Day Two: ATX Television Festival

Beware of brand integration and know when to ignore the network, says this line-up of prolific writers and producers. 

Photo by Gary MillerPhoto by Gary MillerFirst stop for us during day two of the ATX Television Festival was the Creating the Sound of a Show panel, which featured musicians, composers, producers, and music supervisors from series including One Tree Hill, Hawthorne, Roseanne, Revenge, The Wonder Years, and The West Wing weighing in on the challenges of their job and how the industry is changing.

For starters, as musicians rely less and less on traditional radio stations to gain audience exposure, securing a sweet spot on a television soundtrack that targets their demographic is increasingly important, but, unsurprisingly, not the easiest feat to accomplish. Lindsay Wolfington, a music supervisor who’s worked on shows such as Smallville, The Client List, and Ghost Whisperer, said that supervisors oftentimes rely on third-party pitching companies to provide musical options for shows so it’s worth a budding musician’s while to align with a reliable firm fast.

Though music budgets can be relatively small—Wolfington admitted that One Tree Hill paid about $750 to $1,000 to use music from an unsigned artist and about half that rate if the musician appeared in the episode—the exposure can pay off, particularly if the show has a young demographic.

If you had a song on One Tree Hill, people bought it,” she said. “If you had a song on Ghost Whisperer, people didn’t buy it,” even though Ghost Whisperer had an audience approximately four times as large as One Tree Hill.

When it comes to creating what composer W.G. Snuffy Walden called the “sonic signature” of a series, the rules for musicians are the same as those for writers—create what you think is right.

When I speak to producers, I tell them you’ve got to let me fail miserably…so we can find the sound of your show,” said Walden, who’s created music for The Wonder Years, The West Wing, and Friday Night Lights. 

The next stop was the Structure of a Sitcom/Rise of the Anti-Sitcom panel featuring a dream team of comedy writers and producers. The overall message? Effective comedy is character-driven, it’s tempered with heartfelt, oftentimes unfunny moments, and it tackles controversial situations. Unfortunately, that’s not what network executives always want.

Again and again, I will frame stories that have serious content in them and my corporate overlords are very unhappy with that,” said Tim Doyle, executive producer on Last Man Standing and a former producer for The Big Bang Theory. “They would rather I make with the yuck-yuck.”

The battles between creatives and suits is as tense as ever as shows are pushed to make partnerships with brands (click here for a stunning example from Hawaii Five-0 on how not to do that). Paul Scheer, an actor and executive producer of NTSF:SD:SUV on Adult Swim, discussed a partnership his former show Human Giant failed to make with Doritos because of a conflict of interest MTV held with competitor Frito-Lay.

The only people who have ever been cool were Quiznos,” Scheer said, referring to this sketch. “They said ‘Here’s some money. Do whatever you want.’ We said, ‘Can we kill people with Quiznos sandwiches?’”

Community creator Dan Harmon encouraged new writers pitching their first show to forget that network executives exist at all.

When you’re trying to come up with an idea for a show, picture yourself sitting in front of a television. Start with the image of your face going ‘Holy s***. Oh my god, this is the most amazing show I’ve ever seen. I’m going to watch every episode.’…now flip the camera, and what’s on TV?,” said Harmon. “Always just please yourself. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you ‘This joke is a head-scratcher. It’s a three-percenter [that only appeals to three percent of viewers]. Let’s make it a ten-percenter.’”

The sentiment was echoed in the next panel, a Q&A with Michael Jacobs, executive producer of Charles in Charge, Dinosaurs, and Boy Meets World. In Jacobs’ mind, there was only one ending for Dinosaurs and it wasn’t what the network or comedy-seeking viewers necessarily wanted. Jacobs said that despite the fallback, ending the series with a mass extinction was creatively the right thing to do.

[The network said] ‘You’re not going to kill off that baby dinosaur’ and I said ‘Ok then we won’t.’ And of course we do,” he said, “because the job of the good writer is the hang up the phone and do it.”

Stay tuned to Get In Media for continuing coverage of the ATX Television Festival.



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