Sorry Michael and George, but I call the franchise

The latest narrative gem from Precious Nephew:

"A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, the evil Transformers sent a bad guy to earth and his name was... Hitler."

Where does he get this stuff? Oh, wait. I remember -- EVERYWHERE.


From the mouths of not-so-little babes

I visited Disneyland yesterday with Precious Nephew. He is four and Space Mountain was the only ride he requested by name -- which says something about the marvelous ubiquity of Disney marketing. How does a four-year old who lives in Virginia know about Space Mountain in Anaheim??

We thought the roller coaster might be a bit much for him -- he's tall and made the height requirement, but was clearly the youngest kid in line. But Precious Nephew insisted: Space Mountain or bust. We briefly tried to convince him that the rocket ship kiddie ride in front of Space Mountain was Space Mountain. He laughed at our foolishness, "That's not a mountain."

In the end, we needn't have worried. Precious Nephew clutched his mommy the whole way, but I screamed more than he did. I think next year we may need to up the thrills and visit Six Flags. Yikes.

Anyhow... here's a bit of marketing insight for anyone questioning the wisdom of Disney's Marvel purchase. As we left the park, Precious Nephew caught sight of the Lilo & Stitch image on a plastic ray gun. He turned to us and declared, "I used to love Disney Features... when I was little. Not any more."

Quick -- somebody buy that kid a comic book franchise!


A summer secret

Now that it's officially fall - too late for anyone to profit from this little nugget - I want to share a piece of wisdom from my current job. Submit your spec scripts to agencies in the summer. Yes, it is true that nearly everyone is on vacation in the summer. That person who isn't on vacation? That would be the lowly script reader.

During the fall, winter and spring, agency readers are busy, busy, busy with piles of lovely submissions. In the summer, not so much. But we still need something to read. So the agencies, bless them, put out the nets and find scripts somewhere. And a lot of those scripts are (saying this gently) not very good. And it is just barely possible that - in the face of all that not very good - a normally critical reader's standards could slip. A script that might otherwise get a "no" gets a "maybe," and a "maybe" gets a "yes," and a script that's actually good gets a reader singing and dancing down the halls demanding that somebody make that sucker right now!

I exaggerate. A little.

Still, if you've only got one person you can strong-arm into giving you an agency recommendation to get your precious, precious baby over the transom and into my bin - consider doing it in the summer. If you write that script in readable English, I will love you. In the fall, I make no promises.


Branding is your friend

I had a good meeting with a television literary agent last month. We talked about what the business is currently looking for in a new writer. Which is not what we're taught to expect.

I think we all know by now that original material is gold. Maybe you need a series spec to get in the door, but after that, it's all about your personal voice. So you write that spec pilot. Great. Fabulous. Then what -- another spec pilot? Sure, why not. And since last time you wrote, say, a procedural, this time you're going to write a high school comedy, or maybe a sudsy drama, or a sci-fi actioner. Gotta show range. We've all heard horror stories about writers getting pigeonholed at the start of their careers and nobody wants that to happen. Right?


As far as this agent is concerned, don't think of it so much as a pigeonhole as a BRAND. And yes, you DO want a brand. You want to be a salable, marketable, instantly recognizable entity: this is what I write; this is what I will bring into your writing room and produce, reliably, again and again and again. Don't worry too much about pigeons and holes -- once the industry loves you, there will be plenty of time to show them that you can do sudsy high school procedurals in space just as well.

Okay. So this is one agent's opinion, right? Weeeeell -- this is also the message I got from the Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship interviews. Every question they asked came back to: who are you as a writer, what is your singular voice and what can a room rely on you to provide. Every question. For three days of interviews.

It took me three days to figure out the answer. I didn't get the Fellowship (SO close - agh!) Learn from my mistake. Know your brand.


It's either a job interview or a psych experiment

Apropos of this, one friend of mine, who is now a studio executive, got his first industry job as a PA on an old syndicated television show. The job interview was simple, and sneaky as hell. They left the group of wannabe PAs in a waiting room. In one corner of the room, there was a water cooler. In the water cooler was an empty bottle. On the floor near the water cooler was a stack of sealed, full bottles.

That was the interview. The first wannabe PA who felt like a drink and went ahead and replaced the bottle without being told to do so, got the job. Game over.

My friend got the job.


Not so friendly new directions

I just finished watching Warehouse 13. I'm not going to talk much about the show because -- well, I'm just not.

But I am going to talk about one aspect of the show which I found disturbing. Very disturbing. Disturbing enough that even though I probably shouldn't say bad things on a public blog -- I have to.

This show is supposed to be part of the new "woman-friendly" direction for the SyFy channel. And yet --

One. The female agent is your typical professional woman in a television show or movie so she must be a tight-ass. Okay. The male agent is your typical catnip to hot naked chicks. Whatever. When they wind up working together, the male agent condescendingly tells the female to "unbunch her panties." Yup. He said that. And he's supposed to be irresistible to women -- because we LOVE it when guys say stuff like that to us? In professional situations?

Okay. They are trying to find a new audience and it's possible the sort of woman who used to hate the SciFi Channel does like to be condescended to. I wouldn't know. I used to love the SciFi Channel. Ah well.

But it gets worse. Much worse. Inexcusably worse...

Two. A young woman is viciously beaten by her boyfriend. The Warehouse 13 agents investigate the case and the male agent's first assumption is that the young woman must be a gold digger who knew exactly how to push her boyfriend's buttons so he'd beat her up and she could sue his family. Umm. Okaaay. That's so terrifyingly not female friendly. Do I need to explain why? I don't, right? I'll just move on...

Three. The young woman drops all charges against the abusive boyfriend and reunites with him while they are dressed in lily-white Romeo-and-Juliet outfits. They kiss. It's sweet. It's romantic...

NO IT ISN'T. The girlfriend does not know that her boyfriend is under the malicious influence of Renaissance headgear. As far as she knows, she's gettin' back together with the dude who beat her up. Because she lurves him. And we're supposed to be happy about this: Aww, ain't it sweet. They belong together.

No. No they don't. No! Stop.

It's almost not even worth going to four. Which is: lay off Lucretia Borgia already. Her daddy, the Pope, started marrying her off for political reasons when she was thirteen. She was hardly a scheming "cougar." She was even worse off than the girlfriend above.

Oy. I am bummed. I want The Sarah Connor Chronicles back. Sarah would have killed anybody who told her to unbunch her panties in a heartbeat. Boom. Dead. We would never even have gotten to two, three and four.


Precious Nephew Photo

'Cuz sometimes I'm just a doting aunt. Though, slightly funny story here. When my dad joined the Navy, they "fixed" his ears -- surgically pinning them back. I guess they thought he might attract too much enemy fire with those big old Menes scoops. It looks like my nephew might have equally awesome bug catchers.

I'm guessing the Navy isn't so particular anymore. (Though Precious Nephew would much rather be a "shoulder" and live at the Pentagon anyway.)


When to hide your Emmys

My sister checked out some real estate a while back. At one posh home, the seller had his three (!) Emmys proudly on display. My sister was duly impressed.

Then she got home and looked up the name on the Emmys. She found out the guy -- one assumes the homeowner -- had just finished a nasty divorce and might need to unload his house quick. At whatever price.

The real estate agents aren't kidding when they tell you to hide personal stuff...



One of my favorite parts of the whole coverage process is writing that one-sentence premise: trying to boil down exactly who and what the writer has been going on about for the last 90-120 pages.

Early on I figured out the basic rule. Who's the protagonist? That's the subject of your sentence. What does he spend the movie doing/figuring out/choosing between? That's the verb. Frequently I get scripts with old coverage attached. And it surprises me how many times the last coverage writer got this wrong. Dead wrong. Really, really stupidly wrong -- dropping the protagonist off into a prepositional phrase and featuring some supporting character as the subject.

Yesterday my brother -- who went to the University of Chicago and attended their famous Little Red Schoolhouse writing classes -- informed me that the number one rule of good argument writing was exactly this. The subject of your story/argument/paragraph is the subject of your first sentence. What he/she/it does is the verb.

Wa-hoo. And I didn't even have to move to Chicago to learn this.


Speaking of rules

A subrule: If there's a nifty classical term for your rule-breaking, you might be okay.

From Wikipedia: Hyperbaton. A figure of speech in which words that naturally belong together are separated from each other for emphasis or effect.

Happy this makes me.


If it's what they want, why do we resist?

I watched Role Models again last week. How great was the moment when the boys arrive at the LARP (ahem, LAIRE) battlefield dressed as "warriors" from KISS -- in the fire-spewing Minotaur truck? It's a real stand-up and cheer moment -- largely because it is also the fully realized payoff to all the KISS and Minotaur truck references sprinkled throughout the earlier parts of the script. And who doesn't love a satisfying payoff?

Writers, apparently. I've been reading a lot of unproduced scripts lately, and the satisfying payoffs are few and far between. Sometimes the setups are still there, but it feels as if the requisite payoff has been removed from the script out of sheer perversity.

Is this intentional? Does, somehow, giving the audience what they want make us feel -- dirty? Is this an attempt to avoid those nasty little rules of structure that bring authorship dangerously close to mere craft and away from the simplicity of pure art?

Get over it people. Writing is both craft and art. And many rules are there because... those are the rules. Writers have been writing for a long time. Some things work and some things don't and, well -- we kind of know by now. Right? You want your script to move out of the unproduced pile and edge just a teensy bit closer to the produced pile? Then if you show me a fish in act one, I better see that fish again in act three. Them's the rules.


The comings and going of TV 2009-2010

Still too much to process... some pilots I've read; many I haven't read yet. But it is time to bid a fond farewell to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, now officially dead.

It was a classy show; I still can't figure out why it so completely failed to click. My Tivo will miss it next year (though my Tivo and I may have been part of the ratings problem.)

I apologize for the infrequent postings lately. After noting the slowdown in postings around the writer blogosphere and attributing it to an uptick in the job market, I went out and got a job myself. I didn't expect the call -- it was from a resume I sent in two years ago. But there's hope for that uptick; the person who interviewed me said she hadn't touched the pile of resumes in two years and was only now, finally, hiring.
So there. Uptick away!


But I can't act that

An old cardinal rule of acting... you can't ever have as your goal in a scene, getting the heck out of that scene. It just doesn't work. Unless each character has something they are fighting for that forces them to be there, things get dull quick.

Last Friday night's Dollhouse ran smack up against this problem. SPOILERS AHEAD...

The Alan Tudyk architect character didn't ever want to be in any of his scenes. He didn't want to let FBI agent Ballard in. He didn't want to accompany him to the Dollhouse. He didn't want to show him how to break in. He didn't want to actually go along with Ballard into the Dollhouse. He didn't want to walk past the security cameras. One assumes he didn't want to hack the computer either, though he certainly did it pretty quick. And yup, it got dull.

Now I know he was supposed to be doing this to prevent agent Ballard from turning in his pot farm. But, c'mon, an FBI agent has already seen the pot farm. That game is over. Wouldn't running away be a better choice?

So of course the architect turns out to be evil super-villain Alpha. Who didn't see that coming? I sure did -- possibly because I knew this ep was written by someone abso-effin-lutely talented who wouldn't have left that character twisting in the wind for so long without some reason for him to be there.

Still, that leaves an awful lot of dull episode before the reveal. And how much more interesting would it have been if the architect had some reason of his own -- not hard to imagine, the guy is a disgruntled former employee, right? -- to want to get into the Dollhouse himself. If we were all invested more in that character, wanting him to get over his agoraphobia or whatever that was and win his little victory, we would all have been actually devastated by the reveal. And not just mildly relieved.

Though that still leaves another problem. I get why Ballard needed the architect to break in. But if the architect really is Alpha, why in heck would he need Ballard to help him break in? No reason I can tell.


Where are the writers writing?

I follow a number of other industry blogs, mostly of other writers. Many of whom update their blogs on a regular basis -- far more regularly than I've ever managed. Lately I've noticed that hasn't been the case. Anyone else notice the marked slacking off around the writer blogosphere? Is this a sign of exhaustion... or of an uptick in the "real" work market?

Let's hope for the latter!


The pressure never ends -- but when does it begin?

So precious nephew loves "shoulders" (soldiers, a frequent sight when you live on the same Metro line as the Pentagon) -- and firemen, and construction men, and garbage men, and pretty much anyone who drives anything large and motorized for a living.

So I asked him, "Do you want to be a soldier when you grow up?"
"No," he said.
"Do you want to be a fireman?"
"Do you want to be a construction man?"
"Do you want to be a garbage man -- ?"


I only recently discovered what I want to be when I grow up. Precious nephew is three and a half. I should have known better. Sorry.


Catching up with my DVR

I've been traveling for a few weeks and my Tivo has gotten rather ahead of me. So here's a few notes as I catch up --

I'm enjoying Castle, mostly because the relationship works so well between the two leads. They need to be careful though: in the last few episodes the Castle character has come up with entirely too many brilliant (though a tad obvious -- the wife did it, duh) case-breaking observations that somehow never occurred to Beckett. They need to keep the relationship balanced. Yes, Fillion is the reason I started watching, but Fillion + Katic is the reason I keep watching. Beckett must remain equally smart or the show devolves into Castle Explains It All For You. Which doesn't sound nearly as much fun.

I've held off on reviewing Dollhouse. Partly because I didn't want to say bad things about a show put together by so many people whose past work I admire so much. But also partly because, though I didn't like it, I couldn't stop watching it. There was something there... but what?

I watched the "game-changing" episodes (6 and 7) with interest. But still, the show didn't quite click. We found out Echo's big secret past identity... and she was a whiny student activist. Yawn.

But I kept watching. And got rewarded for my patience with episode 9 ("Spy In The House Of Love"). Aside from the fact that Olivia Williams finally got the chance to remind us that she is a wonderful actress and not some ice-queen stereotype, this episode also changed my perception of the show.

I always assumed this would be a show about Echo trying to find her true identity. And when we found that identity -- so early on and so uncompellingly -- I was disappointed. But maybe that was the whole point -- to tell me that my assumption was WRONG. I'm not sure what the show is about, but maybe I'm not supposed to know yet. Keeping the audience guessing this far into a short season is playing a long, dangerous game -- particularly on Fox Friday nights -- but I've never liked shows that lay it all out for you in episode one and then keep repeating the formula for years. So count me in for the ride. Even if that means I'm getting hooked on another serialized show about to get yanked off the air and leave me hanging...

Speaking of which, Fox folks: please give Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles another season! Yes, things got a tad baroque this year, but man did they pull it together in that cliff-hanger of a season finale. I really, really, really want to see where they're going. That was some high-class genre acting, plotting and writing. As for the complaint that it's too "charactery" and not "actiony" enough: who's making that complaint? No one I know. And no one who loved character-heavy Terminator 2, one of my fave movies of all time. And not for the explosions.

That's all for now. More to come as I work through the backlog...


And when I'm wrong I'll say it

I just finished watching NBC's Kings -- and I liked it. I didn't like the script when I read it months ago, but apparently a big, flossy soap opera plays better with good acting and grandiose visuals than it did for me on the page. I'll try to remember that the next time I read a big, flossy soap opera. (Though I suspect there's a flip side -- that big and flossy plays even worse when it's poorly produced. Call that the Uwe Boll effect.)

Unfortunately, no one -- not even me -- was there to watch the big, flossy premiere. Now I watch everything and was totally planning to watch Kings. But, even though I have been assured they promoted the heck out of that premiere, I still missed it.


Here's another problem when you program for margins at the expense of actual audience numbers. When you do spend a lot of money on a show (and they did, and you could tell -- thank you!) there ain't nobody out there to watch it.

Hopefully things will get better. I'll watch next week. When does it air again...?


A Welsh semi-conductor manufacturer?

If it weren't so sad, this would be funny.

Aw, hell. It is funny, sad or not. Apparently NBC-Universal's Sci-Fi Channel will celebrate the end of all the quality shows that made them special by incomprehensibly -- and unpronounceably -- rebranding as the Syfy Channel.


Mocking the new name is almost too easy. Really -- how do you pronounce it? Did no one tell the brain trust at Landor Associates that a "y" used as a vowel in the middle of a word does not carry the same pronunciation as the "i" in Sci(ence)? Is it Seefy? Sewfeye? Sifee? I can't help thinking of the Welsh word "tydr" -- pronounced "tudor" -- as in the actual Tudors. Surely Sufee is not what they had in mind?

But the idiotic name itself is only the tip of the goodbye-channel-I-once-loved iceberg here...

“The name Sci Fi has been associated with geeks and dysfunctional, antisocial boys in their basements with video games and stuff like that, as opposed to the general public and the female audience in particular,” said TV historian Tim Brooks, who helped launch Sci Fi Channel when he worked at USA Network.

This was the problem, for which the new name...

"...made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise."

Ahhh. They hate their audience. Now if I were a sci-fi loving guy, I'd be real insulted right about now. As it happens, I'm a sci-fi loving girl...

Guess what? Still insulted.

But then, NBC-Universal leadership are the beautiful people who brought us the “mean, ugly nerds” quote when referring to the striking WGA writers. And who made such a badge of honor of their lack of comic-book knowledge while they drove Heroes into the reef of its-a-genre-show-it-doesn’t-need-to-be-good dumb choices.

Why don’t they just re-label it the PROM Channel and be done with us? They’ll lose their entire audience, but hey – they’ll be cool.

And no, I didn’t go to my prom. I went to a geek high school. No one went to prom. I may have compounded the error by playing D&D with my (mostly male) friends on that night instead. Or maybe we were watching Star Trek re-runs. ‘Cause yes, I like my Fi with a little Sci.

But I am not such an uncomplicated (and clearly unwanted) demographic as the suits at NBC-Universal might think. I also loved the Sex & The City movie. I watch Grey’s Anatomy. Clueless is my go-to all-time favorite I-could-watch-it-on-an-endless-loop fun time. And sometimes I watch that makeover montage in The Devil Wears Prada where she gets to wear all the pretty clothes over and over and over again. Pretty clothes... sigh.

In fact, I like LOTS OF THINGS. Quality things. Well-done things with character and imagination and something important to say (even if it’s just “awesome boots can pick you up when you’re feeling blue”).

So marketing guys, this is ME: I earn money. I spend money. I am susceptible to good advertising. I love well-done Sci-Fi. AND I AM NOT THAT UNUSUAL. Or uncool.

Except, apparently, on the new SyFy Channel. Though, as of this Friday, I'm not sure what I'd be watching on that channel anyway.

Guys, you don't need a new name. You need new shows. And no, your much-hyped entry (Moonlighting plus The X-Files plus Indiana Jones) does not sound particularly good -- or remotely hip, cool or cutting edge. I haven't read the pilot. Maybe it is. I hope it is. But just from the description I can kinda see the show already in my mind. And I'm kinda over it.

On a final, personal note -- when I was first told of the new name from a Facebook friend, I thought it was a hoax. I should have known better...

Some years ago I worked for one of these expensive re-branding firms in New York. The big client was Woolworth's, as it turned out on the hunt for a way to turn a slow, downward spiral into a free-fall plummet. I wasn't actively working on that account, but I remember seeing the materials laid out for the final client pitch -- the name "Venator Group" highlighted on one of the boards, among a number of equally silly made-up words. I laughed, thinking this was the "stupid choices" board after which they would show the client the real, "correct choices" board.

Joke was on me.

Don't you think Woolworth's missed an enormous opportunity to rebrand as... Woolworth's? They could have staked a claim as the "real thing" -- a more upscale Target-type store for the urban masses with a cool vintage feel and a gen-u-ine soda counter in every store. Plus all those awesome downtown Deco locations...

The Venator Group was not long for the world. Let's hope the Syfy channel rethinks before they follow suit.


One good line

I enjoyed the premiere of Castle. Sure, it's derivative of the Mentalist, which was derivative of... lots of other shows. Successful shows, so.

And I agree with at least one reviewer's assessment of Castle's home life -- do we really need another precocious teen daughter on television? But...

It was one of Alexis, the precocious daughter's, lines in the written pilot (that I was happy to see make it into the show that aired) that had me sold on the script:

CASTLE... It’s all become so goddamn predictable. Like this party. 'I’m your biggest fan' 'Where do you get your ideas?'

ALEXIS... 'Can you sign my breasts?'

CASTLE... That one I don’t mind.

ALEXIS... Yeah, um, FYI - I do.

Finally -- a precocious daughter who wants her father to act like a father and not necessarily be cool all the time. Maybe even hang onto a little childhood herself while she can. This may be the one precocious daughter I can actually tolerate.


Musical confusion

I'm watching a lot of reality television this week. It's research on a project I'm working on. It's not like I'd be watching ANTM if it weren't, right? (Okay, wrong. I've never missed an episode -- I love Tyra Banks and all the wacky photo sessions.)

At this moment I am watching a show I have never seen before -- Dancing With The Stars. And I am completely baffled. I love ballroom dancing. Okay, not the weird competition stuff, but actually doing it. So I know a cha-cha-cha when I hear one. And not one of these couples is dancing their cha-cha-cha TO a cha-cha-cha.

Why not??!

I understand "updating" the music for a modern audience, but it's clear from the music they are dancing to that the intended demographic is awfully long in the tooth. How much further back do you have to go for... Xavier Cugat? (Who is the only real reason to EVER cha-cha-cha IMHO.)

I am going to try muting the program during the dancing and insert Ritmo Tropical instead... hot, hot, hot!


A screwy perspective

I love the Budweiser commercial Jake the Clydesdale except it really bothers me that the horse, who one assumes was born in this country and is now three generations distant from Scotland, still speaks with a Scottish accent.

It doesn't bother me that it's a HORSE speaking.


A minor peeve that's rapidly becoming a pet peeve

What's with all the television characters talking to ghosts and imaginary people lately? Does everyone in times of stress acquire a helpful dead dude (preferably someone from their past with guilty unfinished feelings attached) with whom to hash things out?

When I'm stuck on a page at three in the morning and the deadline looms ever closer, where's my helpful dead dude? Never seen him. Not once.

But I think "stuck on a page at three in the morning" may be the reason we're getting all these dead dudes in the first place. As in, "it's sooo hard to write a scene where my lead has no one to talk to... waah."

Suck it up, guys.

Think how much more exciting the last Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles would have been if Sarah had had to -- I don't know -- break down and confide in the guest-star doctor instead of some dude who was SO NOT Michael Biehn. Of course she wants to talk to her dead lover. And she really doesn't want to talk to the doctor she's holding at gunpoint. So if she HAD to talk to that doctor, which she kind of did anyway -- so why did we even need dead not-Michael Biehn?

I thought one of the things they were questioning on the show was how John Connor will get to be such a great leader of men if his mom's distrust of everyone keeps him so isolated. Wouldn't an episode where Sarah has to break through her lack of trust, and maybe find her trust rewarded, be interesting?

Some writer's dead dude wasn't doing their job at three in the morning on this one.


A genre pet peeve and the application of Moore's Law

I've been watching the 1995-6 series Space: Above and Beyond a lot lately. I still love the show, but I've been reminded of a pet peeve I have with lots of future-set genre shows, this one included: the constant thematic use of 20th century popular music.

I don't mind the suggestion that people will still enjoy music from other eras in the near future. I have very eclectic tastes myself, and I believe people's tastes are only going to get more eclectic as time goes by and Moore's Law makes the storage and easy portability of ridiculous amounts of pop ephemera the norm. But if space marines in 2063 head off to battle listening to 19th century classical, mid-20th century Patsy Cline, and late 20th century punk rock, shouldn't they occasionally also listen to mid-21st century mind-click-phono-folk-pop-weirdness? Or whatever is actually being written and performed in 2063? Surely not everyone on board the Saratoga is a vintage music junkie?

I love the way Lost tweaked the use of pop music in genre shows, even though it's not (mostly) a futuristic show. They won my absolute devotion in an early episode that closed with a dreamy montage of beach life over a pop song, complete with lyrics. Then abruptly, the song cut out. Hurley reached for his disc player, shook it and said "oh well, I guess that's that." And that WAS that. No more unexplainable pop music -- at least not until they found all those records in the hatch...

I've been trying to figure out how much "earth archive" materials my own future explorers will be able to access in Savages. Well, duh, Betsy -- they'll have EVERYTHING. Probably on an iPod the size of a finger nail inserted subcutaneously somewhere in their heads. They'll have the entire, searchable, Library of Congress and then some.

Crap. Moore's Law is a bitch.

But I promise, if I ever have them enjoying a thematic moment of popular music, some of it will date to 2258.


Birthday wishes

Happy birthday, Abe Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

In an odd fit of synchronicity, I have both a book about Lincoln and On The Origin Of Species sitting on my bedside table right now. 'Cause in an even odder fit of synchronicity, Lincoln gets killed off early in one of my pilots, and Darwin is the inspiration for a twenty-third century cult in another. If only Marc Rich and the AVMA were born on the same day, I'd have a clean sweep of pilot-y weirdness.


An attempt to parse network scheduling

So Life On Mars returned to the schedule in its new slot last week with an episode that was... not very Life On Mars-ish. Kind of more Grey's Anatomy-ish what with all the cute cops and workplace sex with oops-inappropriate people. I assumed this was a case of script jetlag -- that this episode had been part of a new direction for the series intended to make it gel better with Grey's and implemented before the move to the post-Lost slot was finalized. It seemed an odd choice to kick off the much-touted new pairing: a cop show with a heady, deep mystery joining the most mysterious show on television and premiering with a burn-off episode utterly lacking in mystery. But such can be the way of script jetlag. I assumed things would return to spooky-wonderful in future episodes.

After last night's showing, I'm confused. Clearly, last night's episode was meant to run BEFORE the episode that ran last week. It picked up the strings of mystery and show mythology left hanging in the fall and ran with them. WHY DIDN'T THEY SHOW THIS EPISODE LAST WEEK?

I think I know. And it worries me.

I sense network nervousness about the failure of the mythology-heavy Invasion that once followed Lost. I sense that -- though the whole point of pairing Lost and LOM is that both are mystery-heavy shows -- the network is trying to step way back on the mystery. That first-week-back show might not have been a burn-off of a now-jettisoned "new direction," it might BE the new direction this show is going to take.

I love Grey's. I really do. But I don't want LOM to turn into cops-lite with cute sex and bad polyester suits. If anyone out there is reading -- keep the mystery, guys! We love the mystery. We watch for the mystery.


A conversation about Facebook

I had a conversation with a friend the other day about why we both love Facebook. Not that I am much of a Facebook user -- I'm at best a dabbler, posting updates in little fits and starts. My friend is a much more reliable poster, bubbling up to the top of my wall regularly with remarks and updates on her daily life.

Now this friend and I would be friends no matter what, but we are separated by most of a continent and several time zones and have been for nearly a decade of divergent life. And that is true for a lot of the people I've had friendships with over the years, even very close friendships. It's just the way the world works now: my college was nowhere near my high school, my first job nowhere near my college, and so on.

Of course, the Internet is hardly new. And the phone before that. And the post office. We've all had the getting-back-in-touch-after-a-long-time experience with an old friend: the excited first note; the longer note after they respond; condensing the highlights into one life-revealing letter -- THIS is who I am and what I've been doing. How about you? Kids? Family? Career? Life? Tell me everything!

But then...

How many friendships really continue after that first exchange of letters? You're here and they're there and it's not that you don't still have whatever you had in common that made you friends before, it's just... too hard, somehow.

Because even really intimate friendships are mostly made up of thorougly non-intimate conversations. Maybe 95 percent ordinary to every 5 percent intimate. Maybe 99 percent -- maybe more. There's a whole lot more "this is the shit I put up with today" than anything else even when you're 'til death BFF's. Especially when.

But it's hard to send a note to the friend you haven't seen in ten years just to say, "guess what happened to me at the post office this morning?" Even though THAT kind of trivial shit is what the friendship needs to remain a real friendship.

Unless you're both on Facebook. 'Cause trivial shit is exactly what you are prompted to post on Facebook. And I say HOORAY.

I have Facebook friends I have not seen in even longer than I am willing to publicly admit. But I know what they did last Thursday, and if they are ever bored at 3pm in the afternoon. And as long as I remember to post enough to -- the term my friend and I decided on was "inoculate" (though I think that might have slightly more negative implications than we intend) -- the friendship on my end, then those people will actually BE my friends when someday I need them for one of those treasured intimate conversations.


Writing plans

I've got plenty of re-writes to do, a pilot take-away to put-together, a book proposal to finish and, of course, tons of glorious return calls and follow-ups that desperately need to be called and followed up on.

Which is why I'm here contemplating my next project instead.

I had an idea for a character I liked, and a couple of scenes burbled up around the guy so I wrote 'em down. There might be a fun, dark, twisty procedural in there somewhere. I'm not sure yet. We'll see when my dozen LAPL books-on-hold come through.

And it's time to write another spec. I have a folder of Life On Mars ideas from when the original show aired on BBC America and I bizarrely thought it might make a nice alternative to everyone else's House. I took the "sane" route and chose a less wacky alternative, or so I thought at the time. Then that show got cancelled, and Life On Mars made it to ABC. Shoot. I'd have a pretty cool spec right now. (Unless somebody wants to read a kick-ass Veronica Mars episode. Anybody? Hello... ?? Didn't think so.)

But I have learned from my Mars/Mars experience and will wait for further renewal info on any show before writing a spec script. The folder will have to sit a while longer.

What does that leave to spec NOW? Burn Notice? Bones? The Mentalist? Or should I take the wacky alternative this time and write a stand-alone Doctor Who... ?

Hmm. I need to think more about this. And maybe return a few of those phone calls.


A big ol' 2008 to 2009 omnibus post

I got behind on my posting over the holidays and a whole lot of things have passed without comment. In no particular order, here's comment...

1. There will not be a SAG strike.

SAG was the first union I joined, right out of college. I am no longer in any way active as an actor, but I will always treasure my old SAG card. The union meant a lot to me. I have read the AMPTP proposals and there probably should be a SAG strike, or at least a sturdy and undivided YES vote authorizing a strike. Such a vote might be the only way to force some sort of meet-in-the-middle provisions that could be acceptable to SAG.

But that vote will never happen.

SAG has been a hopelessly, viciously divided union for many years now. There is no way the current leadership could get enough votes from the opposition for a strike authorization. And though it is true that this leadership brought the hatred of a large proportion of the union on themselves by denying the merger with AFTRA in 2003 on political (if our side didn't propose it, we ain't gonna approve it) grounds, well -- get over it, people.

SAG is a great big powerful union. They should be able to speak softly to the AMPTP while holding one hell of a big stick in the threat of an industry-halting strike. Problem is, everyone knows there's no stick. So the current stalemate might drag on, and on, and on.

I don't know how this is going to end. I just know, there will be no strike.

2. NBC's managing-for-margins strategy is dead wrong knowing what little we know about the future.

The one thing we know with pretty damn good certainty is that consumers in the near future will have many more choices in where, when, how and what they watch. I've already said bye-bye to network schedules and television screens and hello to my DVR and Slingbox. The even-younger generation will laugh at the very idea of scheduled entertainment. My three year-old nephew gets super pissed-off when he can't rewind or pause something, or call it up out nowhere whenever he feels like watching it.

Which does not mean that networks won't matter. When faced with a widening array of choices, people are going to want some kind of gatekeeper -- a BRAND they trust -- as a starting point when making decisions. Everything in the future is going to be about the brand. Define it NOW. Polish it. Ensure that people know, "When I want to watch a quality show like XXX -- I need to tune to YYY.beamedstraightintoyourhead.com."

The cable channels are pretty good at this. The networks have made some weird decisions lately, but I still know, mostly, where to tune for what I like.

And very little I like is on NBC.

It's not that I don't like their choices. I don't expect everyone to program for me. Sometimes a premise isn't something that interests me. So what. I respect the quality of lots of shows that I don't myself watch.

But the premises of lots of the new NBC shows did interest me. I just didn't like the shows. Some of them might have passed muster on the old Saturday afternoon syndie Action Pack. But the quality wasn't even close to what I expect from a network show. They were made on the cheap and oh boy could you tell. So now, in my mind, the NBC brand stands for cheap, lightweight shit.

NBC claims to be crying all the way to the bank: cheap is good and the margins are working for them. I say, FOR NOW. A once-phenomenal brand is shedding lustre nightly and I'm not sure they'll have time to polish it back up before the whole television-watching paradigm shifts and leaves NBC behind.

Maybe NBC will surprise us with a slate of innovative quality programming for 2010. I hope they do. This network gave me Law & Order. All of you who think it's old-fashioned now, remember that when it started, Matlock and Murder She Wrote were on the air. And ER -- watch that first season again and remember nothing remotely like it had been seen on television before. And Friends, and...

Aargh. If NBC were doing Friends today it would be shot on the cheap as a Belgian co-production about five guys and the stripper they sometimes hang out with. But that's a whole other issue I have with NBC right now. Don't get me started.

3. The January season is upon us -- hooray! There are so many new and returning series out there. My Tivo and I are giddy with excitement.

I am, of course, looking forward to Joss Whedon's Dollhouse. Or hoping to look forward to it. Really, really hoping. Hoping SOOOO hard. But not expecting much. I know a lot has changed since the pilot script I read, but to me the changes sound like they've made the basic problem I had with the old script even worse.

A show about a personality-free character who takes on a lot of different cool roles makes for a neat hour-long script. And it was a NEAT script: short, sweet, exciting, full of lots of fun twists and great dialogue. But it's not a series. Imagine watching a second episode about a personality-free character who takes on a lot of different cool roles. And then a third. And then ten more. And then twenty-two next season...

The script hinted that they were moving toward lead character Echo developing her own personality and trying to find the truth about herself as the series progresses. I would have loved to see A LOT more of that in the first episode. But what I hear about the series now is that we're going to get even less -- and more about the Dollhouse itself and Echo's actiony adventures. Yawn.

There's no way I'm going to like a series about a lead character with no personality. It's just not possible.

Though, if ANYONE can make the impossible happen... I'm still hoping.

4. The Disney/ABC Fellowship

See how I buried the lead? Hmm. Wonder what that means...

I'm not a fellow this year. Sort of. Yet. At all. I don't know... I'm an alternate. If one of the actual fellows fails their background check I might get a call. If I do, I will not bury that lead.

One does wonder what a writer needs to do to fail a background check. Lying about a criminal background is the usual. But for writers -- is it more likely to be lying about HAVING a criminal record when in fact you don't? Didn't some writer just get in trouble for claiming gang-banger status when she turned out to be an honors student from Beverly Hills?

Whatever happens, the ABC people were quite wonderful and have promised that they will be in touch as they are planning to include me in some of the upcoming fellowship programs.

So, here's to lots more to write about in 2009!!