What a Creative Consultant Does

Yes, I’m linking to Earl Pomerantz again, because in his latest “Story of a Writer” post he explains something I’ve been wondering about ever since I started noticing the credits on TV shows: what a “consultant” or “creative consultant” or “consulting producer” actually does. On TV shows, the title is usually given to a writer who won’t or can’t work on the show full-time. Some consultants mainly write scripts (the reclusive John Swartzwelder took a “consultant” credit on The Simpsons and spent years simply writing five scripts a season for the show, without coming into the office). Others don’t write individual scripts but offer suggestions and punch-ups on the ones that have been written. Others do a combination of both. But part of the idea behind the job of the consultant is that it helps the writing of a show to have someone who isn’t full-time come in and look at the show with fresh eyes, as Pomerantz explains.

To me, the internal structure of a story is like the natural progression that you find in music. You may not be able to articulate it, but when the chord structure deviates from its inevitable path, the final arrangement sounds “off.” It’s the same with a script. The consultant’s job is to listen for the “off” parts, and “fine tune” them, so they’re harmoniously back on track. (My music analogy’s admittedly shaky, but hopefully you get what I’m drivin’ at.)

The objective is clarity. (The ultimate objective, of course, is comedy, but fuzzy storytelling can inhibit the “ha-ha.”) “Clarifying” can mean noticing the inconsistency between two jokes, which, although both funny, undermine the credibility of character who’s delivering both. “Clarifying” also means eliminating the “wrong turns”, streamlining the storyline so it more smoothly travels to where its theme indicates it wants to go.