Control of TV

My girlfriend, Kathryn, is very good at writing television. When a producer reached out about adapting KmikeyM to the small screen, my first thought was, "This is very exciting!" and my second thought was "I should do this with Kathryn!"

While I understand things best by doing them, Kathryn looks for “a narrative though-line”. She’s always looking for the WHY behind the action, and as many shareholders know, she’s obsessed with finding people’s “core wound” and figuring out how that motivates them in the day to day.

Her storytelling brain guided me as I put together my TEDx talk, which otherwise would have been a jumbled mess of mildly amusing anecdotes. Instead, the speech was a cogent overview of this project and how it has affected me emotionally, and the impact it has made on those I care about. The story also made me cry when I told it. Well played, Kathryn.

Here’s the thing with Kathryn when she’s writing: no one is allowed in. She’s super protective of her process when she’s developing an idea. It can be frustrating: I love talking projects, I love talking process, but I don’t love waiting around while Kathryn goes on an innumerable amount of three-hour long bike rides until she’s eventually ready to “reveal her genius.”

As we work on this together I am unsure of my role. Kathryn’s life work is TV writing, and my life’s work is KmikeyM.

The question for me is, should I be an equal partner / co-founder in this endeavor? Or should I be a resource for her and let her take the lead based on her skills and experience? To put it in the technical terms as regulated by the Writers’ Guild of America – should I lobby for co-creator, or be a non-writing executive producer?

If I co-create this, then my involvement is much more active. If I grant her the lead position, then I am still working with her to make it happen, but she is directing the pace and direction.


  • 97% Let Kathryn Take The Lead
  • 3% Be Equal Partners

43 users voted with 3939 shares


  • joshb [ 713 ]

    I think you’re saying:

    • There is the opportunity to work on a TV show about KmikeyM. (Is there money involved? The possibility or prospect of money?)
    • Kathryn is willing to be the creative force behind the show
    • Kathryn is willing to partner with you as co-creators of the show

    What does the through-line stuff have to do with it? Would she still do the bike rides, and that would just be annoying to you as a co-creator? Even if you co-created, you’d have slightly different roles, I think. What would they be?

  • joshb [ 713 ]

    Who are you talking about lobbying? Kathryn?

  • alexmahan [ 63 ]

    Maybe Josh did a good job at explaining what this vote is actually on, but it's not very clear. Could you reword the post to be more clear about what the project is and how it moves forward?

  • Gene [ 491 ]

    Did it already get rewritten? Because it seems fairly clear to me. I mean, the TV industry isn't a non profit and it's unrealistic to expect too many details at this stage. So this seems to be an early step of organizing the project structure, and involves a decision point about giving up (or holding on to) a measure of creative control.

    If it wasn't Kathryn I would say this would be a harder call, but she has your best interests in mind. My only question is what if you are EP and don't like the approach? What options would you have to course correct ?

  • Gene [ 491 ]

    Oh and Josh's question regarding Kathryn's willingness to bring you on as a writer/co-creator is one I'm also curious about too. Along with: is participating as a writer something you want to do? You seem to partner with writers when this skill is needed in previous projects, but you obviously have considerable communication skills too, so I'm curious about your take on this.

  • Mike Merrill [ creator ]

    I'm addressing some these questions in the email that is going out today, but wanted to make sure to add responses here as well.

    At this point we're just pitching the show and won't be paid anything unless someone buys it. The financial aspect is negotiated but is relatively standardized because of the union.

    Kathryn will always do the bike rides, but the point of all that stuff is highlighting that she has a unique and particular process that doesn't involve a "co-creator." While we'd be working together no matter what, there is a difference in how I approach this. How much do I push my vision and what I want to see happen? How hard do I push if I don't agree?

    I tend to have a lot of ideas, and sometimes strong opinions, but if I'm letting Kathryn lead then I'm going to let her pick and choose from those ideas. If we're co-creating then I have to understand and agree with the why behind those choices. Ultimately I think that will make a better show, but I also think it will slow her process, and make the initial steps harder.

  • steve [ 211 ]

    Is there a way to find out what Kathryn thinks should happen?

  • maxh [ 1 ]

    Would Kathryn still be uncomfortable sharing incomplete work if you were a co-creator, or is it only because (when you aren't a co-creator) you don't need to see it until it's ready?

  • matt.d.rogge [ 5 ]

    I think either way it’s really important to define what your role is in this effort. Even if less than full co-creator, clearly defined roles could help the overall success of the project and might address some of the concerns about Taking a backseat.

  • chrishiggins [ 167 ]

    In my experience in this realm...which is more than Mike's and maybe less than Kathryn's...I have a very strong point of view: Let the person with experience be the strong leader. Pitching is totally different from actually producing a show. The latter is where Mike's creative input would actually matter. Pitching is about SALES within an ultra-specific context: Hollywood bullshit. Writing a pitch for a show is a specific sales task that seems baroque and weird to outsiders (because it is), and it can offend the real person in the room because you're like "Yeah, but it didn't go that way! Wait!" This hurts the sale. Yes, it's conceptually similar to pitching for investors in broad terms...but the specifics are drastically different and can be hard to learn. Given that you actually have access to somebody who knows that world, I think you will benefit A LOT by letting her take the lead. I also want to point out that I have never seen a movie/show get sold that didn't change drastically between the pitch and the actual thing...and that later thing (mid/post sale, during development) is when you are best consulted. I say this from experience negotiating the adaptation of my This American Life story into a medium-budget Hollywood rom-com...and then founding a company (Atellan Media) that does this for other nonfiction writers for whom this is a totally new process. (Also working with producers...I had to learn a lot about what mattered and didn't. Being "the guy who wrote the original thing/had the original experience" actually hurt my ability to have the weird big-picture Hollywood discussions!) Pitching in Hollywood is a skill that is not always correlated with other writing talent. I think you may do well to learn it, if you plan to pitch more new shows in the future! But if the immediate goal is to create a pitch in order to get meetings and maybe get a show into development, I strongly advise you let the experienced pitch-writer do her thing. Then your job is to be good in the meetings AS TALENT. That two-person setup is also valuable, because it lets the writer/show-runner be that...and lets the subject be the subject. (You get to inject questions into the process and pretend to not know the works great! "Gee Kathryn, would it make sense to move the beginning of the show to XYZ location, because it'd be easier to shoot?" "Well golly I'm glad you asked!")

  • Zach [ 35 ]

    +1 to Josh and Chris's points.

  • Doug [ 1025 ]

    I consider Chris my guide in matters of creative navigation, and am voting in alignment with his POV. Buy his book The Blogger Abides: A Practical Guide to Writing Well and Not Starving wherever good books are sold.

  • Doug [ 1025 ]

    If it all works out AND you still feel you can still make it a better show in season 2, smile at the money it earns, the writers it employs, and give Kathryn a very nice present (the fanciest cymbal ever made?)

  • burtonrunyan [ 11 ]

    Bill Bernbach, the advertising great, wrote a contract with Avis, the number two rental car brand at the time (and client of his ad agency DDB). The VERY FIRST line was (paraphrased): Avis knows more about car rentals than DDB with ever know and DDB knows more about advertising than Avis will ever know.

    Essentially, what Bernbach was saying was that Avis should tell the creative agency WHAT to say and rely entirely on the creative agency to tell Avis HOW to say it.

    Just a little anecdote on the importance of trusting the experts.

  • chrishiggins [ 167 ]

    I slept on this and I think my original comments missed part of what Mike is saying. I think part of what Mike says (or implies) is, like, he wants visibility into the creation process...and he knows that Kathryn's process is not something he'll have visibility into unless somehow that process changes to include him more. (Because she's a writer with a process and writes solo.) So I think there's an implication here that it will be uncomfortable for Mike to NOT KNOW what's going on.

    I get that. I actually get both sides. I'm a writer with a process, and I have written A LOT about other people's real lives, without them able to meaningfully chime in beyond interviews. It weighs on me and I take that responsibility seriously. I have to assume Kathryn does too. And emotionally I know that if I were in Mike's shoes, I would want to be in that writing process. I would want to watch and participate in the show creation because, you know: It's my life! It's my project! I get it. That makes total sense. But I also get Kathryn's presumed POV here, which I take as: She's a writer with a process, and it's a solo process.

    Having said all that, my position hasn't changed. Although I think it WILL be hard for Mike to know Kathryn is building a whole thing without him in the room (so to speak), I still think the overall benefit to Mike AND the shareholders is likely better with her taking a strong lead. This may be one of those "hurts in the short term, but better in the medium term" things.

    I also wonder, quite honestly, whether this process in turn ends up creating some kind of new content that appears in the project or perhaps even the show. One of my favorite films is Adaptation, where the process of adapting a nonfiction book into a fiction screenplay ends up as a major element of the film itself (no spoilers). Similar crossovers are inevitable in this project, where life and commerce and art are mingling all the time.

    Anyway, just thought I'd toss that in the mix—an acknowledgement that the vote I'm casting is very likely to make Mike feel uncomfortable if my position passes. I don't do that for the purpose of making him feel bad. I do it for the purpose of a better outcome overall for everybody in the medium and long term.

  • jr0berts23 [ 6 ]

    Mike, I'd like to know how each of these options might affect your relationship with Kathryn, and how that might affect KMikeyM's happiness, time use, and thus share price? Or maybe another way to ask about this is: what are the risks (relevant to share value) in each option?

  • jr0berts23 [ 6 ]

    Hi Mike - nudging you on this, I'd love to hear your thoughts before the vote closes...

  • Mike Merrill [ creator ]

    I think equal co-creators would be harder on the relationship, but better for the show. But harder isn't bad, it just formalizes a working element which we're already pretty suited for. Happiness I think I am naturally more likely to be in the #2 spot, but I thought perhaps some shareholders would want me to push to be more in charge. I think a better show is ultimately better for the share price, but being in the #2 spot is better for short to medium term happiness.