"Is the tone not the limited range of emotions you sell to people in order to get them to watch/commission?
So the genre might be Western, but the tone is a lighthearted comedy - you expect to chuckle along without having to really think about it. If it was described a hilarious comedy then you'd expect to laugh out loud most of the way through. Gentle comedy means it's not that funny and might be a bit sad or just sweet ... and so on.
For me, not being able to understand the tone usually means the events of the story require you to lurch wildly from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other.
So if you were chuckling along to a Richard Curtis comedy and suddenly a bomb goes off and there's 20 minutes of weeping while people pick bits of Hugh Grant out of their hair in graphic, unpleasant, nauseating detail, then it goes back to a gentle posh-English rom-com ... it's a bit weird. Tonally, what is it? How are you supposed to react? How do you explain that to people?
"It's a warm-hearted, gentle comedy about a struggling, family-owned Yorkshire biscuit factory." lets you know what kind of emotional range you're going to appeal to.
"It's a warm-hearted, gentle comedy about rape." doesn't.
Thinking about it, does the tone then help place the show on a channel at a specific time/day?
I might be completely wrong about this (and I'll happily admit I don't know nothing about nothing) but maybe if producers can't see the tone it's because there are two elements which don't sit comfortably together or perhaps aren't integrated properly?
You know, like 'Sean of the Dead' is funny first, horror second with the comedy poking fun at the horror bits so there's nothing really scary in it. It doesn't go funny, scary, funny, scary in random bursts.
Not saying your outlines are doing that, of course; but maybe it's worth looking at?"
Which might be it, actually. I think the outlines I've been suggesting have relying heavily on the producer being easily able to see how all the fun stuff (stories, basically) can flow naturally from the clash between the two conflicting elements - whether they're comedy and horror, as with the 'Sean of the Dead' example, or, dunno, supernatural and romance, say. Not that these are elements that have never gone together before, but I've probably been expecting producers to connect the dots themselves to too great an extent. Realistic if they're familiar with genre, and a pleasing number are, but most aren't.
Also, I think yes, the 'tone' thing is very much about what time/place in the schedules the proposed show would have. I used to think 'why can't I just write the show how I want, and you work out where to put it?' - well actually I still think that, but I suppose that's not terribly helpful for the person who's trying to help you put the thing together.
Hmm. Cheers Phill.