Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Best Before Date

I had several things this morning I wanted to link to and comment on, but got busy and one thing led to...well, you know how it is.

So keeping it short and sweet, go check out THIS POST at Just Thinking... by Earl Pomerantz, a terrific TV writer with a long track record primarily in American sit-coms. He talks about the ageism settlement that a group of writers recently won (as also reported by Nikki Finke) against the ICM Talent Agency, and whether discrimination was really at play here.
Why are agencies and the studios and networks discriminating against older writers? Do they despise them? Are older writers perceived as being genetically inferior? That can’t be true. Their genes haven’t altered from when they were young writers, and fully employed.
What’s the reason older writers are discriminated against? Is it “Wrinkle Envy”? What?

Older writers are not hired because they are perceived as being unable to provide material that will deliver the younger audience advertisers require the networks to attract. Agencies are dropping them, because they can’t get them any work. In other words – an argument can be made – and probably has been – that that this has nothing to do with discrimination at all. It’s simply a matter of business.

It’s an argument that cannot be easily dismissed. Can you imagine a similar lawsuit being brought against Major League Baseball by a group of fifty year-old ballplayers?

He's got a good point there. And then Mr. Pomerantz neatly brings it around full circle:
In the article about the agism lawsuit, a writer named Larry Mintz was mentioned as one of the plaintiffs. Among his credits, it was reported, were Sanford and Son, The Nanny and Family Matters. These are estimable credits on successful sitcoms, but do those shows bear any resemblance to the half-hour comedies they’re making today? (This is no shot at Mr. Mintz. You can ask the same question using my credits.)

Can an older writer learn to write scripts consistent with contemporary tastes and standards? Some can, I imagine. I’m probably not be one of them. The structure’s not the problem – as I mentioned, a story’s a story – but the current sensibility, with its focus on the coarse, the blatantly sexual, the humiliating and the pain inducing…it’s not my natural terrain.

An older writer can try to “write young”, though their efforts may prove imitative rather than generic. The option of older writers’ exploring their current experiences for the enjoyment of their contemporaries is unavailable, since advertisers aren’t interested in the older audience, making their stooges, the networks, unwilling to program for them.

This seems like a mistake, since the only audience still loyal to the network television brand is that very same older audience. Someday, perhaps, the business people will wise up and program for who’s watching – the older audience – instead of who they wish were watching – the otherwise engaged younger audience – in which case, the older writers are back in business.


I've written about this topic in other forums, like Ink Canada.

I still contest that the struggles we face to get hired (hell...or even meetings!) as we get older has sooooo much to do with what one will do for the gig when one is younger and starting out. You'll work for free, laugh at the asshole producer's lame jokes, do countless unpaid revisions, be asked to cut corners or screw colleagues...all in exchange for the supposed privilege of being allowed to maybe play in the big leagues. But then as you get older and wiser etc., and, yes, more experienced and probably better suited and prepared for the work, there's a reluctance to put up with the bullshit of the biz. And you can become known as 'difficult' or 'won't play by the rules'...or even 'too expensive' if you've had a decent but not meteoric run. Hence, it can just be cheaper and easier to go younger.

The cream of the crop will usually always rise to the top, regardless of the age. But when playing in the middle leagues, which is what most of us do, TV/movies has been and always will be primarily a young man/girls game.

But what I said isn't exactly discrimination either...rather a resistence to play the game, or not being good enough to rise above all the crap. So Pomerantz has got me going "Hmmmm...", how much merit was there in this lawsuit/settlement anyway?

Anyhow, his entire piece is well worth reading. Seriously, GO, before it becomes old news.


Diane Kristine said...

It is a great post (hmm, maybe I should tell him that?), partly because it was an unexpected perspective, well-reasoned.

Did you see the Steven Bochco interview where he briely touches on the topic? He comes across as grateful to still be in the business while acknowledging he's not a player like he used to be and then says: "I have a friend who is a college professor who says, 'I keep getting older but my students are always the same age.' Well, that sort of applies to me as well: I keep getting older and the audience stays the same age and, in fact, the heads of networks stay the same age."

Unfortunately it's exactly the scarcity of younger viewers that makes them more valuable to advertisers and therefore networks, so the scramble for the young 'uns isn't likely to change anytime soon.

wcdixon said...

I can't argue with you Diane...and yes, go tell Mr. Pomerantz it was a great post - I am but a slutter of links.

Juniper said...

I scanned all the way to the end but no Beavis..... tee hee hee... I said 'but'