Deadlines & Other Hardships…

Ken Levine knows all about ‘em – having learned the hard way, you betcha:

rookie-570x250Rookie mistakes
by Ken Levine

Everyone has to start somewhere. For me and my writing partner, David Isaacs our first paid writing assignment was for an episode of THE JEFFERSONS. Prior to that we had been writing spec scripts, schlepping down to the Writers Guild to register them for protection, and then we peddled them to anyone who would read them.

Our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (which had already been rejected by THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and RHODA) found its way into the hands of Gordon Mitchell, one of the story editors of THE JEFFERSONS. He liked it well enough to invite us to come in and pitch story ideas for the show. One hit the mark and we got the assignment.

Now came the hard part. Not the writing – but covering the fact that we were both utterly clueless of the process.

Step one was breaking the story. We met with Gordon and his partner, Lloyd Turner and worked out the beats of the story. Gordon then asked how long we needed to write the outline?

The outline? You have to write an outline?

I didn’t say that, but that’s what I was thinking. David and I wrote outlines for ourselves but they were usually handwritten scribbles on a couple pieces of notebook paper. I didn’t think that’s what he meant.

So we were on the spot. We didn’t want to say a week and have them say, “A week? It should take you two days.” Or we say two days and they say, “What? You’re just going to dash it off? It should take a month.”

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Top UK TV writer, Chris Chibnall tells us a bit about the theater

Chris Chibnall (DOCTOR WHO, BROADCHURCH, much more) is one of TVWriter™’s favorite UK television writers. In fact, we’ve been rooting for him to be the new showrunner whenever that Moff guy gives up the DOCTOR WHO reins. (We’re also rooting for that to happen soon, but we probably shouldn’t go there – now.)

Recently, Chris spoke out about his love for more than just TV as a medium, and believe us when we say, we’re listening:

‘Broadchurch’s Creator Chris Chibnall Gets Theatrical with a New Play
by Leah Rozen


A thoughtful moment in BROADCHURCH

After scoring an international success with his mystery thriller TV series, Broadchurch, writer Chris Chibnall has turned his pen to a stage comedy.

His latest play, his first in a decade, begins performances March 27 at a British regional theater. Called Worst Wedding Ever, Chibnall’s new work focuses on a young couple whose low-key wedding plans are commandeered by the bride’s mother, who decides the occasion requires an extravaganza. Carolyn Pickles, the actress who played newspaper editor Maggie Radcliffe on Broadchurch, has been cast as the domineering mother.

The play is being mounted at the Salisbury Playhouse, a theater located in Salisbury, Wiltshire. Chibnall chose the theater partly because he has a past association with its artistic director, Gareth Machin, and also because it’s not far from his home in Dorset. The close proximity means that Chibnall can pop over to theater for rehearsals in between writing Broadchurch’s second season, which is expected to go into production later this spring. (There’s no word yet from ITV on when the show’s new episodes will air on the network in the U.K.)

In an interview with a local paper, the Salisbury Journal, Chibnall said of the Salisbury Playhouse, “I love the feel of the theater and the way it’s connected to the community.”

Discussing his planned theatrical foray last November, Chibnall told The Independent, “It’s the first play I’ve written in 10 years and I’m very excited and utterly terrified about it. I wanted to make sure I did something very different and challenging between writing Broadchurch series 1 and 2.”

In addition to scribbling away at Broadchurch’s second season, Chibnall is serving as executive producer on Gracepoint, the American version of the show. He also wrote the U.S. remake’s first episode.

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Justifiedby John Ostrander

SPOILER WARNING: I’m going discuss last season’s Justified which means I’ll talk a bit on what happened during it. If you intend to binge watch the show and haven’t done so yet, skip the column.

Last week, FX wound up its fifth season of the Elmore Leonard inspired series, Justified. It stars Timothy Olyphant as U.S. Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens, a supporting character and sometimes star of some of Leonard’s crime novels. You may not know all his books but a fair amount were made into good movies such Hombre, Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma, Jackie Brown and, as mentioned, the TV showJustified.

For those who don’t know: Elmore Leonard was noted for his spare style and his way with dialogue as well as his keenly drawn characters. Like Damon Runyon, Leonard liked the seamy side of people and expressed them with unique dialogue. In his essay, “Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing” he said: “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” One of the other rules I found interesting: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Sounds simple but, oh, it is not.

Justified’s main character, Raylan Givens, is a U.S. Marshal and something of a throwback. He’s a bit of a cowboy, wearing a Stetson and boots and liable to shoot first and ask questions later. He gets tossed out of Florida after telling a local mobster to get the hell out of Dodge, er, Miami. When the deadline Raylan sets arrives, the marshall provokes the mobster into drawing on him (in a public place) and shoots him dead.

The killing is ruled “justified” but Raylan’s worn out his welcome and he gets sent back to where he came from – Harlan County, Kentucky – and the Marshall’s office there. He runs into old friends, enemies, family, wives, and lovers, as well as picking up a few new ones along the way. One of the most notable of his friends/enemies is Boyd Crowder, played by the inestimable Waylon Goggins. Boyd’s character is from a short story Elmore Leonard wrote, Fire In the Hole, which featured Raylan. Boyd’s dead at the end of the story but he’s been too good a character to lose for the TV show so they’ve kept him around.

Each season has generally had a central villain as the Big Bad to unite the episodes and there have been some doozies. Boyd did that for the first season but the second season was really killer, with Margo Martindale doing an incredible turn as Mags Bennett, the matriarch of a local crime family. Down home scary. Both motherly and a monster.

The next season’s Big Bad is Robert Quarles (played by Neal McDonough), a cold nasty enforcer sent down from the mob in Detroit. Not only a nasty piece of work but ultimately a bit psychotic. He wasn’t quite as good as Mags but he was pretty bad ass and an interesting change of pace. Fourth season got a little complicated with the search for an old criminal Drew Thompson and Raylan contending with another Detroit mob enforcer named Nicky Augustine.

The first and second season were great; each succeeding season hasn’t been as good but still justified making Justified part of my mandatory viewing each week. Raylan is just so damn cool. The series borrowed heavily from Leonard’s novels and stories, adapting characters and plot lines to work for the TV show.

This last season — not so much. It’s been a slog to get through. The Big Bad was the Crowe family, specifically oldest thug Daryl Crowe Jr (played by Michael Rapaport). They’re the Florida side of the Crowe clan represented in Kentucky by Dewey Crowe, a Coyote style moron who has been in the show since the first season. With things petering out for them in Florida, they go to visit cousin Dewey.

The season is as much about Boyd Crowder’s attempt to get into the heroin trade and his wife, Eva’s, adventures in prison. In fact, it’s more about the Crowders than it is about Raylan. Therein lies a part of the problem. I simply didn’t care. It didn’t matter to me if Eva got shanked in prison. I didn’t care if she and Boyd got together again. Raylan wasn’t even particularly cool. The stories were all over the place and Daryl Crowe Jr. was just a thug. There seemed to be a lot less Elmore Leonard in the show and more of the showrunners trying to figure out how to be Elmore Leonard. They forget his dictum: “Try to leave out the part that readers (viewers) tend to skip.” There was a lot I wanted to skip this year.

It’s already been announced that next season will be the show’s last. We already know part of what’s coming – the final showdown between Raylan and Boyd. Who will live? Who will die? Who will care at this point? I’m not sure it will be me. I’m not sure if I’ll be back. And that’s not giving Elmore Leonard his due.

5 Writing Lessons We’ve Learned From ‘Suits’

Some people have nothing but praise for the writing on SUITS. We aren’t among them. And yet…

suits-96by Brittany Frederick

[April 10th was] the Suits season finale, wrapping up its third season as the best show on television. One of the biggest reasons it has that title is the writing. Series creator Aaron Korsh and his staff are teaching a master class on how to write TV every Thursday night. Here are five writing lessons that we’ve learned from watching Suits - and be sure you tune in tonight to learn even more about how television should be done.

Lesson No. 1: Don’t BS your audience. It’s so hard to really get sucked into TV drama anymore, because most shows don’t actually follow through on the threats they make. The main cast won’t break up, because if they did, there wouldn’t be a show. That character isn’t really going to get killed off (unless you’re on The Good Wife), because if they were, the Internet would’ve probably spoiled it weeks ago. That problem you’re worried about is most likely going to get resolved in 42 minutes, or if not, it’ll be forgotten about next week. That’s not the case if you’re watching Suits. The show threatened to fire Donna and then actually fired Donna. True, she came back, but she was gone for awhile, and when she came back, it was earned. Now it’s threatening us with Mike being caught and it looks like Mike is actually busted. A show is so much more suspenseful when you know that any obstacle in the way actually means something.

Lesson No. 2: Continuity is your friend. We haven’t seen a series stick to its continuity like this in a long time, and don’t think any show’s ever used it to its advantage as well as Suits does. So many shows retcon previous facts about their characters to fit the episode of the week, or just produce something that sounds cool and justify it later. Suits, on the other hand, has been remarkably consistent – and has made active use of its history books. The character Jonathan Sitwell, who recently offered Mike a job, was part of the Hessington Oil storyline earlier this season. We’ve also seen the return of other characters like Harvey’s now-girlfriend Dana Scott and Clifford Danner, the young man who was wrongfully convicted when Harvey was with the DA’s Office. These returns, mentions to past events – it’s rewarding for the long-term viewer, and it makes the Suits universe feel like a real world, rather than a show where parts are discarded when their use is outlived.

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This article makes some very good points. It definitely has us thinking:


The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (Part One)

One of our favorite sites is Stephen Bowie’s Classic TV History Blog. We like it so much that the only reason we aren’t constantly posting its articles here on TVWriter™ is that, well, erm, Stephen doesn’t want us to. So now it’s our job to get as many of you as possible to go over there and slurp up the savory goodness that is his writing-reporting. If you love “old” TV shows, this short sample should send you to heaven!

dobietitleby Stephen Bowie

Rescued from obscurity last year with an essential complete-series DVD release,The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis remains one of the most distinctive and intelligent American situation comedies.  Conceived and successfully marketed as a youth-oriented enterprise – the everyday life of the ordinary teenager – Dobie expanded its vision, as all great television does, to articulate an overarching point of view on existence itself – a wry, wise one, with a strong undercurrent of melancholy.  Verbally witty and tonally unpredictable, it was probably the most sophisticated sitcom to debut before The Dick Van Dyke Show – although its sharp edges and complicated relationship with realism (and reality) make Dobie Gillis more relevant as a precursor to the spirited insanity of Green Acres.

Dobie Gillis was one of the earliest television comedies to embody the unmistakable voice of a single, brilliant writer – from the fifties, only Nat Hiken’s The Phil Silvers Show and arguably David Swift’s Mister Peepers come to mind as fellow members of that fraternity.  Though he had successes on Broadway (The Tender Trap) and in films (adaptations of The Affairs of Dobie Gillis in 1953, with Bobby Van in the title role, and his novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys! in 1958), Max Shulman began as a prose writer who took on college life in his first book (Barefoot Boy With Cheek, 1943) and introduced the character of Dobie in a series of short stories.  Although the unity of tone in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis is self-evident, Shulman asserted his control over the television series in no uncertain terms: “In Dobie Gillis, every script in the end went through my typewriter, sometimes for minor changes, sometimes for major ones.  Out of 39 or so episodes, I’d write maybe 10 – anywhere from 6 to 12 – but I would polish or tinker with every one of them, because I wanted to keep the same tone.”

A TV pilot script for Dobie had been around for a couple of years before it coalesced at Twentieth Century-Fox in 1958, when Martin Manulis (the legendaryPlayhouse 90 producer) became the studio’s new head of television production and revived it from the dead.  Although Manulis quit after less than a year in the job, before the series debuted, his production company’s logo appeared at the end ofDobie Gillis for all of its one hundred and forty-seven episodes.  The Dobie series was also an early agency package, from General Artists Corporation (GAC), the forerunner of ICM.  A “package” was a situation where the key talents, usually all clients of the agency in question, were assembled by the agency and presented as a bundle to the buyer.  It was probably GAC that put Shulman together with his key collaborator, producer-director Rod Amateau.

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Peggy Bechko: You’re a writer? Do you trust your gut?

Positive-Gut-Feelingby Peggy Bechko

You’re a writer? Do you trust your gut?


It’s amazing how many writers might have day jobs and trust their guts to make the right decisions there, but when they get to their writing desk, suddenly everything has to be planned out just so and there can be no deviation.

Okay, okay, stop. Just stop and think. Most of us have much better gut reactions than we think we have and the key here is learning to trust those reactions.

How often, when you’ve been writing that carefully crafted story, have you had a nagging little voice telling you that it just isn’t right. Something isn’t clicking. You need to go back and/or change the direction you’ve chosen to move forward. How often do you set that little nagging voice aside, rationalizing, telling yourself you have it all worked out.

Or maybe you’re rereading a script or a manuscript and everything seems to be hitting on key, it all flows, the dialog is nothing short of brilliant – and yet….

There seems to be something missing. The scene that was written to evoke such intensity, empathy, such emotion, just doesn’t. But you say to yourself, well, I wrote it. I’ve read it and read it and read it…and, well you know. So since I know it so well, every speech, every scene, why would I be moved? Why would I be drawn it? It’s just technical now, isn’t it? Clean it up and get it out there. The audience will be drawn it – I’ve crafted it so well.

Ah, no.

I think a writer’s instinct is one of the most important elements of writing that script or novel. That little unsettled kernel in your stomach that lets you know you’re not done yet. Writers need to trust that feeling more.

So can it be over done? Sure, what can’t? You can write a story to death. You can just be a deeply paranoid writer who is constantly sure the work being created isn’t good enough. That one you’ll have to sort out for yourself. It’s a whole different writer anxiety. Sorry.

But, presuming that isn’t your case, that little voice is telling you you need to make it better. Your gut. Be nice to it.

There is a power there that wise writers don’t dismiss easily. If you’ve read your material and it doesn’t make you feel the way you expect to make your readers or viewers feel, then back to the drawing board. It’s not like you CAN’T do it, you just HAVEN’T done it yet.

Come on. You know great writing. You’ve read it (I hope). Stories from amazing authors who aren’t you. Maybe you’ve written just as brilliantly, maybe you haven’t – yet. Either way, you know how that brilliant writing made you feel when you read it, when you wrote it.

Not every writer is capable of being the very best, the exalted, top of the heap, best darn writer in the world. But hey, maybe YOU can.

But you’re not going to find that place and bloom into the absolute best writer you can be unless you learn to trust that gut, that nagging feeling rumbling around (no not gas) that’s letting you know you haven’t finished that script or novel yet.

Pay attention to it. Get to know it. And as I’ve said in other posts, yep, trust your gut.