As a former Hollywood screenwriter, now a licensed psychotherapist who treats creative people, I hear jaw-dropping stories about the state of the entertainment industry every day in my practice. But I have to admit, this new anecdote gives me pause.
A patient of mine told me last week about a friend of his, another writer, who was meeting with a young TV executive. The exec was musing that there might be a great TV series in the idea of a doctor who solves crimes. The writer told her that such a series had already aired, many years ago, called Diagnosis: Murder. The exec said she'd never heard of it. The writer said, "It ran for years, and starred Dick Van Dyke." To which the exec replied, "Who's Dick Van Dyke?"
True story. What makes it even more dispiriting is that I'm sure this young exec considers herself very TV-literate. By that I mean she knows all the hot, new "Flavor of the Month" actors and actresses, loves "edgy" cable shows like Shameless and House of Lies, and trawls the Internet daily to find blogs worthy of being turned into TV series.
But, in my view, awareness of the latest trends doesn't make you TV-literate. To be knowledgeable about your field, you're required to have an understanding of what's gone before—if merely so that you don't think you've just invented the wheel, when people have been riding around on similar circular devices for decades.