I began research for this book in 1987 as a fellow of the newly-founded Center for the Critical Analysis of Contemporary Culture at Rutgers University. My intent was to explore how television creators did their work and how creators' life histories, and their youthful experiences, influenced the work they did. I was curious to know how individual creativity survived in a collaborative, commercial medium like television.
In reviewing what is said in these interviews, it's notable that a fair number of interviewees talk about “going with their gut” or their “instinct. ” Chris Albrecht, the CEO of HBO, reports that a defining moment in his career occurred when veteran agent and producer Jack Rollins told him, “Listen to the gut of the performer. What's right for them, what they think is right for them, because nine out of ten times it will be right. ” Actor Henry Winkler made an unusual demand when first asked to play The Fonz, a demand that could have cost him the role. Asked how he had the nerve to do what he did, he says, “I went with my instinct. When I speak to young people, I say ‘Your instinct is more powerful than you will ever know and when your instinct comes clear, do not second guess yourself, no matter what. ’” Asked what makes his musical specials unique, Gary Smith says, “The show comes from here. I'm pointing to my stomach. I'm not pointing to my eye or my brain. If it doesn't work here, it doesn't work. This part, eyes and brain, are relatively easy. You can work at this, this is craft, this is technique. I am now pointing at eyes and brain. This can be learned. I don't think things in the gut can be learned. I think this is intuitive. ”
In the process of creating television, there are so many other people working on programs, and so many pressures—especially in a place like Hollywood—that it is easy to lose sight of what one is trying to create, and to let others redefine what you started out to do. One can quickly lose control, vision, and voice in a project.