ASB’s Bookclub 2: Answering a Question
Katka from the book’s Facebook page brought up an interesting question about The Gilmore Girls Companion that I wanted to address. The problem is that I want to do so without embarrassing anybody. Let’s see how well I can do that.
Naturally, that question is why did I speak with some cast and crew for the book and not others. The real question, of course, is where are Lauren, Alexis, Amy, Dan and Scott.
I touched on this a bit in the introduction to the book:
- One of those people rarely does interviews unless directed to by networks/studios/publicists/managers
- One let it be known that they had no interest in talking about Gilmore Girls anymore
- Two knew about the project through a couple of mutual friends, but kept me at arms length (on this last note, they also never raised an objection, for which I’m grateful)
- One, according to their manager, was holding on to their stories for a book they might write themselves one day.
In hindsight, I think this requires a little more explanation. Let me take a stab at it now. Apologies for the length of this posting; I only hope it clears up some misunderstandings along the way.
A Little Background, or ‘How Come Lauren’s on the Cover of Magazines Every Month But She Wasn’t Interviewed for the Book?’
To better understand how The Gilmore Girls Companion was researched and written, it’s helpful to understand how entertainment publicity works in America.
I’ve been fortunate enough in my brief career to work for USA Today, the largest newspaper in the country, to run my own fan magazine back in the day, and to write three books on television and film. All of which means I’ve been able to approach writing about entertainment from a variety of angles.
Magazines, Newspapers, and Broadcast Reporting
As you can imagine, television and film stars today are besieged with interview requests, from TV programs like Access Hollywood (I may be showing my age here) and Entertainment Tonight to magazines like Entertainment Weekly and TV Guide, to trade publications like Variety, and that’s not even counting the various entertainment-related Web sites and podcasts out there. Actors could very easily spend every day giving interviews, leaving them no time to actually earn a living, if there wasn’t some sort of wall between them and the media.
Meet the walls. Since few TV stars circulate their direct contact info, writers usually must go through the star’s publicist if they have one (few do), their manager, or sometimes even their agent. If you’re writing a story for a decent-size newspaper or magazine, you have nothing to worry about — more often than not the publicist/manager/agent will set up a time for you to talk with their client, no problem. After all, part of keeping their client happy and employed is seizing every opportunity to keep him or her in the public eye.
And if a star is on a current TV show, you can always go to the network and ask for an interview (provided you’re writing for a magazine or newspaper), because networks will usually jump on any opportunity to get more people to watch its shows.
Book writers, meet the walls. Yet, as I’ve learned from working on the Gilmore book, few managers/agents/publicists will even bother to tell their clients that you want to speak with them if you’re writing a book. As one of the Gilmore stars explained it to me later on, representatives see no benefit in getting their clients into a book, because the star’s fortunes rise and fall based on the 24/7 news cycle. By the time your book comes out, the actor could’ve moved on to other projects, or even left the business altogether. (One exception to this is if the book is written by a very high-profile writer guaranteed to make headlines with their book.)
It’s at this point that I should explain that I approached just about everybody on Gilmore Girls for this book, either through other people they knew or, when I had no other way of reaching them, through their managers and publicists. Out of the 20 managers/agents/publicists I approached this way, only one actually came through. The funny thing is that some of the cast members I ended up interviewing for the book contacted me because they’d heard about the project, months AFTER their representatives told me flat out that their clients weren’t interested. Invariably, they said they’d never even been asked.
All this being the case, here are the options left to a writer who still wants to tackle a “making of” book, bless ’em:
Official or authorized books. Normally when somebody writes a book like this, they are in a position to have easy access to the cast and crew. That usually means they have a contract with a publisher that is owned by the same company that owns the show’s studio or network to write the book (an “official” or “authorized” book) . These arrangements usually mean that the author is given special access to the people involved in the making of the show. In exchange, the studio and/or network have final approval over what gets printed. In other words, there’s a good chance that anything not deemed complimentary to the show is frowned upon. Too often these books read a bit like press releases. This is not always the case, but I’ve invested a fair amount in books about TV and film over the years to be able to say that more often than not, the reader is left with the impression that they’re only getting half the story.
Books written by writers employed by big media organizations. In this instance, the author is employed by a mainstream entertainment publication like TV Guide or Entertainment Weekly, a big newspaper such as USA Today, or a trade publication such as Variety. In some ways, this leads to another type of “official” or “authorized” book, regardless of what it says on the cover. If your “day job” involves reporting on and interviewing TV stars, producers and showrunners, you’re far less likely to print something in your book that could be considered unflattering or “off message.” After all, you don’t want anything you write in your book to tick off the people you interviewed, because you run the risk of losing your access to them for your day job.
The unauthorized book. This is by far the most prevalent type of book out there. In this instance, the writer is on the outside looking in. Any access they have to cast and crew comes from reaching out to each individual involved with a show, one at a time. Because it’s not authorized by the studio or network, the cast member’s boss is not telling them to talk to you. And if your day job does not have you regularly interviewing stars for magazines and the like, the star’s manager is not going to tell their client that they should talk with you either, because it won’t lead to a magazine or newspaper story, which is what they really want. Looking back on it, that was the hardest lesson I had to learn.
On the plus side, if your book is unauthorized, you can afford to be honest with your writing. If there were problems behind the scenes, you can address those without worrying about offending the publisher or the show publicists. If you feel an episode was weak, you can address that, too, and explore why you think that is the case.
Another side benefit to writing the unauthorized book that I discovered: the people who speak with you are more likely to be candid in their memories and observations, because they know you won’t censor them.
Of course those of you who have already had the opportunity to read the book will know that though it addresses some of the behind-the-scenes problems, there’s little disguising the author’s love for the program. I’m a journalist by trade, but I’m a Gilmore Girls fan, too. I don’t think I could spend nearly three years researching a subject that wasn’t this close to my heart.