The respect and affection between Pose co-creator Steven Canals and One Day at a Time showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett was palpable during the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Media Summit. During a joint conversation on pilot scripts, the two writers had nothing but effusive words for one another. That is, in between sharing truth bombs about what it’s really like to work in the entertainment industry as a creator of color. If there was one thing these two wanted to do was dispel the myth that many wishing to head to Hollywood know exactly how TV shows are made and placed. If you have a dream of going to Los Angeles, grabbing a meeting with a producer, and immediately getting your excellent TV show idea produced right away, you may want to recalibrate your expectations. Calderón Kellett, who had to fight tooth and nail to get a fourth season of her beloved Netflix show greenlit, couldn’t even remember how many pilots she’d written before she sold one 10 years ago that never got made. Similarly, while no one was more surprised than Canals at the fact that Emmy-nominated Pose made it to air just five years after he first wrote it, he heard “No” more than 100 times before Ryan Murphy came on board and made it happen.
Which is not to say either one was dissuading anyone from sitting down and writing a pilot script. Quite the opposite. They just wanted to make it clear that you still have to temper expectations and understand that a great pilot script may not always lead to a show. Sometimes, it leads to getting you an agent or a meeting or even a staff writer position on a show. “What’s important when you’re going into work on a pilot is intention,” Canals shared. “It certainly was for me. When I wrote Pose, it was just to write a story that was coming from a real and truthful place. Because you want a calling card. And for me, as a queer Afro-Latino, I wanted to write a pilot that let folks know, when they pick it up, this is what you’re getting. If you hire me, if you’re gonna put me in a room, this is who I am.”
My love for @gloriakellett runs deep! We storytellers are indebted to her. Gloria’s talent, persistence & resilience paved the way for Latinx & Afro-Latinx storytellers. Thank you for inspiring me! Thank you for making it a little easier for our stories to be heard. ❤️ #ODAAT pic.twitter.com/UgzHZlVDYi
— Steven Canals (@StevenCanals) July 27, 2019
That kind of pragmatic advice — and the knowledge that emerging Latinx talent need it more than ever — is what led Calderón Kellett to create TV Writing 101, a web series about learning the nuts and bolts of what it takes to make it as a TV writer. Citing the work of artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez, the One Day at a Time showrunner stressed how bettering on-screen representation can crucially affect policy and the real world — but only in due time. In fact, it can take up to a decade before something that’s a hit can begin to change the culture. Rodriguez, she noted, points at Will & Grace and Ellen needing to be on air for years before the fight for marriage equality was won.
Lest thinking it was all theory, she offered her own take on that 10-year rule: “I’m Cuban and my parents are first generation who came here during Pedro Pan in 1962. And it was a time when the country was open to immigrants and understood what the fabric of this country was, which was, we are great because we allow people to come here when they are having trouble in their homeland. And we welcome them and we allow them [to] accomplish citizenship.” Her parents being welcomed in 1962 led her to find out what was happening culturally in 1952. Then it hit her: I Love Lucy was the number one show in the country then and Americans had already welcomed a Cuban into their living room for years in the figure of Ricky Ricardo. What hit home for her wast the value of having more shows on TV that showcase the Latinx experience in full-fledged ways.
“That’s the importance of our stories,” she added. “That’s the importance of the narrative right now. So if we have a narco-novela narrative that is all about fear for someone who has never met anybody like us, then it makes it very easy to put children in cages.” You may not arrive in Los Angeles and immediately sell a pilot, but there’s value in putting in the work so you can — maybe three, five, 10 years from now — be able to add your voice to a growing network of TV creators that put Latinx dignity in everyone’s living room, like [how] Ricky Ricardo, the Alvarez family, and the House of Evangelista have done.
The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) seeks to inspire, promote, and advocate for Latino content creators in media. As a nonprofit organization, NALIP advances the development of Latino content creation through its programs focusing on narrative, documentary, TV, and digital formats. For more information, visit NALIP.org.