When a property gets picked up by one of the cable channels, many opportunities arise. Most importantly, doors open up. My partner was a consumate salesman. Now that we had a “show in development” at VH1, he is on the war path. He phones every production company and cable network in town. Even though our show is not produced yet, we get meetings. My partner’s plan is to pitch as many shows as possible, hit them with dozens of show ideas. The more people we meet, the more possible shows to make.
We were striking when the iron was hot, and we knew it. Reality television had not really hit big yet. There was no Apprentice. There was no Dancing with the Stars. Survivor was new and American Idol was in it’s first season. We pitched shows at Comedy Central, HBO, Bravo, MTV, History Channel, Nickelodeon, Spike, Oxygen, Animal Planet, PBS, Discovery Channel, FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS and numerous production companies you’ve never heard of. This was a great education. I learned about the inner-workings of the television industry as a fly-on-the-wall at many of these meetings. I was an unknown quantity, even to myself in a sense, and I was seeing things with fresh eyes.
My first impressions were:
#1: Everybody knowns everybody else in TV. This is a small universe. The geneologies of past working relationships come up in every conversation. Who worked with whom on what project at what network with which manager and on and on and on. And I’m not speaking of the celebrities. These are program directors, developmet people, writers, producers, executive producers(our title), department heads and legal. Everybody seems to furnish enough info. to establish their level in a virtual cast system of programming progeny. I, being of broadband bloodline, am harder to place but tolerated because I am an idea guy.
#2: Reality TV was changing everything. It was changing the business structure. It was shrinking budgets. Editors were becoming the storytellers, not the writers. Reality was being poo-pooed in the media-news side of things, but behind the scenes, everybody saw the writing on the wall and we were getting meeting after meeting because we had ideas. I think at our peak we had more than 30 one-sheets. We weren’t famous, we didn’t have a celebrity attached to any one of these properties. We didn’t have a writer. We didn’t even have an agent. Although William Morris eventually got into the act, kind of, we did this all as two guys with ideas and a good connection.
#3: It helped to be in New York. In LA, everybody was getting reality show agents. Agents ran the show. But in New York, a small town – media-wise, all it took was establishing your family-line, having a show in production, and a bag of good show ideas… Voila’, a meeting. If the execs got it, then BOOM, a pilot order was placed and the production was off an running. Reality TV was cheap to produce and test. Compared to a CSI:, or Law and Order, Reality TV was a crap-shoot everybody was willing to test. When Joe Millionaire hit big the following year and American Idol had it’s breakthrough first season, things started to get wild. But until then, we were able to get all these meetings; two guys with a powerful connection (the CEO of Viacom) and a bag full of ideas.
Another thing I learned, is that I had no idea where TV shows actually came from. That I was naive about the process. I had this idea that Nickelodeon, MTV, History Channel, etc. had great staffs of writers, producers, and directors. This idea was shattered when we were was introduced to the creator/executive producer of one of MTV’s most popular afternoon shows, Room Raiders. (Room Raiders did incredible numbers with girls 13-16) He didn’t work for MTV. He didn’t fit the model of what I thought MTV programming people would look like. Nothing in TV, as they say, is as it appears. Especially not behind the scenes.
The Room Raider’s premise was: invite a young man to go through three different young women’s bedrooms while the young women sat in a remote location viewing the humiliation. The young man would have tweezers, a black light, and permission to go through all her drawers, all her garbage, her closet, etc. Then he’d have to pick which girl went with which bedroom later, when they all met face to face. I forget what happened if he picked the right one. A date? A prize? I don’t know because I never saw one episode all the way through. But I was at it’s launch party. And the launch party wasn’t at MTV. It was at some company named GranadaUSA. Never heard of them before? Me neither. We were invited to the launch of Room Raiders because, due to my partner’s persistence, it’s creator/exec. producer was interested in one of our show ideas. This was the man who’d taken Room Raiders from a one-sheet show idea, and turned it into a 10 million dollar franchise. We were all ears.
Oh, and another thing, and Room Raider fans would be mortified if they knew this…
Room Raider’s creator is an Englishman in his fifties. More about him in the next installment