I have a friend who had a terrific idea for a television comedy about a family, told from the point of view of one of the kids.
That's how we talk, here in Hollywood. When you pitch a television show to a network, you always have to tell them whose "point of view" the stories are told from. What the network executives want to know is, in the plainest possible terms, to whom do the funny things happen? Whose show is it, deep down?
So when you pitch a show about a family, the big question is always: is it more about the parents, or more about the kids? And the answer to that question is often the difference between selling your script - and getting a couple of courtesy chuckles in the meeting, and a very polite "Thanks, but we're looking for something else."
My friend, though, had a winning pitch. The show was set in a foreign (read: not the United States) country where the family has unexpectedly moved, and the middle daughter is at the heart of the trials and tribulations and the ways the family adapts - or doesn't - to the new environment. I'm not doing it justice here but the key thing to know is: it was about a family, but it was told from the point of view of the middle child.
This was two years ago. When my friend pitched it to four of the largest television networks in town, he got a few chuckles, some polite nods, four Diet Cokes, and four almost immediate rejections.
No one wanted a show about a family, told from the kid's point of view, set in a foreign country.
What they wanted, my friend heard from his agent later, was a show about a family in the United States told from the parent's point of view.
So, they didn't want my friend's show. "Wait," his agent said. "Don't they, though? I mean, think about it. What's the show, really? It's about a family that goes to another place somewhere -"
"A foreign country," my friend reminded him.
"OK, OK - foreign. But what's foreign? I live in Beverly Hills. To me, Iowa is foreign. And right now it's told from the kid's point of view. But it could be told from the parents' points of view, right? I mean, right? I'm just saying, think about it. What the network is looking for, this actually is that."
"It Actually Is That," is what we sometimes say to ourselves in Hollywood when we're trying to convince ourselves - or we're being convinced - that our idea, which isn't what they're looking for, is what they're looking for. People do this in other realms, too - especially romantic ones, I've noticed - when they want to make a sale badly enough.
So my friend went in and pitched the show, but this time he didn't really talk about the kids, he talked about the parents. And he didn't talk about the foreign country, he talked about their moving to a rural state. And when the network balked at the rural state idea, he said: "Well, maybe they just move to a smaller house."
And when the network thought a smaller house was too depressing, he talked about a larger house. They bought it.
And so he ended up writing a show about a family that moves into a larger house, told from the parents' point of view, all along telling himself it was basically the original idea with just a few adjustments. "This really is that," he kept repeating, even though deep down, somewhere, he knew it wasn't.
Eventually, of course, the network declined to produce the script. He did everything they wanted him to do, he made every adjustment they asked for, he delivered a script to the exact specifications of the buyer, and the buyer wasn't interested. Again, a lot like life in general.
I ran into my friend a few days ago, right after he had spoken to his agent. "Remember that show I wrote, the one about the family that moves to a foreign country?" he asked. I nodded.
"They want it now, according to my agent," he said. "Someone over at the network decided this year to do a family show from the kid's point of view. And they remembered the idea and want me to come in a re-pitch it."
"So when do you go in?" I asked.
"I'm not. No way. Not again."
"But you know what they're looking for. And this actually is that."
"You know something?" he said. "Here's what I've learnt in the entertainment business. It never, ever, is what they're looking for. It never is that."
Which is true. In all other realms, too. Especially, I've noticed, romantic ones.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood
On Twitter: @rcbl