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TV Notes Decoder: What Those Baffling Executives Really Mean

Life as a Screenwriter - H 2013

TV writers weigh in on the things network execs are saying without saying when they dole out notes such as "It's a little quiet" or "lots of great stuff here."

This story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Sit any TV writer down and they will tell you of wounds they got from a "notes session," where TV suits mask cutting brutality with obtuse pleasantries. Any veteran scribe knows that "You cracked it!' is not the same as "Job well done," but what does it mean?

The Hollywood Reporter reached out to a collection of established writers who've explained what the network execs really mean when they say…

What they say: "This is the bad version of what we want, but you know what I mean."
What they mean: This is what we want

What they say: "You CRACKED it!"
What they mean: You finally did exactly what we told you to do, after five drafts of you trying to make our dumb note not terrible.

What they say: "Maybe we can get into it faster."
What they mean: It's boooooo-ring.

What they say: "It's a little quiet."
What they mean: Where are all the penis jokes?

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What they say: "This should feel more like a real family."
What they mean: They should feel more like one of the fake families in one of our successful shows.

What they say: "I wish this was cable so we could do that sort of thing."
What they mean: I don't get it.

What they say: "Now let's just do a comedy pass."
What they mean: You are not funny.

What they say: "We sort of miss some of the fun stuff from the pitch."  
What they mean: We are going to fixate on one tiny improvised joke until you build the entire show around it.

What they say: "Maybe I'm just totally missing it."
What they mean: You are fired.

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What they say: "We've seen that before."
What they mean: We've already tried ripping off that idea… and it didn't work.

What they say: "Let's put a pin in it."
What they mean: Let's stop talking about this until later, when you'll do what we say.

What they say: "Lots of great stuff here."
What they mean: I'm supposed to say something nice before I tear a script apart.

What they say: "Do we need that?"
What they mean: Get rid of it.

What they say: "It's great. We have NO notes."
What they mean: Your show is canceled.