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Question: What's your favorite TV show that's on right now?
You can scour the internet and find plenty of advice for answering basic interview questions -- strengths, weaknesses, long-term goals -- but in Hollywood, there’s one question that’s always asked and is often answered incorrectly. And that seriously tough question: “What’s your favorite TV show that's on right now?” or its counterpart, “What’s the last movie you saw, and what did you think of it?” These questions seem easy enough, and yet, there are four job-costing mistakes we encounter regularly in candidates' answers.
MISTAKE #1: Your answer isn’t something current.
If you're asked about your favorite show of all time, you can answer “Friends” or “Seinfeld” or “Breaking Bad,” and no one will bat an eye. But most interviewers don't ask that question, because they know the answer is either “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” “Breaking Bad,” or a handful of other award-winning cable dramas. Even if you are asked about your favorite show of all time, you'll also be asked about what you’re watching right now, and although Netflix gives you access to tons of old content, you need to be watching something on the current schedule. Your interviewer wants to know that you're in tune with what’s on TV, since you’re going to be creating it. Sure, you might be bingeing “The League” on Netflix because you never got around to watching it on FX, and you can mention that you're catching up, but you if you don't include a current show in addition, it will seem like you’re not passionate enough about the business to keep up with trends. Same goes for movies. Pick something that's been in theaters within the last month or two, not an old movie that was airing on TBS last Saturday. Going to the movies regularly is part of the job, so make your friends jealous by taking advantage of one of the most fun aspects of working inHollywood.
MISTAKE #2: Your answer doesn’t include the right genre/format.
In your cover letter, you said you're passionate about the company because you really like unscripted TV. Then, in the interview, you say your favorite shows are “Mr. Robot” and “The Walking Dead.” Where’s that reality TV show? It’s fine to list your actual favorite shows (especially because they could turn into conversation-starters), but there’s got to be something in the company’s wheelhouse that you watch and enjoy. If not, you shouldn’t apply for the job. The only thing worse than watching a genre of TV you don’t like is spending 10 hours a day developing or producing it. But don’t lie and pretend you're obsessed with Real Housewives when you’ve only seen a couple of episodes. You don’t want your interviewer trying to bond with you over a recent episode and all you’ve got for her is a blank stare. Same goes for movies. If you’re applying to work at an indie company, mention the blockbuster you saw last weekend and a recent indie you’re into or excited about. The word “favorite” is loose here: It’s something relevant that you watch and enjoy.
MISTAKE #3: Your answer is too obvious or too weird and obscure.
A major reason why interviewers ask this question is to gauge your taste so they can get a sense of what you’ll contribute creatively to the team (even if the opportunity for creative contribution is way, way down the road). Which actors will you gravitate towards as a rep? What scripts will you like as a development assistant? What aesthetic will you bring to production? If your answer is really obvious, you risk not standing out. An answer we hear all the time is “I generally watch what’s on HBO and Netflix, and I just love “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards.” Don't leave these out, because they may provide an opportunity to bond with your interviewers over a show they're likely watching too, but keep in mind that everyone else they're interviewing is giving the same answer. What do you love (or simply watch) that’s a little more unusual? “BoJack Horseman?” “You’re The Worst?” “Mozart in the Jungle?” Still reputable shows, but a little less obvious. On the flipside, you don't want to give an answer that's totally random. Maybe your favorite show is “Good Witch” on Hallmark, and it might be really great, but chances are, your interviewer hasn’t seen it or even necessarily heard of it. Points to you for being aware of lesser-known shows, but you do want to showcase some mainstream taste to highlight your eye for mass appeal.
MISTAKE #4: Your answer is incorrect.
How can your favorite show be incorrect? Well, if you say, “I love HBO shows, 'Game of Thrones' and 'The Walking Dead' are just so great,” you’ve -- potentially inadvertently -- suggested that “The Walking Dead” is on HBO, when it’s actually on AMC. Another version of this answer is “I love cable comedy, like “Angie Tribeca” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The latter is on Fox, very much a broadcast network. Knowing who produces and distributes the content you love is imperative to succeeding in this business, and not knowing is a major red flag in an interview where you want to seem well-prepared. Often, this mistake happens when you speak faster than you think and not because you’re a numbskull, so just pause for a second before answering the question and organize your thoughts. When in doubt, don’t mention a network; just say the titles, and you’ll be in the clear.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan