Television: The Threefold

I’ve always been told that life is about taking risks. It’s something everyone’s told, but what does that really mean? When I looked at the actual definition of the word risk, it was ‘a situation involving exposure to danger.’ In regards to the television industry, I see this concept of risk as one that is three fold: there are physical risks, emotional risks and mental risks. In the article Creative Labour: Media Work in Three Cultural Industries, Hesmondalgh and Baker propose many ideas on types of risks, and effects of risk in the television industry. Reading these points, I thought it would be interesting to interview two people I know in the television industry, and hear first hand about their opinions to see if they agree with Hesmondalgh and Baker. I interviewed Jonathan Stark, the creator of ABC family’s According to Jim (2001), and Tab Murphy, writer and creator of Tarzan (1999), on what ‘risk’ really is and how it effects workers within the television and film industry.

long-term-unemployedIt certainly comes as no surprise that one of the biggest physical risks of working in the television industry is unemployment. Researchers have found that ‘departments in technology have ‘increased insecurity’ for television workers since the 1980s and that these workers ‘find uncertainty a problem’ (H&B, 121). No one wants to be unemployed, but it does happen regularly. Everyone wants to feel secure, and according to Jonathan Stark, that means ‘having enough money to take care of yourself and your family’. If unemployed, this lack of security becomes a problem in regards to finance and health. As Stark explains, work ‘ is important to pay the mortgage, feed the family and send your kids to school so they can write blogs like this. However, sometimes there is a short time between jobs or sometimes that time stretches out and people lose houses or health coverage or have to take other jobs just to pay the bills’. While there was a large emphasis on physical unemployment in the article, it’s interesting to think about how workers are effected mentally, as well.

Based on the reading, it is fair to assume that mental pressure on a worker in the television industry can be very high. Whenstress-2
asked about how creative and non-creative people in the television industry felt during time at work, ‘many spoke of nervousness, anxiety and even panic as a regular part of their everyday lives’ (H&B, 122). When working under deadlines, Murphy said that he has ‘been known to sit at the computer 12 hours straight’. Doing this, one is risking not only physical health, but emotional health, as well. Will the writing of the script that he’s working on be taken, or even read by a production company? Then on top of that, there are so many other factors beyond the writer’s control that the project may never see daylight. The anxiety caused by these unanswered questions lead many people to question their place within the industry. As the authors of Creative Labour explain, ‘quite a few people have left (the industry) because they found it…too uncertain’ (H&B, 121).

UnknownEmotionally, working in the television industry can be really defeating, and cause people working to feel a lot of self-doubt. As Stark said, ‘I personally have seen many shows that I thought should run for year, end after only one season’. Just when one starts to think they grabbed that ‘Big Job’ (H&B, 122), everything just stops. Hesmondalgh and Baker explain that workers in the industry fear the fact that one day, they could be working on a promising project, and the next day, start from the ground up all over again. Stark goes on to say, ‘Alternatively, I created a show which I was convinced would never make it past the pilot stage. It ended up running for eight years and a hundred and ninety-two episodes’. Though many shows never make it to the stage, it is still possible. Hesmondalgh and Baker tell the audience that to work in the industry, ‘confidence is vital’ (H&B, 124). ‘The more confident you are, the more proud you are’ (H&B, 124). Having this mentality is not only good for the worker personally, but those who are working around the individual. Stark said that at work, he ‘was happy to be in a room full of other creative individuals who made [him] laugh and respected each other’s contributions’.

Though taking risks can be scary and unsettling, it is usually the best way to find success. As Stark explains, ‘in the arts, you generally don’t take on a career for money, you take it on because it’s something you feel you must do to satisfy your inner urge to create. Those that must do it never consider not doing it. Creativity is never a choice rather it is something you are compelled to do and can never consider doing anything else. It can be a curse if one is not making a living from one’s creative path but in many cases the passion of commitment to creating, propels one forward into some form of success’. Though physically, mentally, and emotionally draining, there are times the risk will well be worth it. Murphy says, ‘after a long day at the computer, I’m mentally exhausted. That’s when I hit the gym and exhaust my body. That night’s sleep – when you know you’ve done good work – is peaceful and restful’. Both Stark and Murphy have been successful in the television industry, for well over twenty years and continue to be to this day.

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