I’ve found myself spending more time on Quora lately. What started as an interest in the daily digest of questions and answers about topics like investing and entrepreneurship grew into more of a fascination as I explored the site, finding less-frequented areas, including a space for people asking about television production and talk shows, things about which I know a little bit.
I find these questions engaging because it’s an under-analyzed corner of an overexposed medium. There are a few corny movies. The talk show hosts themselves are celebrities, but other than an occasional scandal, the behind-the-scenes mechanics stay hidden. There aren’t many books on the subject matter, and certainly not recent ones. There’s Television Talk: A History of the TV Talk Show, from six years ago. There’s The Money Shot: Trash, Class, and the Making of TV, a book about daytime talk’s seedy underbelly, from eight years ago. There’s Show Runner: Producing Variety and Talk Shows for Television, from 12 years ago. Plus, some journalistic takes on specific things like Today and GMA’s battle for morning show supremacy, and biographies of entertainers who happen to host shows. This dearth is in part because, as television producers, we sign a lot of paperwork saying we won’t reveal the inner workings of the shows we produce, or share any of our ideas (which, if we came up with at work, we don’t own!), etc.
It’s also in part because it’s a relatively small industry which had its zenith in the 90s and early 2000s. That makes its core group of successful professionals older than, say, the ones using Quora for their interests in entrepreneurship and startups and the Internet of Things.
I didn’t have any interest in talk shows growing up. Other than a few late night shows watched with college roommates, I was oblivious to them. Only after applying to NBC for an internship at a scripted show and being offered a talk show instead did I fully begin to consider them. Since then, I’ve learned by doing, an organic process taking advantage more of opportunities than of learning from mentors or books.
Because of this first-hand experience, I thought I might be of some help on Quora, so I started answering questions with the little nuggets of knowledge I’d accumulated, about things that other people are curious about that don’t so blatantly defy my many signed NDAs. Questions about how to get selected to be on talk shows, what a talk show script looks like, and the good effect of TV producers on society (a question worth debating).
I’ve enjoyed the process. Seeing questions that come from the outside is refreshing. It’s also helpful. By thinking about the processes that have become so automatic, by breaking down those steps, I can see where there’s space for improvement, or for complete reimagining.
So, as producing again begins to take up more of my time, perhaps it’s natural that the writing I do tends to be about that work (in obtuse, non-disclosure agreement-abiding ways). In the past, I’ve made the point of not writing about work – or the strategies and philosophies I use – because I wanted to distance myself, but then I’d end up not writing at all until the show went on hiatus (or indefinite hiatus, which means canceled). I don’t to have such long lulls between writing anymore.
These little questions also prime me for longer pieces I want to write about working in television, producing talk shows, and how to be successful in high-stress environments. These small questions ground my thinking about bigger ideas, as it is by mastering these fundamental parts of work that allows us to rise above it and improve whatever our crafts may be.