Friday, March 4, 2011

Brandon Tartikoff

Taking a break from all of yesterday's controvery, here are a few Friday Questions and Answers.
ajjjj begins:

What do managers do, and is it worth it to have one or submit to them when you're starting out?

Generally they make out the line-up, decide on the pitching rotation and… oh, you mean that kind of manager. Sorry. My head is into spring training.

In theory, a manager has just a few clients. So he is able to give you a lot of personal attention. He should be able to advise you on career choices. If you have a specific goal he should construct a game plan. The idea is that he’s really looking out for your best interests.

Your agent negotiates any deal. Your agent generally has a lot of clients. So if your agent isn't giving you the attention you require your manager keeps on his ass,

Sometimes a manager can act as your protector. Agencies make their big money not on your commissions but on putting together package deals for series. If the show becomes a hit they own a piece and that could be a jackpot. So even though there are better deals or better situations for you, your agent may try to steer you towards a show that is their package.

Let’s say the agent has two clients – you and the showrunner to that show. The showrunner needs a writer and you’d be great. But he’s also an asshole and impossible to work for while at the same time another showrunner wants you and he’s a prince. Whose best interest is the agent going to serve? Yours or the cash cow showrunner? So he’ll try to talk you into taking that job. Your manager, on the other hand, should look at the big picture and advise you take the other position.

But here’s the thing – if a manager puts a client in a show he can take a producing credit. So he’s then acting in his own best interest, not yours. And he winds up with a producing credit and piece of the action and does absolutely nothing for it.

When you’re starting out you want anybody who will work on your behalf.  If you can’t get an agent but can get a manager and that manager has connections and can make things happen for you, then do it. Otherwise, if you can get an agent, and you like him (and even trust him) then I think a manager is unnecessary and you’re just paying out more of your salary.

Personally, I have never had a manager. I’m confident that the agents that I’ve selected do in fact work on my behalf, and if I thought otherwise, I would just change agents.

That said, there are writers who swear by their managers. Bottom line: you just need somebody to have your back. It could be a manager, an agent, or an attorney.

Brian Doan asks:

Riffing on the anecdote you told-- what was it like working with Brandon Tartikoff? When you worked on CHEERS, did you come in to contact with him a lot? Especially since his passing, there seems to be a legend that's grown up around him, as one of the last TV execs to fill both the "creative" and "business" sides of the job. Did you find that to be true? Sorry if you've answered this before!

Brandon was the smartest and nicest high level television executive I ever worked for.  A complete mensch.  It was clear that he really loved television. He never considered programming a network just a rung on the ladder (a la Jeff Zucker). He treated everyone with respect. He was very collaborative, never tried to strong-arm you.

And he had taste. He appreciated quality and encouraged it. That’s not to say he didn’t see the need for standard popular fare, but even then if he was going to pick up THE A TEAM, he wanted to make the best possible A TEAM.

And Brandon was by far the most down-to-earth executive I have ever encountered. I have a basketball net on my garage. One day my son and I were shooting hoops. Brandon and his family drove up. They were attending some event at our neighbor’s. I look up and there’s Brandon walking up asking if he can work in with us. I’m standing in my driveway shooting baskets with my son and the President of the National Broadcasting Company. He was truly one of a kind. And had a great jump shot.

And finally, from Rory Wohl:

On taped shows with a live audience where there's some acknowledgment of the commercial break (I'm mostly thinking of talk shows where the host says, "We'll be back after these commercial messages"), how long a break does the show actually take? Do they take the two minutes (or six, if it's Jimmy Fallon or Craig Ferguson) and pretend commercials were shown? Do they take just enough time to set up the next shot (i.e., host moves from monologue stage to sitting behind desk)? Do they use the break as time to adjust other stuff?

They tape those shows as if they’re live. Rarely will they stop tape. So if a commercial break is six minutes, they will wait six minutes before starting up again. I believe that the network commercials are actually put in at the time of the taping. The only real holes are for local spots. This goes for game shows, too.

What’s your question? And "Play ball"!

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