For years, I tried to write for television. I took meetings, wrote spec scripts, pitched original series, did tours, applied for entry-level positions, all trying to get my foot inside that proverbial door. And as I reflect on those actions, I realize that a part of me thought it wanted to be there because I loved television. Maybe you — yes you — also have done this and felt this way. Maybe you, too — yes you, too! — have had dreams of writing for an existing show that you love, or have a great new original idea that you know would work as a series, garnering critical acclaim as well as big checks for yourself (yes yourself).
And as you go about this quest, a part of you is like a part of me; that little voice telling you that you do this because you love television.
However, I’m here to say that this little voice is — at worst — a liar or —at least — a misleader.
See, you don’t actually love television. You love watching television. There is a very distinct difference, and its a difference I’ve only recently recognized in myself.
Everyone loves watching television, because everyone watches stuff they like. Nowadays, people even watch what they like the way they like it, skipping through commercials or even scenes they don’t think they’ll enjoy as much as others. People use it to escape from reality, to ignore their troubles, avoid work, all that stuff. We watch what we want, quote the quotes, share a laugh, theorize about “Lost,” all that stuff. That all makes sense.
But that’s only loving to watch television.
To love TELEVISION, one must love the very nature of creating those shows. You must accept, embrace and even thrive working in a system with specific commercial breaks, swear levels, nudity restrictions, committee-based casting choices, all that stuff.
And I don’t think you do. Because you’re probably more like me.
This is a sweeping generalization, but I think it might be truthful. More truthful than you might care to admit. But I’ve come to admit it about myself.
I thought I loved Television. I’ve been part of those big meetings and crews, where we all pull together to steer a project from the brink of crashing and turn it into something… well, maybe not great every time, but certainly watchable. It’s felt great… in the end. But as it was going on, I don’t think it did.
Have you ever read or watched behind-the-scenes stuff about late night talk shows? It seems like it should be the funnest job in the world, and for some people, it is. For people who LOVE Television. For them, building a 40-ish minute thing with designated commercial breaks and a strict structure, hinging on getting guests to do silly bits here and there… that’s how they function.
And I’m not like that. I don’t function that way. I’m a writer, but not in that manner.
And I think that’s why I’m not a television writer at the moment. I’m sure I have the talent (though I’m not saying I’m the best talent out there by ANY stretch)(let’s say my talent level was not the only reason why I might not be writing for TV). I could have* gotten hired and worked on some show or other, at least for a little while. Yet part of the reason I never did — a big part, I think — is that I don’t looooove Television. And in order to work and thrive in the world of Television, one must love it.
I’m reminded, as I am so many times, of the Rolling Stones, particularly as seen in the documentary “Gimme Shelter.” This is the film that captures their 1969 tour, starting in Madison Square Garden and culminating in the terrible show at Altamont Raceway in California. But between those shows, the band stopped in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record a couple songs for their upcoming Sticky Fingers album. We see them in the studio, listening to “Wild Horses” and eventually “Brown Sugar.”
I’ve seen the movie over a dozen times, and during one of the last viewings it hit me: these guys just love to make music. It’s not enough to sell out huge stadiums or headline ill-conceived free concerts with security provided by the Hell’s Angels. Between those times, they went and recorded music. They just… had to.
Just like how some people have to work in Television.
They just love it.