Perhaps the only thing more frustrating than being behind the curve is being too far ahead of the curve. It usually leads to the lamentation that “I was there first” when everyone else jumps on the “newest thing” 6-12 months after you have executed or even just thought about it. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of not having the strongest product and, over time, someone else comes up with a much stronger solution (Friendster – MySpace – Facebook) or sometimes its just when people just aren’t ready for it.
The key is to be able to jump at that perfect time – almost like a surfer choosing a choice wave at the perfect spot and perfect moment – or get your ducks in a row so that you can quickly launch when you see that wave coming. As with anything, it is about timing, but preparation and a solid product are the only things that can help you ride that wave once it comes.
Thinking back on some projects I’ve been remotely or directly involved with, two come to mind that were just absolutely before their time:
David Frankel is a well-known award-winning writer-director who wrote and directed a pilot starring Bebe Neuwirth for ABC back in the mid 90’s. It was a single-camera comedy that was extremely funny, but the decision was made that the format was too “different” than what many were used to at the time. Television comedies were all about multiple cameras with a live audience (or laugh track) and this had neither – though I think they might had tried one version with a laugh track – but it certainly was breaking some molds when it broke the fourth wall and characters spoke directly to camera. Whatever the reasons, it was not picked up. Ultimately, DEAR DIARY was submitted to the Academy in the short fiction category and won an Oscar (Dreamworks’ first Academy Award.) Fast forward and when you look at the comedy spectrum on TV, the most popular broadcast and some cable comedies are single camera without an audience. By the way, I always felt like David should get some credit for SEX AND THE CITY because if you watch his film from 1995 starring Sarah Jessica Parker, MIAMI RHAPSODY, you can’t help but draw parallels between the two – character, substance and style. I know he directed a few episodes of SEX, but…
I also remember sitting in a meeting at ABC in 1999 about a social networking site supporting the short-lived TV show, WASTELAND. The premise was that there would be constant content added on its official site in the form of blogs and boards written in character interacting with viewers to generate awareness, loyalty and added engagement. Everyone was really enthusiastic until one of the younger execs asked if there were going to be 3-4 million users per day. Obviously, those numbers are beyond huge today, but they were even more unrealistic for online then. Back then, it was also a much easier number to reach on-air that it is today. I truly believe that this one was too early, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t on to something. Another thing to consider at the time was the cost of producing it. At the time, companies were charging ridiculously high amounts for production and this one site would have cost hundreds of thousands for an unproven show that only lasted 13 episodes. Ultimately, though, no one can argue how much this fictional/viewer or even just viewer interaction narrative has come into play over the years.
There may have been a few other things I’ve been involved with that might have hit too soon, or weren’t even allowed to go into the water because nobody really understood, that are commonplace today. Those events, products etc. have happened A LOT over the years for many people and companies in many industries and will continue to do so. But it makes the times that the wave was hit perfectly even that much sweeter.
Here’s a toast to the perfect break and may we all find it soon!