#RealDeal: Here’s what it’s like to have your life turned into a TV show (& then to have it actually sell) PT 3
I feel like the title says it best, but here’s how Jerry Bruckheimer bought my life rights, and how my life was turned into a put pilot for CBS. This is part 3, here is part 1 and part 2. I’ve also purposefully added canned tracks instead of the traditional gifs. You’ll see why in a moment …
Quick ketchup, in February 2016, I found out that CBS had passed on picking up Talk Nerdy for the 2016 fall season. Even WITH the Bruckheimer name, and a financial commitment (Talk Nerdy was a put pilot), it still wound up in limbo. To further the blow, in June of 2016 Bruckheimer and Warner Brothers terminated their 15 year relationship …
They just weren’t that into each other. https://www.youtube.com/embed/KQj7q5Z8_mM?wmode=opaque
For the project (in its current state) to still be considered alive, Bruckheimer and WB would have to renew their option. The sudden split meant that wasn’t about to happen. I had taken an idea, walked away from it, got an offer to purchase FROM A SUPER FAMOUS PRODUCER, then ACTUALLY HAD IT PURCHASED IN A FOUR WAY BIDDING WAR WITH ALL OF THE MAJOR BROADCAST NETWORKS, and I still didn’t have a pilot ordered to production.
How is this possible?? Friends that are “in the business” said I had a holy grail of situations.
I heard over and over …
“This doesn’t happen, Jen. You have no idea how lucky you are.”
LUCK? I thought. I was ready to walk away!!! I thought I had!!! THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE LIKE HAVING A CHILD GO TO COLLEGE!!! I wanted it to make good decisions but THEY WERE NO LONGER MY DECISIONS!! WHY DO I HAVE TO BE THE ONE DECIDING ALL THE THINGS ALL OF THE TIME!!
Adulting is hard. https://www.youtube.com/embed/NjUQMs0kVEI?wmode=opaque
10 seconds after Kerrigan-ing myself, I decided to flip my perspective. If I wanted the project to continue, I was going to have to be the one to administer the CPR and pump this baby full of new life. Instead of being “mad” at how things played out and victimize myself, why not use everything that happened to my advantage? I got a lot of publicity in a very short period of time. If I truly want to call myself a producer, now was the perfect time to see if I could actually produce.
Here’s step by step on how I did it. https://www.youtube.com/embed/8Am_Ljw1SmU?wmode=opaque
Maestro … https://www.youtube.com/embed/wFWDGTVYqE8?wmode=opaque
Step 1) Ask people who know what they are doing a lot of questions.
One of the biggest take aways that I have with the “Talk Nerdy” experience as a whole, is that if you are honest and ask for help, people will give it to you. I’ll always keep my side of the street clean, and offer to help them in any way – but bottom line is that both sides have to be a balance of give and take.
Using datingapps alone, I had reached not only the man who wrote my life rights agreement, but also the gentleman who had to make the decision to pass on the bid from one of the other major networks (as Talk Nerdy had gotten too expensive). I asked both of them a lot of questions, but also brought to the table what I would do differently.
<tangent> Funny story, btw … While having dinner with, let’s call him “Life Rights,” I happened to spot Terrell Owens (literally in front of my face, two tables away but straight at 12 o’clock).
Terrell is a big time player on datingapps(I’ve matched with him on all but Hinge), and for months he would randomly text (sometimes even as a booty call). I would have agreed to a date if he properly followed through, but booty call? Oh hell to the no. https://www.youtube.com/embed/iYVO5bUFww0?wmode=opaque
I excused myself for a moment from Life Rights as I took out my phone and began texting.
“This is going to sound strange, I said, but I have to text Terrell that I’m here.”
He turned around, and had already noticed Terrell when he walked in.
“Wait, you’re friends with Terrell Owens?”
“No, I said, dating app thing. We’ve been texting but had never met IRL.”
We wound up texting back and forth for a minute or two, and I pretty quickly realized I had dodged a bullet. After giving VERY specific directions on the fact that I was RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIS FACE (I sent him a photo that was also taken the night before with the caption I LOOK EXACTLY LIKE THIS), he still couldn’t figure out where I was. I did take sick and hilarious pleasure in watching him try to figure it out though. </tangent> https://www.youtube.com/embed/iYVO5bUFww0?wmode=opaque
Anywho, I took a nugget of information from each meeting, but what struck me was how little these executives knew of the “actual” story. The title and the 103 dates in 9 months were what sold Bruckheimer and Warner Brothers into wanting to develop it, but that was just one out of the over 7500 posts. I knew I had to come up with a way to package the story in as clear of a manner as possible; while I can universally sell ice to an Eskimo, I was too emotionally invested in this story to be logical enough to know how to pitch it.
I then created a sizzle telling the Talk Nerdy story in under 3 minutes.
See here … https://player.vimeo.com/video/248596367?wmode=opaque
Talk Nerdy To Me Lover Pitch from jen friel on Vimeo.
I showed it to producers, executives, and even VCs that I knew asking if they could connect me to someone who could help (a production company, producer, I was even sent to a studio directly).
Despite my best effort, unfortunately I still had no bites. https://www.youtube.com/embed/KQj7q5Z8_mM?wmode=opaque
Step 2) Reach out to the person who sold it the first time and see if I can directly make a deal Monty Hall style.
In December of 2015, I had reached out on Twitter to Morgan Murphy (Talk Nerdy’s writer and EP) asking if we could hang out and shoot the shit. I (still to this day) haven’t ever met my agents at CAA and the last thing that I wanted was an email intro from my people to her people. I’m my own people, I don’t need people to make myself feel important. Writer to writer I respected her work, and much like everything else to this story, wanted to take a non-traditional approach.
We then started DMing, and because we’re both writers, the messages were as intermittent as our contact with the outside world. Knowing that she is openly 4/20 friendly, that July I invited her to the MarijuanaDon’s 4th of July fiesta. To my surprise, she couldn’t make it because was having her own, and invited me to that …
Read more about this adventure here, and we were even published in the San Francisco Examiner courtesy of my wonderful partner in crime Brokeass Stuart.
While we didn’t have much time to chat at the first party, she had also later in the year invited me to her birthday party (scheduled around Halloween). I’m going to talk to Morgan, I said to myself and I’m going to use the fact that this is Halloween to my advantage (as costumes are my thing). Nothing like showing up with a lampshade on your head to get the attention you want. https://www.youtube.com/embed/iYVO5bUFww0?wmode=opaque
That’s not a euphemism btw, I really did show up with a lampshade on my head.
Anywho, the attention part worked because I was only one of about 10 people that chose to dress up, but unfortunately because Ms. Morgan was the lady of the hour, she was kept quite busy.
<tangent> Speaking of busy, I also got to FAN GIRL THE FUCK OUT in front of Busy Phillips (who happened to be in attendance). Such a nice human being, and so down to earth. </tangent>
I then slid back into her DMs explaining that the Talk Nerdy story wasn’t really told. Don’t get me wrong, I think she did a great job on the pilot, but I think if we focused more on the actual story and created a “ripped from the headlines” delivery style, we could truly have an interactive experience for viewers. We could “post from the archives” at the same time as the show aired, letting new fans in on the story while allowing old fans to remember (and even see their screenshots live).
Unfortunately, Morgan couldn’t accept as she was very busy with a little reboot of a show that was kinda popular in the 90s … https://www.youtube.com/embed/0DK5JG4gb7M?wmode=opaque
Here I go again, I thought, back to the drawing board. https://www.youtube.com/embed/8Am_Ljw1SmU?wmode=opaque
Step 3) Get a manager who can act like “the adult” in the room.
In January of 2017, I started dating a TV producer. Not only is he genuinely a great human being, but I got to pick his brain on what to do next.
“I have this show, I said, IT MADE IT SO FAR WITH ALL OF THE MAJOR NETWORKS BIDDING ON IT!!! Yet, it’s dead in the water if I don’t bring in a new production team.”
He then suggested getting a manager and the following week he began making introductions.
I took meeting after meeting, and everyone said the same thing, “why don’t you write the Talk Nerdy script? You lived it.”
“Yes, I would say, but it’s because I lived it that I can’t write it. One, I’m too close to it to be objective, and two, I’ve never written a TV show before. I have ABSOLUTELY no idea what I’m doing.”
I was then sent over samples of TV pitches, as I sat down attempting to go to town.
Still confused, I pulled up a google search and typed, “how to write a tv pilot.” https://www.youtube.com/embed/iYVO5bUFww0?wmode=opaque
Weeks later, I had a “cold open” (that was based on an actual experience I had had the week prior) …
I sent it to one of the managers and explained that I wanted to keep writing out a series of stories and introduce myself to the characters as I go.
“That’s not how you do it,” said the manager.
“That’s not surprising, I said since I have ABSOLUTELY no idea what I’m doing.” https://www.youtube.com/embed/iYVO5bUFww0?wmode=opaque
The encouragement kept pushing from all sides for me to be the writer for the show, but again, I can only wrap my brain around something if I’ve experienced it. Until I’m part of the process in developing the pilot out (which didn’t happen the first go round), I’m never going to be able to produce a product worthy of being pitched.
(As a writer, I tremendously respect Morgan’s work. I couldn’t put my name on something that once had her name and not have it be at a certain “level.” I’ve waited years for this moment, and I wasn’t about to shoot my own self in the foot.)
I could tell the one manager I was interested in working with was getting frustrated with my approach, so as quickly as things had begun, they also ended.