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Hello, Lied the Agent: And Other Bullshit You Hear as a Hollywood TV Writer

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As prevalent as TV is in our lives, most of us have no concept of what goes into creating a show, getting it on the air, and keeping it on. Perhaps we assume that the people in charge simply decide what amuses them at the moment, make those shows, stick them on, and wait to see if the public responds. Or maybe they just throw darts at a board. The truth, as with most things, is more complicated. In Hello, Lied the Agent , Ian Gurvitz has produced a corrosively funny look from the inside at what being a television writer is really all about. In his personal journal, he details two years in the life of a Hollywood television writer—the dizzying ups and downs, the rewrites, the pitch meetings, the table readings, the studios, and networks and execs in a riveting expose of the business.

346 pages, Hardcover

First published August 30, 2006

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Ian Gurvitz

10 books4 followers

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Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews
Profile Image for Rod Hilton.
150 reviews3,125 followers
January 13, 2012
Because I read both books around the same time and they have quite a bit in common, I'm going to compare and contrast this book with Tina Fey's Bossypants.

Both books deal with the lives of writers producing television shows, so it's easy to compare them.

Fey's book is lighthearted, self-deprecating, and extremely funny. Gurvitz's book, on the other hand, is angry, bitter, and completely unfunny.

Now, I'm not saying it's unfunny BECAUSE it's angry and bitter. I love angry bitterness as much as the next guy, I love Lewis Black, Louis C.K., and many other dark comics. Ian Gurvitz's book isn't unfunny because it's mean, it simply happens to be both.

Considering that the book is written by a comedy writer, as well as the fact that Gurvitz is clearly trying to be funny, it says a lot that this book induced nary a single laugh from me. Fey's book, on the other hand, had me laughing out loud while reading it in public on numerous occasions.

The reason this is so interesting to me is that Fey's book is largely about success - she was the head writer on a few seasons of Saturday Night Live, and went on to be the head writer of 30 Rock, an excellent comedy show. She's one of the most successful female television writers today, and her story is one of triumph.

Gurvitz's book, however, is largely about rejection and failure. Constantly his work is being rejected - in fact a sizable portion of the book is devoted to him trying to get some pilot scripts sold, only to be told over and over that his shows are too dark and bitter. He concludes from this that television producers are stupid assholes, but I can't help but wonder if maybe they were telling him to lighten the scripts up in a desperate attempt to eek some comedy from him.

30 Rock is one of the funniest shows on TV. Gurwitz is responsible for obnoxious multi-camera sitcoms such as Wings, Becker, and the abominable "The Exes" (the creation of which provides much of the book's content). 30 Rock's jokes are clever, while Wings, Becker, and The Exes all aim for broad audiences with run-of-the-mill humor. It's interesting to read two perspectives on Hollywood TV. Fey is genuinely funny and talks a lot about those to whom she owes her success, while Gurvitz is a humorless prick who blames everyone else for his failures.

Every chapter opens with Gurvitz talking about the news at the time of writing, which almost always centers on George Bush or the Michael Jackson trial. The jokes he makes in these openers are the sorts of things that aren't even fit for Jay Leno's monologues. The humor is so predictable and embarrassing, it's amazing that Gurvitz actually has good taste in humor, talking about other TV shows that he finds genuinely funny.

One of my favorite parts of the book is how Gurvitz talks about how there aren't that many original TV show ideas, but it's all about execution. He's right, Friends was just "young people in the city" which had the same basic plot as dozens of other TV shows, but Friends was a huge success because of how well it was executed. Later in the book he discusses some of his ideas for TV shows that he's trying to sell to various networks, including a show about prostitutes. None of the networks go for it, but towards the end of the book he talks about how a network just picked up a show about a group of call-girls, noting with a tinge of bitterness that it was almost the exact same idea he pitched the very same network earlier. Most people, especially those who had realized the "execution is everything" point he made earlier, would take this as valuable criticism of their writing ability, but instead Gurwitz refuses to realize this, and blames the network for being dumb.

The book is very interesting, with lots of insider information about how TV shows are written and produced. Extracting these facts can be informative and entertaining, but it's a shame that it's surrounded by Gurvitz's relentless bitterness. I'm sure he wants the reader to feel like Hollywood just turns people bitter, but I came away from the book feeling like Gurvitz just kind of sucks as a writer and blames the world for it. The painful humor of his book and the TV shows he's so proud of writing solidify this view for me.

If you're willing to wade through Gurvitz's self-pity and misdirected anger, the book is a mildly interesting read, though I don't recommend the audiobook, as it's read by the author and even he is clearly bored to death with his own words, reciting his prose with a detached monotone.
Profile Image for Thomas Herring.
6 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2013
Not too bad except for a lot profanity. I think he could have gotten his point across without using it. As for the inside workings of Hollywood for television, it brought out a lot of how they choose shows for the upcoming season. He answered a lot of my questions on why it seems to be dumbing down a lot. There is a disconnect between the writers and the head bosses who think business and not creative. Anyway, it was a fast read. I blew past a lot of the magazine clippings because there was so much to read and the type was too small.

The writer complained and worried a lot. Don't know why he still stays with it but I guess its in the blood.
Profile Image for Brett Bydairk.
289 reviews1 follower
February 14, 2014
This is, more or less, a journal covering two and a half years in the professional life of a TV writer, pitching stories, meetings with know-nothings at the networks to "discuss" problems and rewrites, waiting to hear decisions, and more. There is also a good lot of explaining why some of these things happen, and a lot of side-opinions on people and situations, without naming too many names. Juicy and delicious, he half-apologizes for the way he writes, "this shit just slips out."
Recommended for anyone interested in behind-the-scenes TV writing.
Profile Image for John Ghekiere.
47 reviews
March 27, 2014
I listened to this as an audio book, part of research for a novel I'm writing. Didn't give me a LOT to go on there but was still informative about the writing gig in television. If you do the audio book as read by the author, beware, his timing is poor and his tone is flat.
Profile Image for Auriette.
51 reviews3 followers
June 27, 2010
I thought I had an idea of why most television is crap, and I was pretty much right. In "'Hello,' Lied the Agent" Ian Gurvitz takes the reader through the trying process to get a half-hour comedy show picked up by a network. Even before his steady gig on staff for "Becker" wraps up, Gurvitz is pitching ideas to studios and networks. On those occasions when he gets a nibble and is asked to produce the script for a pilot, nothing ever seems to be good enough. Rather, I should say that nothing is ever simple-minded enough for the execs. We see them pass on good ideas, see them really exited about projects they later reject, and see them proceed with surprisingly similar ideas a year later. Through it all, Gurvitz maintains a mostly positive and very appreciative attitude towards his work.

In addition to Gurvitz's notes (this is a journal of his experiences over about 18 months), he includes clippings from trade publications and entertainment websites. They range from articles about the shows that get a greenlight for production to calendars of the then-current television season.

I found it odd that, in the beginning, Gurvitz used a lot of footnotes to define industry terminology, but later in the book, he worked the definitions into the text (a much preferred method). I knew what 99% of the terms meant, but because Gurvitz would sometimes embellish on the actual definition with a comic jab or personal insight, I still felt I had to stop and read them all.

My only criticisms are first, the rampant use of profanity. I use it myself, but I'm more uncomfortable reading and writing curse words than I am saying them, and I don't feel their use added any insight into his feelings most of the time. Secondly, I think the publisher could have made the trade articles a little larger on the page, so they'd be easier to read. Better yet, they could have re-typed some of the articles (or gotten the files from the editors). Then again, perhaps those editors told them what they could use and how large they were allowed to make them.

All in all, this is a book that any aspiring TV writer should read, if for no other reason than to be prepared for the uphill battle both to sell the idea, then to complete a script that's acceptable to the many personalities that will have a yay-or-nay in the process.
42 reviews
April 4, 2015
Hello, Lied the Agent is a decent book about the everyday experiences of a Hollywood TV Writer. It's a diary of the writer's usually cynical thoughts and feelings as he goes through the drills trying to sell his work to the studios and networks. The book was somewhat entertaining but became a little tedious as he burned through a lot of time of pitching and getting notes or being rejected over and over. It wasn't a 'how to' or a memoir which is maybe what I was expecting. I sort of wanted to hear more about inspiration and actual ideas but he just gave broad overviews. I don't have any pity for his hard times and stress as these people make ridiculous money and still can't seem to find happiness. What is it they want? What does this writer want? I never could figure that out. He's not a team player and seems to just want complete control for mediocre projects that no one will watch. He wanted money and license to be creative but I don't think he offered anything positive in return. His characters that he claims the studio always wanted to tone down seemed to be very negative or mean spirited which is fine if there is balance. He seems like a "know it all". I really wanted to like him and be on his side but I'm not sure that's how I felt by the end. I guess if I'm going to rip him apart I'd better get into his work and see how I feel about it but I'm not sure I'm inspired enough to spend the time.
103 reviews10 followers
February 13, 2010
Gurvitz seems to think that his version of the "Hollywood is a hell hole full of liars and thieves and whores" whine is funnier and more interesting than everyone else's. It's not. The book itself is also surprisingly poorly produced -- for some reason, Gurvitz chooses to illustrate some of his points using unedited printouts of various websites, of all things, some of which actually have important text cut off by the margins! Shockingly amateurish. There's also quite a bit of filler, including "humorous" commentary on national news events that are apropos of nothing, as though Gurvitz's editor told him he needed an extra hundred pages to fill out the book. That said, Gurvitz is a veteran television writer who's spent years down in the trenches -- if you're interested in the torturous, wrenching process of pitching, writing, and producing narrative television comedies, he adequately explains how the process works.
Profile Image for Knute.
1 review
December 19, 2013
Becker and Wings are obviously not Seinfeld and Mash, but Gurvitz's time and experience in the business offers up a lot that any aspiring TV writer, or someone just interested in the inner function/dysfunction of network TV would find interesting. Rather than sugarcoat things or lure you in with the "here's how you make it in the business" approach, he lays his angst out on the table like the bleeding, wounded animal it is.

His voice is a little Harvey Pekar-esque, and he walks through the 2003-2004 era (but still relevant, I think) with world/entertainment news inserted for context. I have to wonder if his pet peeves (execs trying to make his dark stories/characters more happy and likable) is unique to him, or at least amplified by his sardonic point of view, but that's for the individual reader to decide.

I did read Bossypants and a number of other industry books plus, like I said, I know some folks in the business, and I find it intriguing. If you do too, you should read this.
Displaying 1 - 8 of 8 reviews

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