Creating Television: Conversations with the People behind 50 Years of American TV

By Robert Kubey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
A Different Kind of Executive

Though there are only three executives in this final section, there are eight in the book. Network and studio executives move around a lot, do different things in their careers, and often spend time as producers. Thus, you'll find most of them in other sections, often in The Pioneers chapter.

A big part of being an executive is learning to say “no. An executive may well reject 99 out of the 100 pitches he hears. Production companies, studios, and networks are in the business of making television shows, so they must also say “yes. But since saying yes means committing millions of dollars to a project, they pick their shows and series cautiously. You can get fired for saying “yes” and spending the company's money on a program that fails, but it's unlikely that you will get fired if you say “no” to a series that ends up being a hit for another network or production company. At least you didn't spend the company's money. Put another way, it is understood that even the most capable executives will pass on material that in retrospect they should have approved.

Once a program is in production, from the point of view of producers and writers, the best executive is a hands-off executive, an executive who lets the show be created unencumbered. If a problem comes up that the executive can help with, producers and writers will want her to get it solved, but otherwise many writers and producers would prefer to hear as little as possible from network executives. Some executives do give advice that producers and writers welcome and find very useful, but most producers and writers tell more stories of how they experience interference from executives in the form of phone calls or “notes. Many complain that unknowledgeable and inexperienced executives provide much unwelcome and erroneous advice.

For models of what many creative people like in a network or studio executive, I recommend the interview with Grant Tinker who, while president of NBC, was probably the most admired man in television because he afforded his producers and writers great freedom and protected them from

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