I Decided to Make a TV show and All I Got Was This Lousy Existential Crisis.
The year of our Lord 2012 was an interesting one for my career – to say the least.
I left the comfortable solace of my former production company, which made mostly soul-crushing corporate and event videos to pursue my ultimate career goal – to have my own TV show glow back at me from an idiot box. I’d like to say, “Little did I know how challenging it would be,” or some other cliche, but honestly, I knew how challenging it would be, and it actually still exceeded my expectations.
I think most of us in the industry want to produce either films or shows of some sort. I doubt most of us enjoy making sales training videos for a company that makes seasoning salt. Some cope with it, as I did for 10 years, others dream a bigger dream and work towards it. I was not working towards it, and I could feel myself getting more and more “Dead behind the eyes.”
Not living in LA or NYC, but settled here in Orlando, Florida, I didn’t know one single person who had cracked the code, and had a successful television show on the air nationally. I knew many who had tried. I knew a lot of people, including myself, that had made local television – even good local television, but not for themselves. I knew many with awesome ideas, but if there is one thing I learned while trying to make my show it was this…everyone has great ideas, almost no one gets them to air.
So, even though I had – what I thought – were good ideas, I knew they wouldn’t be what made me successful at my endeavor. It would be “Who I knew” not “What I knew.” This immediately put me at a disadvantage, as I know like – 8 people, and generally shun “Power networking events.” However, I had some untapped connections I knew I had to exploit. My business partner in the show, and owner of this blog, we’ll call him Jean Tamayo, has a wife who works for a television syndicator in town. If you know anything about syndication companies, you know they are the ones that producers pay a hefty fee to in order for them to find placement for your show. The fees can be as large as $30,000.00 for a low budget endeavor. Not having that kind of money, and only knowing the aforementioned 8 (maybe 10) people, I knew that wasn’t an option. What was an option, was convincing the owner to syndicate our show for an equity stake in the show’s earnings.
Let me stress that this most likely won’t happen to you. My partner, having a tight relationship with the syndicator, was the only reason we were able to convince her that we could…
A) Make a 13 week show.
B) Make it for next to nothing.
C) Have it not be crap.
The woman who ran the syndication company had made many original programs in the past, but over the last decade had stopped and was shopping other producer’s shows exclusively. She too was itching to get back into the ring like us, so we joined forces with her company in three equal parts to create original programming.
However, having no track record, would make it difficult for her to place our show idea on networks around the country. But what she came up with was our best option.
A budding, small, digital subcarrier network known as, MeTV was seeking educational/instructional programming, aka e/i. MeTV runs mainly old black and white reruns, but has a nice older following. The government mandates that every broadcaster have a certain amount of e/i programming, usually on weekend mornings. Therefore all broadcasters are looking for e/i programming, but since there are many restrictions on advertising, they don’t want to pay anything for it. That’s where we came in. We would pitch an idea for an educational show to MeTV and they would broadcast it for us. There would be no transfer of money, but they would allow us commercial time for sponsors.
Our syndicator partner successfully made the deal with MeTV and we now had a slot for a show. This was both exhilarating and terrifying. We now had to produce 13 weeks of television with no money and no sponsor and had a hard due date. So, we did what more and more people are doing these days and we went on kickstarter.com. We solicited funds from everyone we could think of and we’re able to raise about $6500. Not great, but it was better than nothing. The fact that my partner and I already owned some DSLR equipment and editing computers, meant that we would do almost all of the heavy lifting. We eventually would wind up needing extensive help in the writing, editing, sound design, and motion graphics department.
The realization that we COULD do everything ourselves, but SHOULDN’T do everything ourselves is what made our show great. We blew through our kickstarter money and dipped into our own pockets for thousands of dollars, but hadn’t we done that, we would’ve had a show that we were constantly making excuses for and not proud of it. Closed captioning for the show alone cost around $5000.00. So, this is not an endeavor to take lightly.
If I could tell you that we have found corporate sponsorship and everything was great now I would, but I’d be lying. Corporate sponsorship is incredibly difficult to obtain, especially on a small network, even with value added things like the website and social media.
So here we are today. A show currently airing weekly on MeTV that we are very proud of. We plan on making seven more episodes for a total of 20, and we’re going to be syndicated on major networks in September 2013. If you want to check it out, it’s called Travel Thru History.
After all of this, I am left unconvinced as to whether we will go any further or whether a company such as mine can make a living doing this.
What I do know, is that this is probably what I am supposed to do with my life.