I tried to watch everything last week... or at least part of everything. Naturally, the show I was most interested in is my new bete noir, "Bionic Woman." And... holy crap. I mean, how hard is it? It's the friggin "Bionic Woman"! There's a distinct problem with this type of show and by that I mean, shows that you know the network's going to put on anyway. These shows are juggernauts, like huge budget movies with a start date. Although you do a lot of script tinkering, as soon as you set that date and start hiring, the script goes out the window. Sometimes literally.
With this show, it seems that the only thing preserved was the concept. During the furious rewriting (which HAD to be mainly about tone, something they continue to struggle with), the character was completely subsumed. Other characters were marginalized. What was left was an empty husk, and even the effects and the big fight sucked.
The cardinal rule in storytelling, particularly on TeeVee, is to make sure your main character is proactive. The last thing you want is to have a character who only reacts. Well, that's Jamie Sommers. All she does is stand there and wait for shit to happen. People come to her. She doesn't go to anyone. She's stalked, too, by a much more interesting character -- Sarah Corvis, the first bionic woman. Who, by the way, has an actual attitude about her condition (which she unfortunately spells out, but that's a separate issue). She also seeks Jamie out. Girlfriend MAKES things happen.
Everything this show does is wrong. Characters have ridiculous conversations about things they both already know. This is a beginner's mistake. It doesn't belong on network TeeVee. The effects, as I mentioned, are NOT good, and they're confusing to boot. Then there are weird point-of-view problems where I had to wonder if Jamie was psychic or something. Did she SEE Sarah get out of the truck, or was that a network note because it was too confusing?
There is nothing driving Jamie, and she's not at all an interesting character. Who is she? What does she want out of life? How does she really feel about having to raise her sister? Why is she working at the darkest, loudest, most gargantuan bar in all of Vancouver? People who watch TeeVee continue to watch shows because they like the characters. You wouldn't invest an hour a week otherwise. There is NOTHING interesting or engaging about Jamie and no reason to follow her story, especially when there's a much more exciting story that happened years ago.
And then there's the mythology. Oh, dear... it's a mess, people. A gigantic mess. It's an "emperor's new clothes" mythology. They'll TELL you something's going on, but nothing is. This attempt at a mythology is a placeholder for something they'll figure out later. Only they won't. And the pilot is ALL lame mythology, which is a huge mistake but hey, when you remove all character development, I guess you have to fill it with something. Naturally, Jamie's boyfriend's father is involved. This is something you normally won't get to until the relative clause kicks in, usually around season two when you've run out of story and need to narrow the main character's world because you no longer know how to broaden it. What's hilarious about this is, this mythology has NOTHING to do with the main character! The show is not called "The Bionic Woman's Boyfriend and His Shady Daddy." This is what happens when you get the wrong kind of men writing a show about a woman. They have virtually no interest in her because the women they've written before have all been ciphers who exist only to illuminate the men. Now we see that happening on a show that SHOULD be about a woman.
Back to the mythology. It's stupid. It's lame. It's generic. It's obvious. Because seriously, does anyone not know exactly what's going on? They're continuing their research, even if they have to do it underground. This COULD actually be interesting, if they hadn't fired Glen Morgan, because he knows how to lay in a mythology, how to deepen it and make it surprising. These people do not have the slightest idea. So if you're thinking it's going to get interesting, stop. It won't. And word has it that the network wants the show lightened up so it's about female empowerment. First of all, that takes the show in an abrupt left turn that won't please any audience who's going to invest in it. And secondly, this is something we've seen done better about fifty times. The other Summers, Buffy, holds the championship on this one. We saw it with "Dark Angel." We saw it with "Alias." We saw it with "Veronica Mars." Hell, we saw it with "Xena." And hey -- with the original show, which was on DECADES ago. This is not a new concept and they clearly don't have a take on this. I'm going to keep watching, though, because it's nice to have something to rag on every week.
Given how awful I thought "Bionic Woman" was, that may have helped my enjoyment of "Dirty Sexy Money." Call me crazy (go ahead; it's okay), but I kinda liked it. The characters are totally whack but the show is grounded by Peter Krause's character. It was nice to see some breeziness on TeeVee, and some quirkiness that really WENT for it. I hope it keeps up.
I also watched the second episode of "Gossip Girl." In the interest of full disclosure, I was already on this show when it was called "Manchester Prep." It's essentially the same show. But I like the cast of "Gossip Girl," so I'll keep watching. Maybe they'll do the election episode and then I can really feel a sense of deja vu...
I saw ten minutes of "Big Shots." WTF? Awful. I TiVo'ed "Life," but I watched a few minutes of it and couldn't take it. What is up with these fall pilots being all whispery and brown? Where's the Goddam energy??? If I want to see a movie, I'll go see one. Leave it off my TeeVee. I also caught part of the second episode of "Journeyman." To put it in Brady parlance, boy is this show square! It's hilarious watching the show try to hip it up but when you use the Fratellis, that just makes the show look creakier and less cool. Because the Fratellis ARE THE COOLEST FUCKING BAND ON THE PLANET. Use Maroon 5. Or Rooney. I really hate the use of music on this show. I know they're trying to set the time period but if I'd heard one more loop of "Shining Star," I was going to kill myself. "Cold Case" does this exceptionally well. But on "Journeyman," it's just annoying. Just have a freaking date chyron in the bottom corner, okay? That's less obvious than the wall-to-wall music.
To me, "Journeyman" is a prime example of what's happening in TeeVee right now. These shows have to go through a great number of people, which means they have to appeal to all of those people. The more people you include in the process, the more universal the show has to be. This flattens a show out, makes it more generic. I think this tends to happen to shows that come from people who are, in a sense, journeymen of TeeVee. They may have had original voices early on but in order to really survive in this business, you have to appeal to as many people as possible. This means that if you're quirky, you need to de-quirk yourself unless you're already in a position to create your own show and get it on the air. There aren't many people like that around anymore. There used to be more of them, because the process allowed for it and even encouraged it. But the more corporate things have gotten, the less quirk has been allowed. They'll SAY something's quirky -- "Pushing Daisies" is the latest example -- but it's all on the surface. It's decoration. It's window dressing. This type of style hides the reality -- that there's nothing really going on.
There's a lot of blather about original voices. And maybe executives really do believe that the people they're touting have original voices. And maybe in this climate, those voices ARE original. But truly original voices are suffering in TeeVee. They're simply too original for the marketplace. And the executives can't take the blame for that. They may adore these original voices but they can't sell them, and selling is the reality of the business. I feel that TeeVee is tilting towards PODs and away from writers. While a lot of PODs are creative and want to find these writers, a lot of them are the opposite. So now there's another layer for writers to work through -- finding the right POD, the POD that will get what you do. This is super, super important because if you don't find the right one, you will eventually be removed from the equation, as the POD begins to care only about getting the show on the air and not about your vision.
How cheerful is THAT?
A few comments:
Cgeye is perplexed by the fact that "Bionic Woman" and "Battlestar Galactica" were created by the same guy. Well, let's not fool ourselves. That's Ron Moore's voice on Galactica. "Bionic Woman" is all David Eick. You do the math.
Charli reminisces about the golden age, back when shows were left on the air at least a full season. Things have changed a lot. Shows no longer get a full season in that initial order. That's a function of the rise of the network and studio's power. Back then, both a network and a studio would pay the price if a show had to be kept on with declining ratings. So when they went to the 13-order, that made it a little more palatable. But there was still one problem. If you did cancel a show before producing 13 episodes, the studio had to pay off all the producers for the full 13 episodes. So they still didn't want to cancel shows. But in the 90s, they did away with that -- they no longer had to pay people off. That made it totally easy for the networks and the studios to just cancel shows whenever they wanted. They changed the contracts. Now, a writer/producer is paid PER EPISODES PRODUCED. In my opinion, this has greatly contributed to the death of TeeVee. There's no loyalty, because they don't have to be loyal. They don't have to make a show work. They don't have to stick with it. And the studio actually makes some money off the deal if a show's canceled -- the network has to pay the studio a penalty if they cancel a show early. But it's not like they have to shell out their entire licensing fee so monetarily, it's worth it. As for the studio, well... they'll get the DVD revenues, won't they? That's an added bonus for them. So the incentive for actually getting a show canceled has grown. Scary, yes?
Eippit would like to know what a genre show is. I am disgusted with myself for using this terminology but the networks and studios MADE us! A genre show is anything with a supernatural or a paranormal element. Where you used to say science fiction, fantasy or horror, now you just say genre. It's stupid, I know.
And Jen would like to know how I got my first agent. Well, I actually got a job first, then the agents all went, "Oh! Look! A writer with a job!" That, unfortunately, is how it works. It IS impossible to get an agent just by sending query letters. I would tell you to look into contests and writing programs. Some of the studios, like Warner Bros and Disney, have new writer's programs. And contests are a good way to get noticed because many of the readers are Hollywood types. I encourage you to look into the Scriptwriter's Network, which is a great way to communicate with other writers. They have frequent seminars and they have a great writing contest. The only way you can really get ahead is to get noticed and you have to be sort of creative with how you go about it. But any exposure your writing can get with industry folks will help you.
And Paula says "Haunted" should be released on DVD. That would be nice! The good news is, it's running on the SciFi channel! The pilot ran last week and our episode runs this week. I would imagine they'd run all eleven produced episodes. Only seven ran on UPN.
Lastly, sometimes the blog just writes itself. From Nikki Finke:
Disgusting filmmaker Eli Roth sounds increasingly desperate. (Recall when he reacted badly to the failure of his Hostel II)? Here's the latest from his MySpace:
"And did anyone read that absurd article by Lisa Schwartzbaum in Entertainment Weekly, about how she'd never watch a "Torture Porn" film? I think it's time for her to hang up her critic's pen. I mean, seriously, I hate to break it to you Lisa, but there is no such thing as "torture porn." It's a made up term, made up by people who don't understand these movies, who are afraid to even watch them, and who feel some bizarre sense of moral obligation to warn the public about them, despite the fact they don't watch them and never would. Lisa Schwartzbaum has let others define for her what the films are - she admits that she's never seen any of the Saw films, and that she never would. Well, why wouldn't you? Because someone else TOLD you that's what they were? Are you that weak minded that you couldn't even decide these things for yourself? What makes me sick is her smug, holier-than-thou attitude, as if to say "I wouldn't watch these films because I don't enjoy torture!" Well, no shit lady, nobody does, but maybe these films are actually making a statement about torture.
Would you not watch Three Kings because there's torture in it? What about Marathon Man? And are you implying that the millions and millions of people who do watch these films actually endorse torture themselves? No, it seems to me you're directly saying it. Well, I have a suggestion: GET ANOTHER JOB. I'm not saying you have to like every movie made, but you do have to see every movie made if you're going to be a critic, and watch them with a critical eye. But you're watching them with a prejudice, a prejudice that was decided for you not by the filmmakers, but by some jealous critic who probably wishes he had the balls to actually write and direct his own movie, but who never would because he's too fucking chickenshit to put himself out there where anyone can take shots at him. It's too bad, she doesn't know what she's missing. Which is why I'm thankful they have Owen Glieberman over there, who's someone who clearly gets it.
Here's what film critic Schwartzbaum posted back in July, explaining under the headline "What I Hate" why she refuses to cover Captivity and other ''torture-porn horror'' flicks:
This week, my colleague Owen Gleiberman describes the majority of Captivity as being ''not sick enough to disturb anyone who'd go to see this film.'' For the sake of readers who appreciate guidance in the nuances of the genre referred to as ''torture-porn horror,'' I'm glad Owen took the assignment. I wouldn't.
It's quite simple: I hate these movies. I won't see these movies. Never saw Saw or its sequels, never will. I'm not impressed with the ''quality'' of the gore or the ''wit'' of the filmmaking. I'm not enjoyably scared; I'm horrified, and not in the way horror fans get off on, groaning and screaming with pack-mentality excitement. Instead, my horror is one of disturbance and anger: Who makes this vile crap? What is remotely defensible about a movie like Captivity, in which a woman is abducted and tortured for the sake of ticket sales? Nothing, that's what. While moviegoers can vote with withheld wallets, I vote with my computer keyboard. Or rather, the silence of the keys, as I stay away from stuff I have no stomach for seeing, even on the job.
I love it when people like Roth assume people don't like his movies because they're jealous of him. Dude, that's SO seventh grade. But then what else should we expect from this talentless hack? He REALLY thinks his movies constitute art. I saw "Cabin Fever." It did not make me want to see one more second of Roth's work. Then I saw his trailer in "Grindhouse" and I started to understand the guy a little more. He really, truly thinks he's a visionary. But he's got a tin ear. His trailer wasn't remotely clever or subversive, although it's clear from how it's presented that Roth thinks it is. There's a problem with people like this. If they really believe their version of reality, you can't dissuade them. And Roth is all in, baby.
As to his assertion that "torture porn" is a made-up term, well yeah! IT WAS MADE UP TO DESCRIBE YOUR SICK-ASS MOVIES! Do you think the term "film noir" existed before noir movies did? Of course not! I'm sure Roth went to some fancy Ivy League school and really, he should be able to reason better than this. His movies aren't making a statement about torture. They're glorifying it. He wants to know if people won't watch" Three Kings" or "Marathon Man" because they contain torture. This is either disingenuous or stupid. I am stunned -- nay, flummoxed -- to realize that Roth doesn't see the difference. I worked with a guy like this before, a guy who always said he was the smartest guy in the room but who couldn't grok the meaning behind an episode of a fucking TeeVee show. This guy went to an Ivy League school, too. And guess what show he's working on?
np -- Idlewild, "Scottish Fiction." Obviously. Idlewild's greatest hits. Yay! And the new Babyshambles? Pretty effing good, believe it or not.