One of the things “they” never tell you (besides who “they” are, because “they” are mysterious and all-powerful and don’t have to reveal “their” identity) about working in television is that you’ll end up in conversations about the shows you’ve worked on. All. The. Time.
It comes up in meetings. Or when you go on a date. Or when you sit next to a cheerful tourist on a plane who doesn’t realize that WHEN MY HEADPHONES ARE ON AND MY EYES ARE CLOSED THAT MEANS I’M TRYING TO SLEEP, JEREMY!
Once this conversational dance begins, there are a few things I have found to be consistently true:
1. The person you are talking to has never seen any of the shows you have worked on, regardless of how much television they watch. You could have created the most popular show ever, and they will not have seen it.
This is a statistical near-certainty, with one notable exception.
2. However, the person you are talking to will often have a relative, usually an aunt or uncle or parent, who LOVES your show. It may even be the relative’s FAVORITE SHOW that they watch ALL THE TIME and WON’T EVER SHUT UP ABOUT.
This is not a ruse to cover their embarrassment over liking what you work on: remember, the person you’re actually talking to has never seen your show.
3. Their response to you will always be some form of: “Oh, that show.”
I’d like to explore that third point a bit more, because while “Oh, that show” can seem like an empty filler statement, it is, in fact, fortified with meaning, depending on the emphasis and intonation.
Oh, that show.
This type of Oh That Show is the most basic, and the most common. It expresses that they have never seen your show, but they do have some general sense that it exists.
Most likely, the show you work on airs on the same network as a show that they do watch and love, and they’ve seen the occasional commercial for it. You will have to gently let them know that despite this televisual proximity, you don’t actually know any of the people who work on the show they like.
These shows are also, invariably, best described by pointing out the more infamous show/movie the lead actor was in. For example:
“You know, Covert Affairs? The show with the woman from Coyote Ugly?”
Yes. That show.
Oh, that show!
This is the show that they have heard of and that their aunt/uncle/parent absolutely LOVES. It is literally their relative’s favorite show, and won’t they be so excited to hear that they met someone who works on it. They will know enough about the show (thanks primarily to familial osmosis) that they will ask you more questions about what your job entails/what your co-workers (i.e. the actors) are like. This conversation will now take up the remaining time left in the meeting/date/flight.
One caveat/warning: if the show is from the “We Know Drama” era of TNT, it is entirely possible that they are thinking about the other show whose title consisted of two character names and an ampersand. If this is the case, you must NEVER burst their bubble, as it will leave them confused and disoriented. Plus, they’ve already got a really great story to tell the next time they call back home and why ruin that?
Oh, that show?
This version of the Oh That Show conveys surprise that the show still exists. It’s a show that they heard of once, or perhaps they remember seeing a billboard for it in Times Square so many years ago. But since then, it has never crossed their mind, even once. It is the Ann Veal of shows.
They will approach the rest of the conversation cautiously, because they are not entirely sure that you aren’t just making the whole thing up, and that in reality, the show may have been quietly cancelled years ago. There is no way you will be able to convince them otherwise, but thankfully, this conversation will move on quickly to other topics.
OH. That show.
This final Oh That Show is the exception to rule #1. This is the one show you have worked on that they watched.
And they did not enjoy the experience.
Perhaps it was too violent, or not violent enough. Perhaps the writing was uneven, or the actors miscast. Whatever the problem with the show, it will forever be, in their mind, your fault, and you will never be able to live that down.
Somewhere, in Topeka, a Jeremy you once sat next to on a plane will be enjoying his day, and some neurons will fire off and he’ll remember that show he hated, and then he’ll remember that time he met you, that person who worked on the show, and he’ll judge all of your life choices, and then smile, because he absolutely knew you were trying to sleep all along.
I can’t end this discussion without mentioning the greatest Oh That Show of all time, Burn Notice.
Burn Notice is, to me, the perfect Oh That Show. It was popular enough to be in the cultural zeitgeist, but easy enough to skip without feeling left out. It also happens to be my own personal Oh That Show - I have never seen an entire episode, I have relatives who LOVED it, and there were definitely times I was surprised to find it was still on.
It also gives me a reasonable excuse to leave this right here:
So. What’s your Oh That Show?