4 Famous Movies and Shows That Lied Their Way into Existence
The pitch meeting is what gets all of your favorite things off the ground. In those meetings, creators have to sell their ideas so well that a studio or publisher is then willing to devote tons of money to bringing it to life. In order to convince decision-making executives, sometimes creators fib a little to seal the deal. Other times they tell massive lies to get their way. These are some of those lies.
Before Game of Thrones threw way too many characters onto your TV screen, and before American Horror Story was a weekly parade of snake-venom-induced night terrors, there was Lost -- the show that paved the way for a lot of today's genre TV. It was ambitious. It just wasn't pitched that way. Lost was pitched with lie after lie in order to convince ABC executives that the show could be long lasting. What were some of the lies in the 27-page pitch document written by J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof?
"That the show wouldn't be gaaaaaaayyyy!!1" said the sharp-witted IMDb forum poster.
1) The show would not be serialized. "Self-contained. Seriously. We promise," they wrote. "This is not lip service -- we are absolutely committed to this conceit," they continued. -- Ha! Nope.
2) Everything on the show would have a concrete scientific explanation. -- That's iffy as fuck.
3) "There is no 'Ultimate Mystery' which requires solving." -- Take the ultimate mystery out of the plot of Lost and you don't have a plot on Lost.
4) The mystery of the Smoke Monster would be revealed in "the first few episodes." -- It took six seasons.
Lindelof and Abrams didn't know what the show was yet. They say as much themselves on the first page of the document: "The greatest architect in the world can draw up a blueprint for a building, but construction is a whole new ball of wax."
The problem with that metaphor is that ABC asked for the blueprint after they started construction. For starters, the show was rushed to pilot, it was the most expensive pilot episode ever at that point, and it wasn't until the pilot was being filmed that someone at ABC realized that no one had any clue what this show would be like a few seasons down the line, or even by the second episode. ABC execs were afraid the show would end up mired in mythology like Alias was at the time. So Lindelof and Abrams wrote this document to make ABC happy, but never intended to follow it. According to Lindelof, "By the time we started breaking the first two episodes, it was already very clear to everyone in the room that the document that we had written to get the show picked up was going to be completely and totally null and void."
"Run! We'll figure out why later!"
But why were they able to get away with it? Because of the average 15.69 million viewers per episode during the first season. Because the first season won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. Because from day one, Lost was a cultural phenomenon that happened just as we collectively discovered that we can use the Internet and DVRs to obsess over TV shows. When you're a hit, the backstory of how you got to that point doesn't matter much to network executives; just keep up the impressive ratings and the executives will let you write your magnum opus as they dive headfirst into their Scrooge McDuck swimming pool of gold coins.
The Walking Dead
When Robert Kirkman first pitched The Walking Dead to Image Comics, executives had mixed feelings about it. It's hard to blame them. People had only ever seen two-hour-long zombie movies that had a beginning, a middle, and an end. And now here was this guy pitching a zombie comic book that could potentially go on for decades. They didn't think a series about people wandering a zombie-infested wasteland was enough to keep readers coming back. It needed something ... more.
Zombie ... Nazis?
So Kirkman gave them more, presented in the form of a crazy-as-fuck plot twist: He told Image that, as the series progressed, it would slowly be revealed that the zombie apocalypse was caused by aliens who were using the zombies to weaken humanity's defenses. When mankind was appropriately dismantled, the alien hordes would descend upon Earth and take over, and the story would then be about the battle between humans and aliens.
It was all bullshit. Kirkman made it all up just so he could get the green light. It's like begging your parents to borrow the car so you can go to the school dance, then driving to a strip club.
Zombie ... strip club?
One of the higher-ups at Image, Jim Valentino, later asked Kirkman about the alien plotline, not catching the hints to it after reading the first issue. Kirkman fessed up and told him that he never intended to put aliens in it. Here's Kirkman paraphrasing Valentino's reaction: "Well, that's good, because I was kind of reading the book, thinking, hey, he might ruin this by putting aliens in it."
Aqua Teen Hunger Force
Aqua Teen Hunger Force was one of the original shows on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block of late-night programming, and it's been on the air for over a decade. When people say that they like "random humor," they're talking about Aqua Teen; there's little to no structure, and episodes barely have a plot. The show is what you see when you're tripping balls in a McDonald's.
Or accidentally eat a Filet-O-Fish.
If you started watching the show from the beginning right now, you wouldn't be able to tell that what you're watching is a random assortment of funny weirdness. When Aqua Teen Hunger Force (aka Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1, aka Aqua Something You Know Whatever -- the show has changed its name more times than an FBI informant on the run from the mob) was first pitched, it was pitched with a structure and a central conceit -- it was a detective show. Early episodes were about Frylock, Master Shake, and Meatwad solving a mystery. These "detective" episodes began the same way: A pair of mad scientists named Dr. Weird and Steve would create an evil creature or a deadly device, only to watch it escape their lab about four seconds later and go on to torment the trio's neighborhood. It was basically the same setup as every episode of Power Rangers.
"Finally, after 10,000 years I can shoot a bunch of random assholes at you from the moon!"
That premise lasted three episodes. Dr. Weird and Steve and their lab-created monsters almost entirely disappeared by the second season. The investigative element was gone. In the fourth episode, you can actually see the point the creators of the show dump the premise, as the monsters of the week just kind of show up.
The only reason Aqua Teen was pitched as a detective show was because Cartoon Network executives "didn't want to air a show about food just going around and doing random things," according to the show's creators. So they wrote a few episodes that made good on their promise, only to spoon the premise into a dog bowl after they shouted "My God! What the hell is that?!" and Cartoon Network executives turned around to look. The creators of the show have been writing it their way* ever since.
* "Their way" is defined as "crazy shit happens for 11 minutes."
Titanic is one of the biggest, most financially successful and culturally dominating movies of all time -- and the only reason it exists is because James Cameron told a little lie that swindled a major media conglomerate out of a ton of money so he could chase a dream that was only partially connected to the movie we know today.
And I'm sure studio executives were really broken up about it, too.
20th Century Fox wanted to secure a long-term relationship with Cameron, so Cameron pounced on that opportunity by pitching them a massively ambitious story about the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Fox executives weren't crazy about the idea of a three-hour Romeo and Juliet on a boat made of middle fingers pointed at God. James Cameron, on the other hand, is an evil genius who knows how the mind of a studio executive works, so he withheld his true intentions and spoke to the executives in their language to get what he really wanted. He told them that to get the shots of the sunken ship that would open the movie, they would have to give him money so he could pretend he's Jacques Cousteau and film the sunken remains with IMAX cameras, and that the whole venture could be used as a major marketing point for the eventual ad campaign.
If you haven't figured out what Cameron's true intentions were, I'll let him explain: "Titanic was about 'fuck you' money. It came along at a point in my life when I said, 'I can make movies until I'm 80, but I can't do expedition stuff when I'm 80.'" If you're still not convinced James Cameron is a badass filmmaking con artist, he also said this: "I made Titanic because I wanted to dive to the shipwreck, not because I particularly wanted to make the movie."
"Fuck you" -James Cameron
It wasn't until he was down among the wreckage that he realized something very important about his con: It suddenly occurred to him that "it sort of becomes a great mantle of responsibility to convey the emotional message of it -- to do that part of it right, too." The word "too" says a lot. The movie that would go on to become the highest grossing movie of all time while collecting a shit-ton of Oscars in the process, including a Best Director Oscar, all happened because James Cameron really wanted to look at a shipwreck more than anything and fibbed a little to make it happen.
That man's balls must be wondrous to behold. Like the Heart of the Ocean necklace draped with a penis.