08/01/2013 12:13 pm ET Updated Oct 01, 2013

TV or Not TV -- The Follow-up

My article yesterday here about TV writers and directors brought forth a terrific comment by a reader on my website, who went by Kevin. It adds a good deal of detail and perspective. He wrote:

The claim is boarderline insane. Some directors are incredibly talented and elevate the episode to be sure -- but any hint of authorship is ridiculous. Not only are shots described in script, directors have hours long tone meetings with showrunners where every scene is described and shots discussed. If the director deviates too far from the look of the show -- decided on by said showrunner -- the AD will call the showrunner. The location scout the director went on? Probably had a writer guiding, and if it didn't, was led by a location scout the showrunner chose and who has a clear idea of the kinds of locations the showrunner likes, with locations probably previously vetted by the showrunner.

Rather than using cinema to make the case for directors under appreciated role in TV, you could also use TV to make the case for writers underappreciated role in cinema. But authority in both seems to be granted by one thing: Who has the last word. In cinema, the director could feed lines to a character that are not in the script. He or she could certainly re order script in editing. But in TV, not only does the writer have the first word, they have the last. They can overrule the director at any point, and have final cut.

Not shockingly I agree with every word. He mentions much that that's exceedingly important to the overall day-to-day reality of the situation, but which I left out since it was only tangential to the larger point what I was writing about.

In fact, (not surprisingly) I seemed to have annoyed the two reporters, and I got into my first Twitter Snit with them. I actually apologized for the tone in my article, something I pointed out was probably rare on Twitter. (Rare to the degree of, "Oh, my God! Someone actually apologized on Twitter!!!") And again, to be clear, I do apologize for that. Further, it must be highly frustrating for them to have to defend points they already believe they've made. So, I appreciate that, as well. The truth is also, however, that while I sincerely apologize that my tone suggested that they were "dupes" (not mine, but Alyssa Rosenberg's word) -- I do think they wrote articles that took too much at face value what directors are trying to "politically" suggest, and in doing so rewrote the realities of creating TV shows, which Kevin so specifically stated. While they might feel that I missed their points, after reading their Twitter explanations I think I got their points from the first, it's just that I only agreed with a few of them. Yes, without question, directors should not be denigrated as having no impact. They do have impact. And yes, they're right, there is collaboration. But no, directors don't remotely deserve to get the credit for creating TV episodes as how it was being presented, which is the larger sense that came through. And I say that for reasons that now include what Kevin wrote meticulously here. Besides, my criticism was far more at what the directors were saying.

Indeed, as a highly credentialed TV writer who knows (and likes) DGA president Paris Barcaly -- the man who led the directors symposium referenced before -- also wrote me, that symposium was hardly about discussing creativity, but rather the DGA "is not above trying to make political inroads into the governing of television. It is one of the pet causes of the DGA to get more power in television. Of course, they have no corresponding desire to relinquish one scintilla of power in film. The DGA resents the show runner status, but as you correctly point out, there is no other way it can be in series television."

And he added even-handedly and objectively, which in many ways echoes the final point Kevin above made: "Writers need directors. Directors need writers, but the balance of power in television and film has everything to do with the architecture of the media. Ultimately, it's about money. Who can deliver the product we need on the schedule we need it?"

The reality is that I don't think most people know all these behind-the-scenes and then hidden from that behind the closed doors details about how creating TV shows works -- and I include many, if not most WGA members. And most Hollywood professionals. And journalists. Maybe not these two, but as I said, I suspect most people, even the most experienced ones, don't know how much TV directors have to defer to the showrunner and writers -- about pretty much everything.

To be clear, Matt Stoller Seitz and Ms. Rosenberg are both talented, experienced journalists. I not only like their work, I admire their work. That's why I actually bent over backwards writing a great deal of praise in the article, particularly about Matt Zoller Seitz's work, which I know better, and hope came through. My guess is that when a journalist gets criticized they rarely get any praise, let alone as much and as gracious as I included. I sort of hoped that that perspective would have taken that into consideration, that I wasn't merely criticizing them and their body of work -- not at all, not remotely -- just these particular articles. Only later when I finally pointed out how much praise I'd written did they acknowledge that it was appreciated.

I do understand why they were bothered. Perhaps by my intemperate tone (perhaps poorly phrased, since I was trying to inform the reader of things they weren't likely aware, not school the authors), perhaps because no one likes to get criticized. But the thing is, if you're going to call TV showrunners "Barnum-esque" and write such a controversial statement about how what's been said about the small impact by directors in TV as Writers Medium "Isn't true and probably never has been," you have to know that it's meant to be intentionally controversial and will create disagreement, if not outrage among writers, as noted here from several sources, and I'm sure elsewhere. And if the assertions of the president of the DGA are taken at face value, others whose livelihood is in fact being intentionally impinged upon (for political reasons which might not be clear on the surface), will address them.


Robert J. Elisberg's new novel The Wild Roses, a comic adventure in the spirit of The Three Musketeers but with three women, is now available here in paperback or for $3.99 as a Kindle eBook. His other writing can be found at Elisberg Industries.