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TV 101: Things You Don't Know About Making A TV Show (Or: Mea Culpa)

by Jay Black, posted Jun 30th 2010 2:00PM
This was actually in our TV Media library. How perfect is that?Blogging about television is a lot like going to marriage counseling: you have the best of intentions, but for the most part, you just wind up doing a lot of bitching.

I'd like to say that I've never engaged in the easy sport of blog-bitching, but in order to make that claim, I'd have to delete everything I've ever written here on TV Squad, then make a midnight ninja-run at the Googleplex in order to remove all those blogs from the cache. I don't have the time for that -- I mean, the ninja training alone would take me two decades (or three minutes depending on whether I can find a ninja training academy that allows montages).

No, it's far easier for me just to own up to it. TV, I've bitched a lot about you over the three and a half years I've been writing for this site. And I owe you an apology.

In my other job as stand-up comic, I've had the opportunity to appear on TV a few times. I've done some work for 'Extra!', appeared (on the telephone!) on A&E's 'The Two Coreys', did a spot on Fox Business Channel's 'Happy Hour', performed stand-up on Showtime and on the Comedy Channel in Canada, and appeared on countless local morning shows around the country promoting stand-up comedy shows.

It's not a particularly impressive list of accomplishments. In fact, the 'Happy Hour' appearance was seen by maybe 11 people, most of whom were prisoners in Gitmo being forced to watch as part of their "enhanced coercive interrogation" program.

Things are looking up, though. Recently, I was cast in a movie called 'Virgin Alexander,' an independent film starring Paige Howard and Bronson Pinchot. I'm excited because it's not only a really funny script, but also because most of my scenes are with Mr. Pinchot. This means that it's only a matter of time before I make a "dance of joy" reference and he stabs me in the neck with his car keys.

In preparing for the movie, I was reminded yet again just how much effort goes into a piece of entertainment. 'Virgin Alexander' is a small enough flick that they've actually cast me (me!?) in a role, but despite its size, it still manages to be an incredibly complicated organism.

In fact, every piece of TV I've ever been a part of has been far more complex than we might expect from the results on the screen.

Take cheesy local morning shows, for instance. I don't envy the people tasked with grinding out the details of those things. I'm not talking about the directors -- they get to play at being artists -- I'm talking about the woman with the clipboard. Every morning show I've ever been on has had a stressed-out woman (for some reason it's always a woman, which I suspect is because a man in that position would either die of a heart attack or shoot everyone in the building) holding a clipboard and trying desperately to get all the "artists" to the exact right spot at the exact right time.

Last year, I did a Cleveland morning show where the poor woman not only had to keep me in line, but also had to organize a local sausage expert, a spring fashion show and a set of teen jump-rope champions. I'm sure that sounds like a fun party (ahem), but it's a lot more work close up.

The producers and editors sweat the details too. Two years ago, Brian Herzlinger and I appeared on 'The Two Coreys' in a segment that took something like an hour to film. The conversation wasn't scripted and bounced around subjects about as much as you'd expect from any interaction involving the late Corey Haim.

And yet, when the segment appeared on the air, it was not only chopped down to a fast-paced two minutes, it told a (relatively) lucid story. Even more impressive, with the dramatic angles and the music cues, it actually seemed like some of the stuff Brian and I said was interesting. TV magic!

Except it wasn't magic: a producer had to write down on a sheet every single thing that was said during that conversation, making notes as to what beats might help tell the "story." Then the tapes and the notes were given to an editor who took an hour of video (from three different cameras!) and fine-tuned it to 120 seconds of fast-paced story-telling.

Imagine being forced to listen to an hour of Corey Haim and me having a conversation -- whoever edited that piece should be given a purple heart Emmy.

The people in front of the camera get a lot of grief for being empty-headed Barbie dolls, but their job isn't easy either. My little-seen adventure on 'Happy Hour' involved me being interviewed along with the woman who invented Spanx. To this day, I have no idea why we were on together. My best guess is that some producer figured a comedian and a businesswoman would generate some fun banter (SPOILER ALERT: It didn't).

What shocked me was that the two hosts of the show never missed a beat. Every time one of my awkward jokes fell flat (often) or the Spanx lady tried to steer the conversation back to why people ought to buy Spanx (continuously), they were able to keep the segment on target and on time. If you don't understand how hard that is to do, try this experiment: the next time you're at a dinner party try to hold the thread of a conversation for six solid minutes, then smoothly segue out of it. Manage that and even the East German judge will give you a 9.8.

Here's my point: we spend a lot of time watching television and an ever-increasing amount of time criticizing it on the internet. Sometimes it's important to remember that there are literally hundreds of hands at work behind every minute of TV that we see on the screen. Not all of it is going to be 'Hamlet' (or even 'Homeboys in Outer Space'), but it isn't for lack of trying. These people are doing their best to entertain us; maybe we can retract the claws every once and a while when the results aren't up to our lofty standards.

So that's my apology, TV. I'm sorry I've spent the last 1,300 days publicly attacking you because I felt a bit wasn't realistic on 'The Office' or because the finale of 'Lost' was a tad too religious for my liking. You're actually out there creating; I'm just some blogger who confuses being snarky for being witty. Of course, like any good sitcom character, I'll forget all this next week, but in the meantime let's just enjoy the truce.

(Jay Black is a writer and a comedian who really hopes you like this column. For more information about Jay or to check out one of his live shows visit www.jayblackcomedy.net.)

[Follow @jayblackcomedy on Twitter]

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There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call The Twilight Zone.

July 01 2010 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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