Burn Down The House

Thursday, 8:53pm
Reno, NV
“Code Blue! Gimme the paddles…” Dr. House (alot)


You got a favorite TV show?

I was a charter member of the first TV-addicted generation, and I may yet live to see the end of network television as we’ve all known and loved it all these seasons.

The Web’s already killed it for the youngest generations.

Once the last of the Boomers wander off, we’ll take our fond memories of Howdy Doody and The Twilight Zone with us… and no one will much care, being too busy with fourteen incoming Twittering IMs on their ear/eye implants and a fresh scene loading up from the new Grand Theft Auto XXVII they just injected straight into their pituitary gland.

Sometimes I think about that.

Television, easily the most culture-shaping technology advance in the history of mankind… eclipsed before it reached seventy years old… murdered by hotter, more intensely interactive tech. (Okay — I know that television was actually viable in the 1920s, but get real. It wasn’t a cultural phenomenon until the fifties.)

But that’s not what I want to write about tonight.


Instead, something else triggered my interest.

I thought back to the season-ending episode of “House”, which had everyone in the room reaching for tear-soaked tissues (including the cat, who was barely watching).

And, if you’ll give me a minute here, I’m gonna tie that show in with you making money with your ads.

VERY major lesson coming up, so pay attention.

First, though, you gotta put up with some ranting:

/Begin rant: Television, overall, has followed the same arc that — in micro — the show Saturday Night Live has followed: Great for a couple of years… suck for several years… recover, and be great again… then quickly descend into Suckdom once more… and over and over, in a cycle that (someday) historians will probably be able to track down to the second. (“As we can clearly see, class, the show left the rails thirteen minutes into the first episode after Lorne Michaels left in season five… you can almost — chuckle — see it jumping the shark as Louise-Dreyfus sputters in yet another vapid, unfunny scene…”)
/End rant

Speaking of rants, you’ll get some of my very best when you sign up for 11Really Stupid Blunders You’re Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now. You get it for free, right here.

And I believe we’re currently in one of the recurring “up” bumps. Always good when you realize there are actually a couple of shows on that DESERVE to be watched. Not brain-dead watching, but active interest watching.

What do you Tivo?

We religiously record House, 30 Rock, The Office (though I suspect the shark is in mid-air on that one), and Manchester United games on Fox Sports. (Okay, Michele won’t watch soccer with me, and I can’t stomach Brothers And Sisters with her. Trade off.)

I love the medium, but I don’t “need” it.

I grew up watching all the sixties sit-com, sci-fi, drama and kitsch I could cram into an evening (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Addams Family, Outer Limits, The Prisoner, The Avengers, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., American Bandstand, She-Bang, Soupy Sales, Phil Silvers, Ed Sullivan, Gilligan’s Island, Star Trek, The Monkees… God, I’m embarrassed to admit all that…).

But I watched, primarialy, because it was there. Mom had the kitchen radio on all day (it’s how I discovered rock and roll), and the boob tube was cranked on when Pop came home, and wasn’t turned off until beddy-bye. (Laugh-In, Red Skelton, Where The Action Is, Your Show of Shows, The Match Game…)

Once I was old enough to beg Pop for the car keys, my evening rituals changed dramatically. I didn’t even own a TV through the seventies. (Never saw a single episode of Mork & Mindy, Mary Tyler Moore, or Three’s Company, thank you very much.) (One of TV’s “down” cycles, I would say.) (Showed up, often drunk, at friends’ houses with toobs for SNL, of course.)

MTV and cable brought me back to the fold, fitfully.

Now, I’m in a groove once again.

Gotta have my “House”, and the occasional Law & Order SVU. (BTW: Why is Rooney not playing for Man U lately? Did he get hurt? Traded? What’s up? He wasn’t in the Moscow grueler…)

Okay, back to the point of all this:

The last episodes (it was a twin-hour ending show) of House were pretty riveting television. I’m ALWAYS impressed with good writing (Boston Legal, CSI: NY, the commentors on the World Series of Poker, Californication)… and I’ve learned to watch both passively (to enjoy the moment)…

and to go back over what just hooked me, and watch critically.

I like to break down exactly what the writers did to tweak my emotions, my interest, and ESPECIALLY my resistance to being sucked into the story.

That’s right. With every show, I challenge the writing to do its job.

We have an unwritten rule in the house: Any time either of us can start predicting the dialog before the actors speak it… that show is toast.

The shark has done jumped, when the script is so weak you can burble along with the actors in real time.

So here’s the thing…

… this House final episode (WARNING: Spoiler alert!) polished off one of the major characters. That’s not unique in television… but the way the writers did it defied what any viewer would have predicted.

It was as if… the script burned down the house.

Just created all kinds of emotional havoc and brain-tickling mayhem.

It was that riveting, and satisfying.

I can’t wait for next season. Seriously.

I’m pissed I gotta wait.

I’m addicted.

Consider what the writers did, as you consider how to write compelling, riveting copy yourself.

Sometimes, you gotta burn down the house just to get your prospect’s attention.

Not literally, of course (“you idiot”, House would add).


Most ad copy is like an episode of Three’s Company.

At best, vaguely suggestive, but nothing you’d remember the next day (or even the next hour).

Great copy, on the other hand, is like South Park.

You simply cannot snooze through it.

You gotta be prepared for the reaction, too, if you ever get ballsy with your writing. Not everyone will cheer you on. “He can’t say that, can he?” will be a common response.

“Somebody’s got to do something about that repulsive material.”

“Can’t we shoot them, or deport them, or something?”

I’ve never gone for straight outrage, but neither were my first golf ads greeted with encouragement at the big golf magazines.

They swallowed hard during the first round, took the money, and pretended not to notice how much those 3-page copy-dense beasts fouled up the pretty “look” of their publications.

When my client went back for multiple insertions, it was almost too much to bear.

Fortunately, the publishers were shameless money-grubbing whores, and the ads ran despite the cries of alarm from readers. (But only from readers outside our target market. The guys we were after LOVED those ads.) (Still do.)

We, essentially, burned down the nice golf house, like vandals in a riot.

Something to think about, the next time you absolutely have to get attention for your copy. Don’t you think?

What TV shows do you remember fondly? (I’d watch MTV for hours in the first years, when it was all video, all the time… and I still consider The Larry Sanders Show to be one of the best ever written. Entourage ain’t bad, though it’s occasionally infuriatingly stupid. The Simpsons, yeah. Seinfeld, I guess. What else am I missing here?)

Stay frosty,

John Carlton

P.S. Do you really want to know how to write ads that “burn down the house?” People are still ripping off my ads from decades ago, and you can find out more about my secrets right here.

Just enter your name and primary email address below and we'll send you the new report right away.

"11 Really Stupid Blunders You're Making With Your Biz & Career Right Now."

  • Linda Abbit says:

    We must be of the same generation, John. Was the first TV in your house black & white and in a huge piece of furniture with doors that closed in front? LOL

    I was just saying recently they need to bring Laugh In back for the new MTV/adhd generation . . . sorry Dick Martin just died this week 🙁

    I never missed The Carol Burnett Show with Harvey Korman and Tim Conway always trying to crack each other up while shooting live TV! And Harvey Korman just passed away today — er, yesterday.

    Loved Password, You Don’t Say, Hollywood Palace (variety show), St. Elsewhere, Family, 30 something.

    Still love Law & Order SVU, CSI NY and ER (OK, I’m embarrassed about that last one). However, as these shows go off the air for good, I don’t replace them with new ones — use the time to read books instead. Have to get away from screens sometime during the day!

    As a kid, I wanted to be ON American Bandstand and since dancing is a passion of mine I now watch all of the dance reality shows without fail.

    I also watched a show growing up in NY that I loved called Wonderama hosted by Sonny Fox, but people in southern CA don’t remember it — do you?

    Cheers & goodnight,
    Linda Abbit

  • Barnabas Ng says:


    I didn’t know you are a Manchester United fan. Are you a die-hard supporter?

    Luck was definitely with man utd when they won at Moscow. Rooney will shine next season


  • David says:

    Ah, Larry Sanders was a fantastically written show.

    My vote for best TV writing ever goes to “Deadwood”, with “Beggars and Choosers” a very close second.

    “Battlestar Galactica” pokes and prods accepted norms into unrecognizable shapes as it explores human issues and emotions.

    “Weeds” was interesting.

    Only watched a couple of seasons of “House” but I found the scripts reliable for setting clocks.

  • Ian says:

    From the moment I watched episode one of “LOST” my empathy for heroin junkies kicked in.

    After the first disc I ran out and rented the the rest of the 3 seasons I had missed. And cemented myself to 3168 minutes of drama, mystery and violence.

    The season finale of season 4 finished last night and I sulked into bed wondering if I could create a cacoon to hibernate in, until it begins again.


  • john-carlton says:

    John Carlton replies:

    Ah, that explains it. I only saw the second half of the Chelsea/Man U Moscow game. Why’d they take Rooney out?

    For the record: I’m not a die-hard Man U fan, but I am a huge fan of the Premier league. Fox Sports, however, must be run by buffoons, because they play odd games, and make it hard to keep track of the standings. (They played multiple “bottom of the pile” games in the last month, as if seeing who got sent down was exciting.) So I watch games in a vacuum, which is fine — that’s what’s nice about soccer (okay, football), each game is a drama that stands on its own.

    Three years ago, I could name the entire starting line-up of Man U and Liverpool (because they were shown so much on Fox). Now, Fox seems intent on showing more Serie A games from Italy (lots of complaining and faked injuries in that league) and South American contests.

    Soon, I suppose, the sports world really will be global. And in HD. Looking forward to that…


  • Sharon B. says:

    Hi John–
    My favorites were Star Trek, Gilligan’s Island, Battlestar Galactica (It is definitely not the same show now!), MASH, CHIPS, The Dukes of Hazzard and the Superfriends.–Now I watch Extreme Home Makeover and (occasionally) Dancing With the Stars. For some reason, I lost patience with TV in general after they started playing “Married With Children”.

  • Barnabas Ng says:

    If you had watch the first half of the game, Man Utd was dominating the first half and they could have been 3 up against chelsea. Peter Cech was superb in saving that 2 attempt.

    The reasons I could see why rooney was taken out are Chelsea was dominationg the midfield since the break and man utd have tot boost the midfield to push it into penalties. Second reason is Rooney is not good in taking penalties – thats why you don’t see rooney taking any of it in the penalties. Nani was introduce.

    Man Utd was lucky with the penalties and similiar to when they won in 1999 against Bayern Munich. In that important match and 1 goal down, they manage to score 2 goals in 4 minutes extra time.

    The cost to air Premier league on TV has been rising due to its popularity. So I believe thats why you are getting less air time for premier league matches. Here at where I am ( i am not in UK), the cost of watching the league has been rising every season.

    By the way, last month games were pretty exciting where you see the top teams – on level points – playing for the title and bottom teams playing for survival. So much drama, excitement, suspense and disappointment on the last day of the season.

  • Karen says:

    OK, ok , you got me to admit that I’m a Dinobot (and I am still suspicious as to what you really meant by Dino)…..

    BUT… if you think I’m actually gonna admit that I used to watch The Monkies and The MOD Squad…. You’re NUTS!

    Great Blog.

  • Matt H says:

    Shit John.

    I had to stop reading at the House spoiler alert!!!

    ARRRRGHGGH I’m outraged.

    I wanna read more!!!!

  • Kyle says:

    John… they play the bottom of the table games during the final month, because those are the cut-throat games. It’s all or nothing for them… although you could say the same about the top side this season as well.

    I would have never guessed in six lifetimes that you were a supporter of the EPL

  • Kyle says:

    PS: Right now, I believe BBC has a $6,000 package for the Brits to get every EPL game all season long. However… they just found out that they are losing money to Asian feeds of the same games, costing only $2,000 a season.

    Oh yes… and those prices are English pounds… not US.

  • Tom Ash says:

    Hi John:
    I loved your post regarding opportunities, because it resonated so much. My “opportunity” came as a result of the actions of a friend, bad health, the desire to die, and then seeing people who had it much worse than I still enjoying life.
    I believe what you are also referencing is perspective. Prior to my health deteriorating, I had worked hard, had success, but lived a “routine” life. When I got sick, I was so miserable that I wanted to die. A friend intervened, and I ultimately came to terms with my situation. I also started volunteering with the Tahoe Adaptive Ski School, and people with disabilities learning to ski and snowboard. My problems became so small when I saw what they faced everyday: I was in awe.
    My opportunity is now, because I have changed my perspective. I have started a website where the stated goal is to pay it forward for all the deserving causes I can help. The site is called Agentspayingforward.com, and is free to join. I hope everybody joins, and adopts a charity/cause to support. I intend to make some money from advertising, but I hope to donate a hell of a lot more.
    I love your site, and congratulate you on your success.

    Tom Ash

  • >