the contents are strange and icky.

As with most things in my life, this was a very important book that I put off until someone slapped it upside my head. It sat on my Amazon Wish List for years, taking a spot in my main list (I have several categorized lists and one top ten list for easy shopping perusal) for what was about forever relative to the rest of the list. Despite the fact that price dwindled down to less than $15, it sat and waited for a buddy of mine to send me for Christmas of this year. And, seriously, I probably should’ve just bought it when Dr Perren told me about it.

Small Screen, Big Picture: A Writer's Guide to the TV Business

Small Screen, Big Picture: A Writer’s Guide to the TV Business
by Chad Gervich
Non-Fiction > Industry
448 pages

The thing about my higher education (from which I hold a degree in Film/Video) is there is a serious focus on film production. Television is an afterthought in my program despite being based in Atlanta, home of Turner Broadcasting. TBS and Williams St are less than two miles away from my alma mater and CNN is literally down the street (visible from some parts of campus). Georgia’s tax credits for movies shot in the area have brought a lot of productions to Atlanta so it’s probably smart to train all the students on how to work in those roles, how to get PA jobs, etc. But the writing courses are all film-slanted, the theory courses tend to not even consider television, and discussion of small-screen industry is relegated to just a handful of (very knowledgable, very engaging) professors. Essentially what I’m getting at is that I knew what I wanted to do once I got out of school but had no idea how to do that thing.

So I did what I though I was supposed to do, especially 2200 miles away from Hollywood. I sent out scripts to competitions (faring relatively well) and studio writing fellowships (not faring anything at all), essentially writing and crossing my fingers. Beyond that, I knew I had to go to Los Angeles but little else.

So here I am. Now what?

Small Screen, Big Picture covers all the “what” I’m supposed to be doing, reinforcing what I learned from those engaging professors and adding in what the structure of the industry had to do with my writing for TV.

The book starts off with a lot of industry talk: how money is made off of television; the flow of development; the relationships between production companies, networks, and studios. Of course, vane as I am, I kept scanning for where I get involved in the situation. “Where do you start talking about what I need to do?” 29-years old and I still have the patience of a fruit-fly.

That’s not to say I’m disinterested in how the industry works. How television gets developed and why it makes it to the air is compelling stuff and I learned a ton from reading the book. Gervich is able to present the material succinctly, giving enough detail to color the world (including quotes from industry insiders) while keeping focused on his audience (who may be deficit financing its attention). Despite my vanity, I pushed through the book because all these things kept synapsing, creating connections to the hearsay and conjecture I’d formed with my amateur study of television with what I’d learned in school or read in trades. It all makes sense now (mostly) and that’s important if I attempt to convince others they should trust my opinion about what people will watch.

The only chapter I skipped over was the New Media chapter since a lot of the information is outdated. Such is the failing of print media. The book was published in 2008 so there are mentions of things like Hulu and the networks putting their content online but the marketplace has exploded so much in the last couple of years, the chapter comes off as being antiquated (admittedly to no fault of its own). I’m curious if the Kindle version has an updated chapter.

After all the industry talk making up the bulk of the book, Gervich takes the time to discuss how to break into the industry. While he goes through just about every angle one can use to slip into a writer’s room, the methods boil down to what you probably already surmised: know people and start from the bottom. The latter I don’t mind; we have to pay our dues even if we’re starting later in the game than other assistants. The networking part has always been my intimidation factor, a perceived barrier to entry, and, really, my failing in life.

You see, even though I get along with people pretty well, my first impressions tend to be awkward, embarrassing affairs if they happen at all. Sometimes I just dispense with the introductions to save us both the grief. Gervich addresses how to approach possible contacts and tries to reassure his audience that it’s just like asking someone out on a date. Yeah, I’ve never done that either. But at least he gives me a place to start.

The book clears up a previously obfuscated world for me. Now I have a plan and I know what to do with the nonsense I’m writing every day. And that’s all I asked. While there is a lot of great information contained in the book (including the tip “don’t sleep around with too many other assistants … it will come back to haunt you” — thanks, Joel Begleiter from UTA!), the guide to how people break into the business is the most confidence-instilling and most grounded I’ve read so far. Entire books are written on the subject but the few chapters at the end of the volume have been the most helpful.

Great, important read for anyone trying to figure out the enigmatic television industry.

§36 · December 31, 2010 · The Job That Pays Me Nothing (Yet) · · [Print]

1 Comment to “book I read: Small Screen, Big Picture.”

  1. Chad Gervich says:

    Nick– thank you so much for this outstanding review… it totally made my day!

    Unfortunately, they book hasn’t yet been updated– even on Kindle. (The publisher actually has a mandate; they don’t update books for at least 5 years. In fact, they have one book about acting which is over 20 years old… and they JUST did the first update– because it was selling so well without updates!)

    I do, however, write “PrimeTime,” a blog for “Script” magazine, which is all about TV and film writing… so please check it out! I address many reader questions and comments there, and I’d love to have you checking in. (In fact, I’ve recently been having lots of discussions there on breaking into the industry from outside L.A., especially in Atlanta, which not only has some great new production facilities, but Tyler Perry Studios.) Here’s the URL:

    Anyway, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your reading the book and your awesomely kind words. Thank you… keep in touch… and I hope to see you out here soon!


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