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TelevisionWeek is happy to welcome kids television creator Tommy Lynch to its roster of bloggers who have made a mark on the TV industry. Mr. Lynch brings a history of success in the children's and tween genres to the table. His first animated effort, "Class of 3000," debuted Nov. 3, 2006, on Cartoon Network. Stay tuned to Mr. Lynch's blog for a chronicle of the ins, outs, ups and downs of being an independent producer of youth- and family-oriented TV.

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Tommy Lynch


NATPE

January 22, 2007 12:17 PM

The first time I went to NATPE, I was there to distribute a musical special I produced. Well, associate produced. I didn't have enough money to buy my admissions pass, so I grabbed an empty messenger-type envelope and said I had a delivery to make.

This actually worked, and I was let into the convention.

The second time I went to NATPE, I was also there to distribute a musical special. This time, I really was the producer. We held "screenings" in one of the hotel rooms. Unfortunately, the only people that responded to the show was the director and a few of the hotel staff.

This is a memory I've unsuccessfully repressed.

Subsequent NATPEs have been good to me. Last year, I got a two blind-pilot script deal with a network. I made the president of the network sign a napkin. This was the initial contract. My office still has the napkin, even though we've since negotiated a formal, legal deal.

This past Wednesday, I woke up at 4:30 AM. My Senior Vice President met me at my house at 5 AM. We drove to Vegas. He kept trying to talk about Hunter Thompson and how uncanny it was that we've entered the world of gonzo entertainment. What Hunter did for journalism, he said, is what Johnny Knoxville, Donald Trump and various format-producers have done for television.

This was somewhat astute, I admit, but I wasn't interested in waxing about reality television. We had pitches to work on, so I made him brainstorm with me while we cranked up Big Audio Dynamite and headed further into the cold of the morning desert.

We worked, and we joked, and we told each other that we hated each other and hated being in the car together, and we actually figured out the pitches that hung over our heads like anvils waiting to be dropped.

(This was his allegory, since he was still trying to embrace the whole Hunter thing.)

We arrived at 9:30. He said let's get breakfast. I said okay, but didn't mean it, and we registered and hit the floor with nothing to work off of other than a few cups of caffeine and the omnipresent energy of the sale.

David Mamet always applies: Always be closing.

And we did. Closing a couple development deals, figuring out a long-term distribution agreement and re-connecting with some old friends of mine who now could buy me, sell me, and still have several million left over for a couple houses around the world.

NATPE is strange, and I mean this in the way Hunter would have meant this. The top of our industry rub shoulders with those that are just hoping for a break. Looking at several of the faces, it was hard to tell the difference. But for some, it was written all over the way they looked around the room.

Oh, we ended the day by losing at blackjack. But that was okay, because we felt like we had already done our duties, and won in our craft.

At least for another day, that is...

Um, Happy New Year?

January 12, 2007 5:56 PM


You're probably wondering where I've been for the past 3 weeks. Or you haven't. But, for the sake of my ego, let's pretend you have.

I meant to write this sooner, but during the holiday break, an actual airplane crashed into my house. Don't worry, no one was hurt, but there was a giant squid that was flying cargo, and he wrapped his tentacles around me and forced me to write a piece on how the calamari industry is rife with unfair practices. And you try typing 1000 words by nearly being crushed to death. It takes a few weeks.

Okay, so some of the above isn't true...but the first clause in the first sentence is.

My new year’s resolution was: no more procrastination. Problem is, I kept putting off making a resolution till JUST RIGHT NOW. So, I promise to keep you abreast more often of my lunacy, meandering thoughts, poignant epiphanies and any other adjective-noun combos you'd like to supply yourself.

I just realized where the whole "airplane" idea came from—I'm off to the airport to go meet with one of our networks about a series renewal. The numbers are good, but I'm still nervous. I assume, however, that getting the series picked up will be slightly less taxing and debilitating than being crushed by a giant squid.

Yes, I said "slightly."

To all of you out there, I hope that 2007 is going well and will just get better. I promise to keep you posted on how it goes for me...

Tommy

Shutting Down for the Holidays

December 13, 2006 12:29 PM


First of all, I apologize for my tardiness. I haven't written in awhile. Thanksgiving, then a trip to NY to talk to the buyers, then a visit from my Children ….

I know. Excuses, excuses. I feel like I'm in seventh grade all over again, being sent to the principal's office.

But that's not the point.

The point is, this industry shuts down in about a week until the New Year. I'm trying to keep my focus, even though I can't get to Christmas fast enough.

Most industries don't shut down for the holidays. Wall Street? They work the 24th and the 26th. Attorneys? One of my friends takes four days off. The other: two and a half days. I'm not kidding. He goes home around 1pm on the 24th and returns to the office on the 27th. That's his RULE, one that he's followed for the past twenty-six years. Those two and a half days are even blocked out on the personal calendar his WIFE gives him every year.

Yet, here I am. Waiting for vacation. Waiting for a chance to breathe. A chance to reconnect with what really matters:

Nothing. And by that I mean—those moments that you're able to just NOT THINK, to just BE, to decompress.

Is it strange that our industry operates like a school? What other adults have a "winter break"? It's like we've never grown up.

Maybe that's why when I create, my innate propensity leans towards "youth culture". Some people may translate this into "programming that serves the emo of 12-24". But I'm creating shows about 35-year-olds. About 62-year-olds.

Those characters aren't young. But I'd like to think their approach to life is "youthful". That is, I hope that all my shows show that there's an inherent hopefulness in the idea that—no matter how old you are—your future is always in front of you.

My Senior VP would call that a "banal platitude".

Maybe it is. Then again, he'd say "'maybe' is a word that inherently isn't sure of itself". And while there may be brilliance in that, it's that kind of banal platitude that slows life down by analyzing it too much.

And until we shut down for the holidays, I don't have any time to slow
Down ….

Tommy

Back to Work

November 28, 2006 9:24 PM


Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Monday already seems like a distant memory. After four days of not doing any of the catch up I promised myself I would do, Monday came with fear...Four days of bliss for one day of abject fear is good in my world. I finished a pilot script in its fourth draft, swearing that I wasn’t going to make one more change—kinda like I swore on the three previous drafts. Hated my network executive and thought of calling it a day and never writing again. After all, I have nineteen series that I have created/co-created...maybe going for twenty was tempting fate. That was my answer: I wasn’t going to talk to anyone in television ever again. They could make what I wrote or not. I was finished. And that executive wasn’t the kind of person that I wanted to listen to anyway. I’ve already done three drafts, who was he to ask for more clarity...uh oh, that’s him on the phone now...Of course, I don’t usually take these calls; they’re for my Senior VP. I tell him that he must take the calls because I’m growing him. Really it’s because I am convinced that the network is going to tell me how much I suck. But my Senior VP isn’t here, so I have to take the call. I do. He doesn’t tell me I suck. He tells me he loves the fourth draft. Of course he does, I added some wonderful scenes. Sure, he motivated me to get to those ideas, so I guess he really is a genius... How quickly I change positions...

Not a bad end to a Tuesday. Both of my series are rating well. One network is “tickled pink” by the ratings; the other just hit a series high in its already high ratings. Maybe I can still create a show, maybe I still have a relevant voice.

I head off to New York for a series of meetings with various executives, network heads, distributors, and a movie studio. They all want to figure out a way to make money off of me and I want to figure out a way to get them to pay for my next idea. It is the symbiotic relationship of creative and financial, and we just have to remember which one’s the important one...

(If you didn’t guess, it’s the former.)

Till New York...Tommy

‘A Dirty Five-letter Word’

November 20, 2006 2:02 PM

There's five letter word that I hate more than anything.

Well, not more than acts of violence, or bigotry, or ignorance.

But it's definitely a five letter word that I hate more than other five letter words. I like "trees", "lunch", and "taste". But I hate "notes".

Yes, notes.

You'd think that after 25 years as a creator of TV shows, I'd be used to notes by now. It's part of the process: I write scripts, networks give notes. But somehow, I'm always surprised to get them. And no matter what they say, I immediately hate them. Then I hate the network.
(It's not until much later that I hate myself.)

I just received notes on my new pilot on Friday. Four pages. That didn't even begin with a "you're brilliant, but..."

Not that it would matter if they said I was brilliant. Four pages of notes are three and a quarter pages too many, no matter what.

You know how sometimes you get pages of notes, and half of them are on grammatical errors, and you think: "syntax doesn't hit the damn screen anyway, so lay off? Let's just say, in this case, I WISHED half the notes were on typos, wrong contractions, and dangling participles.

Instead, I got notes on character. On plausibility. On tone. And of course, all the notes were wrong, because my script was perfect.

To hell with the network, I thought, why even give them a show of mine anyway?

My megalomania and pithy condescension dropped a little bit, however, when I took a walk around the block.

The point of the walk: to convince myself that I was right, they were wrong, and that I'd just have to call them up and tell them that. Instead, I started to realize...I didn't exactly develop the script with the network.

They signed off on an idea and I said: here's the script (I don't like to waste any time).

So, okay, maybe I could make it better...for their network. Their brand. My script wasn't wrong, they just needed me to do something different. For their shareholders.

Okay, fine, for their audience.

Okay, so their notes weren't ALL horrible. Maybe only half of them. So that's what I'd tell them, that half their notes were spot on, and the other half sucked.

Of course, when we all got on the phone, and they told me how brilliant the dialogue was, and how commendable it was that I went straight to script, but the path just didn't happen to coincide with their programming strategy, I figured there was no point in giving them my notes on their notes.

After all, show business is, in itself, a banal platitude: entertain while making money. It's in the word, right there. SHOW and BUSINESS.

Point being: while some things are objective in this industry, many things aren't.

Thus the saying: "there's no accounting for taste".

Which makes me realize, I HATE the word "taste". Even more than notes. Because notes depend on taste. Taste of the buyer, the audience, the programming plan for the future, and whatever movie just happened to have grossed the most millions the past weekend.

So...it's back to the script. I'm calm now. Well, I'm calmer. And that's close to being calm...

Until next rant,
Tommy

Tommytown

November 10, 2006 3:54 PM

Ratings on the premiere were strong. The show received excellent critical notice and the network is happy. On my other series, the ratings are higher than first season, they are growing week to week and the cast of the show is starting to show up in pulp magazines, a true mark of success in this world of television. Who cares what the program is — get your star in US Magazine and people will think you're a hit.

There has been a seismic shift in government and a quieter one in television. No one wants to pay. The world of mass entertainment has always been about the money, and that is fine with me. But now, as we look to launch our new series in ‘07, there is more importance put on the financial side of the deal than the creative. Nobody wants to risk anything. The corporations want their downside covered and their upside limitless.

No one discusses the creative risks that one has to take. How much do I listen to a "creative executive" before I stop listening? How many times can notes be given by a development team before the original idea has been so watered down that no idea exists? How much does one have to give of themselves before they are merely a vessel for bad ideas coming from a financier's plan?

This conversation has been had since entertainment has begun I'm sure, but now our "product" is merely a small percentage of companies that have global and diverse interests that extend not only beyond TV, but beyond creative content in general.

But that is the challenge that makes this worthwhile. How do you get a great idea through this maze? Well it answers itself: You have to believe that the show/film is worth everything, that its worth all the time, heartache, broken promises (no one "lies" anymore, their "marching orders” just change minute to minute) The idea is the only thing that matters. I cannot let the process diminish how good it feels to get something completed. Something I believe in that has an independent voice and point of view. The process of getting there is what I hate about this Job, but it's what I love about it also. Anything that matters demands a fight, and I'm ready for battle. So now I go back to my phone and talk to yet another buyer, who has every reason to tell me no; to talk to several international networks who will tell me that they love my show but can I make it sexier, less sexy, more actiony, less actiony, more male, more female... but always: less expensive.

I will have to listen to them and consider their opinions and wisdom and then I will go to my computer and write the show that I want to see, not the one that they want to finance... until I convince them, they're one and the same.

Until next time...

Tommy

Series Premiere

November 7, 2006 5:11 PM

The series premiered. The party with cast and crew was wonderful and festive. The sting of the horrible review from one Hollywood trade magazine has found it's appropriate place, forgotten after 24 hours as the collective conscious of the 4th estate around the country has pretty much found good to say about the show. The network is relieved for a moment. I am more concerned with the audience reaction, but I'll take the good reviews over the bad ones any day. As I was telling a particular network president on Friday, the bad reviews are wrong and the good ones are 100% accurate.

I am amazed the show is actually on the air. After all, all shows are impossible to get made. This past one was, I believe, my 19th series which I created or co created that has gone to air. I still am not quite sure how it happens.

I believe without a doubt if I want to make a series, I will and can. It's not always true, but if I don't believe that every step of the way, then I will not be able to make the journey. It creates many psychotic episodes in my life on a fairly regular basis, but it is always worth it when, like this morning, at about 7am I'm paddling out into the surf and smiling, because, yet again, against all odds and common sense, another one of my series has premiered. There is no better feeling that I know of professionally and (not to sound too corny, but...) spiritually.

Moving on, the next few weeks ratings will be watched closely and decisions made about renewals, time periods, promotions, etc. It is all good and what one has to do to keep their series on the air. Yes, just making them is not enough. They have to be watched, nurtured, protected, defended and disciplined. Series are like children, you don't know what will happen to them next.

My office is planning and figuring what shows will be renewed for next season, what pilots we want to get picked up, which ones we want to have made, which ones will we personally finance. Those are the ones that are always the scariest, but if no one wants to put up the money for one of our shows we believe in, then we have to. I won't let a good idea go on the shelf just because no one likes it. While all the above is going on I fall into my cocoon of my next show. It is always my favorite time.

What will I make next?

I am currently sketching one out. As is my practice, I clear off everything on my desk at the office and home, I read a lot, watch movies and listen to the sounds of people. I have the idea already and will start to lay out the characters and world, from that, if I STAY aware, stories will follow.

Great stories that will illuminate the magic of the human experience.

Stories that I hope will make the audience laugh think and cry, both tears of joy and empathy.

That is the beauty and gift of writing for me. To make an emotional connection with an audience and bring light to another, slightly different perspective, of a common experience.

I love family shows, and I think I saw the best one I have ever seen this weekend. It was a film that starred three young women, who because they said what a lot of people in this country were thinking, were subjected to financial hardship, banishment from radio, death threats and a public assassination that was way beyond the commentary. But what these three wonderfully talented, strong and independent women, who are also mothers, and wives did was what I believe to be at the heart of the Family. They stuck together and faced the extreme outrage with grace, honesty and dignity. A lesson all of us can learn from. It was a wonderful movie and made me believe in the American family even more than ever.

Off to write...

Best

Tommy

Welcome To Tommytown

November 7, 2006 5:03 PM

Hey all,

Below is the first entry of WELCOME TO TOMMYTOWN: Twisted Brain, Twisted Business—a blog that will chronicle the ins, outs, ups, and downs of being an independent producer of youth and family TV:

Two days ago, I took a break writing my current pilot because I had already been hard at work for almost an hour straight, and clearly deserved a breather. After talking to two of my sons about their daily college experience, one of my network executives about a season pickup, and my entire office staff about how procrastination was a bad habit, I decided I needed more time to unwind.

So I picked up a Hollywood trade magazine. And after flipping through the pages, I saw it. A review. Of my new series that premieres this week. It wasn't good. In fact, it made me wonder if I had completely lost any talent I ever had. Then it made me wonder if I actually HAD any talent or if I had just been fooling people for the past 25 years.

Like most independent writer-producers, I felt this 500 word article would bring on the end of my career. We're in a fickle business. No one gets off by resting on their laurels. You're only as good as your last hit.

I of course went on with my day. I of course hated everything I proceeded to write. And when I broke away from the office to pitch a pretty high-profile cable network, I wondered why I was even allowed in the room in the first place.

Even though the pitch went well.

I went home questioning pretty much every choice I ever made in my entire life, and come to the conclusion that—apart from marrying my wife and having my children—everything I did was a mistake. I told my wife we'd most likely have to sell our house, and maybe even our organs, to survive from this point on.

She told me she wasn’t going to listen to this. This wasn't the first time she said that, but I knew, it'd be the first time I was right, and she was wrong. It wasn't easy to fall asleep. FYI: Most paid programming sucks.

I must've eventually fallen asleep, because I woke up when my wife shoved a newspaper in my face. The Great Grey Lady of the East Coast. Which had a glowing review of my show. I immediately realized this reviewer was very bright. And I immediately realized that our show was in fact the very thing I had set out to do when I began my career: make quality programming that illuminates the magic of the human experience, and the magnificence of youth. With a rock ‘n’ roll, hip hop attitude, of course.

Good reviews kept rolling in after that. Twenty-four hours after the Hollywood trade review, instead of packing up my office and laying off my staff, I watched the show two times in a row. And felt proud.

Manic? Totally. Insane? Of course. Large ego, low self-esteem? You bet. I went from very low to very high within one calendar day. I questioned everything, and then questioned why I ever questioned it.

And it made me realize, I'm in this for the long haul. I got into this business to make shows that I would want to see, that my kids would want to see, that their friends would want to see.

Of course, the verdict is still out on the audience. We'll get numbers next week. And I'll either retreat into my shell or allow my staff to crack open champagne for breakfast.

In the meantime, I have to finish this new pilot. I hope it gets shot. I hope it gets picked up to series. In fact, I'd take a bad review if I can just get the real estate on the network.

And the cycle begins, yet again.

Tune in soon for my next rant...

Tom Lynch