Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Scottish Fiction

It has begun. The fall season is upon us! Shows have premiered. Surprisingly, most have done well enough to not get canceled right out of the gate. With the possibility of a strike looming, maybe networks will finally support shows and leave them on. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

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.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Lottery Winners on Acid

So I gather it's premiere week and judging by the initial ratings, the reaction of America is a big, fat "meh." Which is sort of my reaction to NBC's "Journeyman," a handsomely produced, solidly written, well-cast drama that still left me cold. I'm still not exactly sure why. The thing that I appreciated about the script was how NOT confusing it was. Kevin Falls did a nice job handling the time travel. Kevin McKidd is an interesting actor who doesn't overplay (which is a good thing). But... still... I wasn't drawn in. I get what he's going to do every week, but I don't know WHY he's doin it. And based on what I've heard, the why of it was never pitched. NBC wanted a time travel show, Kevin Falls pitched one, and there you go. So what we're dealing with here is essentially "Quantum Leap," without the rock-solid premise. Because with QL, I knew what the goal was -- for Sam to get home. It's SO simple, and so personal and emotional, yet it allows for a lot of fun and creativity week to week. With "Journeyman," I don't want to be in the dark. Because this isn't genre show. It's a relationship show. And I feel like the genre elements -- the ex-fiancee who's also apparently time-traveling, for example -- are after-thoughts. So if people are watching the show for the genre elements, they're going to be disappointed.

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"

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Fear Is the Enemy of Love

Well, well, well. The fall season has arrived! First out of the gate was "K-Ville." anyone else watch this? If so, did you think it was as dumb as I did? It's not just me, right? Did the plot make ANY sense? Apparently, the network is trying to lighten the show up, which means that the premise -- cops in post-Katrina New Orleans -- is no longer the premise. This show sounds like another case of Fox's buyer's remorse. In essence, they buy a show and then they go, "Um... why is this show so dark? Nobody wants to hear about Katrina anymore." Then don't buy the show, right?? But they keep doing this. They keep putting shows on and then FINALLY figuring out what they've bought. It would save everybody a ton of grief if they could do this BEFORE they ordered it.

Next week, a number of high-profile shows premieres. So expect the blood-letting to begin. Even the press is getting involved. Kim Masters wrote a somewhat scathing article about the high cost of quality TeeVee. As most of you probably know, the network doesn't pay for production costs. The studio's responsible for that. The network pays the studio a licensing fee to air the show. This is supposed to offset production costs... at least to some degree. If a network really, really, really wants some big sweeps stunt, the studio can ask them for breakage on the episode, which means that the network would kick in some cash.

It sounds like every single show needs breakage this year.

Many sources say that "Pushing Daisies" is enormously expensive. Which is what happens when you create an entire world that you have to replicate every week. While they've probably got a number of standing sets, it's not as simple for that show to go on location because they have to design pretty much everything. But even shows that don't have to do that, like "Moonlight," are getting squeezed (also according to Masters' article). And we're not talking about cable or syndication here. These are big-time network shows, with decent budgets. So why can't these shows stay on pattern? Why is it such a struggle to adhere to a budget?

I have no fucking idea. But I think part of the problem is in the selling of the show. When networks and studios open for the development season, it's sort of like shopping. You've already bought stuff but you're tired of that stuff now. You've seen he limitations of last year's iPod. You're looking for the next generation. So that's sort of the mindset of these executives. NOW they're gonna make their names, with a show that YOU are going to pitch! It's SO exciting! Can't you just feel it??? So people come in to pitch. And the only way to distinguish your pitch from the eight zillion other pitches is to, well, distinguish it. Make it splashy. Cool. EXPENSIVE. This is an EVENT, network and studio peoples!! So they buy said expensive, splashy shows. And then the studios, in their effort to distinguish their shows to the networks, give pilots enormous budgets. Like, ten million dollars worth of budget. Two weeks to shoot. It's nirvana.

So you've gotten two weeks to make your pilot and ten million dollars with which to make it. Naturally, your show looks HOT. It's slick. It's wonderful. And the test audiences are absolutely floored. Why, it's like watching a MOVIE! I love this! So your show gets picked up.

Now, you have seven or eight days to make each episode. And around two and a half million bucks, if you're lucky. How the hell can you make your show for less than a THIRD the budget? Welcome to this year's fall schedule. This seems to be what's happening, what's going wrong with all of these shows. They're simply not constructed to be made for these budgets. And this is making the networks very, very cranky. They want their action bionic show. They want their TweeVee pie maker show. They want their vampire detective show. But the studios can't pay for them.

Obviously, something needs to change. I hope this year makes everyone realize that but based on what they're buying, it probably won't. It'll still be about pilot as sales tool. What they SHOULD do, if they had any balls, is order shows to series instead of to pilot. When they've got the scripts they want to consider for series, order five scripts. Then they'll see if the show is sustainable. Based on that (which will cost FAR less than a ten million dollar pilot), they can order shows to series. That way, you'll get a realistic series budget. Your pilot won't feel like an entirely different show. You will already have to adhere to a series budget in order to make your pilot.

They can still have upfronts, too. Just move everything up. Have the scripts in by February. Order your shows. Make the pilots, for reasonable budgets, and then go off to New York and prance around for the advertisers. It would also make life easier for showrunners and executives trying to staff these shows. Because the staffing would already be done by the time the pilots are greenlit.

They will NEVER do this, but it's something to think about.

The way it works now, it's all generated by fear and panic. The buying season this year is absolutely panic-based. I don't know if anyone bought a pitch they genuinely liked. I mean, when you see Bruckheimer getting a HUGE penalty with a remake of "Eleventh Hour," you know something's wrong. That show, frankly, sucked. Maybe Bruckheimerizing it will make it good, but I doubt it. I like the premise but I wonder if it's one of those premises that sounds great but can't be executed. Of course, they've decided a feature writer should write it. So good luck with that.

But it isn't only fear and panic. It's also about corporate interests. The intriguing and freaky thing about corporations is how featureless they are. A successful corporation seems to be a living creature that lacks an identity. People are pawns in a conglomerate. They only matter as bodies, not as individuals. So you wind up with the mentality that only the bottom line matters, and that people are interchangeable because they exist only to feed the monster. So in entertainment, ideas and the writers who create them are interchangeable. Part of that is because it's not like there's a dearth of writers out there. There's always someone new. So we're all expendable and nobody really matters.

This isn't meant to be some depressing Kafka-esque rumination, by the way. I mean this practically. I was watching a baseball thing awhile back about the Kirk Gibson homerun in the '88 World Series. And I remember being such a huge Dodgers fan, going all the way back. The Dodgers had an identity. They had Lasorda. They had Fernando. Hersheiser. That fantastic infield. They had players who STAYED. But then the O'Malley family sold the team and it became a corporate holding. So the magic of the team and of the players no longer mattered. And the Dodgers haven't won a Series since. Today, they've got a ton of super-talented young players. But why even get invested? That's not a team. It's a collection of people who are playing only for the corporate interest. That's the mentality of baseball and all professional sports right now. Players are really a dime a dozen. They're interchangeable. For the most part, they aren't identified with a particular team. A player rarely plays his entire career for one team anymore. Rooting for the Dodgers is about rooting for the idea, for the past. Not for the present. Not anymore.

And I think entertainment is becoming more like that. I think I've said this before but if you look at the really successful shows, they're creator-driven. But networks and studios, so caught up in serving the bottom-line master, can't go out on that limb anymore. I know a lot of really great executives, and I hope they're finding ways to survive this climate. Something has to hit the fan soon, I think. Will it be a strike? Eh. The Writer's Guild is great at whipping up the panic, which just served this year to screw writers over, but when it comes down to it, they lack the spine. There may be a strike, but don't expect the writers to get anything out of it. The corporations aren't going to be hurt by this, and that's all that will matter.

Was that cheerful, or what??? Onto some comments!!

Neal talks about taking a chance vs. playing it safe. This is definitely a part of it. But the problem is, us writers can take as many chances as we want, but that just means we won't sell. So like it or not, we have to give the networks and studios what they can handle. This is still a business, and it's not driven by the writers. But I think something all writers should do is to find another outlet for their creativity. Hopefully, we'll all get to do the shows we've dreamed of doing. But in the meantime, it's important to find something to write that is really and truly you. It could be prose, comic books, web shows, whatever. I started doing this and I have to say, I highly recommend it. Write what you want in between writing for business.

AJ wonders about the X-Files 2 movie. This is indeed another XF film but apparently, it won't be a sequel. It'll be a standalone movie. I have heard NOTHING beyond that, only that it looks like it's moving forward. I would love it to absolutely just kick ASS and show everybody in this industry how much we need that show! Also AJ, I'd love to link to you. Send me your link!

David is going to write a "Lost" spec and a "Dexter" spec. Good on you, David! I like the idea of a "Lost" spec. At least an exec will sit up and take notice when that hits their desk, and that's what you want. Don't be the 30th "House."

Shawna really likes "Chuck." I totally agree. For me, it's one of only a few shows that SHOULD work. The premise is very simple and you can totally see how it's sustainable. I haven't seen the "Gossip Girl" pilot yet, but the numbers look great for the CW. It held an awesome percentage of viewers from ANTM, which has so far been impossible. I hope "Reaper" works, too... if so, it looks like the CW is on track in developing their network identity. This is ALWAYS a good thing.

Shawna also says that I am awesome and that she liked "Haunted." Thanks, Shawna! We, too, thought Matthew Fox was a total star and it's great to see him get the acclaim he deserves, even if it's not on "Haunted." And good luck with your pilot!!!

Peter Noble wants to know what POD stands for. It's essentially producers on development deals. They've become mini-studios, providing content for the studio with which they have their deal. Mark Gordon, Bruckheimer, Joel Silver and JJ Abrams company are some of the more well-known PODs. A POD will generally develop several shows with different writers.

Some PODs are awesome. Some are not.

I hope this post makes sense. I have my doubts.

np -- The Parlotones, "Radiocontrolledrobot." It's still growing on me.

More Heat Than Light

So many comments! Cool!

Robert Meyer Burnett found me. Hey, Rob! Unfortunately, I haven't seen Friday Night Lights yet. I am very behind on my TeeVee viewing! At some point, I had to do TeeVee triage and just watch stuff I might actually get to work on. Ahem. I suppose I can watch whatever I want now. I'm not sure how involved Peter Berg is with FNL but I can't imagine he's too involved, given how much he has going on in the feature world (good luck making that Barbaro movie uplifting!). That credit may be a contractual thing, too. And no, I have not read the X-Files 2 script. I'm not sure I want to. Although now, I miss the show terribly! So maybe I would like it.

Defiant Dragon has gone above and beyond in breaking a pilot with episodes and character art. Is this a waste of time, or will it give a studio or a network more incentive to buy it? I'm wondering, since you mention character art, if this is an animated series. If so, I think the rules are a little bit different. If not, then yeah... you're probably wasting your time. The issue we've been seeing over the past few years is the the central idea of the show drives the sale. This doesn't mean the show is at all sustainable, by the way. But in features, it's primarily about the high concept. TeeVee's turning in that direction. While a high concept can on occasion drive a successful feature, it does not drive a successful TeeVee show. Although a TeeVee premise needs to be simple, do not equate that with high concept. It's not always the same.

And why, you may wonder, does a TeeVee premise need to be simple? Because you have to make 22 of these suckers, that's why. When you sit down to break an episode of a show, you need to have a story broken in a few days. If you're dealing with a dense show with a lot of rules, that's virtually impossible. You do not need to be trying to wrangle down your premise and redefine it every week. If you're doing a vampire detective show, say, then even if the episode is tough to break, at least you understand your main character and your show's premise. But something like "Pushing Daisies" or "Heroes," is much more complicated. And there are some shows that just can't be broken, but they get pitched, sold, written, shot and picked up to series. You don't want to be associated with these shows.

My advice, Defiant Dragon, is to try and get a producer invested in your idea. I think it's almost impossible -- if not just flat-out impossible -- to walk in and pitch to a studio. Even high-profile writers are looking to attach elements to their ideas even before they set the projects up. That's just the way the climate is right now. A good producer will help you navigate these waters. And by a good producer, I mean the person who groks your idea like you do. You don't need to just hook up with a producer for the sake of it. Find someone on your wavelength.

David wants to know what other genre samples he should write. Frankly, I don't know at the moment. The problem is, most execs and producers don't watch genre shows. They're afraid of genre shows. So if a Heroes spec shows up on some guy's desk, he's going to hide it under the pile of Ugly Betty specs. Writing a spec is all about showcasing your writing and if an executive can't see your writing through the terror of having to read a sample Battlestar Galactica, that isn't going to do you any good. So if you're a hard-core genre nerd, you may have to compromise a little and write a Medium or something like that. Sadly, the days of being able to write a Buffy or an X-Files are over.

But even though this fall season will be a disaster, something has to hit, so you may find yourself writing a Reaper or a Chuck or something along those lines. But don't do that right now! Wait until you know if the show's going to hit, and then if it's in the zeitgeist. And find out what other people are writing, too.

You can also use procedurals as samples for genre shows but don't pick the same old crap. Dig deeper. Write a Dexter. Write something with a unique point of view. Because for me, good genre is all about unique points of view. If I was staffing a genre show and a Dexter or even a Burn Notice came across my desk, I'd read that over a CSI any day. Genre is no longer just about what happens on a ship, my friend. Thankfully, it's going into a more character-driven arena, so make sure you have something character-driven in your arsenal. And since genre also tends to be fairly visual, choose a show that's visual as well.

David also wanted to know how to get his hands on sample scripts. The truth is, you don't really need to. Watch the episodes and take notes. Know what the show's structure is, and get as close to that as you can.

Dan Owen claims that I don't see the crap British TeeVee, and he's right! You guys have three zillion Goddam procedurals and horrid-sounding dramas. But I don't watch the horrid-sounding American stuff, either. What American TeeVee lacks, though, is daring in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre. We have a network called the Sci-Fi Channel, and even they can't get anyone to watch actual science fiction. So it's probably more a fault of the American TeeVee viewer than anyone else. But something weird happens in genre. There are different rules. Even though Heroes is a perceived hit (it really isn't, but whatever), networks aren't looking for shows like that. When they say they want their Heroes or Lost, they don't really. They want shows that get that kind of attention. Because at the end of the day, these people don't really get what makes these shows work and there are too few genre shows to develop a pattern. Also, genre is always very different, so you end up with arbitrary rules. The Dresden Files didn't work, so Sci-Fi decided no more fantasy or magic. They tend to choose an element to blame and you can't change their minds. Magic on TeeVee would be cool. REAL magic, not that fanciful, twee "Pushing Daisies" stuff.

Oh -- don't ever pitch a faerie show. Trust me. No matter how you pitch it, they won't buy it.

Back to British TeeVee versus American TeeVee. For the most part, I find British TeeVee more literary. I think British TeeVee leaves more to the imagination. American TeeVee would never do Jekyll. And it would NEVER do SIX episodes! We have a lot of shows here that should be limited series but that's virtually never an option. I've been looking at a lot of old British sci-fi and while it isn't all good, it's gratifying to see it get made. We don't get that here. As for Heroes blowing up New York, meh. Read it. I may be forced to watch this show at some point, depending on how a pitch goes, but based on what I've heard, it's a patchwork of superhero myths. Not really all that interesting.

Back to Jekyll. I personally adored it. I never thought it took the easy way out, even down to the bitter end, which I'm guessing was quite controversial. It was never going where I thought it would go and the big revelation, well... I didn't really see that coming. So I dug it. The acting was remarkable. Really. James Nesbitt? Total class.

Dan also laments the axing of Glen Morgan from Bionic Woman. What disturbs me about the whole situation is that whatever we see on the surface, it's a hundred times worse in reality. I doubt we'll ever know the real story but it'll keep happening, over and over again.

Neal wonders if shows like Seinfeld or The Simpsons would get on today. Probably not. But that's true of anything. Maybe X-Files would get on today, but... you know, I'm not sure. In this climate, it would probably be deemed too dark. It's got a clean, simple premise, but is it high concept? I really think the darkness and the conspiracy angle would get a pass. And Fox wouldn't be the network for it, either. Everything they've bought is straightforward, which leads to the question of what the hell their network identity is. Beyond American Idol, I have NO idea. Does anyone else?

Neal doesn't think the networks are competing with each other anymore, but with the cable networks. This is only partly true. All a cable show is going to give you is critical cache. If ABC ran Mad Men, they'd get a depressingly small number. The networks need to make up their minds. Either they're a clearing house for the lowest common denominator, or they aren't. I'm not seeing network execs really get behind a show, like they fucking LOVE it and would throw themselves on a sword for it. Their opinions change like the wind. They say they want their Closer, but they don't really mean that. What they mean is, they want the critical attention but they don't want cable ratings. I would love to see network and studio execs really get excited about something. There's no longer a sense of everyone being in it together, and that's too bad. It also doesn't make for particularly good TeeVee, does it?

Stephen Gallagher comments that Bionic Woman stole from Blade Runner, and that the big final sequence is given to Katee Sackhoff. Well. I suppose they had to steal from something, so at least they have good taste. And the evil bionic woman angle... by its very design, it marginalizes the main character. I don't know why people continue to do this. Of COURSE Katee Sackhoff tested higher than Michelle Ryan. She's got the showier role! You'd have to be an idiot not to see that coming. This is the whole virgin/whore angle of TeeVee, where there are explicit rules about the goodness of the main character that can't be broken. So to scratch the anarchist itch, they create the actual FUN character, and then everybody loves that character. What is UP with boring, lifeless leads? Is House the only lead who can have any attitude?

The biggest issue, really, is that when you're creating a show, you need to make sure that your lead character is special. Unique. Because otherwise, why are you telling their story? From what I've heard about Heroes, what develops is that the characters are not unique. That's not cool. It really isn't. At least with Pushing Daisies, that dude is TOTALLY special and unique. But why are we telling Jaime Sommers' story? This is something that people lose sight of, I think. But the very best shows feature characters who stand out, and that's why we are compelled to watch them.

Speaking of watching, I gather that this is premiere week, part one. Fasten your seatbelts. We're in for a bumpy night.

np - Yeti, Yume! This album is effing AWESOME.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gladsome, Humour and Blue

We're going for an album title this post. The bionic fallout continues, as everybody involved tries to pretend that Glen Morgan leaving is so perfectly, totally normal you must be a paranoid schizophrenic if you think otherwise.

This is from SciFi.com:
David Eick, executive producer of NBC's upcoming Bionic Woman remake, downplayed rumors of behinds-the-scenes problems and the departure of co-executive producer Glen Morgan, saying they were simply business as usual on any television show, especially a genre program.

"One of the things I learned very early in my career, when I was running a television company for Sam Raimi, was that in the genre, so to speak—and there's horror, science fiction, fantasy and superhero—there are so many permutations of what you're doing and, moreover, what you're not doing, and people bring their own perspective to that," Eick said during a Sept. 7 conference call. "Some people come in thinking, 'Well, if it's got someone with super strength, it must mean it has to be really kind of funny and kooky,' and other people come in and said, 'Well, we've got someone with a tortured soul who's had this thing perpetrated on her, then it's got to be very dark and twisted.' Other people might say, 'Well, it should be very female and soft.'"

Executive producer Morgan (The X-Files) left the show abruptly last week, and sources told Variety that he left due to "creative differences." For its part, NBC thanked Morgan for his contributions to the series, without going into detail about why Morgan left.

The trade paper also cited industry insiders as saying they believe it's possible the show, which is now in production on its fifth episode, might take a break in order to give the writers a chance to focus on refining the show's directions. Eick said that no break is imminent, though he added that most shows take a week to regroup at some point.

Eick didn't talk specifically about Morgan's departure, but added: "Finding the people—not just people who get it, but defining what the 'it' is that you want everyone to get— ... is its own sort of separate endurance test. I think this is really no different from, frankly, most of the genre shows I've done in that there's a lot of turnover early in the process. It's just the way it works."

Eick, who is also an executive producer of SCI FI Channel's Battlestar Galactica, will be Bionic's show runner and will handle all day-to-day aspects of production with executive producer Jason Smilovic.

So. Let's see if we can parse this. Rumor has been that this show's always been in trouble. And Eick's words don't actually dismiss that. But somehow, Glen Morgan was made the scapegoat for the fact that there isn't a strong creative vision on the show. If there's one thing you need, especially in genre (and the strong genre shows in England speak to this), it's a creative vision. If there's someone who knows about helping creators define a vision, it's Glen. The standalone monster eps on "The X-Files" wouldn't exist without Morgan and Wong. But everybody here is willfully ignoring that so they can slap a dunce cap on Glen's head and shove him in the corner. NOT cool. NOBODY puts Morgan in the corner.

What Eick says at the end is very interesting. Basically, what I get from that is, the tone of the show was never defined (which can happen when you start shuffling people around). Glen wasn't fired because he didn't get the tone. He seems to have been fired because he didn't define one, or wasn't allowed to define the one HE wanted (which seems more likely to me). This is sort of an executive thing. "I'll know the tone when I see it." Eick also says that there's a lot of turnover in genre shows. Well, maybe it's just him, because that's a horrible rule to accept. How about NOT firing people? Why don't we give THAT a go? I think, when he talks about this, that he's mainly talking about one show -- "American Gothic," and partly "Battlestar Galactica" (due more to low ratings than any quibble with the show). But this is NOT the way it works. This is NOT the way it SHOULD work.

Lately, one of the biggest issues with new genre shows has been that of tone. But what's really going on here is buyer's remorse. They heard the pitch. They read the outline. They read the script. They talked to the creator and heard future episode ideas. They shot the pilot. They ordered the show. And then, suddenly, they want to change the tone. We went through this with "Haunted," which was very dark at the beginning. It didn't really fit the network, so they wanted to lighten it up. So we would go, "Ghost cop, why so sad?" Needless to say, the show didn't work on UPN. At all.

This also happened with "American Gothic," which was one of the more arresting, funny, dark shows on TeeVee. But it was that season's experiment on CBS. And the CBS experiments never work. "American Gothic" was a show about an evil sheriff who may be the devil. He breaks a girl's neck in the pilot. The network thought it was too dark. Um. YA THINK????? They really fucked that show over, and it never recovered. They changed episodes around. They tried to lighten the tone. They axed characters for no reason, and replaced them with bland, dull CBS-approved actors. They ripped the heart and soul out of the show. And that was WITH the creator and visionary of the show still there!

Now flash-forward to today. Even though TeeVee is considered a writer's medium, it's turning into a marketing executive's medium. Marketing is always worse than whatever you stack up against it. Except maybe eating babies. Or terrorism. Or Bush. Okay, it's worse than whatever you stack up against it in the entertainment industry. Anyway. Writers are not in the position of being able to put their foot down and go, "Fuck you. This is my show. I know exactly what it is." Unless, of course, you're on cable, where sensible networks like AMC say to Matthew Weiner, "Whatevs, dude. Do the show you want." Which he's doing. Brilliantly. But on network, there's a lot more at stake, apparently. So even if the networks don't mean to, they neutralize the creative entities. Show creators, especially if they're new to the job (feature writers, mainly), don't really understand how much power they have, so they let the networks take it away. This makes the show more malleable, so the tone can be fucked with on a daily basis.

It's the easiest thing in the world to order a show and then fuck with the tone. They've gotten into the habit of doing it all the time. And when it's a big show for the network, like "Bionic Woman," it's almost mandatory. If the actual creator of the show is a guy like Eick (a POD, in other words), any writer brought in is a writer for hire, NOT the creative entity behind the show. And that's when problems occur.
But that's after the show's already been ordered to series.

So it sounds, to me, like whoever made the decision to install Glen in that hornet's nest wanted him to define the tone, the mythology and the characters. Which sounds like stuff that should have already been done by a creator. It would have been, if the show hadn't been treated like a franchise that could exist on its own. A writer, at some point, should have been given the fucking reins. ONE WRITER should have been allowed to define the show. But with so many cooks in the bionic kitchen, that was made impossible. So now the show's got horrible buzz AND it's in the danger zone.

It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

What's always curious to me is that all shows that are treated this way fail. ALL OF THEM. Look at the shows considered either critical hits or commercial hits. "Lost." "Heroes." "Grey's Anatomy." "The Wire." "Battlestar Galactica." "Mad Men." ALL driven by writers with visions. "Gilmore Girls" was a show that couldn't be written by anyone other than the person creating it. "Buffy" completely redefined the genre show, thanks to Joss Whedon. What? There can be HUMOR in fighting vampires?

But the networks don't seem to have learned that, and this pilot season is more of a frenzy than ever before. What's happening is, the networks are all looking for high concepts. While it's important for a TeeVee show to have a fairly simple premise (don't pitch "Pushing Daisies"), these are simply absurd. Every pilot is about somebody touched by God. They can perform miracles. Or the shows are funny "X-Files" knock-offs. But none of these premises sounds like they're the least bit sustainable. A lot of shows are going to fail this year, but even more will fail next year.

And a lot of people are asking themselves why they're even in this business. The fun and the inspiration has pretty much been sucked out of TeeVee and out of film. There's no magic anymore. And nobody can figure out the rules. They've changed, but how? And why? Is it because the Writer's Guild has so fucked up the negotiations that the studios and networks are terrified? Maybe. But there seems to be something else going on, too.

At some point, if you're already in this business or want to be, you have to boil this shit down. Take a moment, and ask yourself why you're doing this. We're all beating our heads against the wall. And as long as you've got a clear, defined reason for why you're doing it, then keep on doing it. You'll punch through eventually. And our long national nightmare may eventually come to an end.

There are ways to own your work, even if it isn't in TeeVee right now. Things have changed a lot in the last ten years, and from what I can see, the only good thing that's come of it is the internet. This may be where the real creatively-driven content ends up. But even with all the crap and frenzy, all you have to do is turn on "Mad Men" to see that there is some sanity in this business. And as long as there's one great show on the air, there's the possibility for more.

Lastly, the greatest monologue from one of the greatest movies ever, a movie about TeeVee that was relevant when it was released, is even more relevant now, and will always be relevant. Lord, how I wish that wasn't true:

You have meddled with the primal forces of nature, Mr. Beale, and I won't have it!! Is that clear?! You think you've merely stopped a business deal. That is not the case. The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance!

You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multi-national dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, Reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels.

It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU WILL ATONE!

Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?

You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.

What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state -- Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do.

We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that perfect world in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality -- one vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock, all necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused.

Q.E.D. Next time, gentle readers, I will get to some comments. That'll be more fun and less vitriolic. Unless you like vitriolic...

np - IV Thieves, "Higher"

Monday, September 10, 2007

Born Under Punches

So the shit definitely started to hit the fan last week. We're approaching fall premieres and rather than actually looking forward to the things, word is coming out about how fucked most of these shows are. Even the critic's darling, "Pushing Daisies," isn't escaping the wrath. Expect several big articles about "Pushing Daisies" to appear on the interwebs. How, you ask, could this possibly be?!?!? Everybody LOVES "Pushing Daisies!" No, what everybody loves is the pilot. Because that's all anybody's seen. Critics have yet to see a second episode. I'm not even sure if critics have seen a second episode of ANY show, which is a little surprising. Because hey, IT'S SEPTEMBER. Even if you started shooting at the beginning of August, you've got episode two done. This does not bode well for these shows keeping up schedules and as a matter of fact, a number of shows have undergone shutdowns, "Pushing Daisies" among them.

So what the hell, right? Well, the hell is this. TeeVee ain't the movies. In order for a TeeVee show to work, it has to move seamlessly from the pilot to the next episode. You have to feel, as an audience member, that you're still watching the same show. The trouble with "Pushing Daisies" is that the pilot makes this virtually impossible. It's SO stylized, its mark made SO clearly, that nobody can come in and duplicate that. And then there's the expense of the show. MASSIVE. Pilots have gone from partial sales tools to the ultimate sales tool. The studios will throw fifteen million bucks and two weeks of shooting at these pilots and then expect the show to be made in seven days and for under two million dollars. The studios and the networks, by demanding that show creators think big and aim for the stars, are setting these shows up for failure. It's impossible for a writer to pitch a show that doesn't make some huge splash. Being responsible with the studio's money is a large part of what being a showrunner is about. But with regards to pilots, they don't seem to care anymore. EVERY pilot must make its mark. EVERY pilot must be unique, huge, exciting, unprecedented.

But that's not TeeVee. That's a fucking summer blockbuster. I don't know how to sell in this climate. I really don't. Do I want to end up in a situation where a feature director is screwing my show? No thanks. It's not worth it.

But as screwed as "Pushing Daisies" seems to be, no show is more fucked than "Bionic Woman." As I'm sure a lot of you saw, Glen Morgan left the show last week. People have been whispering about the show being in trouble for some time now -- over time and over budget. But when someone leaves this close to the show premiering... that's indicative of a bigger problem. There've been rumors about a permanent shutdown as well. Even if these rumors aren't true, you don't want to hear that two weeks from premiering.

So what the fuck happened? Did Glen, as rumors reported, get fired because the network wasn't happy with the second episode and blamed him? Did he, as the trades reported, leave due to everybody's favorite euphemism, "creative differences?" I have no idea. As many of you know, we did not get a meeting on the show and frankly, we felt a little let down about that. But when we got over that, we figured that there was a reason, and the one we landed on was that Glen didn't have any say over hiring. Given what transpired last week, that's looking more and more likely.

I don't know David Eick, only what I've heard about him from people who've worked with him. All I know about Jason Smilovic is that I didn't like "Kidnapped." I don't know why Laeta Kalogridis, the original writer of the pilot, was pushed aside.

But I do know Glen Morgan. And unless he's been replaced with a hack, there's no way the rumors are true. I think he was a convenient scapegoat, thrown under the bus to protect other people. It actually makes me sick to my stomach to think that ANYBODY would believe Glen was fired because the second episode was crap. The Glen Morgan I know has good relationships with execs at studios and networks. He gets scripts in on time. He takes notes. Shows are on or under pattern. Cuts are delivered in a timely fashion and lemme tell ya, he's a wizard in the editing room. He's a decent, level-headed person who protects his writers and operates first out of humility. He's not the one who's going to be blathering on about how brilliant he is. He's not like that. He has doubt, like all good writers MUST. He's not the self-important producer who's talking about elevating any genre, or making this Bionic Woman anything other than what it is -- fun, escapist television. He makes his mark on television by virtue of not trying to do so. Others would do well to follow his lead.

But others didn't do that, did they? No, others, afraid for their jobs and their false reputations, chose him as the fall guy precisely because of his nature. Yes, Glen, television has changed a lot and so have the people in it. Not for the good.

When you work for Glen, you know you're protected and you know that for him, it's about the work. It's also about teaching, at which he is a master. Every episode is the absolute BEST episode it can possibly be. But because he's a perfectionist, it's never good enough. He's co-written, written and produced some of the absolute best episodes of television EVER, TeeVee that even now the people who fired him are trying to replicate. This is not somebody who's so insecure that he'll stab somebody else in the back to get ahead. He's an incredibly loyal person, too, which is why it stung when we didn't even get a meeting. But who knows? Maybe he saw the train coming down the tracks and didn't want us to fall under the wheels, too. I have no idea. All I do know is, he doesn't deserve to have that sword in his back. I won't believe any of this shit unless he tells me himself.

There's no room for talent or loyalty in TeeVee anymore. So all you TeeVee people who are miserable fucks? You brought it on yourselves.

Have fun.

np - Frank Turner, "Vital Signs"

Six Months In A Leaky Boat

I think that's how everybody in TeeVee feels right now. It seems like everybody's getting some form of abuse at the moment. Writers are getting it from their showrunner. The showrunner's getting it from the studio and network. Those execs are getting it from their bosses. It goes on up the ladder, until the head muckety-muck, we learn, is getting it from... I dunno, God? Must be. Who's higher than Rupert Murdoch?

Neal wondered if it's insane for the networks to try and predict what will be a hit and to buy appropriately. Absolutely!! But they're doing it even more now. This year, it's light, life-affirming supernatural dramas. And every one of these that's been sold sounds like a reject from about thirty years ago. So when we tried to come up with one (hey, I'm a whore!), our agent goes, "It sounds like it's from about thirty years ago." Good luck getting through THAT minefield if you aren't a successful TeeVee person. Lord knows WE didn't.

Anyone wanna buy a light, life-affirming supernatural drama about a fantasy broker?

Anyway, this is a terrible way to do business. And it's even more dysfunctional this year, with the networks apparently STILL buying, only not from anyone regular. They want every pilot to be remarkable and inventive. So let me ask you -- how many shows that are on right now are remarkable and inventive? I mean, really super different? Ground-breaking? Changing the face of TeeVee? Let's check. "Mad Men" is as good as anything's been in ages, but nobody wants period shows because of it. I don't watch "The Wire" but people adore it. However, it's not having an infuence on the medium. These other shows, like "Rescue Me," "Weeds," "The Shield," people love 'em, but are they changing the face of TeeVee? What about "Heroes?" Since we sold the exact same pilot years ago, I'd say no. The format of "Lost," you might say... but "Lost" is, pardon the pun, on an island of its own.

What show right now is changing the way people think about TeeVee? What show's altering the way stories are told? Is any show influencing the medium of television? No. There's nothing. There's great stuff on, but it's TELEVISION. It's fun, escapist, moving, emotional... whatever. But it's not ground-breaking. Even shows with that potential, like "Battlestar Galactica," get absolutely no respect from the industry. That show SHOULD be considered ground-breaking but nobody fucking watches it, and the asshats at the academy refuse to reward it. So nobody REALLY wants a truly ground-breaking show. Doesn't it seem that way? In England, the six-episode miniseries "Jekyll" had more balls that 99% of American TeeVee. And for British TeeVee, it's fucking COMMONPLACE.

What's happening now is, these networks are annointing shows and then trying to develop AS IF these shows -- which haven't premiered yet -- HAVE ALREADY changed the medium. If this isn't a setup for failure, I don't know what is. Everybody's so desperate to make their mark, whether they're writers, directors or executives, that they shoot for the moon and forget about the fact that they need to program five, six or seven nights of TeeVee. So every show you buy is supposed to be "out of the box?" Which executive thought that about "Two and a Half Men" or "According To Jim?" The problem is, they want these shows to have a lasting influence so their legacies are intact, but they're ignoring the fallacy that this simply isn't possible. You can't program a ground-breaking show. Look at "X-Files." That show had a definitive influence on television, particularly on the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre, but it wasn't even Fox's favorite show when it premiered.

So, back to the question -- is it a mistake for us writers to cater to this crap? Unfortunately, we have to. They're the buyers and if we don't pitch something they want to buy, no matter how misguided the reasons they have, we don't sell. So writers who have NO idea what they're doing in genre are selling genre shows because they HAVE to. Nobody's going in there with something they really believe in. It's a pretty sad state of affairs.

Expect as much fun next fall as you're gonna get this fall. This post is already getting a tad long and I've got a huge rant, so I'm gonna split them into two posts.

A VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Doselle!! We must drink later!

np - The Enemy, "Pressure"