Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Run For the Roses

I warned you about this post, gentle readers.

The Derby is upon us! And only one trainer, Larry Jones, has the chance to win the Oaks-Derby double. And he can do that with two fillies. While that would be pretty cool, I think the field would have to fall apart a lot for Eight Belles to win. But good luck to Jones tomorrow.

Some horsey-related comments first. Devon says:
So does this mean, if I get dragged kicking and screaming to LA at some point, you'll go to the track with me? ;)

Sure! Santa Anita is an especially great experience. And since the next two Breeders Cups are here...

Do you mind if I list your blog in my article for FEMMEFAN? I'm doing the pre-Derby this week, to go up next week, I'll do a Derby wrap-up, same for Preakness and Belmont. I'd love to mention your blog. Last year, my racing articles got thousands of hits, and my own blog traffic went way up.

That would be cool. Thanks!

And Sherrie says:
Derby talk! Love it! Heya Kay, don't be worried about Pyro or Colonal John...they'll run like Street Sense last year & skip over it...just comes down to who's got the jump coming off the turn. Big Brown could be the real deal, but I'm afraid his inexperience will catch up with him...he was too jumpy and agitated at Gulfstream and he's going to have to deal with 10x that??? Not unless he's a super horse. But I wouldn't count him out of the Preakness or Belmont! Still, I think he'll finish in the top 5. Even Curlin didn't have enough experience for the Derby.

I feel the same way about Big Brown that I felt about Curlin -- one or two more races and he would be a strong choice. But I'm worried about him breaking from the outside. I'm worried about the track condition. I'm worried about his feet, and I'm not convinced that his pedigree says 10F. Given how Proud Spell bounced back in the Oaks today from a lousy Polytrack effort, Pyro's moved way up for me. And Colonel John has done nothing wrong. I would be ecstatic if Tiznow got a Derby winner.

So everybody's making their picks. I was going to be industrious and check out some of the experts' picks on the BloodHorse site, but the internets hate me today so I'll just have to wing it. Based on what I've seen of the works, Colonel John is liking Churchill Downs and I really like his composure. Even though he's had only two starts this year like everyone else in the field, they were two quality 9F starts, and he won both. He's shown tactical speed and last time, he showed he can come from off the pace. He looked like he was just getting into gear at the wire, and he'll love the distance. Someone pointed out that a fun play would be Colonel John and Cowboy Cal, because Colonel John's sire, Tiznow, beat Cowboy Cal's sire, Giant's Causeway, in the Breeders Cup Classic.

I think Pyro's going to bounce back from the Blue Grass, and he's got enough of a foundation this year to offset that horrible effort. A lot of people are touting Denis of Cork, the horse who was horribly mishandled and paid his connections back with a wretched Illinois Derby. The work was sensational. The horse looks great. But the horse has looked great all year. I was all over him earlier but I'm so disgusted that I hope the owners don't get rewarded for being asshats.

Two others who look intriguing to me are Adriano and Monba. Both have the pedigree for the Derby. Adriano failed on dirt earlier in the year but that's not enough for me to completely toss him. Visionaire is an intriguing horse, a closer who may come late to pick up the pieces. Like practically everyone else, he may not have cared for Keeneland. Sure, he's bred to be a miler, but he will be closing ground and that may not matter. Speed-wise, I'll take a look at Bob Black Jack. People go on about how fast he is but he settled real nice in the Santa Anita Derby. I think he may be more mature than people give him credit for and if everyone else considers him a one-dimensional speed horse, they may not pay enough attention to him. He improved when he got a little extra ground last time, so he's sort of a hunch bet. So is Cool Coal Man, a beautifully bred horse for the distance, the only horse besides Colonel John to win twice at 9F this year. Last time, he ran up the track in -- what else? -- the Blue Grass. But if these horses can bounce back to form, they may surprise.

A lot of people are also talking about Court Vision but he looks like a wiseguy horse to me. I'm willing to throw him out even if I look stupid later. I don't think Gayego is going to get the distance, and I think Recapturetheglory already got his glory in the Illinois Derby. Eight Belles is a super nice filly and the fact that she's got speed is a plus. But the fact that she's by Unbridled's Song is not. I don't see her getting the distance. Smooth Air is a nice horse but he'll be a wiseguy horse, I think. I like him a little better than Court Vision but I think he's had too much time off (he's not Barbaro) and he also spiked a temperature this week. And deep down, I think the distance may be too much for him. Tale of Ekati has people excited because he won the Wood Memorial, and because of his female family. Yeah, never mind that he's by Tale of the Cat. I hated everything about the Wood so it's not tough for me to toss him. Anak Nakal has been horrid this year. End of story.

I so utterly despise the Zayat people for naming all their horses Z Whatever that I won't go near Z Fortune and Z Humor, no matter how live they may be. Make an effort, people. Think of your horse's name going up there as a Derby winner. Lil E Tee was enough. Let's not keep this up.

And thus goeth my analysis.

There are more comments to get to, which I'll do in the next post. The only thing I wanted to say was in regards to Deepstructure's comment:

y'know, it's just a guess, but i'll bet there's a few folks who read this blog who would jump into your position in a heartbeat. ;)

Maybe I wasn't clear, because that was sorta the point. A lot of people in this business will take the money while badmouthing the work. I've certainly had jobs that were difficult and, well, not thrilling, but I think that going into a situation where you think you're above it is only going to lead to misery. I like working in TeeVee. That's why I do it. But it seems like a lot of folks working in it just don't feel that way.

If you're playing the Derby, good luck. If, like me, you're just watching, have fun!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Serious Moonlight

Last night, I went to the Paley Festival for the Moonlight panel. Holy God, Moonlight fans are freaking enthusiastic! It's been a long time since I've been involved with a show that had fans like that. The Millennium fans were a little different. Quieter. Calmer. More introspective. But the internet's different now. These shows have become even more interactive. Witness the Moonlight fans, who started a blood drive to support the show.

CBS is just lucky they didn't decide to send blood to the network.

While the fans do what they can to get the show picked up, it's unfortunately not up to them. It's never up to the people who really care about a show. It's about the indifferent, the Nielsen people who don't really give a shit about the fate of TeeVee shows (and the careers of potential staff members of TeeVee shows). It's like the Presidential election. It's not up to the rabid Obama, Clinton and McCain (if there are any) supporters. They're essentially irrelevant. It's up to the undecided people, the fence-sitters who don't know what the fuck's going on. Hence eight years of Bush.

And hence the TeeVee you're all stuck with now.

Even though only Nielsen people truly matter, the networks do look at TiVo and DVR numbers. So if you, gentle readers, could see your way clear to TiVo and watch Moonlight on Friday (this Friday, April 25th) and for the next three Fridays, maybe it would make enough of a difference to get the show picked up.

Because for what it's worth, the show's good. This episode on Friday is, I think, exactly what the network wants it to be, and it's finally delivering on its potential. The cast is great and the show's truly unique for CBS, but not so unique that it doesn't make sense on the network. CBS has always wanted to try something different. This is different for them, but still in their wheelhouse. And letting these actors go would be a crime.

That's all the begging I'm going to do for the moment. Now, onto some comments!!

JustBill says:
You write "Executives need to let shit happen."

Well, I think I kind of know what you mean. But if you're the kind of person with enough inner zen to let shit happen, doesn't that mean that you will never, ever become an executive? And vice-versa?

So, why don't you write an original pilot about an executive who walks into his boss's office and suggest that he stop trying to manage and control everything, and just let some shit happen. Of course it would never sell, but it might do your soul some good.

It's a good notion but you have to Taxi Driver it up. In other words, you have to do that story but not in that setting. I've actually been noodling around with this type of an idea. It's easier to come up with a cool genre pilot than to figure a way to make the frustrations of the TeeVee business entertaining and resonant.

Have you ever seen anything by Robert Downey (Jr.'s dad). Remember "Chaffed Elbows"?

I have not seen that!

Devon Ellington says:
Do you think, with evolving digital media, there's a chance for another independent renaissance? That smaller, independents will start producing more individual visions and start running it places like the internet or that iPhones will get into production or something?

Eventually, that, too, will go corporate, but maybe there's some hope?

I love the idea of it, but I'm not sure. Like you said, everything will go corporate. It takes a maverick, someone who refuses the corporate mindset. But we all have it, because we have to work within it. So my ideas are, out of necessity, run through the commerciality-o-meter. I don't know anyone who's thinking completely out of the box. We're beholden to our bank accounts. Those lucky enough to have them are beholden to their houses and other property. So I don't know if it's going to be feasible to do that. I do think, however, that cable is a pretty cool niche for interesting, non-network ideas. I'd like to try and crack that market first. And even if you go Apple, that's still gonna be corporate. I think it'll look like an independent vision, but it won't really be that. It'll be the corporate version of independence. So... is that good enough? I don't know.

JJ says:
I'm not so sure I agree. I think, temporarily anyway, you're correct in you assessment that TV execs are being cautious by rewarding failure by doing what they always do: rewarding those partnerships that produce repeatable and mediocre success via the don't lose them money method...

But I think this is only a stopgap situational solution, one that the networks and studios are using until their program schedule won't be affected by the possibility of any sort of work stoppage, e.g. an actor's strike.

I wish I could agree with you, but this attitude hasn't actually changed. The studios and networks are doing the same things they've always been doing. Rather than cutting the budgets of these pilots, they're just cutting the number of pilots and acting like they've changed their business models. But they haven't. Personally, I never though they needed to buy 60 scripts a season for only a few slots on the schedule. But the problem is, they don't really know what they want and they're terrified that they'll overlook something. That's why networks don't let scripts go anymore. If they pass on your pilot, they're damned if they'll see it succeed elsewhere. So they hang onto it and don't really give it that official pass.

Moreover, I believe that those same networks and studios are gearing up and solidifying their business model, so to maximize profits, once the internet-as-television takes off.

But the problem with that is two-fold. One, I don't think internet TeeVee is going to take off all that fast. And two, they can talk about maximizing profits all they want but the truth is, this is a subjective business. You know, every year the big trainers try and maximize their chances in the Derby by having as many Derby prospects as they can stable. Trainers like Todd Pletcher will have sixty two-year-olds, mostly impeccably bred possibilities. Pletcher hasn't won the Derby yet. It's the same thing. You can plan all you want, but at the end of the day, there's that extra something that just can't be quantified. No amount of manipulation will get you there.

And as long as they're not losing money on big name talent and production costs it's not a bad plan--for them anyway. After all the viewing public isn't crying out for quality drama or comedy, they actually seem to prefer the dreck that's currently presented.

Yeah. Don't get me started on the public. But the studios ARE losing money on big-name talent. Witness the Sonnenfeld disaster at CBS. If they insist on paying people gobs of money, they're gonna get bitten. All there is to it. But if they'd support what their gut tells them to support, they would have that. It's gonna work as often as it works the other way. If you pay thirty big-name writers/actors/directors and one of them comes through, it's the same as paying thirty no-name writers/actors/directors and having one come through. The latter is just staggeringly less expensive. Given those scenarios, which one makes the most business sense?

Moreover, once things are settled with SAG/AFTRA, there'll be a redefining of what TV is. It'll go from the 18-22 week season to that of one more like what HBO does, a season of 8-13 weeks, which then allows for more creativity and chances to be taken on material that's less conventional, etc.

I wouldn't have a problem with that at all, if the networks would let these shows run. If you order six episodes, make and air and promote six episodes. Who knows? You might be surprised.

Jay Black found me!
excellent response to my post! i enjoy seeing the other side of it -- wished you would have posted the whole thing in the comments (though i suppose that would have been impractical).


(PS it's an interesting change of pace when someone counters an argument with a well-thought out response, rather than an ad hominem attack! keep this up and the internet might implode...)

Well, thanks! And I was selfish not to post it in comments. I needed a blog subject, dammit! Keep up the good work, man.

Anonymous thinks:
First, the auteur theory does apply to television - the pilot director sets the tone for the rest of the episodic directors to follow. That's why all the episodes look the same despite the weekly change in director - there was one creative directorial vision that was the mold from which all others derived. Though this only exhibits part of auteur theory.

Second, after the pilot director, the "auteur" is the showrunner who rewrites all the episodes. In TV, the showrunner is a writer-producer; unlike film, writers have power in television.

Silly anonymous! The pilot director -- just a dude for hire, by the way, who sucks up production and staff money from every episode budget -- wouldn't have a fucking thing to set the tone for if the writer hadn't come up with the idea for the series, developed it, pitched it, sold it, written the pilot that got the show picked up to shoot, cast and edited the pilot that got the show picked up to series... nothing would be possible without the writer. But you know, we could go round and round on this forever, trying to find the one person who's totally responsible for the creative vision behind filmed entertainment. The auteur theory does NOT apply to TeeVee, or to film. There. I've said it.

Lemme guess -- you're a director?

Devon Ellington again:
I still really like Pyro, and I'll make a final decision when I see him in the paddock. I hope War Pass is okay -- he's another one I liked. I would have LOVED to see Georgie Boy run, I agree.

Big Brown was so great his last time out, in spite of the way he lathered up before the race, but, for some reason, I'm still on the fence about him. I liked him for that last race, but I'll have to see him that morning.

I'm still looking for my long shot. I always pick at least one totally undervalued horse. My friend rode one of those and won the Derby a few years back -- one of the happiest days I've had in horse racing!

I'm with you on Big Brown. Either he's a freak, or he's not. They usually aren't. To me, freaks are Seattle Slew, horses that just keep on winning. Big Brown's only run three times. Sorry, but that's not enough to qualify for legend status. And something happens to horses like that in the Derby. Now, he'll be running against nineteen other three-year-olds. All of them will be trying to get a good position heading into that first turn. Horses that set the pace or lay close are gonna be six, seven, eight lengths off. For a horse with only three career starts, that will be disconcerting. We've seen it happen every year. No reason to think it won't happen this year.

War Pass. Well... he wasn't gonna get the distance anyway. I'm surprised they didn't go with the old "stepped on a safety pin" trick, but I guess it didn't work so well back in 1979. I'm personally tired of wrapping all these horses in cotton. There's no form there. You can't tell a thing with a ridiculous two preps. However, I'm still on the Colonel John bandwagon, and I like Pyro, too. He's been too consistent for that race to be real. These trainers need to stop trying to outsmart the Derby. Train your horse, not the race. If your horse is prepping on dirt, keep him there. If he's prepping on Poly, keep him there. Why do they always try to do something so different? I think this is a surprisingly strong field, even though they're all kinda slow. One I may take a look at is Adriano, who's probably the best bred horse in the race. The Pletcher horses aren't doing much for me. I don't think this'll be his year.

Your friend wouldn't happen to be Mike Smith, would he??

And deepstructure asks about "The First Saturday In May."

I just saw this the other day. By myself, of course, because nobody would go with me. Everybody I know pretty much hates horse racing (you exceptions who read the blog -- you know who you are!). It's a fantastic film. It really captures the mythology of the Derby. I was hoping they'd do the walk to the paddock justice, and they did. Because to me, that is the Moment of the Derby. That walk, with the horse, trainer, owners, grooms... the people by the fence cheering them on and taking pictures... it always gets me. The film also handles the Barbaro situation particularly well. I was quite impressed. The one thing I would like to have seen, though, is for them to also follow one of the big guns. You see Pletcher and Baffert a few times but comparing one of them to Holthus, for example, would have been cool. Because when it all boils down, the desire to win the Derby is the same no matter who you are.

Seeing this documentary made me rather sad about how they fucked up Seabiscuit. Trust that story. Don't fuck it up.


Okay. Just one more bit of begging.

np -- The Lodger, "Life Is Sweet"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

History Never Repeats

Sometimes I pop over to Cinematical or TV Squad and run across something that just demands a response. I like how eager and committed the folks at both sites are to their respective mediums. They do a great job collecting news as well. But sometimes... occasionally... they drive me somewhat barmy.

Jay Black has a nicely written piece about the auteur theory, and how it should apply to television. Now, if you're for the auteur theory in general, you're a fucking idiot. We can get into an argument about why that is so but I warn you, you'll probably have to tangle with Mr. Olson and YOU DO NOT WANT TO DO THAT.

Anyway, Jay Black is a fan of American auteurs but not European auteurs which is fine, because the whole theory's just bunk anyway so I won't quibble with him. He defends this by saying that most movies are bland, dull and formless because of the myriad writers, producers, executives and the notes they generate. That's hard to argue with. But... if the auteur theory is that the movie is the vision of the director, and all these movies are directed by a director... shouldn't they all be great?

The auteur theory's cute, in that "hey, let's write an article for a French film monthly while we suck on our Galoises" way but like many theories, it doesn't hold water when it's applied on a practical level. Scientific, it is not. Is it always necessary to try and find ONE reason something works? Why do people do that? For example, I don't just blame Bush for the current American disaster. I blame ALL of them. So why isn't the same said for a medium like film? Even with a novel, the writer has the help of an editor and many novelists will credit their editor as a valued partner.

Jay Black tries to tie the filmic auteur theory to the reason TeeVee writers have no respect. It's a bit puzzling. The auteur theory has nothing to do with writers, which is one of its biggest problems. So even if you believe in it like you believe in Xenu and engrams, it can't be applied to TeeVee. That said, he makes a few misstatements about how television even works, and I'd like to address them here.

Most erroneously, he claims that TeeVee writers have no respect and that the reason for that is the lack of the auteur. He does that Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln thing of assuming his theories (that the auteur makes all collaborative art better, and that TeeVee totally lacks a singular creative vision) are true, and then going on from there. His belief, which he states, is that TeeVee is created by teams of writers, not by one particular writer. And as we all know, a bunch of people cannot make one auteur. But TeeVee CAN be created by one person. It cannot be produced by one person. So he needs to decide where he's going with this -- is he talking about it purely from a creative standpoint, or from a production standpoint?

Like most people who aren't inside the business, he removes the business from the equation, instead blaming blah TeeVee on writing staffs that water everything down. I think that everybody who's critical of TeeVee and puts the onus all on the writers and that particular process needs to sit in on the myriad notes sessions. I believe some eyes would be opened.

There are also differences between film and TeeVee, differences he doesn't satisfactorily note. A director has several years to make his film. Sometimes a year to prep it, that long to film it, and a long-ass time to cut it and make it perfect. With TeeVee, you're making 22 movies in a one year period. Every eight days, you start over. And while many directors are also producers, they normally don't produce to the extent that a showrunner does. A showrunner is not only the creative vision behind the show, he/she is also a manager. A showrunner is responsible for hiring the crew and the staff, for managing the people under him/her, for setting the creative path for the show, for keeping the show on budget and on time, for breaking the stories, supervising/writing scripts, making sure the scripts get in on time, managing production, sitting in editing (something people don't do much of anymore, which makes me sad), for handling publicity and promotion, dealing with actors... the list really does go on.

See, it's not possible to ascribe an impractical theory like the auteur theory to such a complex job.

TeeVee is not a theory. It's not a passion project taken on by one dude ('cause isn't it always a dude?) in a garrote somewhere. You're creating a commercial enterprise. You're selling soap. It's incumbent upon the writers to sell soap in the most entertaining way possible but at the end of the day, we are there to sell soap. We're there to make the networks and studios piles of dosh.

But let's keep going and see where Jay Black is headed. He thinks one thing that will change television, that will make it better, is by making creators more visible with the viewing audiences. But what the viewing audience thinks of Joss Whedon or Chris Carter or JJ Abrams is irrelevant. No matter how brilliant the fans think the creators are, that is not going to keep the shows on the air.

A show succeeds, like a movie does, for everchanging reasons. One reason shows fail is because, as discussed in the last post, the executives try to predict success based on a made-up formula, a formula that can change with the wind. If a show is creatively as well as financially successful, that's a bonus. Because it is a business, TeeVee is always going to be more objective than subjective. And for it to be objective, there have to be constants. Ergo, how financially successful is a show? If X works once, they will continue trying X until it's no longer financially viable to do so.

Jay seems to be under the impression that once a showrunner (he keeps using "creator" and "showrunner" interchangeably, which muddles his point) has the public behind him/her, the studios and networks will just hand blank checks to the showrunners to create whatever they want. Eliminating, I suppose, the need for a network programming department and any executives whatsoever.

I would like to live in that dream castle, but let's be real here. It's not possible.

He alternates between blaming the networks and studios, and blaming the writers. He is operating under a popular fallacy -- there's no individuality in TeeVee. Nobody will step up to the plate and do something interesting. But the truth is, nobody twists an audience member's arm and forces them to watch Dancing With The Stars. They do that all on their own. If an audience doesn't want to watch Battlestar Galactica, then they won't and that show won't be financially viable. It's a tribute, actually, to the people who hold the purse strings in TeeVee that they think so much of the Galactica creative team they continue to give them opportunities to marry the creative with the financial. And I would like nothing more than for Ron Moore to create a huge, worldwide mega-hit. I don't think I'm alone.

Most writers set out to write something that speaks to them but when you're talking about the business of TeeVee, you have to understand that it just isn't that simple or pure. It's a remarkable achievement for a writer to create something with a singular vision. Why don't we celebrate that and accept the TeeVee biz for what it is, instead of trying to radically change something that simply isn't going to change?

Jay Black doesn't make the most important point -- TeeVee IS a writer-driven medium. Although creators have writing staffs, they have final say over EVERYTHING. A showrunner/creator who doesn't take that as gospel is a weak visionary and a bad manager.

On Saturday, the Guild held a one-day seminar on the pilot process, for Showrunner Training Program alumni. We got great insight from a network exec-turned-producer, and two showrunners -- John Wells and Stephen Cannell. Listening to Cannell speak, I figured something out. It's not up to the fans of TeeVee to make the stellar showrunners/creators important. It's up to US, the people who work in it. The auteur theory is accepted because the directors it namechecks are stars. And these stars are recognized by their colleagues and their industry. There's a sense of history in film, one that doesn't seem to exist as strongly in TeeVee. People in TeeVee don't seem to care much about its history, how the current system developed, what the different methods of showrunning are, how things have changed. This is detrimental to our business. And it's great that the Guild sees this and is, in its own small way, trying to change it.

Stephen Cannell, who has created over forty series, was well known (at the time) for the way he taught his writers to produce, and for the creative ways in which he ran his shows. Cannell namechecked Roy Huggins as his mentor. Huggins created "The Fugitive," among other shows. But probably most people haven't heard of Huggins, and an alarmingly large number of people don't know how influential Cannell has been. That whole Canada thing? Cannell.

There are always interviews with famous directors. There are documentaries. And God bless TV Land, which has made attempts at discussing the history of TeeVee. But unless you've heard Cannell speak, you don't really know how rich the history of TeeVee is. And a lot of these men and women are gone. They can't talk about how they did things or give advice, and they weren't interviewed. They didn't get documentaries made about them. TeeVee is not just Rod Serling and CSI. There's so much more there that we, as TeeVee professionals, could know and use to work more effectively in the medium.

Part of the problem with that is that there's no longer a strong lineage from the pioneers of TV drama to the present. There's no "system" in place, like there used to be when kingpins created multiple shows and taught their writers how to produce. Currently, only John Wells has the stability to do anything like that. Of course, it's a lot harder now. There's an even greater sense of uncertainty in the business. Shows don't stay on long enough. Writers rarely stay with a show more than a season and instead, shuttle from new show to new show. These shows are frequently created by people who don't have a lot of TeeVee experience and it's rare that you can work for someone like Glen Morgan or John Wirth long enough for it to make an impact. David Kelley isn't going to teach someone how to produce. Nor is Aaron Sorkin.

And the writers breaking in now are going to be taught bad habits by stressed people who were not themselves taught. Ironically, given its "lone wolf" status, there seems to be a greater sense of community amongst film directors than there does amongst TeeVee producers. Even though you're on staff, you're more often than not by yourself, trying to survive in this landscape. I vigorously disagree with the auteur theory and all it represents, but I do think that a greater sense of history and respect and examination of what came before can only help TeeVee.

Many of the people no longer with us can be accessed via the TV Academy's "Archive of American Television." Some of those videos can be seen at Google video. And here's a link to the archive's blog. You can spend a lot of time there. Trust me. But we also need to make sure that people like Stephen Cannell are heard on a wider scale. Interviews, seminars, books... whatever it takes. I'm hoping that one of you gentle readers will huff in with a "Jesus Christ, you're stupid. Here's a perfectly fantastic documentary series/book on that very subject, which will answer everybody's questions."

Now onto a horse racing sidebar, which I put at the end so all of you except Devon Ellington can skip it. I, too, was a fan of Georgie Boy. Seemed to me that the injury is quite minor and the decision to skip the Derby is a cautious one. But damn, I REALLY wanted to see him run. And I wanted Kathy Walsh to have a Derby horse. She deserves it. I'm encouraged by how well the West Coast horses are holding form when they travel. Maybe this is the year they kick Eastern ass. Pyro's disaster in the Blue Grass seems to be driving people absolutely mad. I think they're too caught up in the whole Polytrack/dirt thing, frankly. Because really, a good horse is a good horse. And before synthetics, good horses have been known to hate particular dirt tracks. So it's essentially the same thing. They're all trying to outthink it, which is why these horses are only getting two Derby preps. It may make a Derby winner, but it won't make a Triple Crown winner. Retards.

I'll get to more comments in the next post, which I swear will be shorter.

np -- Mark Geary, "Gingerman"

Lust For Life

Am I the only one watching the train wreck known as "I Know My Kid's A Star?" Seriously, it's child abuse in real time. America is all about how the most important, valuable, rewarding thing a human being could ever do is reproduce. But you know what else is important? Realizing that not everybody can or should be a parent. These creepy, crazy mothers are living vicariously through their kids, destroying them in the process. They're acting like petulant children themselves. I know, big surprise, this behavior has always existed, but watching it be cannibalized for our viewing entertainment is a little sick, especially when kids are involved. And yes, I realize that I'm a little sick for watching it. Thanks for pointing that out.

Having kids is supposed to be the end-all, the final piece of life's puzzle that will finally make you feel whole and fulfilled. That's what America tells us, anyway. But watching these miserable shrews torture their kids and the other kids in the house made me think about fulfillment. And since this blog isn't about child-rearing or the lack thereof, I turned towards fulfillment in the entertainment industry.

Is it possible to feel fulfilled, or is that just a huge lie? Howard Fineman was on Jon Stewart a few nights ago (or a week ago; I am horrible at keeping up with my TeeVee) and Jon Stewart made a cogent point about how the press focuses on "the real Americans," insinuating that those of us who live in big cities and work in media are not real Americans, don't have any faith, eschew families and only eat whole grains. The audience applauded, natch. And Fineman got it, too. He had a decent excuse for why this exists in news -- the primaries are the great equalizers, when states like North Carolina and Pennsylvania become more important than the more populous states.

But still, we are supposed to have a self-loathing if we work in the entertainment industry. We're supposed to know, deep down, that we're doing a very shallow, narcissistic thing, that we're big old giant whores who are going straight to tell. In part, that's fostered and fueled by how "the real America" feels, too. Or, maybe, how they're told to feel by the media. If there's one thing the press and the entertainment industry absolutely loves with a slavish devotion, it's putting groups into little boxes. In politics, it's "African-American women, 25-34, who had two years of college and live in small urban areas," or "second-generation Latinos who are allergic to pollen." They go crazy for that shit. They're responsible for the whole red state/blue state total bullshit that's torn the country apart. This also leads to the whole auteur theory nonsense -- one person HAS to be completely responsible. That's how things WORK!

BTW, I'll get to the comments on the auteur post in the next post.

In entertainment, it's all about the demographic. Like the whoring that's going on in North Carolina and Indiana, so the whoring goes in TeeVee. These demographics are courted just as heavily. I love it, of course, when it works for me (Moonlight did very well in the demo on Friday), but still... it seems a little unfair, doesn't it, to base the success of an entire TeeVee show on the extrapolation of a very small group of viewers?

Anyway. This leads back to fulfillment. We're not supposed to feel fulfilled in our work. In fiction, people who are devoted to their work ultimately get their comeuppance. They learn their lesson -- you can't get real fulfillment from your work. If you don't fall in love and have a family, you're just lost. But isn't fulfillment supposed to come from within anyway? Can you really be fulfilled by following an external set of rules?

Does "be yourself" mean anything anymore, or does it only work in the context of society's rules?

It's easy to be unfulfilled in TeeVee. All you have to do is go, "Yeah, the show I'm working on is crap. Everything's crap. But you do what you have to." Distance yourself. Put yourself above it all. I don't like that mindset. I don't find that it's easy or fun to work on something you don't like. If you're constantly going from show to show and running everything down and hating on TeeVee, then what's the fucking point of being there? You HAVE to find some joy in it, some inspiration. But you have to find inspiration elsewhere too, especially creative inspiration. That's why you write spec features and pilots, and that's why I'm halfway through novel #2. You get a different kind of creative inspiration from things you work on outside the "job" of TeeVee. But that doesn't mean inspiration lacks in TeeVee. It's just different.

Speaking of inspiration, I went to see Budd Schulberg at the Writer's Guild theatre last week. If you don't know the name, Schulberg wrote a little film called "On the Waterfront." He also wrote the MAGNIFICENT "A Face In the Crowd," a movie that, like "Network," has never lost its resonance or relevance. And just for emphasis, he's the author of "What Makes Sammy Run?" The films were collaborations with Elia Kazan and according to Schulberg, Kazan was a terrific collaborator. Not an auteur; a COLLABORATOR. Schulberg talked about another film he and Kazan were going to collaborate on. Schulberg spent two years researching it, and then the film never came to fruition.

I wondered about that. I would be furious if I'd spent two years working on something that didn't happen but the way Schulberg talked about it made me think that the two years wasn't wasted. He was fulfilled by that research, even though he was frustrated by the film not getting made.

I think that maybe it was easier back then. The pace was different. Now, the pace is set by the corporate manner in which TeeVee and film are run. You simply don't have the time or the money to spend years researching a project that isn't going to get made. The pace is so quick that you just have to pump out ideas, one after the other. It's sort of a sad way to go about a creative enterprise. You can't really fall in love with an idea. Everybody's attention span is too short. That's what I like about the novels. I can spend as much time as I want in that world. That sort of offsets the other.

Fulfillment, right?

Awhile back, someone told me that I needed to work on something that would show my specific voice. I needed a calling card, in other words, to break away from the shallow, crap world of TeeVee. So I thought about it for a few weeks. I wrote some stuff down. But it wasn't very exciting, or inspiring. And I realized that I've already got that stuff. We've got several pilots I'm VERY proud of, and a feature that, I dare say, has a strong, specific voice. See, it's not about just writing it and then people will flock to you. It doesn't work that way. Just because we weren't accepting our Oscar for our version of "Juno" doesn't mean I'm not insanely proud of our work. I AM. And the fact that the powers that be haven't given us their thumbs up yet doesn't diminish the work.

That epiphany made me realize that the idea I was working on wasn't gonna happen. You can't force inspiration. You can't force fulfillment, either. There's no rule that says you have to be fulfilled doing a particular, socially acceptable thing. I like working in TeeVee. I'd love to have my own show one day, but I like working on staff, too. There's no need to downplay that, or dismiss it. Some people do, and I dunno... I'm certainly not the most positive person in the universe (no cackling, gentle readers), but I find that kind of sad. I like breaking stories, planning arcs, writing, being in the editing room. It's fun, and yeah, it's fulfilling.

This shit got long again, so I'll stop blathering.

For the next post, I'm going to talk about the Derby. The draw's tomorrow, so the post will be tomorrow or Thursday. Then Sherrie, Devon and I can talk about it and leave the rest of you, gentle readers, in peace.

And... our Moonlight episode airs Friday. Just FYI.

np -- Duels, "The Barbarians Move In"

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Burn Baby Burn

So on Saturday, there were three big preps for the Kentucky Derby. What's been happening in the last several years is, trainers are opting to race their horses sparingly, giving them only two preps before the Derby. They're trying to keep them fresh (stupid), and they're also mindful of the speed figures (incredibly ass-stupid). Speed figures are artificial numbers given to each horse in each race. There are different types of figures, calculated in different ways. Recently, trainers and owners have been obsessing over the Ragozin number, which assigns a specific number to each race, based on the horse's entire race record. In Ragozin terminology, the lower the number, the better the race. The Ragozin numbers are chosen based on that pattern where other numbers, including the Beyer speed figure, are assigned solely based on each race in isolation. In assigning numbers to horses prepping for the Derby, Ragozin discovered a specific pattern, called a "bounce" pattern. Basically, this means that a horse that runs two big numbers (i.e., goes very fast in two consecutive races), will bounce, or run a much slower number, in his next race.

In the midst of all of this nonsense, there's another number, called Dosage, that has to do with pedigree. I won't explain the specifics of it. All you have to know is, they went back and calculated the Dosage of all Derby winners and found that they all had Dosage numbers under 4.00. So it stood to reason that any horse with a Dosage higher than that wouldn't win the Derby, right? They prattled on and on about this, until Funny Cide won the Derby with a Dosage over 4.00. Oops.

The numbers would work if the horses didn't have to actually run the races.

Affirmed was the last Triple Crown winner, back in 1978. As a two-year-old, he ran nine times. He had three preps before the Kentucky Derby, which meant that he'd run twelve times before the Derby. 1979 Derby winner, Spectacular Bid, also ran nine times as a two-year-old and FIVE times as a three-year-old before the Derby. In contrast, Barbaro had only five career starts before the Derby, and two preps as a three-year-old. Last year's winner, Street Sense, also had only two three-year-old preps. All of this bullshit is a result of the bounce theory. We know what happened to Barbaro, and Street Sense, although he won the Travers later in the year, wasn't as successful as he'd been earlier.

This year, there's a promising colt named Denis of Cork. Prior to Saturday, he'd had only three career starts. THREE. He won his first race last year, and then won two races this year. He was supposed to run in a race several weeks ago but his idiotic, stupid, retarded owner took one look at the Ragozin sheets and decided his unbearably lightly-raced colt would bounce in the Derby if he had two more starts. Instead, this moron ordered the trainer to skip that prep and run only in Saturday's Illinois Derby. Naturally, poor Denis of Cork ran up the track. See, a horse with only three career starts doesn't have the experience to be able to ship, handle different surfaces, and large fields. Running the horse GIVES him that experience. And the one thing a horse needs in the Derby is experience because it's unlike any race they've ever run. Curlin had only three career starts last year. If he'd had more than that, he would have been a Triple Crown winner.

So Denis of Cork's owner tried to cheat fate, and he got fucked for it. He thought he knew better than the guy who's with the horse every fucking day. Now, the horse may not have enough earnings to get into the Derby. More than that, did he just throw in a bad race, or did the seven week layoff just fucking destroy him? This kind of bullshit is why we'll never have another Triple Crown winner. They're all trying to outthink the Derby and there's no thought of the future.

If you've read this far, you think I'm insane. But this does have a connection to TeeVee. Thinking only of the numbers and not letting the horseman use his instincts to prepare Denis of Cork for the Derby resulted in a disaster. In TeeVee, far too much thought is given to this type of anticipation. If the only things that matter in TeeVee are saving money and choosing sure-fire hits, the networks are going to fail over and over again. If you're in the TeeVee business and you don't want to spend any money, well... that's a pretty stupid mindset, isn't it? Especially since they consistently scrimp on things they shouldn't, and spend assloads of money on other things.

They all said things would change after the strike, and to a certain degree, they were right. But as we all predicted, they didn't change for the good of TeeVee. All you have to do to recognize that is to look at NBC's schedule. They picked up co-productions that are going to flummox the NBC audience. They're saving money, but it'll look like they're saving money. They're doing remakes of other shows. They're trying to anticipate what won't lose them money, instead of trying to make money. And if all you're trying to do is avoid failure, then you will fail.

The networks and studios are still giving huge deals and shows to people who have proven, time and time again, that they will lose huge amounts of money. But if you get a show on the air, somehow that means you're successful, even if the show (or shows, in particular instances) are massive expensive & creative failures. TeeVee consistently rewards failure. It has rewarded showrunners who make quality shows that come in on time and budget, but then the execs expect these people to save expensive disasters.

The networks and studios aren't in the business of trusting anything but their own version of the Ragozin sheets and like Denis of Cork, they're gonna run up the track.

So -- lesson one in how to fix TeeVee: EASE THE FUCK UP, networks and studios. Trust.