One morning last week, I popped into my local coffee spot for a brew and strapped into the car for a long commute. An hour later, I was still in the parking lot, mesmerized by an interview on “The Howard Stern Show”.
It’s a shame many people still avoid Stern, feeling the self-appointed “King of All Media” is just another potty mouth radio shock jock.
Truth is, the title has stuck for a reason. There is simply nobody better at getting to the heart of the subject at hand.
The interview I didn’t want to risk missing a word of in rush hour traffic was with former Van Halen lead singer and distiller of a superb line of Tequilas –- Sammy Hagar.
Hagar was there to promote a new album. But he and Stern immediately took off on a tangent, discussing how creative inspiration comes about. That led to a wonderful insight for anybody making film or television as well as music in what makes artistic collaborations work.
Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion among Canadian TV types about if/why/how come the current “Golden Age” of television might be passing us by.
Those with experience in the business have tagged everything from risk averse network executives to non-writing showrunners and a lack of time and money as the culprits.
But one issue we seldom mention is a fairly rigid “way of doing things” that has begun to permeate how we go about the production process.
Take scriptwriting as one example.
I’ve never been able to get my head around writer rooms continually located a thousand miles from or working months prior to where or when the actors and directors turn up; or those that seem predetermined to take a Marxist Collective approach to what is released from the room to the production.
TV production is by its very nature chaotic, chaos created by those collaborating adding to or subtracting from the original intent to create something seldom fully envisioned on the page.
As Nicholas Ray once noted, “It’s never all in the script. If it was, why bother making the movie?”.
Yet, this latest “Golden Age” has seen the deification of Showrunners and the sense that Mathew Weiner’s attention to detail or the writing approaches taken by Vince Gilligan or Kurt Sutter are the only keys to their series’ successes.
It’s like some kind of writers’ revenge for the Auteur theory and the possessory directorial credit. But I’d bet all of the guys mentioned above would be the first to tell you how essential the nameless background singers, roadies and groupies attendant in their bands were to what it created.
Yet. My social media feeds are rife with scribes bitching about intransigent directors and thespians who don’t thesp as expected, those respective jurisdictions being everything from bumps in the road to an IED that has blown everything to pieces.
Oh, the other Creatives are online weighing in as well, bemoaning their own problems in making the scripts they’ve been delivered work.
On one hand, all this signifies an industry with too little shelf space and far too few opportunities for the size of its creative community. But it also illustrates a system built to maximize efficiency while insuring the impossibility that a real chemical reaction might happen.
If there is one characteristic of virtually every TV series produced in Canada, it is this –- they’re predictable. You always know where the story is heading and how the lead characters will be affected.
But predictable doesn’t make for excitement or leave the door open for the surprises that keep audiences wanting more or becoming inspired to alter the way they think about things.
All great bands, just like all great TV series, are the result of several disparate elements combining in just the right amounts. But here it often seems that efforts are made to keep a critical mass from sparking anything not tightly pre-formulated into life.
Sadly, there’s just no basic recipe for making television. And the necessary chemical reactions can’t even begin to happen when the artistic ingredients are isolated from one another or not influencing and restructuring each other on a daily basis.
That’s hard for an industry built on copycat product to comprehend. And trying to explain the often subconscious decision-making that determines how one artist determines which hill is worth dying on and when’s a good time to step back and let another artist take point is hard in the best of scenarios.
But Hagar explained the process brilliantly and taking his cue, Stern drove the interview into all kinds of uncharted artistic relationship territory.
What’s most striking is that given the history of “Van Halen”, Hagar and fellow interviewee, bassist Michael Anthony, have every reason to be as cynical about the music business as most Canadian TV people are about their industry.
But what they serve up instead is a cheerful and accurate assessment of how artistic temperaments operate when creating something truly unique.
In a lot of ways, TV series are just bands with the various craft Creatives being its assorted players. Yes, there’s often a dominant voice or multi-level head-butting, but in the best of them, the overall power of the final product is the result of a unique chemistry being nurtured and allowed to evolve.
Maybe if we got that part together, the roadblocks arrayed against innovative television in Canada might be easier to get over and around.
Please give Sammy and Howard an hour of your time. I believe you’ll find it very worthwhile.
And… Enjoy Your Sunday.
And a taste of what comes from finely tuned collaboration.