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Few careers are more uncertain than being a writer for network television. The rewards can be huge, but as Aaron Martin knows all too well, so are the risks.
With 12 years in Canadian television, three Gemini nominations, and a Writers Guild of Canada Award to his credit, Aaron Martin, Artsci’94, is up for new challenges. So he’s leaving Toronto for Los Angeles, the Capital of TV Land. It’s a move that he feels ready for and up to.
When the American network NBC pulled the plug on the final two episodes of his supernatural medical drama Saving Hope from its 2012 summer schedule and instead chose to show them online, Aaron wasn’t bothered, although he was the show’s executive producer/writer. Nor was he surprised. “In the U.S., some shows don’t last even two episodes. We lasted 11,” he says. “Down here, it’s much more of a business. They’re much more brutal about things.”
Saving Hope is a hit in Canada, where CTV has picked up the show for a second season. However, because Aaron only signed on for Season One, he’s free to begin new projects in the States.
If a project he pitched to the The CW Network or any of the other shows he has in development fails to turn into a series, Aaron plans to start looking for a job in L.A. as a staff writer on an existing television show.
Uncertainty is an aspect of the television industry to which Aaron has had to adjust. “You can work 80 hour weeks, so it becomes all-consuming, and then suddenly it stops, and you’re unemployed. There’s no balance. That’s always a bit of a challenge,” he says.
Aaron has faced similar challenges before, and has risen above them. Hired in 2000 for CTV’s international hit show Degrassi: The Next Generation (TNG) straight out of the Canadian Film Centre by fellow Queen’s alumnus Yan Moore, Artsci’77 – who, Aaron says, “took a chance on me.” – Aaron was brought on to bring a younger voice to the show. However, when Moore left TNG, Aaron took on his job. “I ended up running the show for the next four years,” he recalls.
Aaron is still amazed at how much he learned during those years and how it helped his career. “I guess I got the tone right. If I’d failed in those first few months, I’d have been fired,” he says. “And I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now.”
The Brantford, Ontario, native fondly recalls his years studying history and drama at Queen’s. “I loved the Drama Department. We had our own little weird world in the basement of Theological Hall, underneath where the divinity students took their classes,” he says with a laugh.
He had the chance to put his Queen’s drama training to use when he played a small role on an episode of the CBC series Being Erica, another show for which he served as executive producer. “I’m not a good actor,” he concedes with a laugh. “I couldn’t do that every day.”
Writing, on the other hand? Aaron can do that in front of a television. “I like distractions when I write. I tend to sit in front of the TV when I’m writing for TV. It’s usually not a dramatic show that I’m watching; I watch House Hunters or something like that.”
He’s looking forward to writing more “high-concept’ shows. These are ones with narratives that are typically characterized by an overarching “What if?” scenario that acts as a catalyst for events. “I love high-concept, as long as it’s grounded in emotion,” he explains.
“You can do all kinds of crazy stuff, but it has to have a strong anchor in emotion, so it doesn’t just become Sci-Fi.”
How does he throw a winning pitch to a television network? Is it simply writing by instinct, or following what the industry is looking for? “It’s a bit of both,” he says. “I have an agent in L.A. who helps steer me in the right direction; telling me what the broadcasters are looking for. But you can’t just go in and try to sell something that the networks want. Half the sale is about your passion. If you aren’t passionate about a show, it won’t work.”