Well we’re down to the final two Commandments of Television. To review, here are the first ten (click the links for longer explanations):
- TRIED AND TRUE = DEAD AND BURIED – NOT!
- A CONCEPT IS ONLY AS GOOD AS ITS EXECUTION
- VERY FEW SHOWS SUCCEED WITHOUT RELATABLE, SYMPATHETIC, COMPETENT (AND IN COMEDIES, FUNNY) LEAD CHARACTERS
- PEOPLE DON’T WATCH TV TO GET DEPRESSED
- PEOPLE DON’T WATCH WHAT’S GOOD FOR THEM UNLESS IT’S ALSO FUNNY, EXCITING OR EMOTIONALLY INVOLVING
- IT’S EASIER TO LIKE SOMETHING YOU UNDERSTAND
- SERIALIZATION IS AN OPPORTUNITY AND A RISK
- EVERYONE WAS YOUNG ONCE
- IT’S EASIER TO GET WOMEN TO WATCH SHOWS INTENDED FOR MEN THAN IT IS TO GET MEN TO WATCH SHOWS INTENDED FOR WOMEN
- PEOPLE WHO REALLY WANT TO SEE SEX AND VIOLENCE ON TV HAVE BETTER CHOICES THAN THE NETWORKS
I know they seem obvious, and there are exceptions to every rule, but the goal of these Commandments was to give developers a checklist for aspects of a pilot which may increase the chance for a successful series.
With that in mind, here are the final two. The first may be a bit counter-intuitive to some, but:
TV MAKES ITS OWN STARS
Television is about discovery, and that is especially true of casting pilots. It’s easy to fall into the trap of casting name actresses and actors in pilots. It makes for big announcements, and sure, their fans may check them out in a new show, but we discovered that it is even more exciting when a “new” face is discovered and can define a character without the baggage of other roles.
What if I told you that Gary Sinise was the original Dr. Gregory House or that Larry Miller was George Costanza? Ray Romano was in the “NewsRadio” pilot before being replaced by Joe Rogan. Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes were virtual unknowns when they met for the first time in the second episode of “Will & Grace.”
I could go on, but the point of the Eleventh Commandment is to take a beat before getting all excited about getting a star for a major role in a pilot. The viewer is interested in characters first and name recognition second. That’s why it’s so important to have talented casting directors on your team.
I was fortunate to work with Lori Openden at NBC, who pushed for Jason Alexander for the George Costanza role, and Marcia Shulman at FOX, who cast British comedian Hugh Laurie as Dr. House.
P.S. Lori is still doing great work at The CW.
We have now come to the final Commandment:
MAN, WOMAN, BIRTH, DEATH, INFINITY. MAJOR LIFE EVENTS YIELD MAJOR RATINGS.
As many of you “older” readers know, that was the opening to “Ben Casey,” the ABC medical drama that ran from 1961-1966. On NBC, Richard Chamberlain starred as “Dr. Kildare.” Both shows aired in the same time frame, both did about 150 episodes, both featured a wise mentor (Dr. Zorba for Casey and Dr. Gillespie for Kildare). Most importantly, both shows dealt with life-changing events.
An important element to the success of a show is to provide several opportunities for change and evolution of the main characters. Part of the appeal of both “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” is that at any moment, the lives of any character can change in unexpected ways. It’s also true of “This Is Us.”
The highest-rated episodes in a series often involve a death, a marriage, or a birth. If you create series where those events are part of the fabric, you will have a better chance of long-term success.
So those are the 12 Commandments of Television. I think many of them have withstood the test of time.
Feel free to disagree or add additional Commandments. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter it’s @maskedscheduler.