HBO pilot about snarky Hollywood blogger implodes

by Paul William Tenny

I guess HBO felt comfortable enough with the success of insder-ish Entourage to further mine that niche when they green lit a pilot based on industry blogger Nikki Finke. If you don't know who she is, don't feel bad. Nobody watching the resulting show is likely to know either.

That was at least one good reason not to do this project at all, but HBO doesn't have the pressure that the major networks face and can afford to explore the outer edges of the sandbox.

So Tilda, based (losely?) on Finke as a hot headed Hollywood insider pretending to be a journalist but is mostly just another snarky, pissed off, reclusive blogger, marched steadily forward through the upfronts until news came this week that the showrunner got canned and production is now in disarray.

Showrunner Cynthia Mort has been removed from Tilda after a tense pilot shoot in which she frequently clashed with executive producer/director Bill Condon and got into public scuffles with Diane Keaton, who plays a powerful online journalist who covers the entertainment industry.

"It was an unhappy marriage from day one," says one source of the Condon-Mort partnership. "They banged heads about almost everything...and during production she picked huge public fights with anyone who disagreed with her on anything, including Diane."

I admittedly don't know a fraction of what I should know about how these things work to be writing about this, but from what gather, a situation like this would end up with Condon and possibly Keaton departing the show. It's a lot easier to do during and after the pilot than it will be if the pilot gets ordered to series. There are plenty of executive producers and actors looking for jobs right now and despite Keaton's star power, nobody in television is irreplaceable in a pilot.

Now it's not always the case that the showrunner wrote the pilot and created the show themselves, sometimes people lacking experience come up with the concept, write the pilot, and serve as creative EPs, while someone else with more experience steps in to mange the day-to-day tasks. In that case I could see the studio/network going with a different showrunner after big, ugly, public problems like this.

But in most cases, I've always been lead to believe that showrunners are at the top of the food chain, only at the mercy of the studio and network. So yes, as the story goes, Mort issued a rude and serious ultimatum to HBO which isn't supposed to happen. Threats come down, they don't go up. If Mort had irreconcilable issues with one of her producers and the pilot star, she should have had the muscle to push them out, seeing as how it was her show.

If I were channeling some of the showrunners I used to regularly read, I bet they'd say something like that kind of unprofessional behavior -- starting big public fights with cast and crew at every turn -- is too detrimental to the production and can't be allowed to continue. Issuing threats to the higher ups is almost certain to make that situation even worse, so giving them the unhappy boot is the only realistic call.

On the other hand, all we've got here is thin reporting based entirely on one or two anonymous sources. Just because two people who don't have the guts to put their names to their gossip say it was all an unprofessional mess instigated by Cynthia Mort, doesn't make it true.

In fact, behavior like that seems so bizarre -- again, to me, a person who has no idea what he's talking about -- that it seems pretty contrived and exaggerated. A showrunner banging heads with a star is not new, although fighting with one of your own EPs when you probably had a say in hiring them, does seem more rare. Issuing ultimatums to management is something I've never heard of before. Taking a principled stand, this is the way I need things to be if I'm going to run this show is one thing, but saying "its my way or the highway" (from yet another anonymous source) seems like the kind of thing that, as the result of a certain type of character, would prevent a person from becoming a showrunner in the first place.

That just doesn't make any sense.

The most interesting bit in all of this, though, is what made this short post worth writing. In Mort's letter, she supposedly said the show was going to fail because of the two people she was having problems with. If Tilda gets ordered to series and does end up failing, this will be the reason why and those people will have to step up and accept responbility. Pain in the ass or not, taking out the person whose vision was the reason for doing the project in the first place is the surest way to guarantee failure. It may have happened before, but I've never heard of a network replacing a showrunner (unwillingly) and having anything but cancellation result.

One thing is now absolutely certain: if the show fails, it's certainly not Cynthia Mort's fault. If Condon is getting a say in who the new showrunner is (raising questions as to whether or not this was a power play on his behalf) and Keaton stays onboard, then it's all on them now. Condon is apparently more important to HBO than Mort was and the new showrunner will be. No matter what, sink or swim, it's all on him now.

in Television


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