Development Deals Are Back, Baby!

So you thought we were past the age of lavish TV Development Deals ™ for writers who hadn’t created a show before? Think again:

Queen Village author Jennifer Weiner will feed ideas to ABC Studios as part of a seven-figure, two-year agreement reported yesterday in the Hollywood trades.

“I hate to say this, but it’s a really fantastic deal,” said Weiner, a former Inquirer reporter who has written the bestsellers Good in Bed, In Her Shoes, Little Earthquakes and Goodnight Nobody, in an interview today. “I don’t have to do anything.”

She said he is simply expected to pitch the network story ideas that can be made into series. “I can be as involved in them or not involved in them as I want to be,” she said. ABC also has not given her a quota. “But it’s not like they’re coming to Philadelphia to shake me by the ankles till something falls out,” she said

Her candid admission that “I don’t have to do anything” is reminiscent of Rob Long’s famous statement that “a development deal is ‘one of those entertainment industry creations that, when described, sound suspiciously like goofing off.”

Be interesting to see if anything comes of this. Obviously there is nothing wrong with going to Jennifer Weiner for show ideas, and as for the money, well, it’s their money, they can give out as much of it as they want. But the reason Development Deals ™ worked out so badly for the TV business is not just that it cost a lot of money, but that the whole concept was flawed. Every few years, networks decide that what they need is a round of super-awesome ideas for shows, and if they could only get people to come up with unique and original ideas, they will get some hits. And it doesn’t really work out that way, because in many ways the basic concept of a show is the least important part. It’s important in getting the show made — the great high-concept logline, the brilliant pitch — but any good show develops beyond its initial idea, and many great shows are based on very simple, even drab concepts that are then fleshed out with great characters.

This is not, you understand, meant as a knock on Weiner, nor am I saying ABC won’t get a show out of this deal. Just that the basic conceptual problem behind the Development Deal ™ is that it’s the basic idea that makes a hit show when it probably isn’t.

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