There’s been a fun thread of conversation on various sites and blogs and such about the benefits, dangers or value of pitching to TV networks. I won’t rehash it. For the latest on the conversation you can stop in at the inimitable Cartoon Brew. On his blog Mark Mayerson chimes in with his experiences with his TV show Monster by Mistake, explaining how that experience soured him on the value of even bothering with TV networks, etc. He closes his post with this great statement..
There’s no story and no character that hasn’t been done before. There’s only your point of view to differentiate your work from everybody else’s. If that point of view is stopped or twisted before it reaches the audience, the essence of your work has been destroyed. My experience tells me that it’s unlikely to survive in the TV industry and if there are alternatives that will protect your point of view, you should seriously consider them.
Amen and amen. It’s no special thing, but I too have had brushes with TV networks and development executives. In 2001 I was invited to pitch a TV show to Disney Channel based off of the characters for my short film “Lunch”. So I took a few days off of work and flew to New York City, hiked my ideas and myself up to the 5th floor of some office building on Park Ave. and then proceeded to try and pitch my idea. Shortly after giving the basic idea with artwork I found that I was basically wasting my time and had blown two vacation days on a goose hunt (but hey, it was educational so it’s not all bad). The basic gist of the meeting was this: they really didn’t want my idea in the first place. I mean, yeah, they saw Lunch, liked it and invited me to come talk to them. They made an appointment, welcomed me and let me present my idea, but they really didn’t care or listen to the idea. The formulas were set. The notes on artistic choices were set. Here’s a short summary of one such exchange that occurred in that hour.
DevExec: You’ll need to put clothes on the blue guy, Burbank (Disney HQ) won’t like this.
Me: Why? He has a turtleneck already. See?
DevExec: Yes but somebody might think he’s naked.
Me: It’s not like his junk is dangling there for all to see. Besides, he’s blue and this is a cartoon, right?
DevExec: Oh I think it’s fine, it’s just that Burbank won’t go for it.
And there is the rub- this isn’t about my idea or even what the audience likes or wants. It’s what “Burbank” will go for. They already had their formulas for what they wanted to do. They just wanted my ability to make something marginally interesting to look at. But from the very first words in response to my pitch it was nothing but change this, change that, drop this, do that. Did they want my idea or not? Like I said, I soon concluded that no, they didn’t. It was something else they wanted- a tableau to propagate their own ideas on what made for entertaining cartoons for kids. Hey, they pay the freight, it’s their network so they’re free to do whatever they like. Just as I was free to walk out of their office without agreeing to go deeper into the process where the ultimate prize is I get to be their monkey. Life’s too short for that kind of hassle. Since then I’ve been approached to pitch other shows or ideas. On one occasion I did follow through, but for the most part I politely decline. I’d rather make something that I enjoy than something that is merely a vehicle for some corporate media-employee to get a promotion. So I weigh in on the side of the “pitching to TV networks is a big waste of time and effort” in this debate.