’t the have time or the energy for filler programming. “I have this much time allotted and this is what I want. I’m in, I’m engaged, entertained, thoughts are provoked, laughs are had, feelings felt and I am Out.” I am part of this demographic, and I think the numbers for the size of this very real and very powerful demographic might be surprising.
What’s tragic is that there doesn’t seem to be, with the exception of a handful of shows and networks, many writers and studios willing to take the risk and target this new audience. Instead, execs, studios and the like end up ignoring and bypassing potentially brilliant and innovative ideas aimed at a demographic that clearly exists and instead try to solve the ratings problem with the same old offering of the same old. The strategy isn’t new. It’s just a riff on Commedia Dell’Arte, stock characters and tried and trusted storylines. Unfortunately, it’s also very much like putting a band-aid over a major wound. It quite simply isn’t going to work. And that is why, right now, television is in some pretty dire straits.
Don’t get me wrong; I love television. I really do. There are great things out there and on it. Things I love that make me laugh and cry and feel and entertain me, and really at the end of it all, that’s what it’s all about. ENTERTAINMENT. As a long narrative, television is one of the greatest chances for all aspects of a production to shine and to tell fantastic stories time and time again. I just want television to work better, I want it to grow and become something MORE again. I really think it can be, but there has to be a shift, an acceptance and most importantly a willingness to change. To trust the viewing public with it’s own evolution and start giving it what it deserves. The beginning of which must be a change in perspective about who is watching television, what they want to see and how best to measure it.
Remember what Henry Jones Sr. said to Junior at the end of The Last Crusade when Indy was so sure he could reach the Holy Grail?
“Indiana. Let it go.”
Pretty wise words there.
I have been a storyteller in theatre and film for 20 years now. That’s 20 years of making my living almost completely in the industry in one-way or another. I have been doing a lot of thinking over the past couple of days about film, television and media, the way it’s consumed and what does and doesn’t work and I’m pretty certain of a couple of things: First and most obvious of course is the fact that the way the public consumes media has been changed irreversibly. You have hand held devices, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles, streaming, DVRS, PVRS, DVDs, blu-rays, Netflix…the list goes on and on, and isn’t likely to change unless the Intertubes go and get broke (which, incidentally, I think would be awesome, for like a week).
The next thing I am certain of is that execs are still struggling to find a way to appeal to the mythical 18 to 35 demographic, to build a show that can be digested across what is in actuality, a very broad age range when you think about it. Now some shows have been pretty successful at this while building really interesting, compelling storylines that intersect with brilliant talent (your Sons of Breaking Dead Homeland Community Recreations) and coupled with that you have the other side, also extremely successful but by no means that compelling, suspenseful or intelligent (I am talking your How I met your Two and Half Big Bangs here), not really my thing but I get why people enjoy them. I do. And if you do I’m happy for you. Really.
The thing of it is, the sacred Holy Grail 18 – 35 demographic does not exist anymore. At least not like it did when I was coming up (timeline references: the unbeatable Thursday of Cosby, Family Ties, Cheers, Night Court as a youngster morphing into the Friends, Seinfeld, Mad About You juggernaut in University), or even how said demographic existed ten years ago. I believe there is a new way of looking at this. Want to hear it? Here goes. Oh and of course there are exceptions to each, as with anything that speaks in generalities:
Young people don’t really watch television with their parents anymore. They don’t come home and flick on the TV while they make a snack. They come home, already on a mobile device, and then plug into a larger one. That can be anything from an MMO to Facebook to whatever other new thing is manifesting itself while I type this. It’s how a 17 year old- hell it’s how 12 year olds to 30 year olds – spend time. Also, young people go to the movies. They always have because it’s always been a thing to do with your best girl or guy, away from the prying eyes of whomever. The movies and the stories are a part of it for sure, but just as important is that as a young person, your options can be limited. When you are young, you go to the movies because it’s something to do on Friday night, or a Tuesday night, or a Saturday afternoon or whatever. It’s a type of freedom and a rite of passage.
Now people in their mid 20’s, already established, comfortable in themselves, still use media a lot, and in many forms for many reasons. These folks still go to the movies, but these professional people are more likely to come home after work, throw on the tube and finish up what they couldn’t get done so they can go out and have the lives they want to be living on the weekend. They may stumble across something that they enjoy, usually something numbing and pull themselves away from, I’m guessing some sort of laptop with Intertubes, to watch the entirety of a 22-minute episode, checking any given mobile device on the commercials. In fact, it might be so “just what I needed” that they start to PVR it so they can come home and have it. Again I say, good for you. Enjoy!
But based on the math already, that traditional demographic is broken which means the Grail is already lost….
TO BE CONTINUED.
Home again, home again, jiggidy jig.
One of the first things I get to see when getting a ride into the city from Newark airport is the Empire State Building. There’s something very comforting about being able to see your home from a state away. Well, obviously I don’t live in the ESB but it’s a block and a half away. Mmmmmm, home. -lb
That was an adventure. So much fun (too much) with so many new friends (never too many).
But now I’m back on the plane, headed back home to NYC. I’m sure that I’ll have more time to reflect on it once my liver has dried out a bit.
Until then, I’m just trying to figure out which kind of single-serving friend (Fight Club reference) that’s been seated next to me. So far she is quiet and I’m trying to figure out where the smell of tomato juice is coming from. I think it’s impolite to lean over and sniff a fellow passenger so I will continue to speculate. Or maybe have a Bloody Mary. (No more, winkey smiley-face)
Anyway, homeward bound and looking forward to my pillow. -lb
Not that there is much doubt but we’re ahead of the curve again. (I swear that wasn’t douche-y)
I had a chance to attend a great panel with the creator and writers of Mind-Games. What made it interesting was the way that they work and they work like we do, here at the Chaos.
G+ Hangouts are an integral part of the collaborative process for their team and by the sounds of it, the ability is extremely rare. It took the creator 2 previous tv shows with critical acclaim to have enough pull to convince the studio that it can be done or that he was valuable enough to give him the option.
I can’t conceive of writing collaboratively without G+ anymore, it’s such an integral part of our workflow.
I also found out that almost no other team works as closely as we do. We work on almost every single line and word together and it seems to feel right for us. The standard seems to be to break an episode together and then each writer leads an episode individually. Once they’ve done a first pass, it gets another session where everyone tears it apart and then the lead writer of that episode goes back and re-works it. Ultimately each episode does that a few times and then gets cleared by the creator or show runner. And then he/she tears it apart and then the lead writer of that episode goes back and finishes it off. That sounds so much more time consuming than what we do everyday.
Bu what the hell do I know?
So that happened. Austin Film Festival has a crazy competition that I was lucky enough to be a part. 16 writers get to stand up in front of about 50-60 people and pitch their idea/script. 2 judges that have already sold their own scripts sit at the front and you pitch to them. No pressure.
I feel pretty fortunate to have pitched to 2 of the most laid back judges (seriously, these guys were great) but it didn’t stop my butt from puckering throughout.
In my group of 16, I tied for 3rd. You need to be in the top 2 to make it to the finals so I missed the mark slightly but somehow I feel ok about it. Just doing something like that is an accomplishment. For anyone.
Headed to the finals tonight with my friend Vanessa (met her at the ‘office’ a couple nights ago) who was one of the winners of our group. She’s going to stand up in front of all of the finalists and Second Rounders and pitch at the closing party tonight. That would be so nervous-making but amazing at the same time. I’ll be her sounding board between the last panels of the day and the event itself. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Quite a day (and it’s only 1 o’clock).
The festival continues…
Panels are interesting. If the festival is good, they have a plethora of speakers that have had some measure of success in the industry and relate their experiences to the next generation of aspiring writers/filmmakers. The real problem is that every success was achieved in a different manner, so what is being passed on seems to be a batch of unique experiences.
I find it strange that almost every other professional in the film industry that I have spent time with or heard from uses a caveat with everything that they say.
Well, in my experience…
I don’t suggest trying this but here is what I did…
This isn’t normally the way to get it done but…
I was told not to but…
It seems to me that the more we play by the rules, the more we can put ourselves into a place to make it easier for people to say, ‘no’. While rules are important to learn, sometimes it’s solely to know when to break them.
The panels are great and as usual, they provide a chance to meet successful people. The difficulty becomes how to turn those meetings into a situation to get to know them. If they don’t know you, they sure as hell won’t agree to work with you for 2 years.
It is an interesting and bizarre quest to become more successful by making friends. Because in the film biz, you work with your friends.
So it’s back to the ‘office’ for me to make new friends. And the BBQ. Yay friends.
(I think my liver needs a break)