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05/29/2006: Progess Report
Yesterday, I got to go to a Jake in Progress reunion brunch. A quorum of writers got together, ate breakfast meats, drank mimosas, and watched the episodes that have not yet aired. I can report that these eps are really good, folks. I'm very proud of what we did. The truth is, of course, that in order for a show to make it to the air, a zillion tiny things have to go right, and among them is the requirement that a show fit the network's scheduling needs.
At least, that is currently among the requirements. If the era of downloading continues and grows, schedules may soon become charming antiques. Shows will be made available for downloading directly to your television, and you will design your own viewing schedule. And network programmers will create slates of shows with an eye toward making a distinctive brand, but without the constraints of timeslots and lead-ins and lead-outs. I'm very interested to see if this happens, and, if it does, how it affects what we TV writers do.
Already, the new dynamics are making parts of the spec writer's life easier. Getting prepared to write a spec used to be a much harder process. I used to have two VCRs going every night, recording every show that I could imagine specing. Then, when I needed to start preparing to write the spec, I would sit down and watch a dozen eps that I had saved up just for this purpose. So much programming, so much labeling! It was quite a process. Now, a weekend of DVD viewing, downloading and on-line transcript/analysis reading can make a Battlestar Galactica expert out of any of us. (All of us, hopefully --what a show!)
All of this brings us to a question sent in by charming blog-reader Christine in San Francisco. She asks:
"Let's say I want to write a spec for 'How I Met Your Mother,' that introduces one of the main character's parents. Let's say it's Lily. There has never been an appearance by a parent on the show, but there may have been references in dialogue to Lily's childhood or what kind of parents she has. Should I worry about this when writing her mother? If I need to take it into consideration, how would I even go about finding that out without having to cruise every single show-devotee's website for details?"
Oh. Interesting. Unlike Galactica, 'Mother' is a show that doesn't seem to have downloads available. It isn't on the list of shows covered by televisionwithoutpity.com. Amazon lists a DVD, but describes it as 'unavailable.' A quick bit of Googling doesn't reveal a wealth of transcripts. Comedies are a bit invisible right now, and they simply aren't being documented in the way that dramas increasingly are. Christine finds herself in the dark ages here.
But do not fret! The truth is, Chris, that although ideally you would have seen every episode of the show, you don't actually need to worry too much about any references to Lily's Mom. This is where you benefit from a couple of truths about spec writing. First off, you aren't going to be sending the spec to the producers of 'How I Met You Mother," but to agents, contest readers, and ultimately, producers of other shows. They are unlikely to know the show that much better than you do. And secondly, even if you're unlucky enough that your script lands in front of the eyeballs of a reader who remembers a joke about Lily's mother from some random episode, he or she is unlikely to dismiss a well-written spec on that basis. So you're almost certainly all right on this account.
(Also, sometimes shows don't even respect their own history on points like this... there are many examples of inconsistencies within produced shows, so it's not always seen as a huge transgression.)
However, I will now make my standard facial expression of concern at hearing about a spec that features such a prominent guest character. Guest character specs, as I have spoken of before, are frequently problematic. They take focus off the regular characters, downplaying your ability to capture their voices and interactions. They are also, for some reason, one of the most popular choices for new writers, so your spec ends up competing against other "Lily's Mom" specs.
So be cautious. But if you've got a killer idea, then don't let my quizzical eyebrow stop you!
About your other question, the problem with public transport in LA isn't that it's dirty or ramshackle, but that it tends not to go where you need it to go – at least that's the impression I've received. This remains, I'm afraid, very much a car city. All of you who are contemplating a move to LA should keep this in mind. When I got into the Disney Fellowship, one of the first things I did was sign up for driving lessons, to brush up my skills!
Lunch: My Jake-brunch was my lunch. Bacon, sausages, huge chocolate-chip cookies, mimosas!