TV Programming For Beginners
In my anime dungeon, where I torment fans who displease me, there is a special chamber for people who think that getting anime on TV is easy. Fans are locked in a room until they come up with their idea of a perfect evening’s anime viewing. Then I make them name the other eighteen hours they haven’t considered yet. Then I make them do it 365 more times, without once including a show that they wouldn’t want to watch themselves. After the wailing has finished, when their schedule is finally written in thirteen color-coded inks, I walk in and take away half the titles.
“Sorry!” I say. “It turns out that everything beginning with letters N through Z is already sold. You’ll have to pick something else! Oh, but look here, Legend of the Four Kings is available, and here’s something about the daily life of the starfish…”
Program buyers get a rough deal from fans, because everyone always assumes that they can pick from everything that’s been made. But buying television programs is like some terrible game show where you have to fish jelly off a merry-go-round, blindfolded. And where does this terrifying spectacle take place? Cannes, France, just before the famous movie festival, when the place is packed with buyers and the evil creatures that ply them with alcohol and then try to make them pay good money for bad shows.
Rights are available for a limited period. You have to snatch them before Fox renew or Cartoon Network take out a two-year deal. So I’ll be shouting, “There! Escaflowne! Get Escaflowne! Now! Left a bit! No! It’s the cut version, back off! Oh wait, wait! Here comes Blue Gender!” Meanwhile the programmer is getting covered in jelly, and tripping over 157-episode packages of hentai, while ducking big Overfiend mallets that swing down from the ceiling, and an audience of anime fans chants: “We don’t watch your channel but we want Schoolgirl Milky Crisis!” over and over again.
TV markets can be triumphs of faith over reason. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen sales sheets offering twice as many episodes of a show than actually exist. The rationale, one drunken executive inadvisably confessed, was that if an American company was prepared to pay for 200 episodes of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis, then the producers would damn well run back home and make some more.
TV rights kick in at different points, and out again when you least expect it. There are grace periods after video release and before the release of sequels, and some distributors only have video rights, so you must buy the show from the Japanese, who can sell it to you, but can’t sell you the dub because that belongs to someone else. And in the case of one well-known series about girl-vigilantes, the people who sold the rights came back later and confessed they didn’t actually own them. Sorry!
One Korean company realized the buyer from one British distributor only ever watched the first five minutes. Accordingly, they stuffed most of their budget into an awesome opening sequence, and the buyer signed on the spot, only to get the film home and discover that the rest of it was distinctly… substandard. But he sucked it up, he did his dub, and the next year he was back at Cannes, trying to sell it on to some other poor schmuck.