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Someone Just Like You

This letter is for all you show creators who go out every day with your show bibles and waddle like baby sea turtles across the hot sand, dodging the hungry seagulls and getting slammed by the waves. This is my vote of confidence in all that you are trying to accomplish, personally and professionally.
June 28, 2011

Dear Show Creator,

I know that this isn’t an easy time for you.  It’s taken years for you to gather the courage and the resources to put your dream down on paper and now, finally, that you’re ready to share it with the world, you find yourself largely ignored.  You try very hard to get the meetings with the dozen or so people who can actually help you make your show a reality, and most of them don’t even get back to you.  It’s like you’re not even there, neither you nor this show that means so much to you, this show that represents who you are even more than your name.  And, worst of all, the rejections leave you wondering if perhaps they’re right.  Maybe you aren’t that creative?  Maybe you should have just stuck with your old job?  Maybe you’re not good enough?

Well, have a seat.  Because what I am about to tell you is one of the few things I know to be true.  And I know it’s true because I have spent the past twenty years doing nothing except pitching shows.  Here it is:  The emperor has no clothes.  The emperor is any person whose job it is to evaluate your creative work.  By now, I think I have met most of them and, though there are a handful of brilliant ones out there who have both great taste and great power, the vast majority of them are under-qualified.  They arrived in their positions not because they have creative chops, but because they were politically savvy or they simply waited patiently until it was their turn to drive the bus.  These folks tend to make decisions about creative work based not on any strong editorial instincts, but based on what has worked for someone else in the past.  Sadly, this approach to picking shows is ubiquitous in our industry and it’s the natural enemy of all things original.

I don’t say this to you because I have an axe to grind.  In many ways, I feel I have been treated very well by the commissioners and I’ve been very fortunate to work with some wonderful executives who took big chances on some of my unusual shows.  But I know my experience is unique.  I see what my friends and colleagues–particularly those from outside the US, the UK and Canada–go through when they try to pitch their shows to the world’s broadcasters.  Often they cannot even get a meeting and, when they finally do, they often leave feeling discouraged and disheartened.

Show creators are sensitive and we invariably suffer from the terrible misperception that we are small and the people who work in fancy office buildings are big and, therefore, right.  So when we are ignored, or when we get rejected, we believe the rejection.  We assume the person who turned us down was probably correct.  This just isn’t the case, my friends.  In most cases, they know far less than you do.  What is “big” in my view are those of you who have the chutzpah to believe that what goes on in the kitchen of your own minds–a TV show, a film, a song–is worth sharing with rest of the world.  That is big.   That takes courage, and you are the people, the ones with the heart and the tenacity to create your own show, who most deserve our respect, our support, and certainly a meeting.

So this letter is for all you show creators who go out every day with your show bibles and waddle like baby sea turtles across the hot sand, dodging the hungry seagulls and getting slammed by the waves.  This is a pill for you to take in those terrible moments when you’re ready to cash it all in for that secure job that you know will eventually kill you.  This is my vote of confidence in all that you are trying to accomplish, personally and professionally.  Do it.  Make your show.  Make it at night.  Make it at lunchtime.  Make it despite what anyone says.  (You must learn to eat their rejections like potato chips.)  Make it because you know that if you don’t make it, you will implode.  And never forget that the source of all creative work is someone just like you.  Someone just like you.

Josh

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