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Star Power!

by Ryan Johnson, Mar 24 2009

I’ve greatly enjoyed reading the comments from my last post about the Quarter Incident at the Queen Mary. The discussion, the lines of thought and the way that people differ in their analysis of this event is one of the things that I most cherish about the power of my line of work. I love being able to be the catalyst for that.

You know, It continually amazes how much utter garbage is on TV. The work to getting something like The Skeptologists that is not only entertaining, but is thought provoking and dare I even say it aloud: “educational” on TV is stupendously difficult.

The problem that we (And I mean we as Skeptics) really have is that we’re not cool. Ah ah ah, don’t even start… Nope, we’re not. Granted, there’s a few that tip the scales towards coolness, and heck most of you all are some of my biggest heros! I am humbled by the intellect, provoking discourse and ability to wrangle science like a frontier cowboy. BUT! Compared to the stars of the entertainment world, sports, politics and just pure celebrity, we don’t got it. Well, not yet anyway.

I’m not worried though. That’s not what it’s all about. The issue however is convincing the TV execs that in this case, the star power is truth and science! They want celebrity-star-power and a sure fire hit. One reality that is very evident by the response that we get as we work through the process of selling the show, and other projects that I’m working on is that no exec will put his or her individual neck on the line and go to bat for a show anymore. They want consensus, unanimous opinion and a way to point both their fingers in opposite directions and say “it was their fault” when the ratings start to fall, as they eventually will, no matter how good a show you have. All the TV executives want a clear and unobstructed way out. If you watch a few hours of network prime-time, you’ll quickly understand why everything pretty much looks and feels the same within a few major genre’s… They all can point to another show and say “But American Idol was a hit! So America’s Got Talent has GOT to work!” Everyone around the big mahogany table nods appropriately, and bang-o you got a network deal.

A very wise TV man told me recently, “They are all looking for a reason to say no.”

It’s so true, and if you let it, that’ll tear you up into little pieces and make you want to go drive one of the little caged lawnmower things that pick up the driving range golf balls for a living, cause well, you feel about that small. But I can’t. I won’t. I refuse! (Bang!)

The Skeptologists is a risk. For all of us, creatively, financially, emotionally. A big one if your a TV exec. We’ve created a show that was calculated to be a marketable show, and we now have that. Our presentation is getting very high marks, thanks to our awesome team both in front of and behind the camera. And I’m happy to say that we’re still in the running for the opportunity to get the show on my #1 network pick. We’ve got a long way to go, and mostly we’re waiting for decisions to be made behind closed doors. And man, If you thought waiting for the toast to pop-up sucked, try waiting for the next big moment in your career to pop up!

How would you do it? How would you convince a 20-something exec that you just brought them the newest 7 stars of TV. To stick their neck out, to go to bat, to make that call?

I love this show, and I really want to watch this show. It’s what I would break out the popcorn and Pepsi and wrap up with a blanket for. Hell, I might even turn off my cell phone, well, OK no, I wouldn’t do that, I have TiVo. But the almost 3000 emails of support for the show, and the constant comments and support from everyone that I talk to about this show ought to count for something, because I think that not only are the Skeptics ready for a show like this, but a good portion of the nation is ready for this. I feel the Winds of Science and Reason beginning to howl and you’d better hold onto your hat! This one is gonna be Big Baby! We got Star Power! (Call me. Mean it.)

14 Responses to “Star Power!”

  1. Mark Edward says:

    My son and I went to the movies a few weeks back and after arriving early, sat through the “up-coming must-see” trailers for programms that are due to hit the airwaves. It was pathetic to see a the stoic seriously in your face trailer for “Ice Truckers: The Story of Real Men Who Drive Trucks Over Ice! As if these losers were great American Heros. We both laughed out loud at one that was called “High Timber” or something equally inane about the thrills and danger of cutting down big trees. Bzzzzzzzzzzzz. Big Men with Big Chain Saws! Wow. Educational and Suspenseful too! Where will the tree fall and how fast? How do they do it? How many lives are lost. Ohhh the humanity!My sixteen year-old turned to me and said. “..Big deal. They are cutting down a friggin tree!” What’s next? “Watching Paint Dry: This week’s color: YELLOW!” I honestly don’t know what else we can do. This blog alone should have been enough to sell “The Skeptologists” in a heart beat to an intelligent sponsor. If the execs won’t take a chance on what we have to offer, they will have only themselves to blame when the whole society collapses and we are left looking like life imitating art in Mike Judge’s “Idiocracy” (2007) to the rest of the planet.

  2. Brian M says:

    They want something else to point at eh? You can always point at P&T. But then, that may be a mistake if you are pitching to the major networks, as they don’t like swearing a boobs…

    I do notice a lot more tv shows actually reference “evilution”. “Kings” had an entire monologue on the chicken and the egg, and how it was definitely the egg because of evolution. And even GUM commercials feature evolution to say how long their gum lasts. I think the tides are turning on critical thought.

    Either way, if I was an exec, I would stand up for free thought.

  3. MadScientist says:

    Do things ever change? The early years of Get Smart were awesome, but that show was a hard sell even though it became one of the most popular of the era.

    I suspect that for the most part TV execs are still the spineless sheep that they were back then. Rather than take risks and explore, which in principle should lead to more good shows (and a lot of bad shows – but at least not the same old c-r-a-p), they just say “but people want *this* type of garbage; your idea will never sell”. Well, at least we have Mythbusters, but how long can they keep up the good work?

    Keep at it – you might be lucky and run into a TV exec that actually thinks for themselves.

  4. Max says:

    What did Pop Idol point to, Star Search?

  5. Charlottesville says:

    > the newest 7 stars of TV
    Funding the salaries of seven stars may be discouraging.

  6. AdamK says:

    Dr. Novella knows the quick and devastating answer to problem of skeptical coolness: Utility Belts!! Get one for each Skeptologist, with gimmicks appropriate to each specialty. Now how cool is that?

  7. MadScientist says:


    Hmmm … sounds like a good idea. I’ll have an ammo pouch which contains the Philisopher’s Stone. When I need some money I’ll use the stone to create gold, and if anyone disagrees with me I’ll hit them with the stone – very useful indeed.

  8. Xplodyncow says:

    When I read the third paragraph, all I could think of was Milhouse on The Simpsons: “My mom says I’m cool!”

  9. João Pedro Caetano says:

    Please don’t forget that not only do most Americans appear to be ready for something like this, but…around the world, there’s people who would enjoy stuff like this immensely.
    I’m from Portugal (one of those who might be included in those e-mails you mention. Now I wonder if it was even permitted, since you’re dealing with American networks…) and it’s shows like Mythbusters that got me (I say ‘got’ because it’s reruns where I live at the moment) to actually sit down, because I just like to see people thinking, period.
    In movies such as “A Beautiful Mind” or “The Time Machine (2002)”, the main characters were always these ‘thinking people’ that made these cool things (and were just smart and were capable of doing cool things because they were well informed), and that made me want to be like them.
    Whenever I see scientists, which are just good critical thinkers really, working on a problem, or finding a plausible solution for it, and it’s ingenious in its methods, that sort of stuff excites me to no end. Like… using gravitational lensing to look beyond what would usually be ‘permitted’, or spectrum analysis to find out what a star is made of.
    It’s THAT sort of thinking that I just love surrounding myself with. This clever, yet well informed process of thinking, that can be very inspiring (and may actually do to people what movie characters did to me. If they do ingenious cool stuff with it, people might want to be like them. Especially young people, who look for some sort of identity).

    Skepticism, like that of Randi (just as an example), when he uncovers how something was made and had a totally natural explanation (Like Popoff’s earpiece with which he heard his wife), I’m fascinated by the thinking process that leads a person to that conclusion. It’s like real life Sherlock Holmes.
    And I have no doubt that this show could provide that in tons.
    I would love a show where “Seeing people think” was the main dish. And I think a large portion of people could grow to like it, if it’s shown to be something actually useful and might actually change your place in social situations.
    It would be unprecedented. When have you ever heard of a show where…it’s people thinking?
    But I think skepticism can provide such intriguing topics of discussion (people’s weird beliefs), that I just can’t imagine people NOT being interested in it.

    I’m going to stop now. This blog belongs to you guys and your long (which is fine) messages, not mine.

  10. oldebabe says:

    Maybe ‘Skeptologists’ can find a ‘gimmick’ to initially attract an audience, i.e. like Mythbusters did with their investigators acting slightly goony and a bit childish, and almost always a big ‘bang’ or explosion, etc. (tho if that isn’t one’s ‘thing’, i.e. blow-ups, destruction, etc., that part can eventually get kind of old for some of us,but in keeping with their ‘busted or…’ theme)…

    It’s surprising that one of the PBS stations, which do quite often run shows that capture the interest of the hoi polloi (me), aren’t panting to give your program a chance (instead of another 19th century English drama, or a re-run of one ;-(. Perhaps a series of your program is something that could come later, after an initial presentation? Of course you’ve no doubt thought of all angles already…

    Like many others, tho perhaps not too many ‘teens and twenties’, I’m just anxious to see/view your show, and skeptical shows in general, any place on TV.

  11. What about topless? Will the team agree to go topless?

  12. LovleAnjel says:

    Two words: Hot Chicks

  13. My 2 cents.

    Pitching shows to networks is frustrating especially when you consider that you’re standing in line with several other productions in hopes of someone taking notice. In my opinion, networks are overwhelmed with submissions and will often shortlist on the basis of their current ratings. It seems as though getting past the first step of submitting a pilot is almost impossible unless you have something that will have a long shelf life.

    I like the idea of the Skeptologists pilot. I think, as long as it’s entertaining and the science is kept at a general level of understanding that it could potentially make a great show.

    BUT…I would probably focus less on the efforts in submitting to networks initially and concentrate more on making a 3-4 episode run. At least then you have a pilot and a few episodes to help support a show with potential season release.

    “If you build it, they will come”…corny, I know, but there’s truth behind it. Networks are taking a gamble and as a potential product, they’d much prefer to see 4 finished episodes with a list of potential future episodes than a single clean pilot.

    Having been through the process is something that opened my eyes to the way Networks select their content. Which is why I now prefer to work with productions that simply do it for the love of the project regardless of it’s outcome.

    Make it entertaining and different. Make the science and history interesting. Make the show that we’d all love to sit and watch…but most importantly, make it for the love of the show. If it makes the cut then fantastic. If not, then at least you have something to be proud of. Either way, I wish you all the luck.

  14. BillDarryl says:

    How would you do it? How would you convince a 20-something exec that you just brought them the newest 7 stars of TV. To stick their neck out, to go to bat, to make that call?

    Show that the risk is minimal and the payoff is practically guaranteed.

    Two successful (multi season) shows that come to mind that are in the same vein are Mythbusters and Bullsh*t!. Get as many numbers (estimates or actuals) as you can on those suckers: Weekly viewership, DVD sales, advertising revenue, etc. Overkill on data.

    Then with your numbers, tell the story: The audience for skeptic-slanted reality entertainment is already large and growing, and it is thirsty for new content. The current shows’ DVD sales and longevity attest to the fact that this genre is a money-maker. Your show is positioned perfectly to take advantage of this untapped market.

    Have your failure stories ready, too. Have any shows of this genre made it to air and flopped? If so, talk about why they flopped and how The Skeptologists is different. If not – well, that says a lot if every such show that makes it to the air stays on the air, right?

    These are businessmen first and foremost. Let them know that getting in on the ground floor of the next skeptic reality show is not taking a chance, it’s a sure thing.