1% Inspiration, 99% Television

For the 15th anniversary of the Archive of American Television, the publisher of the Primetime Emmy Awards printed program asked me to contribute a one-pager on the Archive’s first 15 years. I’d like to share the heart of it with everyone out there who wants to make great television.

How do you distill the wisdom from more than 700 longform interviews, in 2,500-plus hours to-date of the life stories of television’s greatest professionals? For starters, you create an amazing website: emmytvlegends.org. Then, you stand back and let the interviewees speak for themselves. Here’s what we’ve learned about becoming a TV legend:

KNOW THAT YOUR PROFESSIONAL LIFE BEGAN THE DAY YOU WERE BORN

“Archie’s chair in All in the Family? My dad had a red leather chair that he commanded. Sunday night was the big radio night; he sat in that chair and controlled the dial.” -- Norman Lear, producer

 

DO WHAT YOU LOVE

“You might as well fail doing something you care about, versus something you think is what the buyers want to buy. The truth is, the buyers want passion just as much as any of us do. We want someone coming in and saying, ‘Here’s my story. It’s out there. It’s edgy. Sign on to this crazy dream with me.’” -- Vince Gilligan, creator, “Breaking Bad

 

STACK THE DECK

“In a nutshell, get in the business with great actors who are brilliantly funny, and they’ll save you. Hopefully, most of the time you’ll write brilliant scripts, but occasionally you won’t and they’ll make them seem brilliant.” -- Steven Levitan, co-creator, Modern Family

 

IF YOU DON’T HAVE A ROLE MODEL, BECOME ONE

“Unfortunately, I had no role models. I was it. It just has to do with character, and having the ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off.” -- Rita Moreno, actress

 

REMEMBER, TELEVISION IS EASY

“When I got the anchor job, Walter Cronkite called me up and gave me one bit of advice: ‘Just remember to be yourself.’ That’s what he was. I took it to heart. He was right.” -- Connie Chung, journalist

 

REMEMBER, TELEVISION IS HARD

“When you’ve finished the draft, and (before) you had nothing, and now there’s this script. And then people start picking it apart for little logic things; I’m like, ‘What? Where are the people carrying me around on their shoulders? There was zero yesterday, and now there’s this!’” -- Matthew Weiner, creator, “Mad Men

 

DO YOUR BEST WORK, AND YOUR LEGACY WILL TAKE CARE OF ITSELF

“We didn’t know when we started The Andy Griffith Show that it was going to last that long or influence so many. We were just trying to do a good show.” -- Andy Griffith, actor

 

REALIZE YOUR SUCCESS WAS NOT MADE IN A VACUUM

“We have pieces of the people that have cared about us all through our lives, and they’re all part of us now. Each one of us represents so many investments from others. No one of us is alone.” -- Fred Rogers, host, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

OK, future TV legends, heed these words and get to work!

Tags: tv, video
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