In our continuing series of interviews with key TV industry professionals, we’re thrilled to have Dave Pullano sit down with us and share his first hand experience and perspective. Dave is an Executive Producer, Writer, and Director, working in both feature films and reality-based programming. He was a Senior Producer for 5 years on the hit syndicated series, “Blind Date“, and most recently penned with writing partner the feature film “Porky’s” for The Weinstein Company. He’s produced pilots for ABC, and overseen production at various cable networks, including E!.
TVWV: Thanks for taking some time out to sit down with us, Dave. Let’s roll back the clock… You have a sketch comedy background, as well as writing for the National Lampoon, but what was your first job in the film and TV industry?
Pullano: My first industry job was as the receptionist for Miramax Films. I was just happy to get my foot in the door and the relationships I made during that time are still paying off today. My first real writing job was for an MTV animated sketch show called “Head Trip.” It was at the peak of the “boy band” frenzy – ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys ruled the airwaves and I was like, what the hell happened to MTV?! Great experience, though.
TVWV: When you first started writing, were you always focused on story and spec scripts, or were you formulating concepts and “ideas” for shows as well?
Pullano: A little of both. It’s really hard to sell anything without some sort of track record. I’m finally at a place where I can pitch movie projects because the buyers know I’m capable of writing a script.
TVWV: What do you think are the most important elements in a good project for television? As a producer, what do you look for, and what do you try to create?
Pullano: Character, character and character. Did I mention character? In television, I’m not a big fan of “high concept.” Look at Cheers, Friends, or Seinfeld – – just great characters who you want to watch every week sitting around in bars, coffee shops and apartments. On the unscripted front, the same thing. On “American Chopper,” I could care less about how Harley’s are built, I just like watching Paulie and sons every week
TVWV: Let’s talk about “Blind Date”… what’s involved in a daily syndicated series? It must have been a madhouse producing enough content to air. Can you describe the dynamics of how a show like that is produced?
Pullano: Syndicated TV is like a widget factory… you need to constantly feed the beast. Luckily, we had a very funny writing staff of 10 to help pull it off. And then there’s casting, which can be a bitch – we needed about 700 daters each season. Then, the field crews were shooting almost every day and night. And of course, you’re screwed without a good post department. They’ll make or break ya. Bottom line, you need a very large and talented crew.
TVWV: When you’re editing coverage of real people, what’s the approach? What are you hoping to get out of the content?
Pullano: Staying true to character. Any given episode could be edited a thousand different ways. In “Blind Date” for instance, you watched what people said about each other after the date and worked backward to support their statements. You also want your content to follow basic story structure when possible – The classic “man overcomes obstacles to reach goal.”
TVWV: You’ve also had some success optioning your own tv show concepts to larger companies in television. When you’re the one doing the pitching, what’s your typical approach in a verbal pitch? In contrast, what’s your written pitch like?
Pullano: I really feel if you can’t pitch the concept in under a minute, you’re screwed. My written pitches include a simple log line, why the concept’s different, and the breakdown of a typical episode. Remember, you’re rarely pitching to the final decision maker. You’re trying to make it easy for the exec you’re meeting with to explain to their boss. I have an agent who’s great at playing Devil’s Advocate before the pitch, so I’ll be able to nip potential problems in the bud.
TVWV: For the new Writers out there, are there better chances of breaking in with the sale of a reality tv concept, or a scripted project?
Pullano: Reality TV is getting harder and harder to pitch. People have heard EVERYTHING. But if you do the work and find some interesting real characters that people will want to see every week, you might have something. The next Dog, or Ace of Cakes or American Chopper – – real, interesting, non-actors that anyone trying to break in can find on their own and base a show around. There’s so much crap on the air that everyone thinks it’s easy to break in, but it’s not. With no experience, scripted TV is even harder. BUT, a good spec feature script always stands on its own merits.
TVWV: Do you see reality television expanding or flat-lining?
Pullano: I think there will always be ebbs and flows with “reality” on network TV, but most cable networks can’t really afford to produce scripted television. Reality will always be a staple and I can’t see it ever going away. It’s cheaper to produce and can be just as entertaining when done right.
TVWV: What advice can you give to a writer just starting out in the business?
Pullano: A bad idea scribbled on a piece of paper is better than the greatest idea in the world floating in your head. WRITE! REWRITE!! WRITE SOME MORE!!! Join a writer’s group where you can get constructive feedback on your work.
TVWV: So what keeps you going in such a competitive industry?
Pullano: Fear. Love of what I do. Painkillers.
TVWV: What are some of your favorite shows? Can you enjoy TV after working night and day in it? Or do you do other things for entertainment to escape the industry?
Pullano: I get inspired by the amazing work of others, so I stay tuned in. Current faves on TV: The Office, Entourage, Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Daily Show, Lost. I’m a total geek with Lost. I check out message boards and freeze-frame for clues. On the unscripted front, “The Most Dangerous Catch.”
TVWV: Without giving anything away, what types of projects are you working on now?
Pullano: Four different unscripted pitches, I just finished a spec for a horror movie, started my own website (www.davepullano.com), going out with two feature pitches, and a sitcom treatment. Oh yeah, and I just submitted a proposal for a children’s book. It’s all about the hustle.
TVWV: On the issue of copyright protection, what advice can you give to a writer out pitching a concept for television?
Pullano: If you really want to protect yourself, register with the WGA and copyright your work. Still doesn’t mean you won’t get f–ked, though. Try to stay clear of the sleazy people as well.
TVWV: Is Hollywood a “closed door”?
Pullano: The beauty of this town is that any idiot can make it. It’s also one of the problems.
TVWV: You now have your hand in features, most recently with The Weinstein Company. Will you be focusing your career more in the direction of film now?
Pullano: My game plan when I moved here was to have TV as my steady gig and write features in my down time. I’m sticking with it.
TVWV: Thanks for taking time out for us. We’ll watch out for your next show!
Pullano: Please do! We could use the ratings.
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