Remember, We’re Not Here returns

Karen Simmons and Eddie Pepitone join my mother and I for lunch during one of Eddie’s stand-up runs in London.

While the documentary continues its slow limp forward, another season of the REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE podcast premieres today, featuring a fun interview with my good friends Eddie Pepitone and Karen Simmons (at home with their pup, Charlotte, interjecting from time to time) recorded earlier in the year.

Eddie Pepitone is an actor and comedian who’s appeared in Last Comic Standing, Bob’s Burgers, Brooklyn Nine Nine and dozens of other film and TV projects including the feature documentary The Bitter Buddha and his own Netflix Special, Eddie Pepitone: In Ruins.

Karen Simmons is a writer and reality story pro with credits on the award-winning comedy Runyon: Just Above Sunset and Basketball Wives.  She’s one of the first people I always call when a show is staffing up and one of the only people I know who cares more about classic radio, TV and film than I do.

Future episodes will roll out as they are completed and as time allows.

Mind the Gap: Rachel Prior on the flow of notes from The Money to The Writer

My entire motivation for writing AND ANOTHER THING was to help newly-minted creatives and assistants/baby execs understand each other better and — hopefully — take it easier on one another during the crazy back-and-forth of the creative process.

This great series of tweets from Rachel Prior (Head of Development at Big Talk Pictures) addresses the tough job of being in the middle, buffering sensitive creatives from the behind-the-scenes chatter that’s going on at the top of the chain.

An absolute must-read.  Click below:

Mind the Gap

Consulting: What It Is, What It’s Not

mail-2When I first moved to California, long before reality television seemed like a real career, I was hell-bent on writing for sitcoms and films.  I shelled out what I could afford (and what I couldn’t afford) on pitchfests, consultants, and anything that I thought would help me get a leg up in the entertainment universe.

It didn’t do much to move the success needle in the short term.  I mean, I made some great friends and watched them bloom into amazing professionals, but that was usually incidental and a result of just being in rooms with like-minded people.

It’s also one of the reasons I was so slow to ever consider consulting, which I’ve only done sporadically, and only when I feel like I can genuinely offer useful input to the client.  More than half of the calls and meetups, unfortunately, end up being a waste of time and gas for both of us. If I think someone’s grip on the reality of the business is tenuous at best, I’ll politely end our session and refund their money. I don’t want to become anyone’s party story as the cruddy consultant (oh, how they love to blame a consultant) who couldn’t deliver them a rose-petaled path to the top of the mountain and a jetliner view in the Hollywood Hills… something few consultants ever even manifest for themselves.

Let’s talk about what consulting is and isn’t, so you’ll know how to get the most out of it if you ever decide to seek someone out for screenplays, reality pitches, or pretty much anything.


Except on extremely rare occasion where I know that a client’s project is exactly what someone’s looking for, I’m not going to introduce a client to development execs at production companies or network friends.  I don’t approach those people all that often with my own work, and I’m sure our relationship would suffer if I just started shoveling people into their offices. If access is what someone is after in hiring a consultant, they should really be seeking out representation and learning how to network properly.


My job, when I do consult, is to help someone get their material into the best shape before they start taking meetings.  What a consultant should be doing is helping their clients understand what’s going on in the industry, aid them in becoming fluent in the language of the business, and assist them in formatting materials in a manner that helps them to look like a professional.  A consultant may advise their client on places that may take an interest in the concept, but they shouldn’t be expected to walk the project in.


No consultant that promises you that your project will sell deserves your business.  I don’t care how many awards they’ve racked up or how long their list of credits may be, this is a promise that should never be made.  Does the consultant take credit for the success of their clients?  Do you know how much of their clients’ success is owed to sweat, drive and talent versus hiring a consultant to give them notes?


A rough diamond isn’t worth as much as one that’s been brilliantly cut, and that’s the service you should be paying for. A good consultant will be giving you advice on industry standards, pacing, character development and the elements of a solid presentation, not telling you that you can fudge your final draft settings and font sizes to make a script seem shorter or longer. You don’t need workarounds, you need that brilliant-cut diamond.


Most good consultants I know offer packages with certain goals to be achieved over a specific number of passes/calls/sessions.  I don’t, but most of the clients I’ve worked with over the years have their questions answered in a couple of calls and some email volleys.  The idea of someone’s script or concept limping along through countless revisions at an hourly rate with no clear end in sight doesn’t make sense to me.  If a client can’t get it together in a couple of calls (and the odd followup email question here or there), I might suggest that our work together isn’t yielding the results it should and terminate the arrangement.  An ethical consultant isn’t going to lead you on forever just to keep you shelling out loot.


The ultimate goal in working with a consultant is to eventually “get it.”  I once heard that all good teachers are essentially out to replicate themselves, and a great consultant should be doing the same.  Once a client is proficient in the ways of the business and creating industry-standard content, that’s the end.  There are exceptions, of course, as many people value an outside opinion on works in progress and a trusted consultant may be revisited again and again over time to provide fresh eyes and a take on subsequent projects… but the goal is for the client to become self-sufficient.

Hope that’s helpful.

Addition, 11/8

I hope this doesn’t sound too curmudgeonly, but I feel like it needs to be said.

I don’t do much consulting, as I’m usually putting in long hours on shows and/or developing my own stuff, all while handling the simple life details like going to the DMV, cleaning the cat box or running laundry. If you’re a regular reader of this blog or have read the part of my book that invites you to contact me, you know that I’m usually happy to answer simple questions not covered in the book for free by email (using the “contact me” form on this blog or the email address provided in the book) as time permits.  

Over the last couple of years, I’ve had a lot of invitations to coffee or lunch or dinner to share advice, and regret that due to my schedule and a few unfortunate incidents, I’ve had to discontinue those kind of friendly meetups in which I usually find myself spending two hours, parking fees and gas to answer five minutes worth of questions already covered in my book in exchange for an eight dollar sandwich.  Most people are super-awesome, but three or four of those a week have worn me down a little, so email’s the way to go.  For more detailed conversations, I’m available by Skype on a very limited basis at a non-negotiable rate of $200/hr. 

Please remember that I spent a year writing a very niche book on the reality television story and creative process that you can find online, new or used (under $2 in some places I just looked up), and I strongly encourage you to check it out before asking things already answered there.

My cat, Zoe, also thanks you.


Hi, all.

The long-discussed (well, blathered-on-about-here) REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE podcasts’s second season, which kicks off with a double interview with Eddie Pepitone (LAST COMIC STANDING) and Karen Simmons (BASKETBALL WIVES, VANDERBILT MDs) has been in limbo for a stretch, but it’s still very much alive.

In the meanwhile, please remember that all RWNH season one episodes remain free at iTunes as well as the show’s Libsyn Link.


Your Questions Answered: Reality-Competition/Game Shows and Other Stuff

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Yours truly, lurking behind Bruno Tonioli and Tom Bergeron at a DWTS season finale. 

I’m spending some of this fine Emmy Sunday catching up on old business, working on the book, and FINALLY getting around to some of the questions you’ve been kind enough to ask.

First, from Jack D:

As you’ve worked on game shows (and I am about to launch one on YouTube), what lessons have you learned when doing test shoots and dry runs of a new game show? What are common mistakes? What tricks of the trade have you learned? What’s the minimum number of dry runs do you recommend? Which outsiders (if any) should be brought in to give their input? Have you ever brought in former game show hosts and/or producers for their input?

While I did work on Hollywood Game Night and have had a game show in development for a long while, I have a great deal more experience in reality competition, which I think operates on a number of the same principles. That said, here’s what I know about game shows from my limited experiences on them:

As far as the number of test shoots and dry runs, I’d say the correct number of the former is one, if it’s needed to prove something, the latter being however many you need to get it right.  Don’t shoot anything until the gameplay bugs are worked out, or you’re throwing money down a hole.

Two of the biggest things to consider: Bulletproof elimination metrics and the audience’s ability to play along at home.  In reality-competition, audience participation is replaced by making sure everyone in the audience has someone they can choose to root for as their participatory avatar.  Dancing With the Stars is one of the best examples, as each season starts with someone for every demo on the floor.

When I speak of game show elimination metrics, I mean that if you’ve got a show built to go three rounds with someone being eliminated at the end of each round, you’d better know how to handle or avoid a tie.  If no one’s out of the running until the very end, you’ve still got to avoid that tie.

Jeopardy is one of the all-time great formats because if, heaven forbid, a show end in a tie, they’ve got a contingency for a tiebreaker question in which the first person to buzz in with a correct response takes the game.  While I’m sure it’s happened a few other times, I’ve only seen it once, in the semi-finals of the 2012 Jeopardy Teen Tournament.

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What Jeopardy also handles well is avoiding the feeling that anyone is ever totally out of the game, no matter how far behind they are. The Daily Double on the board can narrow a gap quickly for someone who’s lagging behind, keeping the suspense going, and the final question allows players to wager up to the full amount of their winnings so far.

The audience on Jeopardy, of course, can play along at home, shouting answers over each other for living room domination or even when watching it alone.  I am never louder while viewing a game show than I am watching Jeopardy, except maybe when someone on Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader biffs an easy question.

As to outside consultants, I have a number of friends who work full time in the genre, so I’m lucky enough to be able to fly things by them.  You can hire any game show veteran to look over your premise and pitch in their two cents, though I’ve got a great guy you should listen to about that stuff right here on the first season of my podcast REMEMBER, WE’RE NOT HERE: Joey Ortega.

The most common mistake, I think, is overcomplicating game play.  If you can’t tell someone in a few sentences how the game works, rethink your format.  Check this out:

WIN BEN STEIN’S MONEY: Three contestants compete to answer general knowledge questions in order to win a grand prize of $5,000 from the show’s host, Ben Stein. In the latter rounds of each episode, Stein participates as a “common contestant” in order to defend his money from being taken by his competitors.

Simple, right?

Also, for trivia-based game shows, triple-check your writing to make sure that there is only one correct answer to your questions.  If you say “Mia Farrow’s famous film star ex” hoping to get Woody Allen, but your player says Frank Sinatra, they’re still absolutely right.  If you’d said “famous ex-husband” hoping to get Frank Sinatra (since Farrow and Allen never married), but your player said Andre Previn, you’d be stuck again.

Good luck with the game show, Jack!

Another (non-reality) question was posed by Krystol D:

How about taking about the latest films or books that you have read? Tell us about your favorite character in a film and why you liked it.

I’m mostly a biography/autobiography guy, and am currently finishing Kathleen Sharp’s MR AND MRS. HOLLYWOOD, about Lew and Edie Wasserman.  I’d read THE LAST MOGUL, another bio of Wasserman, some years ago, and this is an interesting supplementary take on the guy.

My favorite character of late is Joy from INSIDE OUT, and if I told you why, I’d ruin the movie for you.



I spoke a little bit about this to some attendees at Story Expo this past weekend, and it bears posting here.

You’ll often hear reality producers talk about taking “ownership” of their shows.  It’s that satisfying feeling wherein the time and emotional investment you’ve made at the episode or series level feels like it has paid off, and that your voice has come through in the show.

What has to be remembered when seeking “ownership” of your work is that ultimately, you have a showrunner, execs, and a network to please.  Your idea of what the show is can be compromised by everything from its bottom line to any one of a host of issues beyond your control.

Always, always, always care about what you do, but remember that some arguments aren’t worth having and that your first job is to have one.  Ownership isn’t always possible.

This is why it’s critical to understand your showrunner.  Do they like to discuss story or dictate it?  What’s their vision of the workflow on their show?  Do they thrive in times of calmness, chaos, or both?  Figure it out.

Some years ago, I had an exec at network who created problems just so they could heroically resolve them later.  I’ve also had a company owner who would show up and ALWAYS trash the first act of a rough cut and storm out, seemingly operating on his unspoken philosophy that good work only comes from stressed out employees.  While he apparently never saw a California Cheese commercial in which “Great cheese comes from happy cows,” he was clear about the level of ownership he took in the programs he made.

The real world is about working.  Creating and feeling fulfilled is a luxury afforded to few, even in a “creative” business.  Understand that your EP/showrunner has worked a long time to get where they’re at, and that one of the most important aspects of their job is expressing a vision, theirs, consistently.


Hi, folks.


There comes a time when a fella really wants to update his blog with something useful, to not simply plug something he’s got to sell or rehash some old thing he’s covered before, but there just doesn’t seem like there’s anything to be said at the moment.

I’d imagine it has something to do with being up to my elbows in a move from North Hollywood out to Sunland, where it’s quiet enough to decompress after each long week of work on a show coming back to HGTV next year, finish up the second edition of REALITY TV, and enjoy myself in the stolen moments between answering emails, consulting and all the other reality stuff I find myself doing — like revising not one but two lectures coming up at Story Expo in less than two weeks.

It’s a great life, but sometimes I get tired and have to walk away from things or handle business for a minute.  How about this — help me out by requesting something I could contribute to the blog for you next week.  I feel awfully bad about taking such a long hiatus, and would really love to share something new with you.

Reality Pro Tip: Superteases

Many newcomers to reality television may be unfamiliar with the concept of a supertease or supertrailer. 

Think of them in much the same way as you would a movie trailer. The idea behind a supertease or supertrailer is to convey a sense of what a full season will look like, and convince viewers to tune in.  These may run at upfronts, online to promote a new show or season, or at the end of a first episode.

While there are many ways to approach cutting these, I have always found it useful to divide the supertease or supertrailer into a series of clips and soundups categorized by similar emotional tone.

For example, you may wish to open a super tease with a question or hypothesis for the season. A character might make a statement like “If they think I’m going down without a fight, they’ve got another thing coming.”

From that hypothesis, take the first turn into a group of loud or exciting moments. From there, consider grouping five or six sound bites that are of a dynamic nature… argument, exclamatons, pronouncememts. 

After that, consider taking a downshift in intesity into some more personal or emotional moments.

You get the idea.

After four or five good shifts in tone, bring your supertease/supertrailer home with a heavy string of conflict moments (or, if more appropriate, liveliest positive moments) the biggest, baddest sound bite you can find.  A declaration.  Something that packs a wallop that will define your series and season as it puts a button on the 90 seconds to three or four minutes your supertease or supertrailer will run.

You can apply this same philosophy to your sizzle reels, too. 


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Response to AND ANOTHER THING, my new book on the TV network notes process, has been mostly sunny now that everyone’s figured out I’m not bashing anyone.  Boy, are we touchy about the notes process!

Here’s a brief excerpt from the book, which is downloadable for free at through Saturday.


When you are writing or reviewing notes, keep the following five things in mind:

Is it necessary? Think about what the note buys you. If you are adding something, is it worth the time that will have to be lost elsewhere in the show?   Will you sleep that much better knowing that this change has been made?

Is it in service of the story? So you remember a clever thing that happened on set or (for reality) in the notes that doesn’t relate to the story. Does it need to be in the show? Can it live as a web extra instead of being crammed into a scene, getting a laugh but letting the air out of the story you’re supposedly moving forward?

Is it worth the financial cost to address? (Reality example, but universal in terms of reshoots) You could really use a pickup scene where A talks to B about what happened last Thursday, but the show’s wrapped. You’ll have to hire three people and fly them to Wisconsin to get the pickup. Is there another way to solve the problem, like a simple VO from the cast member from the scene who lives in town? (If it’s worth it and within budget, ask away)

Is it worth your relationship with the team? In the event that the note is contentious or controversial, ask yourself why you’re not willing to let the content pass as is. Again, if you feel strongly about it, give the note.

Is this an issue that can actually be solved? Don’t waste your time and others’ by tilting at windmills.

New e-Book: AND ANOTHER THING promotion at

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Just wanted to let readers of the blog know that AND ANOTHER THING, my e-book on the television notes process, is finally available at  The book is free through Saturday July 4 as part of a release promotion at, after which, it’ll still be around for just $2.99.

The book takes aim at the notoriously contentious television notes process, wherein execs and creatives often bump heads.  The intention here is to get both sides of the equation on the same page with early-career advice on how to give constructive notes, checklists for assistants and new execs to consider during the notes process, and much more.

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