Thursday, May 29, 2008

We Have This Place Surrounded

There's a big, square billboard on Ventura and Vineland. It hovers threateningly over the 7-11 and the most expensive Mobil station on the planet. Usually, it advertises movies or gentleman's clubs in Reseda. But right this second, it's advertising Jericho. Yes, the show. Jericho. Remember? The show that nobody watched, then it got canceled, then it came back because of the fans? Then nobody watched it, and it got canceled? Yes, that Jericho. The fans of Jericho have bought a very expensive billboard, wanting someone to pick up the show. They advertise it as "show for sale," like THEY'RE selling it or something.

Guys. Seriously. It's long canceled. The actors have scattered, the writers are gone, IT'S OVER. LET IT GO. Don't waste your money, because it isn't going to happen. Create your own show about a nuclear apocalypse (that's what it was about, right?). Give it some biblical name, and off you go.

I fear that this is the way the Moonlight campaign is going to go. While I appreciate fans' dedication to their shows, there comes a point where you should bow out gracefully. For Jericho fans, that point came about six months ago. I don't think people understand that the studio has to be invested in wanting to save the show. If the studio doesn't want to shop it around, it's just dead. The studio owns it, gentle readers. Not the fans.


This has been a pretty busy week. We're working on our brand, which means we have about six balls up in the air right now. Our pilot ideas are ready to go, and we're hopefully going to start development earlier this year. You know, earlier than two weeks before the writer's strike. What that means is, concentrating more on cable and less on network. Which is fine by me.

Staffing season is, apparently, over. And good riddance to it! Like the rest of the business, staffing looks like it's changing, too. Back in the day (several years ago, to be exact), staffing went from around mid-March to mid-May. You'd have a flurry of meetings with studios, networks and showrunners, then you'd sit back and field offers. Yeah, that was the life!

People will say the strike caused the extreme shift we saw this year but I don't think the strike had as much to do with it as others do. Staffing's been on the wane since networks and studios decided to save money by cutting, well, staffs. The shows that are well staffed are the returning shows, and anyone would be a fucking nut to leave a returning show. In this climate, if you have a job, you don't budge.

This all seems fairly obvious, but the industry is still acting like it's the same as it ever was. There was an article in the L.A. Times about how network TeeVee is changing. Or, as I like to call it, withering and dying. Network viewership is dropping, while cable viewership is building. Because of declining network ratings, sweeps periods are losing their value (finally!). But agents and executives and producers/PODs will still think network first, cable second.

Look at what is on the networks, though, and compare it to what's on cable. First of all, no show can touch Mad Men. That show's existence means that Breaking Bad is the second-best show on AMC, the Alydar to Mad Men's Affirmed. However, it would be the best drama on any broadcast network. When I look at USA, I get exactly who they are and what they're aiming for. When I look at NBC, I gotta say, I'm a little confused. I've been blathering about branding lately. So what is NBC's brand? Is it weird that I instantly understand USA's brand? I mean, USA isn't a powerhouse like NBC. Even more weirdly, they're owned by the same folks. So what's the deal?

Why do I think ABC Family's brand is cleaner than ABC's? Honestly, the only broadcast network that picked up shows I understand is Fox. Fox used to be the genre network and this year, they'll be running Sarah Connor, Fringe and Dollhouse. Fox has also grown shows into hits -- House and Bones, for example. Okay, I think they kinda did it by accident, but still. And this is the network that has American Idol, for crap's sake. As for CBS, well... they're doing the same thing they've been doing since they launched American Gothic: trying things out of their bailiwick. And when the shows don't get Criminal Minds-type ratings, they will turn on them and rip out their throats.

This means you, The Ex-List and Harper's Island. Run for cover.

So networks are entrenched in their old ways, and so are the people selling to them. Each year, even though they deny it, the networks generate a wish list of shows they're looking for. These lists go to agents, and the agents send them to their clients. These lists are less than illuminating. I talked about this before, when Ben Silverman decided he wanted "blue sky shows," whatever those are. When the network doesn't have a brand or identity and they use such vague, unquantifiable words, it's impossible for a writer to develop an idea that fits into the network's mold. And it's not like the development execs always know what the big guy wants, either. Hence the zillion pitches and mountains of scripts ordered.

Of course, they've all decided to punish the writers this year and buy less.

When I'm coming up with pilot ideas, they break down into two categories -- network, and cable. Guess which category has the most ideas? There are pilots that could be pitched to networks but mostly, I'm thinking cable. Because they're not as locked into a standard development season. Sure, they don't buy nearly as much, but if the networks are going to buy less, that sort of evens the playing field. Cable pays less, but there's less bullshit and as we've seen especially over the past few years, the quality of cable shows outstrips that of network.

I'd rather have a chance to get something on the air because that is, after all, the ultimate goal. It's easy (or it was easy, awhile back) to get mired in the circle of development. Sell pilots, write scripts, collect the money. Maybe it's good the networks are forcing us out of that business. But I think the networks will find that it hurts them, as more and more writers turn to cable and, eventually, to the internet so they can actually get shit on.

The amount of bullshit on network shows, especially new shows, is torrential. Look at the notes process. The studios and the networks have always given notes and because they're putting up the money, they have every right. But they're treating the writers like automatons. When they dive into the notes, they frequently do so without any indication whatsoever of what they thought. Knowing whether an executive liked the story document/outline/script has nothing to do with ego. This is about context. If you have no idea what the executive thought, you have no idea how to address their real issue behind the notes, and no idea how fucking long you're going to be on the call. It should be common courtesy to give the writers an inkling about what you think, yes?

That's another reason cable wins: fewer executives, fewer projects, more time spent on each project. I want to see the day when the majority of writers take their best ideas to cable FIRST. And not just HBO or Showtime, but USA and Sci-Fi and FX and AMC.

I mean, why not give that a shot and see what happens?

Speaking of network, Horace wanted to know:
What's with the "Remote Free TV" thing that FOX is plugging for "Fringe" and "Dollhouse?" I mean, giving back some time for the show is fine, and Whedon, at least, will know how to use it, but will Abrams? He's all short scenes, quick-cuts, and pretty much short acts. Michael Gleason or Stephen J. Cannell would be worthy of the extra time.

You're assuming that JJ Abrams has anything to do with Fringe. He's certainly not running it. I don't know what's up with that idea, but I'm sure it comes out of some marketing meeting. Also, it's super hard to comply with the running time. We're edging towards half hour and if your show has a plot, that makes it very difficult. But one reason running times are shorter is because these shows are so massively expensive. Fringe is more expensive than most, and I assume they'll be given even more money for the extra minutes. I've been on many shows that have episodes coming in short because they just can't afford to shoot the whole script. This is directly at odds with Fox's notion. I like the idea of it. As the L.A. Times article says, it puts the focus back on the show. But is it financially feasible? What happens if Fringe tanks?

I'm going to miss Josef. Was he running the Black Crystal business? And what's with his surname change? And why was Chip sacked?

I don't know the answers to any of those! I might if I'd been on staff, but freelance is a different animal.

James Henry:
I think there's a bit of reverse-snobbery here in Britain, in that most production companies like to pretend they're turning out something more than mere 'product', hence a writer being too keen to use that sort of language would be frowned upon quite severely. In fact, I suspect the best position a British screenwriter could adopt is that of a sort of gentleman hobbyist, who spends most of his time gazing nobly acrosss his estate, but spending the odd afternoon in the shed, turning out a perfectly proportioned Final Draft document or two.

Here, we're all, "Hurrah! I'm officially a whore!" Crass Americans.

Also, I'm umming and ahhing about asking my agent how he pushes my 'brand', but I suspect the dread word 'quirky' might bob to the surface, like a turd in a birthing pool, so I may end up just leaving it.

Ugh. Quirky. It connotes so much, and unless you're Diablo Cody, all of it is bad. Quirky means small and out of the mainstream. Quirky doesn't make any money, and people don't understand it. Quirky. Ick.

np - Shake Some Action!, "Shake Some Action!"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Golden Brown

The blog's a little late this week because I foolishly decided to try and write a chapter of the novel every day. That way, I could finish a very rough draft by early next week. I've got about four chapters to go. Hopefully it's not a steaming pile of crap! But I like having something to pound into shape, which is sort of what I did with the first book too, although I did a little more rewriting along the way. I've done even less with this one, but it's shorter, for one thing. And for another, I've been working on it fairly steadily, which helps.

So Moonlight is about as dead as a show can get. Sorry all the fans who are trying to save it, but it's dead. And the studio doesn't care about you, by the way. I wish they did, because then the show wouldn't have been canceled. But they don't. TeeVee is a business, not a love affair. It used to be that network heads did follow their gut and their heart. Not all the time, but it was possible on occasion. No longer. Now, it's all about the money and that's it.

But then isn't that how the world is everywhere? The entertainment biz is unique because it's about trying to make money from a creative enterprise. I think this causes more conflict than, say, banking, where you're trying to make money from money. Makes a little more sense, that.

But the entertainment biz does have something in common with horse racing. The owners of Big Brown, IEAH Racing, only got into the game to make money. Which is unbelievably stupid on the one hand, but I suppose they're having the last laugh now. Their full name is International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, Inc, which is a mouthful of nothing. While they've brought many of their stars back to the track (most notably Kip Deville), this is an investment firm, which means that they must do everything in their power to protect their investment. They are in this for the good of themselves. To make money. They are not in it for the sport, for the love of the game, for racing. Like most big corporations, they only care about the bottom line, which means that the average racing fan (like the average TeeVee fan) is due to be disappointed.

Part of this has to do with the insurance. Insuring a horse worth as much as Big Brown is staggeringly expensive. Ah, the insurance industry! It exists only to fuck people and make as much speculative money as it possibly can!

The days of the small, private stables and small breeders is over. Racing has become a speculative market, sort of like the oil business, which tells you something about how inflated the prices are. It's ALL about speculation: the yearling sales, two-year-old sales, syndication, breeding rights, all of it. The buyers and the sellers are betting on how much the final product will be worth. But see, if this is all there is to the game, there will never BE a final product. Horses will retire earlier and earlier, so as to take advantage of the price offered and so they don't tarnish their reputation by losing or getting hurt.

In my opinion, this got its start with the syndication of Conquistador Cielo. Losing the Travers after Claiborne had made a huge deal for him significantly reduced his value as a stallion.

Racing horses and breeding RACEHORSES and not merely sales prospects no longer has a significant place in racing. Now, it's all driven by the corporations, by the rulers of Dubai and Saudi Arabia, who have gobs of money thanks to America's (and the world's) reliance on fossil fuels.

This DOES have an application to the entertainment industry.

Upfronts are a speculative market. The advertisers are betting on the success of these shows. All the pilots have been vetted by the money guys and the publicity gurus. Studios are nervous because in order to make the shows that will make them money, they have to outlay a fantastic amount of dosh. Hence the creation of the studio micromanagers. And a network, who profits initially from the licensing fee set by the advertisers, will yank an underperforming show, which does fuck the studios, who usually haven't had the time necessary to amortize the costs.

I'd say this creates a culture of fear and also of the quick trigger finger, yes? Shows, like racehorses, aren't nurtured. They aren't allowed to develop a following. They come, they're here for a second, and they go. The fans (TeeVee and racing) feel that they're not listened to (they aren't). TeeVee and racing are considered broken and in need of repair.

But the only thing that will fix both enterprises is for the corporations to allow some independence. Small private breeders and stables are the equivalent of the independent studios that no longer exist. The corporations have changed the game, and they've made it financially impossible for independence to exist. Hell, they do the exact same thing in all other industries. Why should we be surprised?

I feel for the small guy in racing who's trying to make it in this atmosphere. The corporations are destroying the love of the game. Same with TeeVee. There's no love anymore. It's just survival, baby.

In racing, it's especially sad because Big Brown looks like one for the ages. What he did in the Preakness... it's something I've never seen a horse do before. It's just not physically possible.

Enough of the ruminating, now onto some comments:

Margaret sez about Moonlight:
What's too bad is CBS cutting off its nose to spite its face, then turning around and wasting the money to get a new, ugly, obviously fake nose surgically attached.

I just love the way you put that!! And exactly. Let's see how obvious the noses are in the fall. Even more irritating is the fact that the network was going to re-run our episode tomorrow. Now they aren't. Which means I survive for six weeks less. Fuckers.

tlacook wonders:
Doesn't Buffy count as a female superhero?

Nope. Maybe I wasn't specific enough with the rules: female superheroes, in comic books, who are not secondary, sidekicks or spin-offs.

Long handle guy writes:
Geeez. How could you ignore The Girls of Batman: Batgirl and Batwoman (gotta love those girls in black tights). And Wikipedia (that ever popular web source of misinformational "facts" list female superheroes from a to z.

I didn't ignore Batgirl (and Batwoman is stupid). There's a very good current ongoing Batgirl comic and Batgirl: Year One was something I enjoyed very much. HOWEVER. They are mere sidekicks to Batman. They would not exist on their own. That's the rule, pal. See above. I like Nightwing but if I was listing the best superheroes, he wouldn't be on the list because face it, dude's a spin-off, Bludhaven or not.

Branding: In this town it's called "labeling" writers. TeeVee writers write TeeVee and that's it. Features writers write features end of discussion. And then it gets broken down even further into genre: comedy, drama, action for feature writers, pick your specialty. TeeVee the same deal, but with sub-categories: medical, crime, or family drama; sci-fi is another group; and comedy has family, urban, the youth market.

Labeling is not the same as branding. The whole point of the post was for the writers to try and take control and direct it. A label is something applied to you. A brand is something you consciously create.

You have no control over how you're labeled if you don't try to do something about it. I've lost jobs for being too sci-fi, not sci-fi enough, too character-driven, too plot-driven, too dark, too light/soft, too female (we were actually told that the showrunners of a specific show were not allowed to hire any women, and on another show, the showrunner told our agent that he already had enough women on the show. they NEVER say they have enough men on a show). When you find a show you're perfect for and you don't get the meeting because they've chosen a label for you, that's incredibly frustrating.

Anonymous says:
I was prepared to be fairly narrowly branded as an action writer, but I've been noticing that my reps brand me even more narrowly than that, namely as a fairly comedic action writer. I was listening to one of them talk about me the other day, explaining to some other guy what I was all about as a writer, and I had to fight not to jump in and say "But I'd like to write sci-fi and dark thrillers, too!"

It's really tricky. We were labeled (we didn't brand ourselves) as dark genre writers because of Millennium, but our next job was a teen soap. However, since that show never got off the ground (it would be a fucking ginormous hit today, Goddammit), we never got that label. We have romantic comedy and screwball comedy features, but that fact falls on deaf ears. The problem is, the agent needs to be able to package you. Hence the labels. You need to make sense to a producer or a studio and if you're all over the map, it doesn't tell the studio that you're versatile. It confuses them.

But this isn't even new. I know someone (who reads the blog, so I'll be vague!) who made his mark in a certain genre but when he tried another genre, even though the pilot was fantastic, the network was confused. This couldn't have come from him, because he's an X-type of writer. They simply will not listen to you if you've had a huge success in one genre. Look at Judd Apatow. He branded himself; he didn't let anyone else do it. Joss Whedon tried to break out a little bit with Firefly, they smacked him, and he's back on familiar, successful ground with Dollhouse. JJ Abrams, who broke into the biz with huge spec feature sales, is the weird TeeVee guy. But these guys are reveling in that.

I just don't know what to revel in at the moment, and I think a lot of us have the same problem.

Johnny asks:
Isn't branding just an uglier word for having a distinct voice??

I don't think so. I don't think there are that many distinct voices in Hollywood, frankly. I think a distinct voice works in addition to your brand or your label.

James Henry says:
A writer friend of mine discovered he was being referred to by his agent as 'the go-to guy for shows about animated footballs', which he wasn't entirely delighted about as a branding concept.

Yeesh. I should say not.

I also prefer to use the term 'distinct voice' rather than 'brand', lest you end up referring to your scripts as 'product'. Although in reality, I suppose it's a bit of each.

I know what you're saying, but keep in mind that we don't direct the industry. THEY do. We will never get them to speak our language. We have to speak theirs. And if they need to see us in terms of branding, then it's a hell of a lot better that we brand ourselves. To me, a script is product as soon as it gets sent off to the agent. I try to have fun with it beforehand.

Of course now I want to know how my agent would describe my 'distinct voice' in brand terms. Probably best I never find out.

Or maybe it would be illuminating, and helpful. I honestly don't know.

Butcher Boy is here!
We put up 'I Know Who You Could Be' for download on our MySpace page due to the huge reaction to the track being on Moonlight. Just thought some of you may like to know...

I couldn't be happier that people found Butcher Boy due to Moonlight! I only wish there was a season two for more underrated music. Dammit.

np - The Little Ones, "Morning Tide"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Don't Believe the Truth

I would very much like to see the mathematical formula for upfronts and staffing season. At this point, I don't even think it's possible to see the length of staffing season with the naked eye. There was no preparation. No gearing up. No flurry of calls and meetings. It was just... over.

Obviously, this was a weird year, what with the looming strike that destroyed development season, and then the actual strike that destroyed pilot season. But I've noticed that every year, we all go, "Well, you know it WAS a weird year." Now, it's not possible that all the years are weird. Applying Occam's Razor, it's more likely that this is just the way things are gonna be. In other words, no real staffing season. No real pilot season. Sketchy upfronts by networks whose hearts just aren't in it anymore. No pattern to any of it. And as the economy tanks even more, who knows how things will wind up?

Everybody in TeeVee knows that regular staff jobs have practically dried up, especially at mid-level. But what's also happened this staffing is that even the upper-level people are struggling. There just aren't enough jobs. I know I've said this over and over and JESUS, ENOUGH ALREADY, but the studios and networks could make these shows cheaper if they didn't have six or seven executive producers on one show (see Life On Mars). But executives and high-level producers, big old giant apes, have much more power than everybody else. So it makes sense that they will continue to receive the big paydays. Staffs will remain minuscule, and shows will suffer for it.

For those of you trying to break in, know that just being good at your craft isn't going to be enough. There have always been too many writers and too few jobs, but never like this. Making a living on a TeeVee staff isn't the norm anymore and it's not likely to change. I think everybody -- writers, producers, executives and agents -- needs to accept that and figure out alternate ways to make a living in this business.

Anyway, the upfronts yielded few surprises. Well, scratch that -- NO surprises. Since the networks didn't make many shows, it wasn't too tough to figure out what would get on. What is interesting is, there are several genre shows, and some of them will be on CBS. Speaking of good old CBS, everybody knows that they canceled Moonlight. Many reasons are being paraded around the internets but I wouldn't put too much stock in them. It all comes down to one thing, and one thing only -- money. Nobody knows about the backroom deals and squabbles that go on at this time of year. Sheer quality, or the lack thereof depending on your viewpoint, is probably the least important thing during this week.

It's all about the Benjamins, baby.

So now we move into Phase Two of the year, which is about getting noticed, standing out, and writing those specs nobody could write during the strike. This is shit I'm just not comfortable with. I prefer to let the work speak for itself, or not, depending on the executive or showrunner. But that's simply not good enough anymore, as you will learn if you don't brand yourself and don't promote yourself (which is my problem, actually).

Once you've broken into the business and people become familiar with you and your work, they take your competence for granted. In other words, it's assumed you can write. What else you got?

I mentioned that heinous (but utterly fascinating) VH1 show, "I Know My Kid's A Star." One of the things the casting director kept trying to drill into the moms is for them to identify and cultivate their kid's brand. The moms completely drew a blank on this one, because to them, it was enough that little precious was a STAR, Goddammit! She didn't need no stinkin' BRAND! The only mom that managed to figure this out to any degree was the mom whose little precious ended up winning. And I'll say this -- she was the ONLY mother who seemed to give a shit about her daughter as a PERSON. She never got so swept up in the madness of competition and potential stardom that she forgot about her kid.

Anyway. Branding is totally fake and stupid and seems pointless, but it's important. Crucial, even. Because if there are four hundred people who can write, they may as well throw a dart... unless there's something about one writer that makes him or her stand out. Have they written a published novel? Comic books? Do they have an insanely popular, gorgeously written blog? Are they playwrights (this still seems to matter, BTW)? Poets? Lovers? Thieves? Fools? Pretenders?

Agents can only do so much of this. You gotta help 'em out. I've had a hard time with this because, as I mentioned above, I've been in the "let the work speak for itself" mindset. But if your agent can call an executive or a producer and sell YOU as a high-concept idea, it's going to be that much easier to get the meeting. So you, the writer, needs to make that shift and brand yourself. One of the other reasons I have a hard time with this is because I like so many different genres. For example, our pilots run the gamut from an ice-skating family drama to a conspiracy drama influenced by The Prisoner. How the fuck do you brand THAT?

I don't know yet. But I also don't know if I'm comfortable, in this climate, putting all my eggs in one basket. Because what if we decided to take the sci-fi thriller route and all people were looking for was a family drama writer? I think you have to do three times as much work because you have to brand yourself for each genre. That means you have to have the credits AND the samples. It's easy if you're strictly a procedural writer. Being branded as one, if you can get on staff, is incredibly lucrative. We've been on procedurals and have written procedural samples but we're not branded as procedural writers, so we don't get put up for those jobs. Once THEY have decided your brand, there's very little you can to do change it. So it makes sense that YOU direct your own brand and don't let them decide for you.

I'd love to know, from the writers who read the blog, how they feel about branding and if they feel they've either been successful at it, or have successfully defied it. It's an interactive blog today!

In the interest of self-promotion, I wanted to mention a few ongoing projects, notions and possibilities. We're currently working on a few feature specs, one horror and one thriller; two spec pilots, neither of which is genre (oh, branding, fuck off for a minute. They're filling holes); moving forward inch by inch on a graphic novel (which I'll talk more about as it comes to fruition); coming up with internet ideas; we've already gotten our pilot ideas together and will be pitching soon, hopefully; and I'm over halfway done with the YA novel.

That should all be vague enough.

I'll get to some comments in the next post, which I swear won't take this long. It was just a crappy, stupid week. But I did want to comment on Marc Bernardin's response to the female superhero post. He mentioned Wonder Woman and Storm. Wonder Woman is pretty much the only self-sustainable female superhero and I wouldn't include Storm because I was trying to think of female superheroes who weren't specifically a part of a group. So no Invisible Girl, no Storm, no Jean Grey. I thought of Catwoman, too. I've been woefully out of touch with comics in the past few years but I was really enjoying the Catwoman comic. Aside from Catwoman and Wonder Woman and lamer heroes like Witchblade and Barb Wire, though, I can't think of any actual female superheroes. Well, Promethea, I guess, but to me, that comic was more of a metaphysical exercise than a superhero book.

So I decided that I'm going to come up with a female superhero who has her own world. It's probably not viable as a comic because if female superhero comics sold well, there would be more, but... it could be a fun exercise. I might post some of it here when I've had a chance to work it out more.

Lastly, the Preakness is on Saturday and it's Big Brown's race to lose. He's the 1-2 favorite, which is shockingly short. But I don't think there's another grade one winner in the field and his biggest competition, Behindatthebar (ridiculous name), was scratched. Even if Big Brown bounces, he should still handle this bunch. There will be an exciting new shooter in the Belmont, though. Casino Drive is a colt who won his first start in Japan, at nine furlongs. He then shipped to the U.S. and won his second start, the Peter Pan Stakes, also at nine furlongs. So he's unbeaten in only two races and he'll be probably second choice in the Belmont. How can a horse with only two lifetime starts be second choice? Well, because he's by Mineshaft, a horse of the year and classic sort, and he's a half-brother to the last TWO Belmont winners, Rags To Riches and Jazil. Yep, the mare Better Than Honor has foaled the last two winners of the longest dirt race in America and has the second choice this year. That's pretty bloody amazing.

So good luck, Preakness horses!

np -- Elephant, "The Violet Hour"

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Into the Heart

So this past weekend was all about heart. First, the Derby. This year's Derby was an example of the highs and lows in racing. Both Big Brown and Eight Belles showed their heart. Sometimes, heart saves you and other times... it doesn't. Having watched racing for the majority of my life, I've seen tragedies like this. I saw Timely Writer go down in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. I saw Go For Wand lose her battle with Bayakoa in the Breeder's Cup. I saw Barbaro.

I've also seen thousands of horses finish their races and come back healthy.

There's been a lot of talk about pedigree, by people who really don't know what the fuck they're talking about. I'm no pedigree expert by any stretch but if you're going to single out a pedigree flaw in the horse that died, then you're being dishonest by not noticing the exact same pedigree flaw in the winner.

I wouldn't breed to Unbridled's Song (the sire of Eight Belles) if you put a gun to my head, but that's a personal preference. Not all of his foals are infirm and primed to break down. I just happen to hate him as a stallion. The major focus on pedigree has been on the appearance of Native Dancer in Eight Belles' pedigree. She is inbred 5x5 to Native Dancer and, through his son Raise A Native, 6x6. This means that, in the fifth generation of her pedigree, Native Dancer appears twice and in the sixth, he also appears twice.

Native Dancer has been singled out as a pedigree disaster because of the infirmities of his foals. Infirmities that, somehow, led Northern Dancer, who is out of a Native Dancer mare, to the winner's circle in the Derby. Native Dancer himself lost only one race in his career -- the Kentucky Derby. Native Dancer sired Dancer's Image, the only horse to be disqualified from winning the Derby; Derby and Preakness winner Kauai King; Kentucky Oaks winner Native Street.

Northern Dancer himself is one of the greatest sires the sport has ever known. His successful offspring are too numerous to mention. They really are. But they include English Triple Crown winner Nijinsky II; champion European miler Sadler's Wells; Irish and Epsom Derby winner The Minstrel; Irish Derby winner El Gran Senor; Epsom Derby winner Secreto; Irish Derby winner Shareef Dancer... the list really does go on. Northern Dancer's sons, in particular, have carried his mantle at stud. Nijinsky II, El Gran Senor, The Minstrel, Nureyev and, most notably, Danzig and Sadler's Wells (the most successful sire of the 20th century after Northern Dancer).

Raise A Native, a son of Native Dancer, is the sire of Alydar and of Exclusive Native, the sire of Affirmed. He's also sired Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince, Native Partner (one of the most influential broodmares of the latter part of the century) and, most notably, Mr. Prospector, sire of Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo, Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, Preakness winner Tank's Prospect, champion sprinter Gulch (sire of Derby winner Thunder Gulch, grandsire of Preakness and Belmont winner Point Given) and, for good measure, Smart Strike, the sire of last year's Horse of the Year Curlin, and champion turf horse English Channel.

I would need a whole other blog post just to talk about Mr. Prospector's influence.

What isn't mentioned is Big Brown's pedigree. Terrified of this bloodline? Then run away, chillun, because Big Brown's inbred 3x3 to Northern Dancer, or 5x5 to Native Dancer. SAME AS EIGHT BELLES.

These asshats also tried to bring Barbaro into this fold. Sure, Native Dancer shows up in Barbaro's pedigree. Once. In the fifth generation.

Oh, and by the way? Native Dancer was born in 1950. Singling out Native Dancer as the major reason Eight Belles broke down is ludicrous when you consider how many Thoroughbreds trace back to him. For every break-down, I can name you two successful, sound racehorses.

I'll stop now with the pedigree B.S. I promise.

Like the entertainment industry, racing is a business. If something is successful, it will be repeated. It's impossible to deny the influence Native Dancer has had on pedigree. I mean, I didn't even talk about Raise A Native and Mr. Prospector. Dictating to the people in racing that they don't know what the fuck they're doing and aren't at all concerned about the horses is ridiculous, and reminiscent of how people try to dictate the same kind of bullshit to the entertainment industry. For some reason, people who don't know anything know best.

I know just enough about racing to know that I'm no expert. If people would try very hard not to be ignorant, maybe they'd see how much care is given to these horses. Really, you have no idea. They live better than we do. They're monitored around the clock. And when something happens to one of them, NOBODY FEELS WORSE THAN THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE WITH THESE HORSES EVERY DAY. Not a viewer, not a PETA member. NOBODY.

What happened to Eight Belles was a tragedy. But the filly wasn't sent into the starting gate hurt. She wouldn't have been there if she'd even sneezed. That leads me back to heart. And heart is why people love this sport. All you have to do to understand heart is to watch Affirmed battle Alydar, or Personal Ensign run down Winning Colors. Horses don't run because they're forced to. They run because they love to. Believe me, if a thousand pound animal decided he didn't want to run, nothing you could do would make him.

When Secretariat died, veterinarians discovered that his heart was substantially larger than that of most Thoroughbreds, which led people to wonder if his giant heart had contributed to his greatness. Maybe it also helped to explain how he was never able to duplicate that greatness in his foals. There's another large heart theory involving Nureyev, a son of Northern Dancer and Big Brown's dam's sire. Apparently, Nureyev also had an extraordinarily large heart that he's passed on to some of his foals. Because Big Brown so resembles Nureyev, the thought is that he's inherited this trait.

Kind of cool if true, and maybe it bodes well for a successful Triple Crown for Big Brown.


Heart was also represented in a more fun, escapist way. Heart features prominently Iron Man, which is probably the best superhero movie I've ever seen. Not only is this movie a fucking blast, but there's a lot going on subtextually. Tony Stark's arc reactor is where his heart should be. Tony Stark the genius essentially uses that genius and upgrades his heart. Having reverse-engineered the organ into the thing that keeps him alive, he finally understands it on a micro level. With the Iron Man suit, he understands it on a macro level. He knows what the heart can do. But he still underestimates himself until he sees, in Obbadiah, what the heart can do when used by a villain.

He discards that first heart when he makes a better one. Pepper returns it to him, reminding him that it's important even if it's no longer state-of-the-art, and that it's not just a cool little device. It's HIM. When his heart is stolen by Obbadiah (seriously, if you name your kid Obbadiah Stain, you're just asking for trouble), he recognizes the value of his prototype. It goes above and beyond for him. And there's a lovely callback when the heart seems to have stopped but then it flickers back to life. The audience hears Pepper call Tony's name, which echoes what happens when Tony's being tortured and the reactor shorts out.

I love Iron Man because he's a superhero who isn't bitten by a spider, who doesn't come from another planet, who hasn't simply mutated. He's just a dude with a giant brain. Tony Stark finds a way to fully realize his superhero attribute -- his genius. Smart IS sexy and powerful. But behind all of that, he's still mortal, and he still has to deal with the legacy of his company and with the others who have a stake in it. Without being preachy, the movie touches on the military-industrial complex and the status quo that goes with it. Because if you change it, what happens to that status quo? If Tony Stark decides to stop making weapons, that affects millions of people. He doesn't seem to realize that until later in the movie. He thinks it'll be easy. Hey, his name's on the building, right? He should be able to do what he wants. But he's allowed himself to be blind all these years. He's lied to himself. He's hidden behind that playboy exterior. Iron Man, the externalization of who he can be, breaks him out of that.

He's going to fight not only to save the world, but to save his company, too.

And just to nerd out for a minute... Nick Fury!! NICK. FURY. Too cool. I can't wait for the sequel.

Iron Man did get me thinking about one thing, though. Female superheroes. Are there truly any who stand on their own?

I said I'd get to some comments, so I'll pack 'em in here.

JJ says:
What?! No moral outrage (like your pal the Artful Writer has) at Patric's outing of those horrible and self-serving ficores?


I'm outraged. How's that?? Eh, I don't think there's any big discussion that needs to happen here. It's a fairly easy call to say that the e-mail was completely the wrong thing to do. I haven't checked out Artful Writer in ages. Is Craig pretending that he came up with the outrage all on his own?

Just because I like you, I've set my DVR to record Moonlight (my first time. ever.) And since my neighbor has one of those nifty Nielson boxes attached to her 60 inch big screen, I've convinced her to do the same. Even if neither of us actually watches TV on Friday (it is date night after all) we can still set our DVR/TiVo to record and help out a pal.

Well, shucks! Thanks!! I think it worked a bit. The show seemed to do okay last week, so we're still on the bubble. This Friday's the all-important one, though. If it does the same numbers, it has an excellent shot to come back.

Working AD was a little miffed with my proclamation on TeeVee directors:
I agree that television is a writers' medium, and that you really need to have a good script before anything else can happen. The pilots of "West Wing", "Miami Vice" and "Moonlighting" are great pieces of work - first because they are terrific scripts, and then because they were executed so well. I agree that many TV directors are jobbed in, but the good ones can take a good script into an excellent show. Every series has the director that the producers, cast and crew look forward to - just because that's the person that usually does a good episode.

I think directors have a lot to add. Absolutely. But they're adding TO something. That's not to take away from what they do but when someone yammers on about how the pilot directors are THE auteurs of TeeVee, I gotta speak up. Because that's just stupid. And what I was trying to say was, there doesn't HAVE to be one person responsible for something. My biggest issue with pilot directors is the same issue I have with feature writers who create shows and then take off. They're getting a pretty big chunk of the budget every week for doing fuck-all. That's money that can't be spent on production or staff. I think this is one of the things that's really fucking TeeVee. And if you have a Barry Sonnenfeld who hoovers up money and time, I think it may look pretty, but it's counterproductive to making TeeVee.

Currently, I believe you've been working with David Barrett (the producing director) on "Moonlight". Have you found the work to be positive?

I haven't been able to work with him directly yet and I hope there's a season two so I will. A good producing director is a huge asset to a series, especially in this age of smaller staffs.

Margaret, thanks for the nice words! I will spend that quarter of a penny wisely. Hope you're still enjoying the show!

Edouard wanted to know what I thought of Lost and Battlestar Galactica. Lost is... okay. I mean, I'm still watching it, so that's something, right? I like the flash-forwards a lot but what I don't like is having to wait until the very end of this show to really figure out what I think about it. Galactica has been exceptional this year. The actors have stepped it up a lot and the revelations have been fantastic. The only thing I worry about with Galactica is that it gets a little confusing at times, sort of short-handed in a weird way.

Edouard also wondered:
The "Butcher Boy" song at the end of "Click" was awesome ("I know who you could be")! Great choice that can only be yours. Nice to see you had some input this time beside writing the episode. Did you see it through editing and post ?

I wish! I love being in editing but when you're freelance, that's not your job. Sort of like being an opening act. Yes, the Butcher Boy song was written into the script and I'm thrilled it made the show. The Maroon 5 song, of course, was not my choice. Do not blame me. I obviously know better, as I've made lots of fun of them in the past.

Johnny says:
All this time I thought the derby posts where a metaphor for how Hollywood works... but you really are talking about horsies running in a circle, aren't you?

Heh. Poor baby. It's the Triple Crown so after the first Saturday in June, things will return to normal. And really, there's not a lot to talk about TeeVee wise yet. Let's see what next week's upfronts bring, and whether or not the actors are going to strike.

Horace sez:
So, Beth puts out a contract, and then goes to dinner. PTSD? That seems the only conclusion that would justify her shift to the dark side.

It's this new thing we're trying -- character complexity, wherein a character decides he or she will do anything for another character, regardless of the consequences. We thought it would be neat to give it a shot. You don't see it very much on TeeVee, so I can see what it confused you.

Devon says:
Colonel John looked so completely disinterested that I didn't bet him, although Tiznow used to do the same thing and then, going around the final turn would go, "hey, there are horses in front of me; don't like it" and power through. But I'm glad I passed on CJ this time around.

He got kinda slammed coming out of the gate, along with Pyro, and as usually happens with a lot of these horses, he had no idea where he was during the running of the race. They REALLY need to cut the field down to 14. I'm sick to death of horses running up the track because of traffic and coming back strong in the Preakness.

Big Brown surprised me. I bet on him, but didn't think he'd keep his head together enough to pull it off.

He surprised me, too. I didn't think he'd really get the distance and with only three starts, I thought he would be disoriented. I think he may just be a freak.

I'm interested to see how he'll do in the Preakness, if his feet aren't too sore for him to run.

I know Dutrow's worried about the two weeks, but come on. He's the only trainer who blew his horse out close to the race. Let's keep that old-school stuff going!

deepstructure goes:
i guess i wasn't clear, because that was exactly not my point. i was saying there's a bunch of people would love to be in your position because they love to write and create and aren't getting paid to do so now.

Well... technically, I'm not being paid to do it, either, seeing as how I've just filed for unemployment!

Sherrie says:
Fabulous Moonlight episode Kay!!! Well done!


As for the Derby, boy oh boy am I impresssed. Big Brown accomplished a feat for the ages. It's a real shame about Belles...a freak accident, just a totally freaking accident.

Didn't you know that she was inbred to Native Dancer and that's what caused it??

What sort of buzz (if any) is going around Hollytown with regards to new shows coming down the pipeline? And please don't tell me more "reality" crap! Any possiblity of reviving Journeyman or New Amsterdam?

Journeyman's gone. Don't know about New Amsterdam, but I would think it's gone. Honestly, I haven't heard a thing! The strike screwed up pilot season so I haven't heard any buzz at all. There are usually staffing meetings going on even during pilot production but either nobody had time, or they did the meetings and we just didn't get any!

Since upfronts are next week, you would think there'd be some buzz but I haven't heard a thing. And I've only been focusing on Moonlight's numbers!!

Matt wonders:
Kay, I have a Millennium question. A season three question. (Sorry.) What did the title Saturn Dreaming of Mercury mean? I've never seen an explanation.

I have NO idea! Some kind of astrological thing? I really don't know.

np -- Oasis, I Wanna Live In A Dream (oh, yeah, NEW DEMOS, BABY!!!!!)