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Justin Halpern: The 6 Types of People You Meet During TV Pilot Season & Live Discussion Thread

By / 04.25.12

Our friend Justin Halpern has a new book coming out and he asked me if he could do a guest post to promote it. Since I’m all for writers more accomplished than me doing my work for free, I said sure. He even agreed to answer any of your questions in a live thread (at the bottom of this post). In addition to being a past guest on multiple Frotcasts (surely his most prestigious honor), he began his career as a writer for Maxim, but things really took off when he moved back in with his 74-year-old Dad in 2009 and started compiling his best quips in a Twitter account called ShitMyDadSays. Rob Corddry picked up on it, it amassed hundreds of thousand of followers, and soon he had a book deal with HarperCollins. The book made the New York Times bestseller list, and spawned a TV show on CBS. The show was cancelled last year, as was the next series he wrote for, How to be a Gentleman, starring Kevin Dillon from Entourage. But he clearly learned a lot from the process.

The 6 People You Meet During TV Pilot Season

Every year the networks make anywhere from 8-15 comedy pilots. And of those, only a few will get on the air. I am by no means a seasoned professional, but going through my third pilot season as a writer, I have started to see some familiar types.

1) The Actor You Loved On Some Show In The Nineties That You Assumed Was Dead Until They Came In To Audition For You

You’re sitting in a small room, waiting to see actors to cast in your show, and inevitably you look at the list of people coming in that day and say something like “holy shit, the guy who played the brother on Boy Meets World is coming in. What the f*ck happened to that guy?” Contrary to what you may think, it’s a tough racket being an actor, and it’s even tougher when you haven’t worked in a while and some shit bag writer such as myself wants to ask you questions like “Did anybody on set ever have sex with Topanga?”

2) The Super Creepy, Always Uber-Positive Agent Of The Creator Of The Show

Inevitably, in every table read or run-through, there will be jokes that die. For whatever reason they sucked. And that’s okay, everyone understands this. Except for the creator of the show’s agent, who stands in the background and reacts to EVERY SINGLE JOKE like he’s in the audience of Def Comedy Jam in the mid 90s. Sometimes this guy is so f*cking creepy that he’ll repeat the last word of the joke after he’s fake laughed at it, as if it were so good he had to relive some part of it. “HAHAHAHAHAHA (sigh) an elephant’s ass. Ha. So good.” Every time you walk past this agent, if you ACCIDENTALLY make eye contact, they will unprompted say “such a funny show,” or “this is really coming together,” in the same kind of weird tone that Buffalo Bill uses when Jodie Foster asks him if he’s seen the woman he has tied up in his basement.

3. The Really Bitter Older Comedy Writer Who Comes In To Do Punch Up On The Script

There is nothing more bitter in Hollywood then a writer who has been working forever and hasn’t gotten their own show on the air. At least when you’re an actor and you’ve never gotten a starring role, you’re usually good looking, so you get laid a lot. If you’re a writer, you usually look like Gollum and have either paid for sex, or thought very long and hard about paying for sex. When the network has a read through of the script with the actors, the creator of the show brings in friends to help punch up the flat parts of the script. The bitter writer will grab a bottle of water, put his feet up on the table, make fun of any and all physical flaws on the actors, then pitch jokes that make the writers laugh, but are totally unusable in the show. “What if the dad’s catchphrase was “it’s rapin’ time.” I think that would catch on.’ If I’m lucky, I will get to be this guy someday.

4) The Member Of An Actor’s Entourage Who Will Not Stay The F*ck Away From The Craft Services Table

There are literally PILES of food laying around on the set of TV pilots. It’s basically like somebody asked the fattest nine-year-old you’ve ever met “what kind of snacks you want around,” and he answered “OMG I WANT PIZZA ROLLS AND I WANT STRAWBERRIES BUT WITH CHOCOLATE ON THEM AND THEN PIZZA TOO NOT JUST ROLLS” and that goes on for twenty minutes. The food is primarily for the production crew (grips, camera guys, etc…), who are working their asses off. But on every set, there’s one friend of the actor’s who acts as if he is equally as important as that actor. His name is always something like “J-bo,” and he just stands at the craft service table and says shit like “How come there’s no shrimp with bacon on them? That’d be good.” You want to punch his f*cking face in, but unfortunately you have to say “THAT’S A REALLY GOOD IDEA J-BO I’LL ASK.”

5) The Older Crewmember Who Couldn’t Give Less Of A Shit About This Show.

This is by far my favorite person to encounter. Executives and writers tend to get very serious when they’re working on a pilot and begin acting as if what they’re doing might fundamentally change the human condition. I don’t begrudge anyone for taking it seriously. You have to take it seriously if you want to make anything decent. But there’s nothing funnier to me than seeing a writer or director passionately talking to an actor about their character, only to be interrupted by a guy moving some cables, wearing a sleeveless shirt that says “Nobody knows I farted.”

6) The Development Executive Who Gives You A Note About The Backstory Of A Character No One Gives A Single F*ck About.

Development executives get a bum rap for the most part. They’re just trying to make the show as good as possible, just like everyone else. But occasionally, there will be executives who just give the creator a note because they haven’t said shit in a while, and they figure they have to say SOMETHING, otherwise people are gonna be like “Why the f*ck does that person have a job?” So, what ends up happening is they give you a note that’s basically innocuous, but makes no sense. Something like “I feel like we need to know why the plumber showed up at the main character’s house,” and the creator is like “Because his drain was clogged,” and they’re like “Right, but is this a plumber that mostly does drains? Or do they mostly work on toilets? Just, if you could give us a little bit of information for clarity.” Usually the creator is really tired by this point and just gives in and figures they’ll take it out in editing. But sometimes they can’t, and then you end up with a show where a plumber walks in to a house and for absolutely no reason goes “Hey, I’m here to fix the drain. That’s my specialty. I used to work on a lot of drains back when I lived in Hoboken.”


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