Like you I have a hard time thinking about all this without my brain hurting. There is, of course, "a what does this mean to me" interest in all this consoladating etc., but right now I don't think anyone knows much past the fact that, as Canadians, our assumption is "this is gonna be bad". That assumption is largely correct if only becuase all this merging etc. increases the element of "facelessness" with regard to the people we (the content creators) have to deal with. Success in this business relies on "gut instinct" more than focus groups etc., and as the major players shrink to a handful, mavericks get squeezed out and replaced with drones who must, for their own self interest, do their best to have a career without ever making a decision that they can be held accountable for.
It's hard to pitch in this environment because the fear to "take a flyer" on something is so pervasive. There still are a few of those people left and I thank my lucky stars that I know some of them, without them my career would be over. I've had a number of breaks doing this gig and they have all been a result of someone making a call that took guts. This attribute is not one that corporate culture values highly, certainly not among the ranks of middle management the people who, for the most part, we have to initially deal with.
The tale for today goes back to the glorious times when there was both an "Alliance" and an "Atlantis" -- two fairly vigourous production houses who competed for projects -- I'd worked for one but not the other so when Atlantis called I thought, hey, this'll be fun. The show was, at the time, their flagship drama. it starred the bosses wife. It was the only drama on the Canadian network it aired on. It was, for this market, high profile. In short, if any show was going to be under a microscope, this was the one. If any show was going to be subject to focus groups and attention from people within the organization, this was the one. If any show was going to drive a writer/producer crazy this would be it. It didn't.
It didn't because the boss was a person you could talk to, a person who had the confidence within an organization to make decisions based only on gut instinct. That was, of course, Seaton McLean. If you had a problem you could talk to Seaton. If you needed something you could talk to Seaton. If you made a call, he'd be behind you, and if that call turned out to be wrong, he'd still be behind you. What happened for/to me on this show probably wouldn't happen today. They contacted me about doing the gig cause they'd seen some work I'd done on a half hour show. Offered me a showrunner credit. I was happy. Then I learned they were also going to hire another producer (I wasn't so happy) because the job I was being hired to do had always been done by two people. I knew I couldn't do what I wanted with another person so I turned down the gig -- more money than I'd ever been offered in my life, more exposure, more prestige etc -- and threw up in my mouth just a little.
And they came back to me. Okay, sport you got it. The other producer is off the table. Holy cow. Next they said it would be a good idea if you kept the story editor. I said sure. We were now gonna start shooting in about ten weeks so that made sense to me. But can I bring in another one? Sure. But then both of them became unavailable for various reasons and there was just me sitting in the office trying to figure out WTF I was gonna do. I'd gotten the biggest gig of my life, I knew absolutely nothing about the "world" of the series and I had no writers and now I gotta have a "production script" for the first episode in about six or seven weeks (and of course, twenty five more each week after that), as well as find replacement cast members for series regulars that had gone off to the greener pastures of the US. Gulp.
So the calls went out to the experienced writers. I talked to a bunch of them but soon realized that becuase of their experience I was actually gonna have to convince them that my ideas were right. And I didn't have either the time or the rhetorical skill to do that. So I interviewed newbies. One had never written a script, one had written half a script (the show intern the year previous) and the third had written a half hour show once. But I liked the cut of their jibs and I knew that they would sweat blood for me (the magnanimous provider of the "big break') so I figured these people were gonna be "my team". There was now only a production company and a network to convince. Seaton had a Springsteen poster in his office. That was my in.
I went in and made my pitch. there was some talk about the fact that I'd never run a show of this scale and my staff had a sum total of one hour of produced TV experience behind them and we were still shooting in six or seven weeks but, at this point, I figured what the fuck -- "if we succeed it'll be magnificent, if we fail the crash will be spectacular"...the "last chance power drive" ...the working metaphor in all of this. Seaton laughed and said "what the hell" and called the network and the deal was done.We made it through that season -- got a handful of Gemini nominations and got a bonus season after that. I don't know what the point is. I just know that we did something special that year. something that in the "check and double checks" and "caution" that is a natural condition of a big corporate machine would never happen again.
Thanks for that. I think most of us who've kicked around the trenches long enough have a 'Seaton's office' story. I know I have a several. One was incredibly life-changing...I'd just moved to Toronto and as we sat and shot the shit he suddenly interupted one of my rambles about regional production and simply asked me what did I want to do? I hummed and hawed and finally said...'I want to direct more often, and try to get on the staff of a tv series.' He just nodded and said 'Okay, good to know.' And six months later he was calling me on Boxing Day to ask me to take a run at the story of what ended up being the first script of a series called 'Psi Factor'...with the carrot being - "if this pans out, we'll get you on the staff of the series." And it did pan out, because he stood behind his word.
Another involved an enthusiastic reality television producer acting out a 'close encounter' scene between some farm kids and some 'aliens'...and then trying to convince us that with the right lighting and the appropriate 'shaking' of a VW Beetle, we could simulate 'the spaceship' for no money at all. And then proceeded to show us how he'd already done it (in a bug!) for the series 'Sightings'. I didn't know how to respond, but Seaton smiled and nodded and says: "Seems a little cheesy, but it just might work." (we never did stoop that low, but Seaton's enthusiasm was infectious).
That's what I loved about Seaton...for all the corporate reality and then the monolith that Atlantis and Atlantis Alliance became, he always seemed like a down to earth guy who just liked making tv shows or movies. And wanted us all to have fun doing it.