Within the first 60 seconds of watching Kevin Spacey give his speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival, I exhaled as if I had been on trial for five years and the jury just found me not guilty.
Hearing the things you've been saying to everyone you know, for as long as you can remember, come out of the mouth of someone as respected and revered as Mr. Spacey acts as quite the weight-lifter. I was beginning to believe I was the only one out there. Obviously, I'm not.
As an 'unproven' writer in Hollywood, I've been involved in the Sisyphean struggle of shopping a television show around a town that wouldn't know a good idea even if it jumped up and guaranteed them 15 Emmys-a-year for five years.
I've experienced, firsthand, the mundane, uninspired, path-of-least-resistance mentality 99 percent of today's network executives demonstrate when deciding on which shows get made and which do not. And, make no mistake; the last thing these folks think about is the project. The top brass at the networks -- as well as the big talent agencies who pitch and package these shows to them -- operate on the basis of one, simple question:
"If I say 'Yes' will I lose my job?"
Not, "Is this a good script? A good idea? An interesting premise with interesting characters?" etc. etc. Nope. When it comes down to it, 9 out of 10 times, all that really matters is the J.S.P factor. "J.S.P." being short for, Job Security Potential. The higher the J.S.P. factor, the more likely it is to be made. That's why the big name actors and producers are the only ones working. Especially these days. Because, even in Hollywood, there's fewer places to go if you get canned.
But, this nothing new. You see it in the movies. You see it in what's left of the music business. The difference here, is finally one of their own is standing up -- in true Jerry Maguire fashion -- and saying "Wake up, boys! Our business model is eating itself right in front of our eyes. Don't say I didn't warn you."
This is exactly what my band, The Rosenbergs, tried to do in the early days of file-sharing. It wasn't hard to see what the problem was and where the industry was heading. The problem was, no one wanted to be the one to do something about it. Had we been Pearl Jam, our message would've been able to reach a lot more people. For all intents and purposes, with that speech, Mssr. Spacey has become the 'Pearl Jam' of the T.V. biz. And, thank sweet Jesus for that.
So many writers out there end up living the "tree in the forest" metaphor: If your show never gets picked up, does it mean it's not good? After hearing Mr. Spacey speak, the answer is clearly, "No."
Personally, I know our show's good. That's the only reason I continue to siphon what's left of my piggy bank flying back and forth to L.A. in search of the one guy and/or gal that will 'get it.'
We've been shopping our show -- about a punk legend who leaves rehab and moves in with his mother -- for several years now. And, alas, because I'm not Ryan Murphy or Mark Burnett, and we don't have a hot, young Twilight actor attached, we are left to wander the hostile plains of the T.V. biz, alone.
Not entirely alone, actually. A big part of the reason I know our show is good is because a truck load of veteran actors -- like Steven Weber, Rosanna Arquette, Lesley Ann Warren, Griffin Dunne, Ed Asner and Rita Moreno -- are all behind the concept. And, plenty of development exec.'s have responded quite favorably to our project, too:
The folks at Ben Stiller's company flipped over it. Brett Ratner and his people flipped over it. As did Courtney Cox and her people. But, like a tree with a million roots and one stump, all these companies and all these places eventually lead to just a handful of outlets: The networks. Be it cable or prime-time, they're the ones that ultimately have to agree to air the thing, so they get to decide the fate of most of the pilots at these companies.
But, as Mr. Spacey so eloquently points out, in a very short time it's not going to matter if your show is shot for two-million bucks on location at CBS Studios or streamed from Domino's Pizza on Main St. in Iowa. Content-is-content. And, sooner or later the networks will get the message.
Of course, even the almighty Kevin Spacey is not powerful enough on his own to change the T.V. biz overnight. But, before there is change, there needs to be one guy who's not afraid to stand up and shout "I am Spartacus!"
Thank you, Mr. Spacey, sir, for saying what thousands of us have been saying for so long and giving both, the writer and the viewer, a voice.
Follow David Fagin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/nikchapman