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TV Summer School

As we barrel toward the end of TV Summer School, we decided to chat up one of our favorite TV producers, Tim Minear, to find out about the mysterious TV industry phenomenon known as the overall deal. It is Tim's relationship with 20th Century Fox Television through his overall deal that has brought us the likes of Firefly, Wonderfalls, The Inside and Drive (even though all were sadly canceled before their time by another branch of the News Corp. empire, the Fox network). Read on for the breakdown on this deal and to find out about Tim's new project.

What is an overall deal?
An overall deal is when a studio has decided you are so valuable that they [contract for] all your services in television. So, if you have an overall with 20th, you're not going and developing a show for Warner Bros.

And you're working for a studio, not a network, right?
Right. Usually, when you go on a TV show, you have a contract with the show. Generally, that means you're hired for a certain amount of episodes, maybe 13, and there's usually an option in the middle of the year when they decide whether or not they want to pick you up and keep you on the show. 

And normally, if you're a story editor or if you're a coproducer or a producer, you're paid, episodically, whatever your fee is, and then you write scripts, and you get paid for writing scripts, and if you direct an episode, you get paid for directing—but an overall deal encompasses everything you do.

Here's the difference: It's almost like going from being paid by the hour to being on salary. And, financially, you try to get a number that would be bigger than what you would be paid episodically as a producer on the show.

Tim Minear

Albert L. Ortega/WireImage.com

When and how did you first get approached for your own overall deal? Who suggested it to you?
Well, the way the way it happened with me—and I think the way it happens with most people—is that I was on Angel, and I was working out. They decided they didn't want me to leave, and they didn't want it to be that every year my option would come up, and they'd have to renegotiate.

It was [Angel creator] Joss [Whedon] who really did it. I think my agent probably approached the studio and said, you know, "Are you interesting in making an overall with Tim?" And they called Joss and said, "Is this guy somebody that we should be making an overall with?" And he's like, "Yes." 

So, when you're not running a specific show, what kind of work are you doing?
Let's say you develop something like Drive, for instance, or like The Inside, when that show goes down, they will generally have other needs at the studio, like, we need a high-level writer-producer to come in and help this show that's starting. And they will assign you to go in to other shows and plug leaks and so on, which is what Standoff was, and they have me on another show right now (which will remain nameless) and that kind of thing.

Do they ever approach you about shows that you decline to do?

What makes you say, "Not that one"? What are the red flags for you?
Well, generally, if I'm not doing my own thing, I don't really want to go work on someone else's thing. The red flag is having to work at all. You know, if you're on an overall, and your show goes down, and they say you're going to go work on show X, and it's not something you feel like you get or you really want to do, you don't have to agree to do it…but I don't think I've declined too much, I think I've gone where they've asked me to go. And what that does is that gives you incentive to develop something new, so that you can make a little dinghy and escape.

Are you looking to develop your own shows, or have you enjoyed taking ideas like Drive or The Inside that 20th already owns and building them out?
No, I want to develop my own stuff—and in fact, I have developed something, and I am pitching it now, and there is interest at a bunch of places. 

I will tell everyone I know to buy Tim's show.
I actually don't think it's going to be a problem. In fact, a network president just called me before I called you, and said, "We really want your thing." 

What advice do you have for anyone in the business who wants an overall?
Actually, of late, I've been wondering if it's something I should continue with, because it would be nice to be able to dance sometimes with the other people who are courting you, and I really haven't been able to do that. However, I like the money, and the question is, are you willing to cut off the spigot and believe you're going to find that elsewhere? And I probably could, but I'm kind of lazy, and I'm old.

Hey, me too! Anyway, this was great and really informative. And I hope whatever you're cooking up gets fully baked and delivered.
I think it will, actually, and I think I'm going to be working with Todd Holland again, so that's pretty exciting. 

Awesome. And speaking of [your fellowWonderfalls executive producers] Todd Holland, and then Bryan Fuller—I can't imagine you could, because it's from Warner Bros., but could you do something with [Fuller's] Pushing Daisies?
I loved that pilot! And, well, that's exactly the thing of an overall deal: It's at a different studio, so, um…I can watch it.