I hear your gasps of surprise. No, it didn't premiere HERE yet. It premiered in England. It won't officially start on BBC America until the 17th. I assume that's because they have to put that film on a boat and bring it over. No wait -- it already exists in DivX form. Fucking idiots. There's absolutely NO reason for the delay and acting like the show needs to be physically transported via tramp steamer is just fucking lying to the audience. Gee, why do people pirate television? Anyway, I won't talk about it until after its official airing. Spoilers!
Now. Try this for a scenario. You're a professional TeeVee writer, on staff on a big network show. You're in the room all the time, working your story off, eating Red Vines and chocolate because ONCE AGAIN, someone overruled CPK for Ribs USA or the skanky dollar Thai place. You've already started shooting and have to scale back all the scripts written so far to accommodate the budget. The network blew up a script and a story and the room HAS to produce SOMETHING so production doesn't grind to a halt. Weekends aren't yours. You're coming up with stories, rewriting, writing, breaking. Then Monday comes, and what do you find on your desk? A memo, in ALL CAPS, from the self-identified genius who also happens to be the creator of the show.
The memo is all about HOW TO WRITE. While the Genius does take some shots at executives, essentially the memo is him talking down to the writers. See, HE IS GENIUS. HE WILL TEACH. What the Genius has forgotten is that the writers who were hired to actually do all the WORK on his show are already professional writers. And the last thing they need is to be lectured about how to do their jobs.
I don't know how the writers on The Unit responded when they got this memo from David Mamet but I know how I would have reacted. There's enough bullshit in this business without getting a lecture from a playwright, especially when it's a memo with RULES in it. I mean, rules?? Seriously? Who are you, Syd Field? This bad boy hit the Internet a week or so ago and reactions have been wildly different. Most people seem to bow down to Mamet's LESSONS OF WRITING. How often do you get advice from a genius? But some people (I'd put myself in this category) are annoyed. If I'm already working my ass off on a show and the Genius in the Ivory Tower decides to LECTURE me about how to tell a story, I'm gonna be a little frosted. Look, either trust that you've hired professionals, or fuck off. I might've taken this bullshit from Arthur Miller or Clifford Odets, but even Odets has some horseshit on his resume.
So lemme ask -- how would people have responded if this was an anonymous screed? What if all you knew was that it was written by someone who'd created a show, but not who? Or suppose you did know who wrote it but it wasn't DAVID FUCKING MAMET. Instead, it was written by Joe Showrunner, a journeyman who hasn't had the foresight to work in other, more respected media? Would you want to slap him or her? Of course you would. And you would also want to murder him for screaming at you in all caps. "But that's just what Mamet does," people say admirably. Yeah? Well, David Caruso won't cross a threshold. Just because someone with a name does it doesn't mean it's acceptable. It's not.
Look, as far as I'm concerned, there's only one true rule of showrunning: PROTECT YOUR WRITING STAFF. But now I'm going to add another one: DON'T LECTURE TO PROFESSIONALS, OR DO IT ALL YOUR OWN DAMNED SELF. Trust and protect your staff. Keep the show running. Don't think you can control people by making them scared of you, and don't think that lecturing them is going to get their best work. And yes, I chose the caps because I am yelling at David Mamet.
Maybe this comes from having worked for some of the best people in the business. See, I know it's possible for a show to be run in a healthy way. And having spent time in a protective environment, I just think there's no excuse for behaving any other way.
In other news, ABC head Steve McPherson talked about trying to replace "Lost" in the latest Entertainment Weakly. He said this: "We're not focused on finding the next Lost. We're looking for the next great, groundbreaking, game-changing idea." This seems to be at odds with what ABC put on last fall -- "FlashForward" and "V," two shows the seemed like an obvious attempt to clone "Lost." The network seems to be more focused on premise-driven shows and the tricky thing about "Lost" is that at its heart, it's a character-driven show. Based on ABC's pilots for the fall, they're going back to the standard cop/lawyer/doctor shows. The one show that could be of interest to genre fans is "No Ordinary Family," from Jon Feldman, Greg Berlanti and David Semel, that's about a family who develops superpowers. I haven't read it yet, but this show could be the kind of marriage between character and premise that ABC's been searching for.
A few comments...
did you watch justified? i enjoyed it. for some odd reason it reminded me of the south as portrayed in True Blood (raw and real but without vamps).
I did watch it but I couldn't get into it. I know everybody says it's the best TeeVee show EVAR and I think it's well cast and well made, but I'm getting a little tired of shows with trashy, stupid women. Yes, that's a character choice but it's not one I make when I'm watching shows. And I like True Blood IN SPITE of the trashy, stupid women!!
I'm certainly not a snob about books vs. filmed media, and don't have much patience for people who are. I do, however, believe that each medium has its own distinct strengths, which is why I find the process of turning novels into movies baffling (short stories make much more sense as source material, in my opinion).
Except in the case of Philip K. Dick! the problem with his short stories is that there's just too much story to fill in and I don't think the writers who've adapted him and the directors who've directed those films, has gotten into the mind of PKD. The aforementioned Justified is based on an Elmore Leonard short story. A TeeVee series based on a short story? Well, it makes sense in this case. They saw the engine of the show. And most of the time I don't think the people who option material (mostly producers) see that engine, whether it be for TeeVee or film. The weirdest adaptation, for me, is I Robot, which isn't at all an adaptation of Asimov's short story collection. No, I Robot is a rip-off of his robot novels. But the producers didn't have the rights to those books so they kind of snuck around them.
I've heard from other tie-in writers that our experiences are more the norm than the exception. It seems to me that, more often than not, these TV tie-in novels are treated almost like freelance episode of the show by the showrunners.
I'm very happy to hear that. Especially in this era of multi-platforms. Why shouldn't the different platforms all work together? I'd like to see more of it, frankly. And thanks for posting that link to Tod's article. Very illuminating.
And doesn't Umberto Eco get some credit for the Knights Templar thrillers? Name of the Rose, and Foucault's Pendulum both count I think, though they were not nearly as shlocky as their successors.
I highly doubt that Steve Berry, Dan Brown and the rest of them read Eco and decided to do that. Eco's FAR too literary. I think it's more about the way Dan Brown ripped off Holy Blood Holy Grail than anything else. Because if you're shlocky and you're already ripping off shlock... well, I don't know the math behind it but I think it approaches uber-shlock.
And that's all she wrote for this week. Somewhat shorter, right?