Dennis O’Neil: The Pitch

a pitch you can't refuseby Dennis O’Neil

Long time ago, as I was coming out of one of those anonymous buildings that house the motion picture business, a lovely young woman smiled as though she recognized me. I didn’t recognize her, or almost anyone else in southern Califormia, so I had to assume that she had mistaken me for someone else: Director? Naw. Producer? Naw. Guy who changes the light bulbs? Maybe. Or did she perhaps think I was a writer? Well, as a matter of fact, that’s what I was. I had just been talking to an editor and a studio executive and been informed that a check would soon be forthcoming.

What I’d been doing there, that summer’s day in Hollywood, was pitching a story. My words were my pitch. Next part of the process would be a return to New York and the execution of a script. Now, I’d never before sold fiction to television, but the procedure I was involved in was pretty familiar. It was the procedure I’d followed in selling dozens of scripts to DC, Marvel, and Charlton, which were all comic book companies. Yep, the rituals for the initial contacts in the two businesses, comics and teevee, were virtually identical. (The monetary rewards, alas, were not, but that’s a lament for another occasion.)

That was then. This isn’t. My recent professional contacts with the funnybook dodge, over the last decade-plus, have been spotty, but all of them, with a single possible exception have involved my delivering a written pitch to an editor before beginning a script. The talking part of the editor-writer encounter seems to have vanished. Let us pause while we gnash our teeth, rub ashes into our sackcloth tunics, tear our hair (and good luck doing this to me) and then shrug and get on with our day. So the rules have changed. So what hasn’t?

Exactly. Let’s not think about what ought to be, damnit, let’s think about what is. And then get on with it. If I were to voice a complaint, maybe in a coal bin at midnight, in the very softest of voices, it would concern efficiency and fairness to writers.

You, writer guy, has a conversation with editor guy. Questions are exchanges, Suggestions are offered. When the writer guy finally goes to the elevator, both parties know what’s expected, the exact nature of the task ahead. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be any confusion and/or misunderstanding, but maybe there will be less because there will be less opportunity for them. The writer won’t lose time doing rewrites – and for freelancers, no kidding, time is money – and the editor more likely to get the job on deadline and waste red ink doing corrections.

Is everybody happy?

Oh, you know better than that. This isn’t the Big Rock Candy Mountain. But the with the preliminary conversation – the verbal pitch – the job would be done, expertly and professionally, and you could watch this week’s episode of Supergirl with a clear conscience.

Well, almost clear. You know what you did.


Dennis O’Neil is one of the top writer-editors in comics, having guided the careers of just about every superhero the world has ever heard of. He’s also a damn fine writer of TV. LB still remembers that time he and Denny collaborated, without ever knowing they were doing so. Or knowing each other either. Ah, the magic of TV! This post was first published in Denny’s column at ComicMix.