Monday, September 25, 2006

"Heroes" takes a fall

Like a Bangles reference ever hurt anyone!

Well, thanks to Doselle, I am full of rant today. Before I get to that, all you Gentle Readers have posted some great insights into music on TeeVee, and in life. I definitely want to comment on that. But since "Heroes" premieres tonight, let's go there first. I think I mentioned this before but if not, here it is again. In the interest of full disclosure (not that you could find it unless I mentioned it!), my writing partner and I sold a pilot to UPN about four years ago. It was called Heroes, and it was about a group of former friends who come together and discover that they have super powers. I don't think for a minute that Tim Kring stole our pilot. That's idiotic. But I do have some knowledge of the development process for this type of show. Both the network and the studio were supportive of this type of show. They never asked that we pull back on the genre elements. But we all knew that once the rules were established, the characters were the key to the show. There are two main differences between our pilot and the NBC show -- one, our heroes actually FOUGHT A VILLAIN IN THE PILOT. And two, our show wasn't somber. A few of our characters struggled with this new ability but by the end, all the characters realized that there was a reason they were the way they were. Also, we actually SET UP A SERIES with our pilot. The NBC show... not so much.

Before I even saw the review of the pilot, I ran across this:

'Heroes: According to Kring, there has been a lot of discussion in the writers' room about the hero's journey, as outlined by mythology scholar Joseph Campbell. In particular, the show will explore the themes of temptation and the duality between good and evil. "It's one of the things that we're really fascinated with, ... this idea that all of these people have free will," Kring said. "They are just like any of us. If you find yourself in a time in your life when you are desperate or destitute, and you suddenly discover that you can walk through walls. Well, then you may walk through the wall of a bank and rob it and steal money. If you are inclined to do good, and you have the ability to hear people's thoughts, then you will do good with that. And it really becomes about free will, which is also a part of the hero's journey. What do they do when they are suddenly tempted by darker forces?"'

Oh no he DI'INT!!!!!!!

Yes, the circle of pretension is complete. The Hero's Journey has been referenced. I have to hand it to Kring. It appears that he is going to singlehandedly save the superhero genre by including Joseph Campbell, temptation, and (gasp!) the duality of good and evil (the duality BETWEEN good and evil? Huh. Not so much). Because as we all know. nobody's EVER done that before (paging George Lucas -- check it out! You can be pissed at someone!). Seriously, just talking about TeeVee, if I were Joss Whedon, I'd be asking for a piece of this guy. Buffy was all ABOUT duality!!! Hell, I worked on a show where we did duality on a weekly basis, and that was YEARS before Tim Kring decided to puff up his chest and valiantly save the genre. In a more modern (read, 2006) context, WHAT THE BLOODY HELL DO YOU THINK RON MOORE'S BEEN DOING ON BATTLESTAR GALACTICA?? Every character on the show struggles with the line between good and evil, with the nature of duality, and with the choice between dueling belief systems! There isn't a more sophisticated, timely show on TeeVee than Galactica, and the idea of Tim Kring saving genre television is insulting to the work Moore and his writers have been doing for two seasons.

Beyond TeeVee, if I were ANYONE ON THE FREAKIN' PLANET who had ever written a word about heroes, I'd punch Kring in the heart. "Oh, COMIC BOOKS. You know... for kids!"

This is idiotic, and it's precisely what I feared after watching the pilot. Like most people who don't like or understand niche genres, Tim Kring thinks it's gutter drama. He's arrived from Crossing Jordan to SAVE the genre, to make it palatable to people other than geeks and nerds who don't have high standards and will watch anything genre. This is a typical mindset of someone like Kring. You can tell who loves the genre and who thinks they're slumming. Kring definitely thinks he's slumming.

I have a lot of issues with Heroes but at its most basic level, it's just not any fun. Genre TeeVee is about metaphor and wish fulfillment. It's about being able to explore real-world issues in a fantastic way. When this is done correctly, the drama resonates. When it's done with an agenda, it sucks. This is the problem with Heroes. Here's the basic problem in a nutshell:

"Hey, I can fly."

"I'm so sad..."

Buffy wasn't always thrilled about being the Slayer, but even though she struggled you could see what it meant to her and those key moments became highlights of the series. Who wants to watch a TeeVee show where the main characters don't want to be on the show??? Kring creates a motley crew of standard-issue shoegazers -- mopey Jess from Gilmore Girls, who natters on and on about his flying dreams; his politician brother, boring even though Adrian Pasdar is playing him; the Asian nerd, who pretty much shrieks his way through the pilot and, frankly, if I were Asian I'd be offended by him; the single mom, who raises her son by stripping on the internet; a hot Indian guy who comes to America and becomes a can driver; a cop who apparently hears voices, although this character doesn't even appear in the pilot; a teenage girl who can't be physically hurt.

Geez. I feel asleep just writing that paragraph.

Naturally, I have an issue with Ali Larter's character, the Las Vegas stripper with a heart of gold. I mean, seriously. Do I have to say anything else? It's ironic that Tim Kring, with his "message television," creates THAT character. Hey, how would it be if he could create a character FIRST and a woman second?

Tim Kring is, he thinks, singlehandedly trying to save TeeVee. But that's not what TeeVee's for. If it needed saving, I can guarantee you that Tim Kring wouldn't be its first choice. There's a lot of crap on TeeVee, but there's good TeeVee, too. Battlestar Galactica, Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, MI-5. These shows don't aspire to save TeeVee. They just do their goddam job of putting out well made, thoughtful product. The point is, make something entertaining. Make something true to itself. The agenda for good television should be, Make it engaging. Make it fun. Make the characters rich, the drama surprising. If you start from a loftier perch, you will fall.

What's most aggravating about Heroes is how people buy into it. The TeeVee reviewers (don't kid yourself -- they're not critics) will be the most annoying. This Hollywood Reporter review is from someone who clearly drank the Koolaid. He read the press material and bought into this thing. These reviewers always act like the nerds who never get into the cool clubs. Now that these showrunners DEIGN to talk to them, they can do no wrong. The other problem with TeeVee reviewers is that they have a very short memory. They only remember the recent hit. So of course they're gonna compare Heroes to Lost, because nothing was on before Lost, right? And they won't mention Galactica, because that's a SCI-FI SHOW, and besides, it's on CABLE. And not good cable, either, like FX or HBO. This reviewer thinks the show is uniqque -- that's pretty much all you need to know. As derivative as genre fiction is -- and it is, by definition, somewhat derivative -- calling Heroes "unique" just points out how ill-informed the reviewer is. Y'know, film reviewers seem to have seen movies from, oh, even DECADES ago. WTF is up with TeeVee reviewers that they have no breadth of experience??

No show has been better promoted than Heroes. I expect that it will be a hit in spite of itself because, like TeeVee reviewers, the general public will buy into the lies. I've talked to people who loved the show and they aren't genre fans. I watched the pilot with five other people and we all hated it. These are people who are well versed in genre but who also watch and read other genres. I think genre fans will see through this thing. At least, I hope they do.

I'd love to know what y'all think of the pilot. I promise I won't bite.

np - The Bluetones, "The Bluetones." Yes, it's a new Bluetones record! Hurray!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Blog Love

Well, damn! People read my blog!!

I honestly never thought it would happen. So now does that mean I have to be nice? Because I haven't even talked about Heroes yet, so that would be a shame. I'm going to hold off on that for another post, because that's gonna be a doozy.

First, though, to the comments. Cynthia, who should win some sort of a prize for being the first to comment, says that her students seem reticent to share music with her. I don't know about you guys, but the last thing I was on the topic of "So what kind of music do you like?" was reticent. But then I went to a high school where the drama teacher had Beatles and Hendrix posters on the wall and the chemistry teacher had us take a test to Abbey Road. I didn't realize until later how freakin' cool they were. They were enthusiastic about sharing their music and I, with my horrid, crappy teenage musical taste, was enthusiastic about sharing mine.

I guess what rings most true about "Freaks and Geeks" is that the kids don't have sophisticated musical tastes. They liked Rush and Journey and Supertramp. Anything big and loud and obvious. When I see these shows that are so obviously music supervised to death, it just takes me out of the show and away from the characters.

Rob muses about how his musical opinions were absolute. I'm right there with ya, Rob! Because how can you have musical discussions unless you're totally holding your ground, standing in your corner, protecting Cock Robin or Frozen Ghost or, well, GOOD music? Where's the passion these days?? Do the kids of today slow down enough to even HAVE a soundtrack? I had a friend who grew up in the 60s and would talk about how there were about five bands then, and how there's just too much music now -- and this was about ten years ago, pre-iPod and mp3s. I'm not sure that's it. Because it's not like the radio is a sea of diversity, you know? The same crap gets played on fifty thousand Clear Channel stations. I think you have to look for good music just as much now as you used to. It's a little easier to get to music than it used to be, back when you had to go into a record store for it, but you still have to sift through all of it to find the gems. I'm not sure most people have the patience for that, but I think these same people wouldn't have had the patience ten, twenty years ago.

And what are the gateway bands of today? What leads to what? I was trying to think of today's musical movement, the equivalent of grunge or Britpop or shoegazing. And I honestly have no idea what it is. Is there one? There's the indie scene, which used to be called college radio (ah, college radio... good R.E.M.... Husker Du... Game Theory.... The Three O'Clock...). But it's a little disjointed to be a real movement. I know NME, still pining for the heady days when Britpop ruled the world, keep trying to turn Pete Doherty into Noel Gallagher, but that doesn't make it so.

Or am I just old?

I listen to a lot of stuff, but I will readily admit that I have a rather narrow musical focus. If you're a girl singer and you don't sound like you can kick my ass, I'm not interested. British boy with a guitar? Come on over. Anyway, there are a few distinctive sounds -- the Franz Ferdinand/Kaiser Chiefs/Dirty Pretty Things sound -- but I don't think it constitutes a movement. There was a tiny attempt at one when all the great bands were coming out of Liverpool, like The Coral and The Bandits, but they've all been rather quiet lately.

Enough about music for now. I mentioned Tim Powers in another post, and Roger was happy to find another fan. Tim Powers is one of those writers who should be living in Dan Brown's mansion. He just does that sort of thing SO much better, because he doesn't have to, erm, appropriate passages and ideas from other peoples' books. I'm only slightly bitter about Dan Brown for personal reasons, but more to the point, it's like the Harry Potter problem -- there are so many better writers who've done it brilliantly and more creatively before. So why does banal writing become a phenomenon?

I think that whatever the answer, that question is what's scaring the crap out of TeeVee executives. You barely get a chance anymore, so you have to hit it out of the park. You can't aim your show at the internet fans and hope it trickles down to the masses, because it doesn't. I'm of the opinion that people are indifferent when they watch TeeVee. They don't really engage. Unfortunately, they frequently get treated like they're stupid. I hate dumbing things down to a perceived lowest common denominator, and I haven't yet figured out how to pretend to do that while giving the true TeeVee fan something bright and shiny to play with.

Speaking of bright and shiny, some new shows premiered this week. I completely forgot to watch Jericho. I'll have to catch the second episode. I watched ten minutes of Smith, the new Ray Liotta/every other cool film actor heist show. Now, one thing you're told when you go out to pitch pilots is, DON'T BRING ME A GODDAMNED HEIST SHOW. Harumph. How do they decide who gets to do a heist show and who doesn't?? It's not fair. But I know why this one was picked up -- the family gimmick. Poor (underused)Virginia Madsen doesn't know her husband is the leader of a ring of art thieves. That's all well and good, but this is a HEIST SHOW. Good luck finding Virginia Madsen something interesting to do. I love heist stuff. We've always wanted to do an art theft show (but I guess we weren't chosen to). But Smith? Well, the ten minutes I saw weren't very interesting. There they were, the thieves, all introduced separately with their names onscreen like we're watching the Reservoir Dogs TV show. They all gathered, Ray Liotta started muttering about a Tintoretto, and I turned it off. Actually, I was reaching for the remote when a car drove up, and all you saw get out of were a pair of hot female legs.

WTF??? Seriously? You're going with the hot female legs?? That doesn't feel like the biggest cliche ever? Anyway, no thanks, Smith.

I also watched Six Degrees, which has an awesome cast, is beautifully shot, and feels so very distant for a TeeVee show. I don't envy the writers of this one, having to make these characters interconnect constantly. That's a lot of work. What really struck me about the show is how disengaged it is. TeeVee is about the audience inviting the characters into their living rooms. But the more TeeVee shows are written and shot like features, the less that is going to happen. I feel like I'm watching a movie, like I'm being asked to appreciate something, not live with it. And that makes these shows boring to me. I don't like this trend. I think TeeVee can be funny, warm, emotional, dramatic and scary... but if you put up a wall of professional sheen between the screen and the audience, they're not going to feel that. Let's go back to making TeeVee, and not trying to make movies.

Here's the one thing about Six Degrees that makes it totally worthwhile, though -- Hope Davis. She's magnificent.

That's about all for today. It's freakin' late. This is going to be another scarily long post. And I haven't even had my Heroes rant yet. Or a proper Dan Brown rant! So many rants...

I would like to give a HUGE shout-out to John Scalzi, who mentioned my blog on his blog. John is an awesome writer and a great guy. I met him at WorldCon and as John says, we totally bonded over Canadian hair bands. Oh, yes, it IS possible!!! As a matter of fact, I'm gonna go listen to Tom Sawyer RIGHT NOW. John's site is great, and he's way more plugged into the internets than I am! So go check it out.

I have NO idea how to post links on this thing, so let's see if this works.

http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/

np -- Cord, "Stay With Me Now." Not a bad little tune...

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Music Gene

I was talking to a friend the other, erm, week about music. Because that's what sensible people do -- they talk about music. Music, you may be surprised to learn, is the soundtrack of our lives. Or it's supposed to be. My friend, who is also a writer and a damned fine one, said that there was never any mention of music on Buffy, which he found odd because Buffy was a high school show. For some reason, that never occurred to me, but he's absolutely right. What music did the gang listen to? What was their musical point of view? We have no idea.

We can puzzle out what they MIGHT have listened to. Buffy probably would be a radio listener, not very militant about her music. She'll just listen to whatever's playing, buy some popular stuff, and be done with it. If she's feeling particularly emotionally fragile, she'd probably seek out some Sarah MacLachlan or other wispy barefoot, Takamine-wielding girl-power music. Buffy would think that Alanis Morissette was a tough chick. Willow would probably grow the most as she developed. She'd listen to whatever her friends listened to. She might even bop around to her mom's Neil Diamond. But as she grew emotionally on the show, so would her musical tastes. I imagine her getting VERY into Janis Joplin, PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, even Cilla Black (who can kick your ass -- don't think she can't). She'd be interested in the storytellers, the mythmakers. She'd listen to the Waterboys, some other excellent Celtic music. Xander's our Smiths/early REM fan. He's the shoegazer, even though he wants to be the Nirvana/Pearl Jam guy. He's more Blur than Oasis, but pretends he's not. He headbangs to the Ramones, but listens to Joy Division.

Actually, interestingly enough, the only character on the show with a musical point of view is Giles. He's swinging London and early punk. We do know that from the show. Oz, the one character on the show who's actually in a band, has no musical point of view at all.

This conversation stemmed from one about writers who don't have a musical life. I find that completely alien. I don't know how you can be a writer and have absolutely no knowledge of popular music. I don't know how you could be a high school student and have no knowledge of popular music. What are you people doing in high school if you're not developing the soundtrack to your life? What is the musical point of view of your characters? How can they not have one?

I've been watching the first season of Veronica Mars, and that show also lacks musical awareness. But is Veronica Mars an accurate depiction of high school life? i'm not so sure. I think it's an accurate depiction of how the creator of the show looks back on high school, and I feel the same way with Buffy. I think that might be part of the reason that the music doesn't exist. It's a re-imagining, and not a re-creation. It's about writers who had such a miserable time that they distance themselves from it, either by using the supernatural as the metaphor or the hard-boiled noir. Don't get me wrong -- it's GREAT television, it's just not very emotionally accurate.

There are some shows that have incorporated musical references organically. Gilmore Girls does it. Both Lorelai and Rory have musical points of view. The most musical savvy character on the show, Rory's friend Lane, is a love letter to music. Lane's in a band, and the musical dialect, the interplay between band members, works beautifully. For me, the best high school shows that have ever been on TV are My So-Called Life and Freaks & Geeks. MSCL not only included perfect adolescent musical references, but also used music effectively. The show captured the power of music with the use of REM's "Everybody Hurts." It's one of the most beautiful, emotional scenes I've ever seen on TV. What makes the show work is not that it perfectly captures the high school experience, but that it perfectly captures the emotion of that experience. And music is a key component of that.

Freaks & Geeks, which was a little closer time-wise to my own high school experience, does everything right. It IS the authentic high school experience, and the dependence on music is spot-on. Whereas MSCL was more rooted in the college/alternative/emo radio arena, Freaks & Geeks perfectly captured the mainstream Rush/Journey aesthetic. Two completely different musical choices, both authentic to the respective characters.

There's a scene in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," when the band's on the bus and everybody sings along to "Tiny Dancer." It's one of my favorite movie scenes ever, because it authentically captures that musical moment that makes all the bullshit and pain worth it. If you've never had that transcendent musical experience, you probably think I'm crazy. But if you've never had that, I feel sorry for you. Because that is a moment that's frozen in time, a moment that you will not only always remember but when you hear that song, it will almost literally take you back in time to that moment. Time-traveling is possible with music. It's about seeing The Beatles at Shea, or U2 at Live Aid, or the Stone Roses at Spike Island, or Oasis at Wembley. It's about being alone and together with tens or hundreds of thousands of people. There's nothing else like it in the world. In the case of "Almost Famous," it's about the love of music. This is a universal love, and one that brings you instantly close to like-minded others.

I just don't understand how writers, who need to be connected emotionally to their work, aren't sponges who soak up all emotional experiences. Albums transport me back to that moment I first heard them -- U2's "The Joshua Tree," The Waterboys' "This Is the Sea," The Chameleons' "Script of the Bridge." I see a lot of live shows. Not as much as most music freaks, but a goodly number. Not all of them are transcendent but even if I saw a hundred shit shows and one great, amazing one, that would be worth it. I suppose I consider the spiritual value of music equivalent to that of religion. Religious folk talk about that transcendent experience. Well, it exists in music, too. There's a real "living in the moment" sensation when you're shouting "No more!" along with Bono, or sitting gobsmacked at a Dylan show, or watching Johnny Marr play Neil Finn's Les Paul gold-top while Neil's covering "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out," or listening to Mike Scott howl through "The Pan Within," or being blown back against the wall as Noel Gallagher plays that fucking amazing solo in "Don't Look Back In Anger." See, I can be transported to all of those musical places just by mentioning them. I think that allows me to access something that is both utterly enjoyable, that transports me back in time to a specific moment and emotion, and also allows me to live in the moment. VERY important for writing.

Listening to music has become a much more passive experience. In part, I think, because you don't have to lift a finger to find music anymore. I used to haunt record stores on new release Tuesday. I used to buy imports, try stuff out. But record stores used to be better. I remember a time when Tower Records was THE cool store. They had a free in-store magazine and people would send in their top ten Desert Island Discs. It was the best feature ever, because there was a sense of discovery about that. Now, there simply isn't. ITunes has made it too easy. You don't even have to have an opinion, because you can find an opinion online. I don't think anyone listens to something -- just out of the blue -- and develops an opinion about it. I don't get the sense that music belongs to anyone anymore. It's this mass-produced product jockeying for position in the marketplace. It's not about catching lightning in a bottle. I don't think there will be any more musical movements. There's simply too much product out there that's being specifically marketed to segments of the population. Even the indie stuff is marketed to death. It's suffocating. Nothing is being allowed to develop, to grow. There won't ever be another Beatles. There won't be another U2. There won't be another Britpop explosion. There won't be grunge, or college radio, or New Wave.

Geez. Now I'm just depressed. Maybe I'll go listen to the Stone Roses. I remember exactly where I was when I heard that as an import for the first time...

np -- La Rocca, "The Truth"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

If a blog falls...

Fred Phelps, who can always be counted on to bring the crazy, said that Stephen Colbert was Jon Stewart's "sidekick hooligan." I want that on a t-shirt.

The past few days have been spent trying to find a story for the pilot, because our initial pilot story is too dark. This task is a lot tricker than it sounds. A pilot story is incredibly important because you're setting the rules for the entire series. And with this particular show, which is fairly specific, it's crucial. It can't just be a regular crime story, because we want people to realize that this ain't your garden variety procedural. We have to be able to create our main characters and set up the series, and the pilot story has to do that within some pretty strict guidelines. We have a kazillion episode ideas, but the pilot story is tough.

What we want is X-Files without the supernatural. One thing I've realized since X-Files went off the air is how much it's missed. Not just the whole alien super-mythology; that's beside the point. It's about the way the stories were told. Now, everything's so matter-of-fact, heavy and predictable. Storytelling on TeeVee has gotten complacent. It's about Your Heroes doing nothing more than going to talk to one suspect after the other, and you can damned well count on them to circle back in act four or five to the Villain, who they of COURSE have already talked to without realizing they had their man.

Yawn.

This is partly a function of Law & Order, which does what it does very well. Why that means that every show has to follow the template is a mystery. CSI made it worse -- much, much worse. Now, every show has to be shot slick and blue. The tech must be high, the plots must be convoluted, and the characters must be transparent. There's an ugly sheen to TeeVee these days, and it seems almost impossible to break the mold, or to even go back to what worked before -- the unique, original storytelling of shows like X-Files and Buffy. The procedural shows of today don't seem to be adding too much to the ouevre. At their worst, the mysteries are silly, overly technical and quite frankly nonsensical. At their best, they can be somewhat fun but certainly not must-watch TeeVee. I still can't figure out how procedurals like the CSI's have hole-laden plots. Wouldn't these shows be tight as a drum? I honestly think that the best technical procedural on TV is Bones, and the strengths of that show aren't about the procedure. Maybe that's why the tech stuff works -- it has a point, and it's not just about unwrapping a shiny present and asking the audience to pat you on the back because you made a researcher do his job. Look, if all your show has going for it is procedure, you'd better damn well get it right. With Bones, the characters are the focus of the show. But the procedural elements work as well, because it's less about flash and more about substance. This is a character-driven procedural, and if you don't have characters to care about, what's the point? I gather than people who watch CSI like the characters, but I don't like the overly conventional, conservative storytelling.

Even a show like Veronica Mars has procedural elements to it, although that show is more a mystery and less a procedural. They've got some pretty big plot holes on the show but you forgive it because that's not really what it's about, and when there is something irritating, the next scene will be character-intensive -- Duncan and his "Ordinary People" family, Logan and Veronica's noir dialogue, or Veronica's incessant search for the truth about Lily's murder. This is why a show like this works, and I guess it's also why more people don't tune in. There aren't that many people who really sit down to WATCH TV anymore. We're all distracted, and doing other things.

What's interesting, though, is that this doesn't lead to a more visual style of storytelling. Or does it? Does everyone consider CSI to be visual because of its devices? For me, that isn't visual. X-Files was visual. Buffy was visual. And Veronica Mars most definitely is -- it's a gorgeously shot show with great attention to detail. But there's some sloppy stuff out there that people eat up with a spoon. It's a little disheartening that the audience isn't more discerning. Maybe in order to make TV that America likes, you have to watch it the way the audience does. I have a hard time with that. Does that mean that I'll only create niche, cult shows?

Would that be bad?

The new TeeVee season is upon us, and I think I'm living on another planet because the pilots I thought were ass, people loved. I've decided this year, though, to watch every second episode of every new show. Pilots are all about compromise. Generally, a pilot crew won't be the show crew. So you can't tell too much about a show by the pilot. Of course, the audience can be very harsh and if the pilot doesn't grab them, they'll leave and they won't come back. I wish they wouldn't even shoot pilots, that they'd just order the series. I believe a lot of shows that fail wouldn't if the first few episodes were a little more cohesive.

So far, Fox has premiered Vanished and Justice, along with the second seasons of Prison Break and Bones. I skipped the pilot of Justice but watched the second episode, and I was pretty disappointed. With the phenomenal Victor Garber leading this show, I was actually looking forward to it, even though I hate legal shows. And this just seems like a misfire. It's got all the tech procedural elements that all Bruckheimer shows have, but there's no heart in it. Victor Garber's character isn't well written enough to allow him to do what he did so well on Alias. Highly disappointing. As for the rest of the cast... they just feel like stock Bruckheimer characters. Since Bruckheimer rules TeeVee, it would be nice if all of his shows were as superb as Cold Case. That's the only Bruckheimer show that really, really works for me. Great characters, a terrific device, and a lot of emotion. The other Fox show that premiered, Vanished, is from a CSI writer. However, it's supposed to be serialized. That seems to be causing some problems, because a serialized drama requires, by its very nature, that the characters be well drawn. These aren't. As someone who's done serialized mystery, I sort of know what I'm talking about here. Vanished just doesn't have that extra level that's crucial to this kind of show.

Last night, I watched the premiere of Men In Trees, which is a blatant rip-off of Northern Exposure. But really, that's okay. The template of Northern Exposure can certainly be mined again. There's something charming about this show, and I'm stunned to realize that. Anne Heche stars. She's expected to be the heart and soul of the show, and she actually IS. The show's well cast, the characters are quirky but not Ed-quirky (which is good), and the show's very well shot. I'm gonna check out episode two of this one.

I think all the pilots I hated premiere next week. That'll be fun.

np -- The Feeling, "Twelve Stops and Home"

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Accurate Time Management Conspiracy

Which would be a great title for spam, but is actually three topics smashed into one. Since I started this blog, I realize that I have to pay attention to what's going on in the world -- either the real one, or mine -- and REMEMBER it so I have something to say.

This isn't easy.

The other day I talked about research. But what about accuracy? How important is it, and can you blow off true life facts in order to serve your story? I have been a slave to research in the past, but recently we've been working on a feature that takes place in Renaissance Florence. There are elements to the story that didn't happen then and people who weren't where we say they are. At first, I thought my throat was going to close up. But since the premise of the story is completely fantastic, it felt okay, in a Gladiator kind of way. It's actually freeing to use the research in service of the story, instead of the other way around. I've never written a biopic, however, but judging by the biopics that have come out -- most notably "A Beautiful Mind" and "Seabiscuit" -- you don't have to be totally faithful if you're Ron Howard/Akiva Goldsman or Gary Ross.

I do love the idea of taking something real, using those elements, and creating almost an alternate history of those events. The feature does a little of that. I hope. There's one writer who can do this like no other -- Tim Powers. If you haven't read him, do yourself a favor. Pick up "Anubis Gates," or "Last Call," or (especially for the purposes of this topic) "The Stress of Her Regard" and "Declare." Not only is the research air-tight, you won't find a better stylist of storyteller. Tim Powers doesn't have the popularity of someone like Dan Brown (which is insane), but nobody does what he does better.

Hmm. Should I Dan Brown bash here, or wait for another post? I think I'll wait. That's a loooooooong post.

Back to accuracy. I saw a few posts on the internets this weekend that made me think about accuracy. The discussion was about accuracy in TV shows, and some fool posted about how inaccurate the show "Hercules" was. Now... my biggest issue, if I was that anal-retentive, would have been that the show was called "Hercules," but that didn't seem to enter into it. How disconnected do you have to be to complain about the accuracy of freakin' "Hercules?" Seriously!! The truth is, an entire audience will never be satisfied. It's impossible. And that, too, is a topic for another post. Hmm. I've got two topics already. Wicked!

The other instance of accuracy is the upcoming ABC miniseries, "The Path to 9-11." Now, I haven't seen this thing and what I know about it is what I heard this morning on the Al Franken Show, so take this ALL with a grain of salt. But also know that there are people who are calling for ABC to edit this thing so it's accurate. Anyway. There is a scene where U.S. forces literally have Bin Laden surrounded (this is back during the Clinton years). The Clinton Administration, Sandy Berger to be exact, tells them to step down. So they let Bin Laden get away, he plans 9-11, and the whole thing is Clinton's fault. First of all, the scene never happened, and the director, Cyrus Nowrasteh, acknowledges that it never happened, and that it was an instance of "improvisation" that always takes place on film sets. Now, I've worked in TeeVee for some time now, and although there have been moments of improvisation, they have NEVER resulted in entirely new scenes. This, to me, is bullshit. According to Al Franken, Nowrasteh is a friend of Rush Limbaugh's, and the review copies of the DVD were only sent to right-wing bloggers and newsfolk.

This is an instance where true-life events are twisted for the purpose of propaganda. It won't matter if it's true or not. The American public -- many of whom still believe Saddam was responsible for 9-11 -- will just believe it. Because they've seen it on the TeeVee. This is hateful, disingenuous and manipulative. Every writer has a point of view when they write (you'd better -- if you don't think you have one, you don't, so GET ONE). And the point is to bring your audience into your world. But if your intent is to deceive, to twist the truth while pretending that your truth is the REAL truth, you've sold your soul. And not in the good way.

This brings us to conspiracy. I don't want this post to be a million pages long, so I'll just touch on this and post more about it later. I think I mentioned lonelygirl15 before. This is a MySpace video blog, with adorable sixteen-year-old Bree, her boyfriend Daniel, Bree's scary father, and Aleister Crowley. While the video blog is really well done, the true story behind this -- is it fact or fiction? A viral marketing campaign? A clever troupe of filmmakers? -- is in the discussions. There are several websites devoted to lonelygirl15 and the work these sleuths have done is admirable. If you haven't ever been sucked into something like this -- you didn't watch X-Files, Twin Peaks, or Lost -- this will all seem strange and pointless. But what's happening here is that people are filling in the blanks. They're connecting the dots and forcing the story to make sense to them, which in turn creates an entirely new story. It's absolutely fascinating, and if Philip K. Dick were still around, he'd be totally into it. People have commented upon how much the story and the subsequent creation of the lonelygirl15 community resembles William Gibson's book "Pattern Recognition," and it's quite scary how true that is. This internet story is going mainstream next week, with a front-page NY Times article, and the LA Times blogs about it every day. Thanks to the internets, the line between entertainment and audience has completely disappeared. Now, the audience IS the story.

The last part of the topic is time management and clearly, I haven't been doing that too well! I was thinking about this yesterday, when the day was over and I had done nothing except go to a meeting. I don't think it's possible to time manage effectively anymore, unless you're a Luddite or Amish. There's too much stimulation around us all the time. There's also too damned much TeeVee. The new season has started and I still have a ton of TeeVee to catch up on -- season four of Spooks, the first two seasons of Hex, season one of Life On Mars, the Spike Lee Katrina documentary, and (because friends insist it's great) the first two seasons of Veronica Mars. How the hell am I supposed to keep up???

By ending this post and getting some damned work done. Ta.

Oh... music. Right.

np - Kasabian, "Processed Beats," live from the Radio 1 Lounge, and Keane, "With Or Without You," also from the Radio 1 Lounge. Oooh... it's VERY pretty!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Research

Today was all about research. I spent about six hours at my favorite coffee place, surfing the internets for crazy shit. This can be incredibly time-consuming but if it sparks an idea, it's terrific.

There is a luxury to being on a show -- most shows have researchers, people writers can bother with those pesky details that seem simple but can take hours to chase down. A researcher on a show can be a help or a hindrance. I've experienced both. If you need something real -- the hierarchy of the LAPD's threat management unit, or how crime was dealt with in Renaisssance Florence, it's a pain in the ass to track down. But if you're looking for more general information, the internets can be very helpful. And if you're looking for crazy, which is about 99.9% of the information on the internets, there's no better place to begin than Wikipedia. You're aghast, right? Wikipedia?!?!? Everybody knows how inaccurate it is! Sure, if you've got to provide a bibliography. But if you're trying to figure out which crazy person said what about the Raelians, Wikipedia rocks.

Today, I read about the following:
Jack Parsons, the founder of JPL and an occultist with ties to L. Ron Hubbard (in that Hubbard stole his girlfriend and a large sum of money from him)
Nommo and the Dogon tribe (Beware -- this will lead you to the notion that there's life on a planet near the star Sirius)
Palo mayombe (darker than Santeria)
Warren Jeffs (good grief, what a creepy mofo! If he's shivved in prison, no big loss)
Irish Travelers (check them out -- very interesting culture)
Michelangelo's pieta (the first one)
Otherkin

All except for Michelangelo are for the same story. The weirdest thing I read was about the otherkin. These are people who believe that they are in the wrong bodies. The wrong HUMAN bodies, that is -- they're trans-species. So they have a spiritual identification with another species. Cats, dogs, various animals. Those with a spiritual identification are apparently called Therians (see? Even though I love Wikipedia, I don't believe EVERYTHING). Some otherkin identify with mythological or legendary creatures. The Elenari believe they are from an elvish species from another planet. And then there's Draconity. These kids believe they're dragons.

Yes. DRAGONS.

It's my favorite thing ever. Now, gentle readers, how is that not a goddam story??? Bless you, Wikipedia and your links. There will be a lot of research done over the next few days but I just know I won't find anything cooler than the dragon-people.

Beyond that, I sort of followed the Harlan Ellison/Connie Willis brouhaha (Google it if you're curious). The furor surrounding it is rather fascinating. I love how everybody on the internets is entitled to his opinion. It's magic. I feel as if I should say something provocative, just to see if that will lead people over to this readerless blog.

Maybe tomorrrow. Yes. Definitely tomorrow. Or Sunday. Yes. Sunday.

And if anyone has any insight on how crime was handled in Renaissance Florence, please drop me a line.