THE HILLS RETURNS
Today's question comes from loyal reader Valerie, who writes...
"Hi Chad!... I am interested in creating clip shows and would love to hear your valuable insight on these types of programs (ie. where/how to license footage, how to sell them (Pods or Network), general production tips, etc...)."
Well, Valerie-- to answer your question, I've brought in a special guest. Here to give you the low-down on clip shows-- how they work, how to write for them, and how to break in-- is K.P. Anderson, the executive producer of what is undoubtedly the funniest clip show on television... The Soup. K.P. is not only a successful stand-up comedian whose appeared on Comedy Central's Premium Blend, he's written and produced for great shows like Politically Incorrect, Mohr Sports, The Wayne Brady Show, and Last Comic Standing. You can visit him on MySpace and check out his comedy schedule at www.myspace.com/kpandersonlive.
But in the mean time, here's K.P. to tell you everything you want to know about clip shows...
CHAD: The Soup, like many other half-hour TV shows, airs once a week. But unlike half-hour sitcoms like The Office or Samantha Who?, The Soup is dependent on that week’s pop culture happenings, so it can’t be written or produced far ahead of time. What’s your process for putting together an episode of The Soup? Walk me through your process, beginning with putting together an episode and ending with airing Friday night.
K.P.: Monday we sit around and wait for shit to happen…usually by Wednesday, some shit happens…
Monday, we take a look at the week ahead and start to come up with ideas for bigger pieces that can be built around TV events or movie openings or a pop-culture story that won’t go away. So it’s a day to plan out commercial parodies, fake movie trailers and the like. Joel McHale as Rainbow Brite was born on a Monday. We also start to watch shows from the following weekend, look at the news and begin writing monologue jokes.
Tuesday we put the bigger pieces in to production by getting network approvals, ordering any costumes or sets and tracking down footage to support them. We also continue looking at the headlines to see who is going to rehab, who is getting arrested and who is marrying Pam Anderson. (It’s like jury duty for guys who itch.) Also on Tuesday we have our first of two clip meetings where myself, our other EP, Edward Boyd and [host] Joel [McHale] if he’s available look at the clips the staff has collected thus far. Once we pick the clips, we head back to the offices to write introductions and jokes or sketches coming out of them. On Tuesday night, I usually take the collected works of the staff home with me and put together a rough scripted rundown of the show for us to see what we have and where we have holes heading in to Wednesday.
Wednesday is when the show really starts to come together. One more round of monologue and another clip meeting, then we shoot any footage we need of Joel or others for any of the pre-produced pieces, we also shoot our “Condensed Soup On Yahoo” promotion and then the writers jam out the rest of the wraps for the clips while the production staff gets busy editing clips preparing pictures and all of our supporting footage and editing the pre-produced pieces. Meanwhile, I collect and edit the final wraps and shoot out the second draft of the script, which goes to the network and all of our necessary legal and standards and practices people. After that, the producers keep working on getting everything prepared, the writers get a breather and I watch whatever we’re covering for the “Let’s Take Some E!” segment. Around 9:30 Wednesday night, Edward and I make the rounds to watch the edited clips and the pre-produced pieces and discuss what’s working and what isn’t. Then we call it a night while some of the producers stay on to finish up the pre-show prep.
Thursday morning, we get together with Joel, view any clips that came in overnight on Wednesday and punch up the script. (Joel is very key here. He thinks very much like a writer and has become incredibly proficient at knowing his own voice. He’s really great in the room which is not something that can be said for all hosts.) Then we take a break from each other while the network and legal notes trickle in. We adjust the script to accommodate those and around 6:00, we head down to a green room in the bowels of E!, where Joel rehearses off the teleprompter and we lightly punch it up one more time. At 8:00 we head to the stage and shoot the show. It takes about 2 hours. Sometimes stuff doesn’t go as planned and we huddle up and come up with a new way to go and keep moving. When we’re done we go home and repair our marriages, or just drink.
Friday we get together for a couple of hours. We talk about the previous show and how well we pulled it off. Make adjustments for the next week and then lightly go over the week to come and start cooking up ideas. Then we flip each other off and go our separate ways. Not really. Friday night the show airs and usually over the weekend we wind up e-mailing or calling each other to talk about how things played again. We have a pretty close staff and we’ve been together for a long time (3+ years without anyone leaving), so we must either really like each other or no one else will talk to us.
This is the longest answer you’re getting out of me. If I have to go in to this much detail again, I quit.
How do you get the clips you use? Do you have to license them? Are they free since they’ve already been on TV? Does clip availability affect what bits and jokes you end up doing?
We get the clips an abundance of ways. We have a staff of 15 people who all have DVR’s and watch them relentlessly. We also have a new computer program that allows us to program in shows and watch them directly on our PC’s. It’s cool, but it’s top secret. We might be part of a government experiment like thalodomide and not know it. We also pull stuff off the web sometimes.
There are a bunch of “Fair Use” laws surrounding how we air them. It’s complicated and if I tried to explain it, I’d screw it up. Sorry.
Yes, I suppose clip availability affects the bits and jokes we wind up doing in that of a clip isn’t available, we tend to not do a joke about it. (Did that come off a-hole-ish? It’s who I am. You asked…)
Imagine someone wants to sell and produce their own clip show like The Soup. What are the creative elements that make a clip show unique and sellable? I.e.—does it need a host attached? Just a writer/producer with a strong vision? A list of sample jokes? A sizzle reel? What should every good clip show have, or do, in order to make it different… a
nd attractive to buyers?
Now why would I tell anyone that? You got the production schedule for free. The rest will cost you.
Actually, there are a lot of clip shows out there. I’d take the question beyond what sells a clip show and if you want to sell something think about what makes any pitch sing. Every network is different in their perceived needs, so you want to tailor your product to fit the customer. All of the things you asked about above are basically important elements at some level to someone. Tough question to answer. Might be a good time to mention I didn’t create or sell The Soup. I came on to run it in the second season after the “What The? Awards.” And a few (I don’t recall how many. More than 3, less than 20) episodes of The Soup.
And the follow-up question… what should a clip show never do? What creative elements are inappropriate in a clip show and would make it unsellable?
Sucking is bad. Sucking and being overly expensive. Comedy shows need time to build an audience. If you burden yourself with too much overhead it lessens the amount of time a network can tolerate your crappy ratings. The audiences become very loyal if you can hook them, so just try to stay on the air while you’re working out the kinks and growing your base.
Once our hypothetical producer has developed her clip show creatively, what’s the best way to go about selling it? Should she partner with a producer or production company? Should she go right to a network? And how does she know what are the best place to pitch her clip show?
I don’t mean to be a jerk, really, this is an honest answer to a common question. If you have to ask, you aren’t ready to be in charge. Networks buy from either people they’ve already worked with or people they are trying to steal from other networks. It takes no experience to come up with a good idea for a show, but it takes an awful lot to run one and the networks have very short lists of people they will allow to run shows. (Until The Soup I was not one of those people. I got very lucky to meet with network and studio heads who were willing to give me a chance.) Find yourself one of those people and then go to the network. And don’t ask. You used up all your good will with me with that first question.
To figure out where to pitch it, look at what type of programming in which an individual network engages and then either add them or cross them off the list. If you have a show that you think could work at both Spike and Lifetime, odds are you aren’t thinking it through. And don’t pitch where it’s not wanted. Not even “just for practice”. You may one day have an idea you want to bring back to that place and they will remember how you wasted their time. (And no, they won’t remember the good pitch they almost bought.)
As a writer and producer on what is definitely TV’s best and funniest clip show, what rules or tips have you picked up in production that you’d pass along to a freshman producer? If someone came to you saying, “KP, I’m about to start production on my first-ever clip show, what should I keep in mind, practically speaking, as I dive into production,” what are the 3 most important tips or rules you would give them?
1. Make sure a hypothetical person buys you a drink before you start answering her questions.
2. Be malleable. Listen when your buyers talk. You might know funny better than they do, but they know their audience or at least their company’s perception of their audience better than you. Don’t be unfunny just to get along, but be willing to scrap something over which you can’t agree and go a different way that is still funny.
3. Talent speaks. If it doesn’t feel right coming out of your host’s voice, change it. No matter how brilliant you think it was. The host has to feel good about the whole show. One sentence is not worth throwing off his or her groove.
4. (Because I was a jerk again with the first one) Don’t hire people who you like but really don’t think can contribute to the show. Hire people you like whose contributions you think will make your show better than you could do on your own. If you can’t find those people, you are over-estimating yourself and your idea. It’s a clip show. It’s already a collaboration.
For all the aspiring writers out there who would love to write on The Soup, how do you hire your writers? What kinds of samples do you look to read? What do you look for in those samples? And once you like someone’s writing and meet with them in person, what qualities do you look for that aren’t on the page?
I’d say write samples that make you laugh and sound like the host of the show could and would be excited to tell them. That’s a little ethereal, but if you look at your written material and think about great comedic hosts, you’ll be able to identify who would and wouldn’t deliver them best. Oh, and don’t send in the bible. Send the best stuff you have for that show. If you can’t edit yourself then someone would have to edit you and that someone is busy and would like to see his four year-old daughter before she’s five.
As to what I look for in a prospective hire off the page, I’m not really one to size up the cut of anyone’s jib. Funny is funny and talent is usually a bit weird, so pesky things like hygiene and hustle can really get in the way of good hiring decisions. I just plug my nose and hope they show up on the day I invited them to swing by.
And lastly… it’s very hard—if not impossible—for a total newbie to just create a TV show idea and set it up with a network or production company. I always tell aspirants the best way to sell a show is to get a job in television (usually at the bottom as a P.A. or assistant) and work your way up the ladder until you have enough experience and connections to sell a show. So if someone wants to create and sell clip shows like The Soup, what’s the best way to break in? Or, to a total newbie who wants to be in your shoes, what career-path advice would you offer someone who wants to steal your job?
So you tell people the same thing I told you. Great. Could have mentioned that four questions ago and saved me from looking like an a-hole…anyway…like I said, I didn’t create or sell The Soup, so there’s that.
Also, I’d encourage you not to try to follow my path. Not because it’s bad, it’s great, but that’s my life. My life might suck to you. I’m only being a little flippant. As writers and producers, we aren’t exactly deep-sea fisherman, but our careers are more like lifestyle choices than most people. So in order to stay in the game without burning out, you have to make sure you feel rewarded and challenged by your career in a very deep sense. We work long hours and take it very personally when our products don’t work. When we aren’t working (and even when we are), we have to smile and network and create on our own and it occupies a much bigger portion of our time than the people with whom we went to high school who now have goofy things like trophies for softball and parents who still talk to them. So you have to love your career like it’s your hobby. Your career will define you to a great deal, just make sure to get over yourself long enough to have someone to thank if you ever get a non-softball related trophy.
said that, here’s the basics as I see it. Seek out projects you love. Find your way out of projects you don’t without burning bridges. (Here we are not in my footsteps any longer.) Write every day. Don’t be afraid to turn in. Take criticism. Be reliable. Seek to learn without being annoying. (In other words, shut up and listen once in a while.) Work at a level above the job you have (eventually someone will notice and give you that job). Get over yourself. Have respect for other people around you. Don’t undermine people. Everything in this business is collaborative and if you get a reputation for backstabbing or undermining, all cliché’s about this town aside, you are done…or working on Tyra. (Why would I say that?)
There you go, hypothetical producer. I hope I answered all of your questions. It would complete my bucket list.
Thanks a million, K.P. And for the rest of you, here are some clips of The Soup for your viewing pleasure...