An effective no comes down to explaining why; it makes it easier to say and easier to hear. I’m a mom, and I think women who have kids get this. In fact my girlfriends and I often talk about it; with kids you have to tell them why. Professionally, it’s not so cut and dried, but you can bring that skill to the workplace.
In my world we get pitched hundreds and hundreds of shows all the time, but only a few actually get made — so I have to say no a lot. I always do a little homework before I give someone a no. I call it the Pause. I never take these conversations for granted; when I have to say no, I think, “How can I help this person?” You don’t want to deflate anyone, whether it’s at home or in the office.
For me, the easiest no is when people are way off the mark. You can be clean, direct, concise. Of course, in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “Why on earth did you bring us this idea?” It’s clear they didn’t do their research properly. But you never allow that annoyance to seep through. It’s important to be candid, but informative.
The next level of no is when they have a good idea, and it does fit with one of our TV channels, but it’s not good enough. That’s harder. I always try to make it a no that helps them learn something. Often the no will be “We feel the characters aren’t developed enough for audiences to relate to them.” Or “The storylines are a bit limited, and we don’t see how we can get to 65 episodes.” It’s an educational no.
The hardest no is when I’m down to the wire, I have three shows in front of me that I love, but I can afford to do only one or two of them. In these cases, I believe in being quite honest and blunt. I tell the truth: that they made it to the very end, but that our creative guts say we have to go with another show. Producers have pretty thick skin, but you always know that when you leave the room, no one’s happy. That’s the challenge of my job!