I simply don't understand how anyone is allowed to pitch a show like this without knowing how and why it works. Because we've NEVER been allowed to do that! But if you look at shows like "Journeyman" and, apparently, "Bionic Woman," the thing that should make these shows stand out -- the mythology -- is not written in stone and can be tinkered with to such a degree that whole chunks get thrown out. You shouldn't be able to do this. The mythology should be clean and SIMPLE. You should have somewhere to start, and be able to expand from there. But I'm not seeing that with genre shows anymore. Although I don't watch "Heroes," by all accounts it's got the same issues.
This half-hearted attempt at mythology brings up another enormous problem, which is shared by all three of these shows -- the main characters simply aren't special. You can tell a show isn't working when your first solution is to bring in another character with the same abilities. In "Bionic Woman," there's an earlier bionic woman who knows what's going on and actually has an attitude about it. In "Journeyman," there's the time-travelling fiancee, who's been doing it longer and knows more about it. And in "Heroes," all the heroes' parents had powers. So explain to me, then, why I'm watching stories about these people if there were others who did it first? What makes them special?
To me, this is indicative of a lack of forethought regarding the mythology. Because if you've got a mythology that works, there's always something to mine and you don't have to do the "this happened in the past" thing, unless it's actually a part of your mythology. The thing that people forget is, you HAVE to give the audience a reason to watch your show. You HAVE to get them invested in the character, especially in a genre show. And that means making your character special and unique.
There were other slayers in "Buffy," but they came about because of events that happened to Buffy. And she was always unique, for her single-mindedness, for her willingness to involve her friends, and for her relationship with Angel. Mulder and Scully were unique. While the mythology strayed, the premise for the show was ALWAYS solid, clean and simple. This season, the cleanest premise is "Chuck." Now, America decided to watch that fucking reality show instead (you get the TeeVee you deserve, America!), but "Chuck" is really a throwback to when premises were simple and shows could run forever. Now, it's all about smoke and mirrors. These shows eventually get found out. Well. Most of them, anyway. The key is the premise. Clean and simple.
Adrian, in Australia, is a fan of "Haunted" and of Matthew Fox. I couldn't agree more about Matthew. He can do ANYTHING you write. He's incredibly smart and it's all about the character and the integrity of the show. Terry O'Quinn is the same way so it's a real treat to watch them together on "Lost."
Bill Cunningham had a lot of rhetorical questions about budgets. One question, about why writers aren't shown what can be achieved in post, couldn't be more relevant! And there's an easy answer -- writers aren't trained anymore. Back in the day, people like Jack Webb were training writers to be producers. If you look at the credits for "Adam-12," you'll see story editors Steven Bochco and Stephen Cannell. Cannell, in particular, took those lessons and trained writers to produce. Some of those writers who went on to run their own shows taught the same lessons. Michael Gleeson, one of the creators of "Remington Steele," did the same thing. But most producers aren't doing this anymore. Many writers who rise in level on shows have never even been in the editing room, and they sure as hell haven't gotten exposure to post. They don't know how to read a budget. They don't know how to write to budget. This is one reason shows are out of control. Feature writers, many of whom are dying to do TeeVee, are handed shows without having any experience and the co-exec producers who are hired to help them out don't have that experience, either.
This, to me, is the biggest problem in TeeVee because from it stems all the other problems.
Regarding style, it actually IS a problem. The show with the most style this season is "Pushing Daisies." Because of that style, it's virtually impossible for any other directors to come in and direct episodes. And there's so much post required to maintain the style that the show is far more expensive than it has any right to be. I know how expensive it is, because creator Bryan Fuller broke THE cardinal rule and told a reporter.
Anyway. I've been on nothing but low-rated shows, so I know what you're really saying about style. You're talking about creativity in post. And having spent time in all aspects of post and having done more than just watch an editor work for five minutes (three episodes of Millennium = weeks in the editing room), I know how to take what we have and try to make it the best it can be. Most writers simply don't have that experience, so they always want to do re-shoots, or they make expensive suggestions. And it drives post crazy. But hey, my experience in post and in production wasn't wanted this season, so these shows can, in the words of Darth Cheney, go fuck themselves.
Bill also rhetorically wonders why these shows aren't designed from the get-go to fit a particular budget. The answer to that is simple -- the pilot is a sales tool, designed to wow test audiences, networks executives, and advertising executives. A pilot is not REALLY meant to be the first episode of a show. So they're spending ten million dollars on these sales tools and then the budgets for the episodes are a more realistic two million (which still seems like a lot to me, but whatever). In a pilot, you are urged to cram as much as you possibly can. We wrote a horse racing pilot that was unproduceable, it was so expensive. Everybody knew that, but nobody cared. It's about putting your best foot forward. This is a lot of the reason why these shows erode, in my opinion. The audience is promised something in the pilot that they don't get in subsequent episodes. The shows that really work are shows where there isn't a huge difference between the pilot and the episodes. Watch older TeeVee shows and you'll see what I mean. But now, it's all about the feature directors who can really open the pilot up and make it exciting. That's great, but... what happens in week two?
A recent article on budget woes (expect even more in the coming weeks) says essentially all of this. There was one paragraph that really bugged me, though:
Amid reports that scripts were coming in late, and that the budget for the second seg was approaching $4 million, "Bionic" earlier this month sacked its showrunner, Glen Morgan. Given the lateness of the transition -- "Bionic" preems Sept. 26 -- there was no stampede among experienced hands to take on the project despite U's earnest recruiting effort. (The studio wound up bringing in Jason Katims, exec producer of the NBC/UMS critical darling "Friday Night Lights," as a consultant. He's said to be focusing on getting scripts on track, while "Bionic" exec producer David Eick is onset clearing up production problems.)
Like I've said in previous posts, there is NO FUCKING WAY that the problems with this show are the fault of Glen Morgan. And the intimation that David Eick had to come in and clean up the show... laughable. Ludicrous. Who doesn't think he's a large part of the problem? And who doesn't think that nobody would take the job simply because of that? This is a HUGE problem in TeeVee. It's supposed to be a creator-driven medium, but it's not like that anymore. The creator of the show isn't necessarily going to be the strongest voice and it seems like the networks and studios love that, because it means that if there's no visionary, anyone can claim ownership of the show. First of all, we're talking about "Bionic Woman." How fucking hard is it to deliver on that concept?? IT'S THE GODDAM BIONIC WOMAN! IT WAS ON BEFORE!
There are non-writing producers who are supremely good at what they do. They find writers for projects. They help guide the project. They help sell it. They PRODUCE. But then there are the other types of non-writing producers, the ones who secretly want to be the auteur, the creative force behind the show. But the networks and studios want them to do their producing job. So this type of non-writing producer makes sure that they find a writer they can manipulate. They treat the process like it's film, where the writer is usually nothing more than work-for-hire. They don't WANT a writer with a unique, strong vision. They want a writer who will do what they want. And any problem associated with the show is directed towards that writer.
Fast-forward to production. With "Bionic Woman," the original writer was sacked and NBC darling Jason Smilovic (who created "Kidnapped," but he was also involved with the superb, underrated "Karen Sisco") was brought in. The network THEN brings in Glen Morgan, and you don't hire him unless he's running the show. I don't have to spell this out, do I?
Non-writing producers can be assets, or detriments. But what eventually happens is, if they try to seize control of a show, then one day, they're gonna be getting the blame. Let's hope that day comes soon. I expect this show to kick ass in the ratings for the first week, given the sheer amount of promotion. But it should start to fall off.
AJ wants to know if there's a Lasorda for TeeVee. That's almost too sad to contemplate, because I don't think the system is designed for another Tartikoff, for example. Like it is in baseball, TeeVee is all about musical chairs. Executives get fired and then re-surface at other networks and studios. So there's never any fresh blood. It's just a transfusion.
Cgeye (love the name!) mentions a solution John Rogers cooked up -- networks committing to shooting a certain number of episodes and basically creating the supplemental DVD material so that regardless of what happens with the show, a certain number of episodes WILL be made and a DVD release will happen. I adore this idea. I think we're missing the boat with limited series. Because really, these shows that are cancelled early ARE limited series, and it would be nice if we'd stop doing the cat-and-mouse bullshit with the networks and make a damned commitment. Think about what's happening now, where networks like ABC are airing their series in two parts. This helped "Lost" enormously. What we're talking about already is limited series, even if they're not calling it that. So why not take some of these cool genre ideas and actually MEAN to do a limited series instead of pretending it's going for five years? I know what the networks will say -- we're still on the old paradigm, where it's all about being on for five years so you can get the show syndicated. But with DVD and cable the way it is now, shouldn't we move on from that and form a different paradigm that could also include the internets? Everybody's terrified of new media. They're terrified of changing things. But things are not working that way anymore.
np -- Hope of the States, "The Lost Riots"