David Russell

Surviving Survivor
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When the vote is taken...: It'll be the writers who are voted out of Hollywood, disappointed scribe writes

The Vancouver Province. September 20, 2000

by David Russell
Special to the Province

Like a small minority of dedicated television viewers, I did not enjoy watching Survivor. And now that CBS has decided to rebroadcast the whole tribe-voting, naked-Richard, scheming melodrama, I am forced again to face my conflict with it.

No, it wasn't morally offensive; I'm not against rodent eating in the name of entertainment. I belong to a group of castoffs that naturally opposes Survivor: job-seeking writers.

If you've never tried to break into the world of television writing, you may not understand. You'll just have to take my word for it: it ain't easy.

It sounds simple. Write a good premise and producers come pounding on your door (explain Two Guys and a Girl to me then). My door doesn't have a single dent in it. And if you can't sell them on your own material right away, just write for an existing show.

I've been escorted off studio lots in Hollywoods North and South.

What does this all have to do with Survivor?

As if the whole industry isn't difficult enough to catch a break in, nearly every new show on television is lacking one critical element: writers!

If the new breed of writer-free television was limited to simply one program, an enterprising newcomer could hold out hope for what may yet come. But, like most things in Hollywood, success breeds . . . more of the same old stuff.

Witness other writer-free shows such as Big Brother, a party of people we can view around the clock doing little of anything; Chains of Love, in which four men chain themselves to a woman they hope to be fortunate enough to date; Love Cruise, where hopeful contestants take a cruise in search of romance; and Castaway, a kind of Celtic Gilligan's Island in which no one wins a prize for surviving a year in Scotland's Hebrides Islands -- even if they eat haggis.

In addition to imitation and voyeurism, what do these series and events have in common? Read the credits: not a writer to be found.

I could appreciate this new unwritten television if Hollywood executives were making a statement: "Writers are a bad idea; we believe we can make better art without them."

But the lack of paid writing staff on these shows is more about economics than art: With fewer creative types to pay, these shows are cheaper to make.

Even the Sydney Olympics, against which Survivor will compete for viewers, relies on athletic rather than writing ability to attract hordes of viewers.

Some argue that since we have television writers to thank for programs such as Suddenly Susan and Walker: Texas Ranger, maybe network executives would be right to shun word processors for video cameras and unscripted performance.

But the field of series a writer can beg for work on continues to narrow. And facing all the formerly employed Hollywood scribes, a newcomer finds there are precious few scraps to forage.

Cheaper to make? Sure. Entertaining? Perhaps. But for the poor, looking-for-work writer, surviving Survivor and all its imitators is the most daunting challenge yet.

Because the way the new fall television season is shaping up, writers will be the first ones voted out of Hollywood.

David Russell is an aspiring TV writer living in Port Coquitlam.

Copyright 2000 by David Russell