A couple of things worth passing on crossed my desk this afternoon. The first was the current issue of New York magazine featuring insights into making television from a coterie of exceptional showrunners.
The second was an essay by Roger Ebert on Hollywood's "Summer of the Sequel".
The third was a video about cows.
And, although you might not think they have much in common, they do.
I grew up around farms and ranches, cowboys and cows, pit BBQ's and rodeos. I eat meat and I love it. And I know where it comes from and how it gets to my plate.
Most of the people I knew and know who farm or ranch have a great deal of respect for the animals in their care. They value them and appreciate their worth as both a livelihood and a way of life.
The bucking stock in rodeos often leads a better life than the boys who think they can ride them. I've seen farmers go without so a herd can get the food, medicine or shelter they need to survive.
These animals are raised by people who don't have much time for those who'd be cruel to a "dumb animal" or would harm it in the name of making a slightly bigger profit.
After I left the land, I spent most of my time around theatres and studios, writers and directors, producers and actors. I make television and I love it. And I know where it comes from and how it gets to my flat screen.
Most of the people I knew or know who make television have a great deal of respect for the products of their industry. They value them and appreciate their worth as both a livelihood and a way of life.
A lot of the people who work in television lead a softer life than the showrunners who employ them. I've seen producers and writers pull all nighters and single day page one rewrites so their crews and actors can have the pages and plot twists and depth of characters they need to make a decent show for their audience.
Those shows are created by people who don't have much time for those who'd be cruel to a "dumb idea" or would harm it in the name of making a slightly bigger profit.
But the worlds of ranchers and showrunners have changed of late. Both have been invaded by bean counters bent on wringing every last penny of profit out of the process of making movies, TV shows and steaks.
And in the process, they are costing us the humanity that made all of these enterprises ultimately uplifting and respectable and worthy.
We now have "factory farms", movies without drama and television schedules that reflect as much caution as creativity.
Yes, there are still great shows on TV, but they seem relegated to niche channels in the way truly innovative films are shuffled off to art houses.
And yes, a rancher with a small herd he cares for can still make a living. But he'll never get a shot at the best pasture land or the guys who appreciate a good steak.
Among the many fine quotes in the New York feature is one from "Sons of Anarchy" showrunner Kurt Sutter:
"Stop making decisions based on research data, and hire development executives with degrees in art, literature, and theater instead of marketing, business, and law. If people followed those two rules, TV would be a fuckload better."
And among the many wonderful insights offered by Mr. Ebert is:
"As the leadership of many studios is taken from creators and assigned to marketers, nothing is harder to get financed than an original idea, or easier than a retread. The urge to repeat success can be found even in the content of modern trailers, which often seem to be about the same upbeat film. Even The Beaver, with Mel Gibson battling mental illness, is made to look like a hopeful comedy with a cute stuffed animal."
And as for the cow video -- the looks on the faces of the rescued calves says it all. This is where the desire for profit certainty is taking us
Trust me, I identified.
I've seen those same expressions on the faces of far too many talented and creative people in the last few years as our industries become more about the deals and less about what's being dealt to the audience.
Something to think about the next time you "Take a Meeting" or meet a development executive over a steak.