Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Perils of Pilot Season...

Not being someone who is active in production these days, pilot season comes and fills me with joy and wonder, rather than agita and a bout of trichotillomania. I read the scripts for fun, and yes, for background for work-- so that when upfronts roll around I have an idea of what I think will "go" and more to say in the pick-up story than the often misleading loglines provided by the networks. Occasionally I'll come across a script that is so powerful-- so unique, so thoughtful, so unlike anything I've seen or read for television in recent years-- that it inspires me to kick-start my own creative writing back into gear. And then of course once in awhile I'll also come across a project or two that feels eerily similar to a story I already had in the works.

Earlier this week the latter occurred with a highly-buzzed about pilot script that I shall not name but will definitely be calling out if and when it gets picked up to series. Basically I read this script, which featured parallel plot lines between characters and realized it was the male version of something I wrote five years ago. I say this not to imply the writer stole my idea (because there's no way this person could have; we have never crossed paths) but to point that once again I appear to be a dollar short and five years too late.

When I first graduated from college, I focused on pitching shows. I may have been young and too inexperienced to run a room all by my lonesome (and in many ways, I still am), but I had big ideas. Great ideas, if you ask me. Ideas for shows that, if networks were willing to take a chance on them, would provide commentary on relationship dramas in new and unique ways. At the time I was primarily focused on pitching a project that was something of a Gilmore Girls meets Entourage for its quirky character relationships and fast-paced banter but set in Hollywood. I walked into one meeting with an executive who claimed to love the idea but who already had a couple of similar (in tone) projects on his pipeline. This particular guy literally said to me "Where were you five years ago?" Well, five years ago then I was still in high school, and though I did have the very first treatment of the idea fleshed out, no one wanted to take it-- or me-- seriously. Because I was still in high school.

So cut to this past week when I read this new pilot script and recognized all of the parallels to my own well before clicking to "Fade to Black" in the PDF. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved this script; I felt like the subject matter and story need to be told; and I felt like this is the kind of smart, serialized direction that television should be moving in. But it still stung for a number of reasons. On a personal level, I got off-track for a number of years through no one's fault by my own. I got frustrated with the pitch process, and my creativity for additional ideas slowed more than I would have liked, and I moved into other arenas in order to pay my bills. I got out of the game. And the minute you do that, you're passe in Hollywood. I am not saying that had my similar story been sitting side by side on a network executive's desk today my execution would have been stronger and the sure thing. I'm just saying that it stung to realize something that I had an idea for five years ago is just now getting made-- and not even by me.

Honestly, what was upsetting was not even simply that my involvement in a project I hold such a passion for is nil, nor that if I were to pitch my own version now it would be seen as a copycat of this other one that came before it in the industry (though I do still have my original WGA registration number!). On a much more profound level, it's also disheartening to realize that something like this hasn't been able to be done before-- that people in this industry haven't been able to think outside the box in the five (well, actually closer to six now) years to give this type of introspective material a shot. I'm glad it's happening now, but in many ways I'm even more glad it actually is happening for someone else. Because if it still proves too revolutionary for networks, and they dumb it down to fit their demographic, it won't be me having to compromise my artistic vision. And maybe it will even pave the way down the line.

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