Love and the Rejected Pilot (Encouragement for Creators)

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Sometimes a creator can have a great idea or produce a masterpiece, but still encounter rejection. Perhaps the timing isn’t right, or the wrong people are considering the material or, as in the case we’re about to share, the right people are considering your work but they just don’t get it or are too blind to see its merits. This is often true of television production. In fact, when it comes to programming for television, there’s often a good reason the TV is called the boob tube, and no, it’s not a reference to the viewers.

In 1970, successful comedy writer/producer Garry Marshall had a great idea for a new television series — at least, that’s what he thought at the time — about life and love in an innocent bygone time. Miller-Milkis Productions filmed a pilot for the new show, calling it New Family in Town. The parent studio, Paramount Pictures, was unimpressed, and the ABC network totally passed on the idea. No one at the time thought Garry Marshall would be able to sustain a comedy series so immersed in nostalgia for more than a season or two, at best; and besides, the decision-makers at ABC didn’t particularly care for the young man Miller-Milkis had cast as the lead. The idea for a series was shelved, and the network “burned off” the pilot episode as an installment of its anthology show Love, American Style, retitling the segment, somewhat ironically, “Love and the Television Set”! (Remember all those anthology shows that proliferated the airwaves from about 1954 through the early ’80s? Well, think Twilight Zone; except that during the last couple minutes of each episode of Love, American Style, instead of one of Rod Serling’s shocking twist endings, there’s just a lot of smooching and blushing.)

A year later, a pre-Star Wars George Lucas was casting American Graffiti, his humorous, uber-nostalgic film based on his experiences with fast cars and adolescence circa 1962. Lucas viewed Marshall’s unsold pilot and immediately decided to cast its star (what’s-his-name, the guy the ABC executives weren’t particularly impressed with) in the lead role of his new movie. When released in 1973, American Graffiti became an instant classic and proved itself to be box office gold! (So the actor, what’s-his-name, was vindicated. Yes, but that’s not our point here, nor is it the end of our story.)

Over at ABC, the suits were salivating. Legend has it that one of them remarked to an underling that the network should come up with a new nostalgic comedy to capitalize on the success of American Graffiti. “Run out and get someone to create a pilot,” he snapped.

The underling carefully told his boss that the network already had a pilot for just such a series: “And it even stars what’s-his-name from the movie!”

“Why haven’t I seen it, then?” barked his boss.

“But you did, your greatness!” [Okay, yes, we’re exaggerating here … a little.] “Don’t you remember? You shelved the project!”

We’re not sure if the poor underling kept his job, but ABC hurried the series into production, and a few months later, the ABC comedy Happy Days, starring Ron Howard, premiered in January 1974. The show was an immediate success and Creator Garry Marshall kept us laughing through 11 seasons. So much for being able to sustain a show about love set in the 1950s! Throughout the rest of the ’70s, the show was consistently ranked among the top 20 most-watched shows. Yes, it’s a silly sitcom, but if you were growing up around that time, you probably know how popular and influential it was. ABC spun off seven other series from Happy Days, two of which were also ratings successes. There also were books, comics, toys, and lunch boxes. (Now doesn’t every creator want to see his or her stuff plastered on a kid’s lunch box?!) And lest we forget, Happy Days is responsible for a few well-known idioms, such as “jumped the shark”!

From the 1970s sitcom Happy Days: (Right) Ron Howard as Ritchie Cunningham, with Ralph Winkler as “the Fonz.”

Moral of the above anecdote: Often, rejection is far from being the end of a creator’s journey! Wrong time, wrong place, wrong response; consider such things as just speed-bumps on the road to success!

Hey, speaking of love, St. Valentine’s Day is Friday. Come back and join us for “The Secret Origin of Valentine’s Day.”

“For the vision is yet for an appointed time. It hastens to the end and will not fail. If it should be slow in coming, wait for it, for it will surely come—it will not delay.” (Habakkuk 2:3 TLV)

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Popcorn, Passion and Petrol (Diet for Dreamers)

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The road to success is often long and bumpy. The journey necessary to fulfill dreams or achieve goals can take years. Many people start out on their “quest” strong and full of hope. But somewhere along the way, long before they arrive at that special place they desire to be, whether it’s a level of skill or scholarship, a career position or an accomplishment, they run out of steam. Like a car that’s out of gas, they begin to coast; their progress slows, their enthusiasm wains, until eventually they pull off to the side of the road, often just a few “miles” short of their destination.

As these people stand next to their stalled dreams, as others speed past them — all the way to the finish line. Why do some give up when they’re so close? What enables others to complete the journey? Simple. The ones who don’t make it, who give up and stop moving forward, failed to refuel. Those who made it all the way not only refueled, but they also had the right fuel. Faith is one such fuel. And there are others worth discussing, but today, however, we discuss just one … with an encouraging success story.

We may be tempted to think of the late Orville Redenbacher as the goofy-looking guy in horn-rimmed glasses and nerdy bowtie who pitched popcorn on television for several decades. But he was anything but goofy. The glasses and bowtie were affectations he adopted for his TV ads. This prosperous popcorn patriarch had both business savvy and the determination not to quit. He also had the right fuel needed to make it all the way to the top of the popcorn heap. High test gas. Premium petrol. Rocket fuel. Redenbacher was passionate: he had an enthusiasm, a zeal, a fervor, a preoccupation — perhaps even a mania — regarding one single thing. He had passion for popcorn that began early and lasted to the end. It fueled his tenacity and ultimately his success.

Redenbacher was born in Indiana, July 16, 1907, and grew up on his family’s farm, helping out with assorted chores. As a teenager he’d finish his work early so he’d have time to work at his side business, selling — what else? — popcorn from the back of his car. When he graduated from high school he was in the top 5% of his class. He then attended Purdue University, where he ran track and performed in the Purdue All-American Marching Band. In 1928, he graduated with a degree in agronomy, the science of soil management and crop production. His obsession with popcorn was far from over. And he’d trained for it.

Redenbacher spent most of his life in the agriculture industry. He served as a Farm Bureau extension agent, and even sold fertilizer, but popcorn was never far from his thoughts. In his spare time he continued to dabble with the food and, in 1951, he and friend Charlie Bowman purchased an Indiana seed corn plant. Over the next twenty years, the two men experimented with tens of thousands of hybrid strains of popcorn. They eventually settled on one they named “RedBow,” which had all the perfect popcorn qualities they’d long sought.

In 1970, when Redenbacher was 63, the two entrepreneurs finally launched their popping corn. Orville hit the road as the official pitchman, appearing on talk shows and in commercials. By the mid 1970s, Redenbacher and Bowman had captured a third of the unpopped popcorn market. The rest is food history, but clearly, Redenbacher’s passion for popcorn sufficiently fueled him for a journey to success that took about fifty years — from selling it out of the trunk of his car, to pitching it on national television.

Are you passionate about your dreams? If not, you may wish to ask yourself why. Passion can keep you on track. Passion keeps you going when the road gets bumpy. Passion helps you make it all the way to the finish. And if you’re NOT passionate about something, is it really worth pursuing? For the long haul? If you believe it is, then get passionate about it. Otherwise, discover your passion in life, and start pursuing that instead.

Passion is a vital fuel for the journey. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” (1 Corinthians 9:24 ESV)

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