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Horizontal Hold: The Making and Breaking of a Network Pilot

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A sitcom set in the Washington offices of the speechwriters for the President: Sound like a prime-time hit? It wasn't - in fact, it never even got a commercial break. So how did a highly talented television team launch such an ambitious pilot, only to watch it crash over and over again? In the spring of 1990, television producer Bruce Paltrow (The White Shadow, St. Elsewhere) granted author Daniel Paisner unlimited access to the New York-based production of his sitcom-in-progress, E.O.B. With a cast including ...
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Overview

A sitcom set in the Washington offices of the speechwriters for the President: Sound like a prime-time hit? It wasn't - in fact, it never even got a commercial break. So how did a highly talented television team launch such an ambitious pilot, only to watch it crash over and over again? In the spring of 1990, television producer Bruce Paltrow (The White Shadow, St. Elsewhere) granted author Daniel Paisner unlimited access to the New York-based production of his sitcom-in-progress, E.O.B. With a cast including veteran stage actress Mary Beth Hurt and Saturday Night Live alumnus Rich Hall, E.O.B. was one of the most promising shows on CBS's development slate. Production was to have taken less than two months, culminating in a hoped-for six-episode summer run on the networks. Over the next year, however, Paltrow's effort was folded, spindled, and mutilated by forces both beyond and within his control. The show, rechristened The War Room, was shelved. So he and his colleagues tried again, this time in Los Angeles, in the spring of 1991, with a new cast (including St. Elsewhere's William Daniels, plus singer Gladys Knight), a new director, and a new title, Word of Mouth. This project, too, never made it onto network airwaves. Horizontal Hold does for the television industry what Thirty Seconds did for advertising and what The Devil's Candy did for Hollywood: it brings the big picture down to size with small strokes, offering behind-the-scenes details of daily life on and off the set. Television pilots, the author maintains, are the best and worst indicators of where the medium has been and where it is going. Absurdly funny, trenchant, and provocative, this outside-looking-in account of the stillbirth of one particular series is a must read for every serious and not-serious television viewer.

Paisner offers a behind-the-scenes look from all angles at the making of a television pilot. In the process, he sheds telling and often hilarious light on how the television business works . . . and how it doesn't. 8 pages of photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of The Imperfect Mirror: Reflections of Television Newswomen has already made it clear that he doesn't think much of network TV fare, and this devastating chronicle of an aborted series offers ample justification for his attitude. Paisner details the genesis of a pilot episode about a group of presidential speechwriters who work near the White House, a concept that evidently sounded better to originator Bruce Paltrow (fresh from his triumph with St. Elsewhere ) and his co-workers than it does to the reader. Filmed in New York City, then retitled and reshot in Los Angeles with a new cast, the pilot failed to win the bankers' approval in either version. But the story of its death--with producers hyping themselves, the networks demanding tried-and-true situations, the creators proudly pointing to their use of a ``real'' laugh track (a reorganized tape of actual studio audience response)--makes for an impressive revelation of contemporary cloud-cuckoo-landspelling and punctuation per Webster's . (Oct.)
Library Journal
Television pilots--those one-shot programs that aspire to the rarefied air of prime time--constitute a facet of the television business that is little understood by the viewing public. The author was granted access by producer Bruce Paltrow ( The White Shadow , St. Elsewhere ) to observe the creation of a sitcom pilot about presidential speechwriters. At first titled E.O.B. (for Executive Office Building, where such writers toil), the show underwent two title changes, a shift from New York to Hollywood as a production site, and a cast makeover. Paisner offers some interesting observations, but it seems clear that this show was doomed from the start (it never aired). Ultimately, insider books carry more punch when they describe something tangible. For large media collections.-- Thomas Wiener, formerly with ``American Film''
Gordon Flagg
Each season, the television industry spends some $200 million to produce some 120 pilot films--prototypes for prospective series, most of which never get past that sample episode. Paisner traces the progress of one such show, a 1990 pilot for a sitcom about White House speech writers called "E.O.B." He was present at all stages of the production, from the pitch to the network (by three of the producers of the critically acclaimed "St. Elsewhere") and the casting of actors (who included Mary Beth Hurt and Rich Hall) to the final taping (which was nearly blocked by a last-minute technicians' strike) and including steps ordinary viewers are unlikely to think about (e.g., wardrobe selection for each character). This behind-the-scenes view provides fascinating insights into what it takes to get a show off the ground and should give readers greater appreciation of those new series hitting the airwaves about this time every year. While they may not be very good, it's a wonder that, judging from the obstacles thrown in the path of "E.O.B.," they make it to the air at all.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559721486
  • Publisher: Carol Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/1/1992
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.31 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Intro xi
1. Idea 1
2. Back-Stories, Real 8
3. Back-Stories, Imagined 23
4. Pitch 29
5. Pilot Season 38
6. Production 43
7. Rehearsals 58
8. Dress 79
9. Cast 85
10. Rewrite 96
11. Run-Through 105
12. Strike 116
13. Tape 128
14. Edit 138
15. Bridge 147
16. L.A. 155
17. Lot 165
18. Tape, Again 182
19. Post 195
20. Tag 201
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