Friday, July 31, 2009

The Cross-Eyed Rambler

So Comic Con has morphed into "A celebration of popular culture." A good time was had by all 10,000 nerds and 100,000 film executives. There was some slick marketing at work, too. AMC did a wonderful job promoting The Prisoner, and I have the Village picture ID to prove it. Disney created a Tron-tastic Flynn's Arcade. And someone told me that there were comic books in the dealer's room. I never got the chance to run them to ground, so I don't know if it was true or just some crazy dream.

I did three panels. The first was a TV writing panel that was VERY well attended, both on the panel and in the room. Because of this, there will be hundreds of people applying for writer's assistant jobs all over Hollywood. I also did a panel celebrating the films of 1979 but I stupidly decided to look at what TeeVee was on in 1979. So if you were at that panel and thought I didn't have the power of speech, well... that's why. There's only so much one can say about Star Trek:TMP and Alien, and I didn't say any of it.

The third panel was the much venerated Starship Smackdown, which is always fun even though it's FIXED EVERY YEAR, YOU BASTARDS! If you want to sit through 90 minutes of nerd mayhem, it's on YouTube. You can judge for yourself, but the Serenity and the Defiant got RIPPED OFF. This was not only MY impression.

Nobody went to the panel for the Patricia Heaton sitcom, which may dissuade know-nothing studio people from bringing shit that is decidedly not genre. Even the new generation wasn't fooled.

I didn't make it to the Iron Man 2 panel, the Avatar panel, the True Blood panel (haven't seen any of season two yet) or even the Torchwood panel. It was just too crazy. But something became sorta clear to me over the weekend. There's a split in geekdom. It's not totally obvious yet but it's the first time I've really seen it. I imagine the 2009 panel in 20 years (unless we've all uploaded our consciousnesses to the server by then). The panel will be discussing Transformers 2. Not Alien. There was a lot of crap in 1979 (Moonraker, Buck Rogers, The Black Hole) but there were also wonderful films (Apocalypse Now, Time After Time, Alien, Life of Brian). There was just a lot more actual storytelling, and less marketing and branding, back in 1979. But now, movies don't get made unless they're approved by the marketing department. And actual screenplays made up out of whole cloth aren't selling. It's all remakes and board games.

But for the people who wooted at Transformers 2, well... that's their Alien. They don't do story. They do giant robots somehow turning into Corvettes. Story simply isn't necessary when you have a million terrabytes of storage for your giant robot. Back in 1979, genre fans saw movies, but they also read books and comics. They were much closer to the origins of the movies they were seeing. Genre fans now, though, are much further away. Many of them just see giant robot movies and buy the toys. They don't have that connection to actual science fiction and fantasy. They don't want to read an Isaac Asimov book. They just want a giant robot in the movie.

I don't know if anyone else noticed this division but it was apparent to me that the discussions we were all having were being drowned out by the clamoring giant robot masses. We didn't grow up in the age of all marketing, all the time. We recognized it, sure, but it didn't permeate every aspect of our lives. It's doing that now. We're exhausted by it, but the people who grew up with this nonsense are exhilarated by it. They're used to it, and it works on them. Fighting that is a losing battle, as all the smart executives and producers also know.

But sometimes, when we got together in smaller groups, the spirit and the enthusiasm of great speculative fiction rose again. So no matter how bad things get, and they will likely get worse, there's always the hope and desire to go back to what excites us, even if we have to self-publish or make shit ourselves.

When I got home from Comic Con, I saw that NBC finally evicted Ben Silverman, replacing him with a dude whose resume is all reality and no scripted programming. I don't know what that bodes for NBC but what it DOES mean is that they know what they were doing wasn't working. It's actually a great time to fire him because it means that people won't have dead projects. Well, as long as all the other development execs stay. So going forward, hopefully NBC will have a new mandate. I have to think that they wouldn't have fired dear old Ben if they wanted to continue with reality nonsense. So even though the new guy's resume is all about reality, maybe they've got something up their sleeves after all.

A girl can hope.

In honor of Comic Con (not really), I offer you what may be the first in a series. Our first YouTube movie: A Child's First Hitchcock.

An actual short post today, because sometimes I keep my promises. Comments next time. Probably.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dead July

Comic Con is here! I'm going, but not until tomorrow. I'm sneaking onto a few panels. Two on Sunday: 1979, and Starship Smackdown. And on Saturday, see me rant in person on the TV panel. There are lots of other folks on it so I will only rant briefly. Ah, Comic Con, where I shall live on Balance bars and the tears of Twilight fans...

In its venerable honor, I have a science fictional-type rant. There isn't much TeeVee to discuss because everybody else hasn't yet seen all of Torchwood: Children Of Earth. If you haven't seen it, it will shock you. If you think Torchwood is silly and forgettable bullshit, fuck you.

I've added the new draft of A Town Called Malice to the Pilots folder for your reading pleasure. Don't read it in the bathroom. Or do. Whichever.

First of all, thanks to io9.com for always giving me material. Recently, they published a piece on science fiction writer Adam Roberts' call of bullshit on the Hugo shortlist. I was fascinated by the way he just fucking tore into the finalists. So fascinated, in fact, that I sought out his website, just to see what he was all about. And boy, did I find out! Go to his website (adamroberts.com, of course!) and watch him squirm with false modesty as he posts glowing reviews of his work. Then watch him take it like a man when critics aren't so thrilled with it. The further you scroll through his posts, the more you'll come across those reviews and his responses. And also his swipes at other novelists. He swipes A LOT. But it's all in the name of making science fiction better, isn't it? After my brief tour, I'm not so sure.

What's somewhat bizarre is that he's touting a book that's coming out at some point. It's called "I Am Scrooge - A Zombie Tale For Christmas." Yes. It's a literary zombie mash-up. Dickens would be SO proud. So would the dude who invented the zombie. I kinda think that if you're going to position yourself as the literary arbiter of quality in science fiction, you MAY not want everyone to know about your zombie Scrooge book.

He's written A LOT of books (good for you, Adam Roberts!). If you look on Amazon for his book "Yellow Blue Tibia" (the book he mentions the most on his page), you will see that its Amazon sales rank is 409,628. Two people have reviewed the book. If you also look up Cory Doctorow's "Little Brother" (one of the books he wearily dismisses), that book's Amazon sales rank is 2,962 and 130 people reviewed it. John Scalzi's "Zoe's Tale," which also came in for quite a slapping at the keyboard of Roberts, 23,358 and 58 customer reviews. His ultimate rejection of Neil Gaiman's "Graveyard Book" as "twee and cozy" makes sense, given that Gaiman's book is ranked #108 on Amazon.

He says:
Widely publicised shortlists of mediocre art are a bad thing. What do these lists say about SF to the multitude in the world-to the people who don't know any better? It says that SF is old-fashioned, an aesthetically, stylistically and formally small-c conservative thing. It says that SF fans do not like works that are too challenging, or unnerving; that they prefer to stay inside their comfort zone.


BOOKS LIKE MINE, DAMN YOU, MINE!!!!! Read my fucking Zombie Scrooge book! I'm HILARIOUS! And literary!

He has no beef with YA but can't understand why Terry Pratchett's YA novel wasn't nominated instead of that fucking populist Neil Gaiman.

This isn't a fan with a blog. This is a published novelist, vomiting pretentiously all over other published novelists. Does this seem like the best choice he could have made? Especially when the people you're barking about sell more books and get more recognition than you do? Look, even if your point is excellent and you ARE the second coming of brilliance and deep thought, the first thing that's going to enter someone's mind is that you're a jealous cock.

It's dangerous to be that guy. You know him. You've been cornered by him at conventions. He's got that fixed look in his eye and he slags off anything that's popular. Sometimes (and this is when it gets good) to the person he's actually slagging off. Or to that person's agent, or editor, or publisher. Or best friend. Or biggest fan. Adam Roberts is the guy screaming into the wind about how much popular science fiction sucks, and what a great science fiction novel should accomplish. Adam Roberts is trying to be the guy who saves science fiction from apes like those on the Hugo shortlist. He fails to note that the Hugos are not voted on by Adam Roberts and his ilk (whoever THEY may be). And they won't ever be.

Yeah, there's a lot of crap in science fiction. There's even more crap in fantasy (WAAAY more crap, and longer). But the Hugos HAVE been known to nominate and reward tremendously talented writers. Winners include Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin, Larry Niven, Isaac Asimov, Roberts' own beloved Arthur C. Clarke, Connie fucking WILLIS and Robert Charles Wilson. Not bad for people who don't know any better.

Adam Roberts' point is not just that great science fiction (as dictated by him because he is ADAM ROBERTS) should exist, but that it should be rewarded. Only not, because the people doing the choosing don't know how to recognize greatness (if they did, then Adam Roberts would be more popular). People who read science fiction can't tell that "Little Brother" was "stylistically dull." Of course, I was too busy reveling in Doctorow's world to notice.

He opines:
[T]he very heart's-blood of literature is to draw people out of their comfort zone; to challenge and stimulate them, to wake and shake them; to present them with the new, and the unnerving, and the mind-blowing. And if this true of literature, it is doubly or trebly true of science fiction. For what is the point of SF if not to articulate the new, the wondrous, the mindblowing and the strange?...


Dude, you wrote a Scrooge ZOMBIE novel.

Adam Roberts' books apparently don't entertain, because he is totally against entertainment. But I don't want to be lectured by language. Even mediocre populist bullshit like the Hugo shortlist can enlighten. Or, it can also do what ALL books should ALWAYS do -- TELL A GOOD FUCKING STORY.

He praises the Arthur C. Clarke Awards as a shortlist of high merit. The Clarke Awards are for British science fiction, which really does start to illuminate what Roberts' problem is -- see, Adam Roberts juuust happens to be British. And the Clarke awards, which do nominate American writers, tend to focus on the British ones. The Hugos, on the other hand, keep nominating these dirty Americans. Well, except for Neil Gaiman, who Roberts must consider more American than English because he really seems to dislike Gaiman. Or maybe he's just pissed that he can't whinge about how British writers never get any notice because Gaiman's a huge name.

According to Roberts, the Brits who choose the Clarke shortlist are able to see the fresh and new, while the fans who (reject Roberts) choose the Hugo shortlist, are not. Curiously, the Neal Stephenson book appears on both lists. Oops. I also find it weird that he considers Alastair Reynolds a master storyteller and twister of the genre, yet he doesn't see Stephenson this way. For the record, I ADOOOOORE Alastair Reynolds. He is a startlingly brilliant storyteller. Yes, I'm American, and I've read the guy. But if you want to talk about innovation, I think Stephenson's Snow Crash deserves a spot near the top of the list. But then Stephenson is an American. Bleargh. He gives a favorable mention to Clarke shortlist members Paul J. McAuley and Ian R. MacLeod, but not to Sheri S. Tepper. McAuley and MacLeod are both British. Tepper was born in the wilds of Colorado. COLORADO!!! HE slags off British writer Mark Wernham a bit but then says that at least he's trying something new. Methinks he considers Wernham a colleague, and he's a tiny bit jealous that Wernham got the recognition first.

His contention is that if you simply enjoy reading a well written, good story, then that is crap. YOU are crap. But if your brain physically changes while you are reading, then that is art. The problem with this that reading can't be quantified in that way. I mean, I really don't like those Harry Potter books. I don't think they're any good, and I think the stuff JK Rowling stole from is much, much better. Just better written, better characters, better plotted. But the people who love those books are enraptured by them. Something unquantifiable happens to their brains when they heft their Harry Potter tome. I doubt very much that Roberts would insist Harry Potter is life-changing art. It also won a Hugo. Blech.

The whole fucking POINT is to be transported to another place. I mean, isn't that science fiction and fantasy right there? It's about world-building. Making the world and the characters real enough for the reader to dive into. I don't care how many big words you use, or how many obscure philosophical concepts or pages straight from Joyce you cram in there. If you can't tell a STORY, then you are just fucked. More than any other group, people who read science fiction and fantasy are looking to be transported. The people who buy the books decided what had transported them the most. People like Roberts have to be careful here. If all you want is critical acclaim, then self-publish or whatever. Send your adorable little manuscript to some member of the Royal Philosophical Society. But you can't be this guy AND sell your books to lots of people. You just can't. All I can conclude from this is that Adam Roberts doesn't know how to tell a story.

If you're Harlan Ellison, then you can make public critical points. You've earned it, and you've been rewarded by every group imaginable. Some may even have had British people in them. But if you're a guy who's written a bazillion books but hasn't broken through to the Hugo big-time, then you sound like a petulant whiner. Adam Roberts is the Rhoda Penmark of science fiction, without the murderous tendencies. Which just leaves someone bitter and angry and obvious.

Y'know, it IS possible to be popular AND good. The writers on the shortlist for the Hugos have accomplished both feats. Adam Roberts, however, has not. He may be an exquisite writer of bizarrely amusing Philip K. Dick pastiches, but based on how he conducts himself in the online-o-sphere, it wouldn't surprise me if his work is overwritten and far less clever than he thinks it is.

Poncy wicket.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Great Hosannah

It's been a busy few weeks, gentle readers. We've been rewriting our pilot and pitching which, by the way, has been a blast. We wanted to take the show on the road but there are only so many networks. We've never gone out with a spec pilot before, and we've never had talent attached. So the entire process has been new and unexpected. But now we wait and see if anyone bites. NO idea how long answers will take, but probably longer than normal. Whatever happens, we met new great people and it was satisfying to dive back into an old pilot. I'll update it in the file section at some point, so anyone who read the earlier draft can see what great notes and fantastic collaboration can get you. Shooting this pilot, with these people, would be a freakin' dream.

Anyway, apologies for the lack of rant. But fortunately, Hollywood has been a busy little bee these past few weeks. It has not let us down. There's plenty to rant about.

SyFy debuted its new spelling last week and they aired their first newly spelled show, Warehouse 13. Numbers-wise, it did well for them. They need the show to work so it would have to seriously tank to worry them. I generally liked it, especially the leads. I didn't think I would at first, but both leads do more with their stock characters than you'd expect. However, I'm not terribly fond of the uptight female character, and the "let's share our private pain" scene had too much of a list-making quality to it. It feels like they went for type first and character second. Plot-wise, too, I think they could have done better. Maybe knowing something about Lucrezia Borgia would help? There's a simplicity and a cleanliness of story that marks excellent pilots, and Warehouse 13 lacked a bit in that department. But as a show on TeeVee, it fits in nicely. If any viewers had other expectations, you're looking at the wrong network. SyFy HAS to re-brand itself away from the darkness of Battlestar Galactica. They had a taste of the critical acclaim and it didn't mean as much as numbers do. They're okay with that and an audience that tunes in to their shows should be okay with it, too. They wanted a lighter show with close-ended episodes that would be a companion for Eureka. That's what Warehouse 13 is.

If you think about what scrutiny this show has gotten from the network (it is, after all, launching Y's), then the confusion and wishywashiness of the pilot is understandable. This is a concept that wasn't delivered to screen by the person who actually came up with it. And that's always going to cause some trouble in TeeVee. I'm a firm believer in TeeVee being creator-driven. TeeVee, however, has a different opinion. The execs seem to be in line with film execs, where a literary vision just isn't important. Since the whole POINT of TeeVee is that it's creator-driven, that is just plain unfortunate.

So I watch Warehouse 13 and I'm fine with it, but then The X-Files comes on. It's Ascension, the episode after Duane Barry when Barry kidnaps Scully and they use that awesome Nick Cave song, "Red Right Hand." And I'm thinking, "Was it REALLY the right decision to have X-Files anywhere in proximity to Warehouse 13?" X-Files is the show they're always trying to do. But networks are rarely about the sensation of a show. They're about the hard realities. So the elements of X-Files that supposedly work are two FBI agents chasing weird shit. Never mind the zeitgeist of the moment, or the fact that we hadn't really seen a show that had mythology AND standalone episodes. Forget about the feel of Vancouver, the gray rain and the forest. That was all NEW to the viewers. The tone was new. The pacing was new. Woman-as-skeptic and not emotional basket-case was new. Mulder being bat-shit crazy was new.

Incidentally, for all the talk about X-Files being inspired by Kolchak, its real inspiration was The Invaders. Fox Mulder is David Vincent without the proof.

Anyway. X-Files was described as a show where the two leads were believer and skeptic. Great, right? A perfect pitch. A pitch that has completely fucked up television forever, by the way. Because now you're expected to put your characters into those particular boxes, especially when you're pitching a genre show. And that leads to types and not to actual characters.

I think that when there are zeitgeist shows, they exist for several reasons. One reason, and this is something that you can't manage or predict, is the timing. Not only for that particular show, but network timing as well. You need a network that is primed to let the show be the show. Fox did this with X-Files, and the WB did it with Buffy. We don't really have that network now. Oh, AMC's shows are brilliant, but they only have two (and a new one coming on eventually). So that doesn't help creators. There's simply not enough product. But the bigger reason for zeitgeist shows is that there's something in them that we haven't seen before. Buffy's another example of that. Buffy was a metaphorical high school show in which the metaphor was something we hadn't seen in a high school show before.

But see, you can't just make it happen. It's not the specific, obvious elements that makes these shows work. It's that intangible creator part. THOSE decisions, which are made by the person who DREAMED THE SHOW UP IN THE FIRST PLACE, take the show to a place that can't be replicated.

Nobody seems to get this. And nobody seems to get how important characters are. How integral were Mulder and Scully to their world? How about Buffy? You can't just cynically plop down characters in a world we've seen before and expect people to get excited. But that's exactly what the networks are asking of the writers and the audiences. They don't REALLY want Mad Men or Breaking Bad. They want the acclaim.

To wit: SyFy's relieved at the numbers for Warehouse 13. And good for them and the people on the show. I hope it works. I no longer, however, hope it works so that we can shoehorn more genre onto the TeeVee. Because that's not going to be happening. SyFy is not, as you would hope, opening the floodgates to fresh, original voices. Instead, they'll be remaking Alien Nation and Quantum Leap.

Okay, see, when someone goes, "Hey, they re-run all these great genre shows," that is not an invitation to remake them. Instead, it should make them want to hear ORIGINAL pitches in that specific genre. But network and studios don't seem to be operating that way anymore. In fact, this has been the worst few weeks EVER for movie and TeeVee announcements (except for ours, of course, which isn't a remake or a board game). I just have to wonder if ANYONE is embarrassed by these announcements. I mean, do they know, deep down, that they're putting another nail into the coffin of entertainment? When a studio goes, "So yeah, we're developing Hong Kong Phooey as a movie," is there even a twinge of awareness?

What's even more worrisome about this is that they make these announcements. Because if you WERE going to develop something stupid into a film, and you knew it was stupid but you have to feed the corporate machine and it doesn't care if money is stupid or not, wouldn't you NOT make a huge trade announcement?

Besides Hong Kong Phooey (I mean, FUCK!!), we'll also see big-screen adaptations of TJ Hooker and The Big Valley. I shit you not. The Big fucking VALLEY. Which they won't, BTW, SHOOT IN THE ACTUAL BIG VALLEY. That's bad enough, but now they have to cast someone as Victoria Barkley. If you're a zygote, Victoria Barkley was played by the great Miss Barbara Stanwyck. If you're stupid and have never heard of her, well... fuck you. And actresses? I know you need work. I know it's tough out there. DO NOT STEP INTO BARBARA STANWYCK'S BOOTS. Seriously. You don't want this.

When I worked at Universal, we used to play this game where we'd fake-cast TeeVee shows as movies. Almost all of those shows have been made into films. What we didn't do, though, was cast toys and board games as movies (stupid us, apparently). But now we're going to see the ViewMaster movie. I can't WAIT for the Comic Con panel on THAT. I figured, Hell, if studios are all into buying games and toys for adaptations, lemme get IN on this bitch. So I worked up a few loglines:

SLINKY: When the Anderson family's car breaks down, they're forced to stay at the spooky, mysterious Staircase Inn, which was built by a Winchester cousin. The two inquisitive Anderson children unknowingly unleash the Slinky monster and must team up with a local Slinky hunter to destroy the monster.

CONNECT FOUR: In the future, a holographic four-dimensional game determines whether a person lives or dies. But when a mild-mannered holographic tech discovers a nefarious plan to fix the game and kill the President, he teams up with a game designer to foil the plot.

UNO: While on a dig in Egypt, an archaeologist digs up an ancient deck of cards that unleashes a terrible power, which can only be stopped by playing a medieval card game, the instructions to which were lost centuries ago.

SIMON: A community living in a state-of-the-art incorporated town are terrorized when SIMON, the computer that keeps the town running, short-circuits and begins exercising ultimate control over the town's residents. It's up to a former Navy SEAL and his estranged genius son to stop SIMON and save the town.

MONCHICHI: An alien race of -- oh, fuck it. They were too creepy.

And for nostalgia's sake, remember when they'd just make movies out of rides?

SPACE MOUNTAIN: A grieving Commander Rip Griffin, whose wife was killed in an asteroid accident, is sent on an undercover mission by the Space Corps, where he must pose as an illegal miner so that he can gain access to the lair of an evil overlord who is using black hole technology to build a series of space mountains, which he will use to crush every planet in the system.

Seriously, don't be concerned when Inch-High Private Eye and The Far Out Space-Nuts surface. Because they will. I just wonder what they'll wind up with last. Cereal, maybe. Are we looking at a Count Chocula-Cap'n Crunch team-up??

Rant over. FOR NOW.

np -- The Jam, "All Mod Cons"

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Ancient Commonsense Of Things

Stop making fun of Billy Mays, ironic-distance professionals! Yes, the shouting annoyed me too but then I watched his and Anthony Sullivan's show on Discovery. Not so annoying anymore. So stop it.

It's been a busy few weeks, hence no blog post. I've been doing a rewrite on a pilot we're going to be taking out and hopefully selling. Which leads me to this:

David writes,
HUGE congrats on A Town Called Malice! After reading this blog for about a year, I'm insanely happy for you and your new success! I hope this leads to you being on my television permanently :) Oh, and do give us the new knowledge gained from your success and do tell us the whole story as to how you sold your pilot!


Thanks! But to be clear, we haven't sold it yet. We've done the thing that I hope is going to make people want to be in business with us. We've attached talent, and we've gotten promotion for it. The way the business is working at the moment is that it's almost if not completely impossible for working writers to sell pilots. There's already at least one major studio that isn't taking pitches from anyone who isn't a giant ape, or doesn't have great attachments. We couldn't be happier with the team we've got, and now it's up to the networks to make the next move. I'll keep everyone posted on that process.

David Thom wonders:
Comic book writers are the new hot hire in TV? Any idea why?


Geek is the new cool. I think JJ Abrams, et al, have made this effect happen. And the way projects are being set up is different, too. Comic books have become the new novels, the go-to source for material. So much so that writers are publishing their own comics and sticking a few copies in Golden Apple or Meltdown in the hopes that some eager producer or executive will buy them. This has been happening in film for awhile and since film people are always coming to TeeVee, now it's happening here, too.

There's actually more distressing news, though, which is in the following article that Kira sent. The article, from Variety, is about how studios aren't giving as many overall deals in TeeVee this year. It's a very sad article, as you can see from the first sentence:

With everyone in TV tasked with doing more with less, will top scribes have the time and energy to come up with primetime's next big smash?


I mean, THOSE POOR FUCKERS! Now about ten percent of writers in the business are being asked to not only write and run TeeVee shows, but at the SAME TIME, they have to also create new shows!! And they also get to charge their exorbitant script fees for that! Wouldn't it be great if there were, say, around ninety percent of a workforce that isn't as expensive as a giant ape showrunner, isn't doing the work of twelve, and might -- just might -- have some new ideas? Seriously, a friend of mine has a pilot idea that would make you guys beg like dogs. But she's not a giant ape, so it's not on the air.

Making it even tougher for scribes, this year, most series are having to make do with smaller staffs -- once again, a result of the weak economy. But that also means more work for everyone, including those writers who might otherwise have had time to develop.


From a business point of view, I have to say that paying a giant ape a coupla hundred grand to write a pilot and fifty grand an episode on staff comes across as something of a mistake. If you're really saving money, shouldn't you... I dunno... ACTUALLY SAVE THE MONEY?

I would really like to see the trades delve into what's really happening in TeeVee. Where's the article about how smaller staffs and doubling up actually takes work away from an entire workforce? It's natural that Variety is going to talk to studio and network execs, and those people are going to send them to giant apes. This happened during the strike, too, where the quotes all came from the giant apes and there was very little heard from the working writers. Which is, of course, why most of America thinks writers are entitled rich people.

Meanwhile, experienced writers without deals have had to make tough decisions this year: Do you join a series staff, which promises a steady paycheck, or do you hold back and develop what you hope could be your ticket to massive success?


Sigh. Yeah, WHAT DO YOU DO??? This article makes it sound like any writer with any experience is in this predicament. But that's simply not true. It is LITERALLY about twenty guys who are struggling with this.

I'm not denigrating their quandary because when you're at the level these guys are at, it IS a quandary. If you want to create shows, you don't want to get known only as someone who can come in and run someone else's show. You want to be known as a creator. And being thought of as the guy who can run someone else's show is really frustrating creatively. But there are others in this industry. It's probably the same with working actors, who also don't have a voice.

Where the article gets it right, IMO, is in talking about the vague contracts that are basically ass-raping everybody. There's no clear path for writers anymore, even rich showrunner guys. Studios are now bald-facedly saying that they're taking advantage of writers. The article says that specs are going to be more popular, and that it's going to be harder for studios to find product because they're forcing these guys onto staffs. Well, that's not entirely true. Or true at all. One studio, for example, won't even take pitches from anyone other than "names," and those names don't necessarily have to be giant TeeVee apes. They can also be giant feature apes. So it's actually working the opposite of what the article claims. It's closing the door even further on the rest of the industry.

Personally, I think overall deals are fucking stupid. I think showrunners who get hired to run a show should, I dunno... RUN THE FUCKING SHOW. I don't think they should get fat overall deals. I think they should get contracts like the rest of us. If you want to take the (apparent) security of a staff job, then you SHOULD have to forego development... unless -- and this is a big one -- the studio is fucking you on your quote (which they are doing to lots of people). People who develop should just develop, and showrunners should run shows. Once again, the industry does this backwards.

silverlain goes:
As a non-industry person, I'm curious as to how this "testing" works. Who and how many do they have as the test audience? Do they just watch the pilot?


Basically, the company doing the testing grabs unsuspecting people off the street and puts them in a room together. They each get a little dial to turn, indicating their like or dislike of whatever is on the screen. They're shown the pilot, they turn their dials like the little monkeys they've been turned into, and then afterwards they are interviewed and quizzed by the company's rep. The questions they're asked are all marketing type questions. They have to put into words what their impressions are of the show. This is an alien endeavor for most people, which makes their answers suspect. Also, they are not asked these stupid questions alone, but in a group. That means that group mentality takes over. So maybe a timid person loved the pilot but the loudmouth asshole down at the end of the table hated it. Eventually, everybody conforms to the asshole's opinion. In order to test pilots, they take people out of the natural environment in which they watch TeeVee. Now, they've been experimenting with new methods that are more organic to the viewing experience. But focus groups are still the most popular method.

It's fairly obvious that testing doesn't work because hows that test well get on the air. How many of those shows succeed? About as many as would succeed if a network president just put what he wanted on the air. But it's not about being a predictor for success. Testing is a way for the executives to cover their asses. It's not THEIR fault if the testing was wrong.

Alex,
That's it. I'm moving to Canada.

Speaking of Canada, that's another thing that's really hurting American TeeVee. Not only are studios like Fox shooting shows in Mexico and South America (with all local crews and post-production) but networks are buying Canadian shows and airing them here. Luckily for the American TeeVee industry these shows aren't doing that great but it doesn't really matter. The barometer for success on a network has little to do with creative success and everything to do with financial success. So a failed show that a studio didn't pay for is a much better bet than a failed show that was produced here.

Shawn wonders,
To build off of Kira's question about the possibility of more spec pilots being bought, what are your thoughts about showrunners being more open to attaching themselves to an existing script rather than developing their own ideas? If studios and networks start trending toward buying spec scripts, even from noobs like myself, I would guess that showrunners would have no choice but to help shepherd someone else's idea.


Even if you went in and sold a pitch, if you hadn't run a show before they'd put someone with you. It might get somewhat interesting this year if they really aren't making overall development deals without the showrunner actually running a show. Which could be good because it means that the showrunners not lucky enough to wind up on a show or in a deal -- really talented people who literally have not gotten the break they deserve -- could be available to you, if they haven't sold their own pilots. We'll see what happens. And exec producers normally don't have a huge issue with doing this. They're usually developing several things. Writers with deals occasionally have in their deal that they'll also shepherd a project of someone else's.

Christine,
When I read the article, I was offended. But then I realized that these are the same morons who think that if you are over 30 you have no talent. Or other similar supidities. That brought out the outrage (which most of the women I know in the entertainment field have shared about this stupid article) Thanks for taking it on paragraph by paragraph.


Yeah, there's a GREAT Elisberg piece in the Huffington Post about ageism in Hollywood. It's good we all stopped aging at 29. And it's appalling that ANYONE has to be conscious of their age, but WRITERS? Totally retarded.

By the way, the new pilot for V is just awful.


I'm trying to find a way to be surprised. Not successful. The first V was a zeitgeist show. It was totally fun. This V has a priest in it. That's really all I needed to know. It's nice that ABC is trying something with this much genre cred, but it would be nicer if it were something original. They've also got FlashForward, which is also not original. It will, of course, be better than the book, but that's not exactly a glowing recommendation. And now SciFi is going to "reboot" (the new fashionable word for "we're scared shitless of new ideas, please stop bringing them to us") Alien Nation. Part of me is excited because it means SciFi has actually admitted that aliens are sci-fi. Whee!! But there are any number of writers who have marched into SciFi and pitched a cool alien show. What I'm not looking forward to at all and will actively protest against is any new "reboot" of The Invaders. Seriously. I will kill someone.

odocoilius writes:
Looks like a woman wrote the commentary. Am I wrong? It's got to be either a woman or a gay man. Straight guys just don't care enough about the stuff the writer in question obsesses over.


Straight guys don't care because... they rule the world already? I'll buy that. You must come from the particular batch of guys who were born on third and think they hit a triple. There are a lot of people out there like you, people who roll their eyes at what others perceive as injustice. If you've never been told that someone isn't going to give you a job because they have already hired enough women then no, I can imagine how mystified you are. It's a shame that you can't go beyond your limited viewpoint and figure out, on your own, why this matters.

You have to admit there are lots of girly-girls in the US, and even more in Asia. They buy lots of stuff. There's a whole genre of manga where pretty boys like those described in the article bang each other after long drawn out romantic courtships. Japanese girls eat it up.


First of all, you have now done precisely what the article did. Every Japanese girl does not "eat this up." You've completely missed the point, which is that stereotyping doesn't help anything. As a matter of fact, there was even more stereotyping in this laughingstock of an article: All geeks are drooling homunculi who live in their parents' basements and obsessively play/watch genre. Sure, some are. But an awful lot aren't. Funny that you missed that, but then your lot isn't used to outrage.

Is this sexist outrage, or just a message aimed at a different demo?


You don't get to ask that question. You have already abdicated your social responsibility. There's a Jarvis Cocker song about one particular group of people running the world. It's not a word I am going to say on this blog, but you can look it up.

Anonymous hopes:
any chance scifi has changed it's tune about the name change?


Not before the big spelling launch!! Warehouse 13 begins this week and this is supposed to be the flagship show for the new letters. This partially explains why they haven't been buying pitches from anyone who's not a giant ape. They need to see how the show does first. I can certainly understand that, and I hope that if it IS successful, it helps the network zero in on what they need. This is a gripe writers have had for years.

They've promoted the hell out of Warehouse 13. But there's a lot the show has to do, most notably to break out of the perceived SciFi sheen that's existed on practically every show and TeeVee movie they've ever done. It can't be the least bit cheesy. It has to be clever and subversive. In essence, it has to look like a show on a new network. I don't doubt the creative forces behind the show but I'm skeptical of the network actually making the attempt (i.e., spending the money) to raise the bar. I sure hope it works. I hope the spelling's a bit hit, too. Because I still believe that the more shows succeed, the better that is for the business.

I am probably totally wrong about that because the business keeps finding ways to turn success into fewer jobs.

Monsterbeard laments,
The other weird thing is that all I really wanted to do was discuss the different projects at Comic-Con instead of the shitty article. C'est la vie.


When they post the schedule, we'll get there! Can I just bitch again about how there's going to be panels for Glee and The Office?

Michael Taylor defends,
Geeze, I kind of like TJ Simers. Anybody who can piss off so many Laker fans, Dodger fans, and hockey fans every single week -- not to mention bringing die-hard USC Trojan fans to the frothing brink of crimson-and-gold apoplexy -- must be doing something right.


He went too far when he talked about the death of Eight Belles in last year's Derby. And corresponding with him is even more disgusting than reading him. He's lucky to have a job, even though he's of the opposite opinion.

He's on my list of a few people I'd love to see in person, just so I could glare at him.