By Gary Pearson
I’ve written a lot of TV, for shows like MadTV, This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Corner Gas. I’ve had a hand in creating shows too, like That’s So Weird, and Sunnyside, which I created with Dan Redican. Sunnyside was the show that was “as brilliant as it was canceled,” as in “completely.” I’ve won some awards too. Check it out on IMDB. I look at my page there about twice a day.
Where do I get my ideas for TV shows? I have no clue. What I do know is, I have no shortage of them. I have ideas in the shower, I have ideas when running, I even have ideas when watching other TV shows—although sometimes those ideas are like, “I know—how about an ad agency in the 1960s where the lead character is a handsome alcoholic womanizer with a mysterious troubled past?”
Watch, I’ll come up with an idea right now: The Burger Burgher. The private life of the A&W commercial spokesman—there’s much more to him than telling people his meat doesn’t have hormones! And that’s just what I was able to think of while sitting in this A&W restaurant.
Now the problem is, Canadian TV simply isn’t big enough to contain all my brilliance. Or, frankly, the brilliance of dozens of other writers and creators I know. You’ll be surprised to learn that I have had literally dozens of ideas turned down by networks and production companies over the years. Pitch after brilliant pitch. Some of them were even better than that pure gold A&W idea you just read.
So, what’s a writer to do if you can’t convince a TV network that it is worth spending a million bucks a half-hour on one of his poorly-conceived whims? Write it as a novel and put it out yourself. Some people will read it and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing your idea saw the light of day—if not actually in the form it was originally intended. I have now done this three times.
My first book started as a pitch to CBC, that I crafted along with Geri Hall. You probably are familiar with Geri, the hilarious red-head best known for her stint on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. At the time, she was hot on the heels of being arrested by the RCMP for approaching Prime Minister Stephen Harper while armed with her wit. She was the most famous handcuffed Canadian since Conrad Black. Geri had a development deal with CBC and somehow I convinced her that I should create a show with her.
Geri and I threw many ideas at CBC, but the one that stuck was called “Slapshot of Love.” I had just watched the reality TV show, The Bachelor and frankly hated everything about it. I wanted to peel the artifice back and see what really went on with so-called reality TV. I wanted to see what it would be like if a smart and funny woman, modelled after Geri Hall herself, were to be on a show like that, instead of the usual air head TV wannabe models.
CBC loved it … at first. Then the executives at CBC changed. The new regime didn’t want to do an idea that was developed before they came in the door. Here’s a hint for you aspiring TV creators out there: try to get your TV show made before the executive in charge of your development moves on. It has happened to me twice.
So, I had something I really liked and nowhere to go. So, I wrote the planned 13 episodes of TV, as a novel instead, and put it out myself through Amazon. Anyone can put a credible-looking book out now, for not too much money. I plugged the hell out of it on Facebook as anyone who used to be my Facebook friend will tell you. Something weird happened—a lot of people bought the book. Turns out “sports romance” is a hot category for Kindle eBooks from Amazon. Who knew?
This all happened between 2010 and 2013. Now there is a backstage at a reality dating show drama on TV called Unreal. Maybe the writers had the idea before me, but I doubt it. CBC could have been there first. But I suppose they are doing fine without the likes of me.
Then, later in the midst of the Rob Ford crack scandal, I wrote another TV pitch called “Me and the Crack Mayor.” It was about a young speech writer who gets entangled in the world of a corrupt Mayor of Toronto who blatantly smokes crack, drives drunk, speaks profanely, fondles women, lies constantly and hangs out with gun-toting gang members. You know, fiction. Canadian networks wouldn’t touch it. Too dangerous. So that became book No. 2.
Now Canada lately has done some great science fiction shows, and I’m supposedly a comedy expert, so my next pitch was for a sci- fi comedy. I wanted to do a story about real, average people, not the Captain Kirks of the world, but the regular joes, getting marooned in space. I called it “Marooned in Space!” The exclamation mark makes it more exciting. I pitched that one to a few production companies but they assured me that no Canadian network would be interested in such a show. Nobody makes science fiction comedies. How about movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, or Deadpool? How about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the new Supergirl, or Dr. Who—they certainly go for comedic moments in those ones. And anyway, shouldn’t we do something original, as opposed to stuff that everyone else is doing? “Not in Canada,” they said.
So that became my third book—Marooned in Space! If you’re out there TV network types, I’d still happily adapt it to TV. When you read it, you’ll see it has a nice open ending, perfect for an ongoing television adventure—you’d get 100 episodes out of these funny and relatable characters, without breaking a sweat.
“When you read it!” Ha! I certainly do have an active imagination.
Before you get too far into your novel, I should tell you, I didn’t get rich, from any of this, but I did have artistic satisfaction. And there is always the hope out there that your book will be like Fifty Shades of Grey or The Martian, the billion-dollar properties that began life as modest self published books.
Hold on to your dreams, folks! People are always knocking the Canadian TV network system for not producing enough original content to reflect our great writers and creators, but in this case, you have to give Canadian TV the credit, or the blame, for making me a three-time novelist.
All of Gary Pearson’s novels, including his new one Marooned in Space! are available all over the world from Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. Ancillary rights to Marooned in Space! for film, television, streaming and merchandise are currently available.