By now you’ve probably all seen the clever Bob Newhart show called (in stellar example of creative inspiration) Bob.
Just the other day, when editor Steve Saffel and I was talking about Bob’s fictional superhero, Mad Dog (“Fictional!” Yeah, like ours are real.) our conversation turned to a discussion of the differences between the world of comics and the world of television. “Since you’re a world-famous authority on both,” spaketh Steve, with tongue wedged firmly in cheek, “Why not make the next subject of this, the longest-running column in the history of comics?”
Well, as all of Marveldom knows, when an editor speaks, we lesser mortals can do naught but obey. So, prepare ye now for the inside scoop on how doing a TV show differs from doing a comic book.
First of all, there’s the matter of personnel. A comic book script hardly ever has more than one writer while, in TV, many series, indeed most single shows, usually have a whole slew of scripters whose names seem to fill up the entire screen when the credits roll.
Secondly – and this is probably the biggest difference – in comics there’s usually just one boss, and that’s the editor. Once an editor has gotten his (or her) marching orders from the editor-in-chief, that’s it. He’s in charge. It’s up to him to work with the writer and that artist and make sure the strip is up to snuff.
But in TV, it sometimes feels as though there are more generals than soldiers. Anyone writing a TV series must, of course, contend with the show’s story editor (similar to our comic book editor), and there’s the whole gaggle of other people who must be satisfied. There’s the full-time producer (usually referred to as the “show runner”) who’s responsible for the day-to-day operation of the show. Then there’s the executive producer, usually the one who is financing the show. To make it even tougher, there’s hardly ever just one show runner or exec producer. If you look at the credits on virtually any TV series, you’ll see a whole kaboodle of producer’s names: Executive Producer. Co-Executive Producer. Associate Producer. Executive in Charge of Production. Producer. Co-Producer.
You get the idea. You’ve seen them yourself. Are they all necessary? Of course not! Any way to get rid of some? Not in our lifetime!
Okay, let’s say a TV script writer is lucky enough to have his script approved by all the above. He’s home free right? Not! The poor guy still isn’t out of the woods! The honchos at the network always have the final say. Remember, it’s the network that buys the shows. It’s the network that decides whether to continue broadcasting the series or to drop it. The bottom line is, it’s the network’s call as to whether a show will live or die. So when the network says “cut,” out come the scissors!
But let me not deceive you. There’s still another authority the writer must answer to. The highest authority of all – and I don’t mean the Omnipotent Odin. I’m referring to the biggest, the mightiest, the most important – the one who makes all other tremble. Yep, you guessed it. The sponsor!
So, you can see how lucky the comic book writers are. All they need to worry about is pleasing their editor – and you.
Now that you’re aware of all the pitfalls of TV writing, I know you’ll be kind to our own Marvel scripters – you’re much too charitable to condemn them to a life of television writing!
Or as you’ve always been so fond of saying, “Ex nihilo nihil fit!”