LB: TV Series I’ve Given Up On This Year

"Terrifyingly fascinating" Uncle Miltie plays with Lucy & Desi

“Terrifyingly engaging” Uncle Miltie plays with Lucy & Desi

by Larry Brody

I love TV.

I’ve loved it since the first moment I watched it, way back in 1948.

The show that captured me then was The Texaco Star Theater, starring – and all about, in every possible way – Milton Berle. To my pre-school self, Uncle Miltie was terrifyingly engaging. I couldn’t stop watching…until I discovered The Howdy Doody Show, starring Bob Smith and the puppet called “Howdy,” both of whom were engaging as hell, without the terrifying bits.

Over the years, I’ve had any number of faves, usually drama shows instead of comedies or kid-specific offerings. These days, I don’t have a lot of time for TV watching for pleasure (as opposed to TVWriter™ business), but my wife and I are in the habit of settling into bed fairly early and watching for an hour or two on a flat screen that’s way too big for our bedroom. In a way, its mere existence within the room makes every show we see on it bring back childhood memories. As in they all end up feeling terrifying to one degree or the other.

Last week, however, we realized that right now, in the so-called Golden Age of Television, we were having a problem filling our hour or two a night without resorting to watching missed episodes of old favorites. Seems that over the past few months we’ve jettisoned a ton of current shows, many of which we’d watched for years…and some of which we were trying out and finding…well lame.

For almost all those shows, it’s the writing “what done them in.” Shark-jumping writing for some. Idiotic writing for most. Immature, unrealistic, and just plain incompetent writing for all.

So, in my never-ending effort to raise the bar for both TV writing and TV programming in general, here it is – Larry Brody’s List of TV Shows for Writers to Not Write Like No Matter How Strong the Temptation Seems (and I think you probably should save your sanity by not even watching them either):

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I made it through 10 minutes of the first episode. Quit then because although I think Steven King is a wonderful novelist and am a huge fan of The Stand, this script seemed to demonstrate nothing but contempt for the intelligence of anyone who would watch it.

Bones

After a long hiatus, Bones is back, but without Mr. and Mrs. B. It wasn’t anything we saw in the returning episodes that drove us away. It was, rather, the fact that even though we’ve DVR’d two episodes we just can’t make ourselves get interested enough to turn either of ’em on. Last night I finally deleted the show from the queue. As a wise man once almost said, “It’s dead to me.” Elapsed watching time this year: 0 mins.

Castle

Gwen and I actually watched several episodes this season all the way through. Then came the Castle-Beckett pseudo-separation and its fictional reason, which boiled down to “In order to save you I must inflict the worst pain on you that a loved one can…when all I really should do in this situation is sit down and tell you what’s what.” Like Bones, Castle too went on a hiatus, and when it came back we were so excited that we just did the delete thing without even blinking.

Doctor Who

I know there haven’t been any new Doctor Who episodes this year, but while deleting Bones and Castle we saw that we had all of last season saved on our DVR and ready to go. My wife took one look at the list of episodes, grabbed the remote from my hand, and with a hearty, “Exterminate! Exterminate!” she deleted the entirety of what once was my favorite current show. I didn’t even think of objecting. Some people should never, ever be allowed to be showrunners, no matter how good they are at the writing thing. Steven Moffat OBE (hey, that’s what Wikipedia calls him), is an outstanding example of this simple bit of wisdom.

Houdini & Doyle

The Brodys watch a lot of UK TV, and the premise of this series appealed to us so we gave it a try. Lasted through four episodes, believe it or not, before calling it a day. Strangely, it wasn’t the writing that made me nuts whenever I watched Houdini & Doyle, even though it was nothing more than average. No, what caused me to pull the plug on this baby was the casting. Two likable but totally boring actors who in the past have brought exactly nothing to any part they’ve played (even those that were cleverly written) starred in roles suited to neither one. The producers of this series owe a huge apology to the spirits of both Houdini and Doyle.

Scorpion

For awhile I was mesmerized by this show’s weird ability to make computer crime – or cures for crime – into action-packed all-running, all-jumping, all-flying, no-standing-still except to deliver a quip or a punchline episodes that would leave the most well-conditioned athletes in the world breathless. This year, as the stories got more and more over the top and the characterization thinner and thinner, the spell broke, and “Exterminate!” fever got the better of me.

You’re the Worst

Okay, actually, I’m still watching this one because I want to see how they deal with the clinical depression of one of the leads of this so-called comedy. But, holy Siggy Freud, these characters are absolutely the meanest human beings I’ve ever fallen in love with. Except for – yeah, you know what’s coming – that one particular ex-wife I had who….

12 Monkeys/The Expanse/Time Traveling Bong/You, Me and the Apocalypse/Wynonna Earp

I’m lumping these five shows together because I literally didn’t get past a combined time of five minutes of watching them. The inanity of their opening titles and the first 30 seconds of each of their opening scenes caused me to break out in boils, hives, and frogs – plague signs that even I know to observe. These babies are gone, gone, gone, and I’m doing my best to forget them as well.

Till next time, when I’ll tell you what I’ve been liking,

LYMI LB

LYMI
LB


Larry Brody is the boss at TVWriter™ and has written and produced way more episodes of television than he probably should have. You can find out more about him HERE

John Ostrander: They Grow Up So Fast

H'wood's version of Mr. Ostrander's Amanda Waller of SUICIDE SQUAD

H’wood’s version of Mr. Ostrander’s Amanda Waller of SUICIDE SQUAD

by John Ostrander

I’ve been watching DC’s Legends Of Tomorrow over on the CW. Among the characters that have been appearing on the show are Firestorm and Hawkman and Hawkgirl. Well, not so much Hawkman any more, maybe. I didn’t create those three characters but I certainly played with them a lot and, for a while, left my sticky fingerprints all over them. So it’s interesting watching manifestations of them in other media.

I’ll be experiencing that big time come August when the Suicide Squad movie hits the multiplexes. I created Amanda Waller and I defined characters like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang and it will be exciting to see how they translate for the screen. I hope.

None of the character portrayals will translate directly from the comics to movies or TV. I’m okay with that; none of them have so far. Different media have different needs. That’s why they’re called adaptations. The material is adapted from whatever the source was. My only question about any given adaptation is – how true is it to its roots? Did they get the essence of the character or the concept right? If you’re going to do Captain XYZ Man, there should be a resemblance to what makes up Captain XYZ Man. Right?

OTOH, I haven’t always done that and Suicide Squad itself is a good example. The comic was originally created for DC by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru; my version shared the title, a character or two, and some history with the original and not much else. Of course, as buddy Mike Gold pointed out in his excellent column this week, Kanigher may have gotten the title (and not much else) from a feature in a pulp magazine called Ace G-Man. What goes around comes around?

Amanda has appeared several times, including the TV show Arrow, lots of animated series, the Green Lantern movie, video games, the TV series Smallville, and probably more. I may need to double check my royalty statements. Any number of actresses have portrayed her and voiced her. She doesn’t always look the same. In Arrow and some of the comics, she’s built like a model. However, in all the variations I’ve seen there have been certain aspects that are kept – she’s female, black, and she’s ruthless as hell.

Even with other characters, I don’t always keep to how they were conceived. My version of Firestorm changed (evolved?) throughout my run. At one point when we decided he was a Fire Elemental (the Elemental idea was popular for a while starting with Alan Moore making Swamp Thing the Earth Elemental) and Ol’ Flamehead’s look was drastically altered, not always to universal approval.

Still, I think I kept to the essentials of the characters and, when I changed things, I kept within continuity as established although sometimes I picked and chose within the continuity.

All that said, I (mostly) enjoy seeing the variations and permutations of these characters. It’s like watching your kids grow up and moving away and seeing what they become. It’s not always what you expected but, hopefully, you can still see your DNA in them.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. This post is specifically about getting started in writing comics, but it applies to every other form of writing we know about as well. It originally appeared in his blog at ComicMix.

Diana Vacc Sees Outlander Season 2 Premier

by Diana Vaccarelli

hbt1Everyone that knows me knows that I’m obsessed with Outlander. And right now my obsessed self is so glad that what Outlander fans call “Droughtlander” is over.

While reading the second book of Diana Gabaldon’s series I had reservations about whether its complexities could be adapted to television.

If you are not familiar with the story, know that it follows WWII Combat Nurse Claire Randall, who is mysteriously swept back in time to 1700’s Scotland where she is immediately in danger. She is forced to wed Scottish Warrior Jamie Fraser and a passionate relationship ignites.

THE GOOD:

  • My faith in series Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore has not been shaken.  He did the book so much justice in the premier episode that I’m thrilled and hopeful about what will come next.
  • In other words, the writing is fantastic.  The dialogue the actors have to work with is topnotch, emotional, nuanced, and realistic, breaking all the stereotypes of “romance novels.”
  • The editing is much more cinematic than TV usually gets, especially in regard to the transitions between time periods. It’s more Lawrence of Arabia than, say, NCIS.
  • The acting is in this series remains excellent. Caitriona Balfe plays lead Claire Randall Fraser and brings the kind of heart and strength rarely seen in a female TV character.  Sam Heughan as James Fraser wears the results of the trauma that his character experienced last season so believably that you feel is pain. Tobias Menzies plays the dual role of Frank Randall and Black Jack Randall magnificently, tugging at our heart strings as the first character and chilling us to the bone  the other.

THE BAD:

  • There is nothing bad about this series. Nothing. Toldja I’m obsessed.

Over All:

If you haven’t seen Outlander before, I highly recommend setting your DVR to it on Starz. It you have, well, no matter how much you already love it, I think that this season you’ll love it even more.

‘Empire’ Has Always Known What TV Is Just Figuring Out

The secret is out!

And we are sooo glad:

empire-wowBlack Culture is Mainstream Culture
by Lara Zarum

Empire co-creator Danny Strong has likened his show to Game of Thrones, remarking that the two hour-long dramas are both centered on “kingdoms at war.” The comparison feels particularly apt considering the colossal viewership of both series: Game of Thrones has famously become TV’s most pirated show, and HBO’s most-watched ever, while last year Empire knocked The Big Bang Theory off its throne to become broadcast television’s #1 rated series.

The dominance of Empire, the music biz drama that returns to Fox on Wednesday to finish off its second season, feels particularly apt right now. Lately, an important conversation about race and heritage in America has taken place at the cinema, on the Grammy stage, and in Broadway theaters, and it courses through the series like adrenaline. The show’s popularity is a force to be reckoned with, a testament to the mainstreaming of black culture.

Empire is an unabashed soap opera, which means following its narrative strands can make you feel like a TV cop squinting at a “theory board” plastered with mug shots and lines of string. In the December mid-season finale, Hakeem voted Lucious out as Empire Entertainment’s CEO, and Camilla swooped in to replace him as Cookie looked on in horror. Meanwhile, Jamal kissed a woman (his musical hero Skye Summers, played by Alicia Keys), and someone pushed a very pregnant Rhonda down the stairs, a move that was surely meant to take her and Andre’s baby — and Empire’s heir — out of the mix.

Of course, Empire’s soapiness also means that characters appear and then disappear like mirages; you may be wondering what happened to rapper Becky G, who had an arc earlier this season as Valentina, who joins Cookie’s Lyon Dynasty label — before signing a contract with Lucious at Empire. She was replaced by the virginal Laura (Jamila Velazquez), a Mexican-American singer and Hakeem’s new love interest. Alicia Keys’ Skye appears to be gone, at least for now, but Brownsville rapper Freda Gatz (Bre-Z) is still around; in the new episodes, she and Jamal bond over their shared disappointment with Lucious….

Read it all at Flavorwire

11.22.63: a Stephen King TV adaptation that really works

Wow, doesn’t it feel wonderful when a new TV show appears and shows us that it’s gotten everything right?!

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This article contains some spoilers for the opening episode of 11.22.63

When you get down to it, writing (or at the very least, writing of a creative ilk) is little more than simple wish fulfilment. Think about it: from misspelled online slash fiction travesties that detail Thor and Loki’s brotherly love in a little too much detail, right through to Pulitzer Prize-winning opuses that sit proudly atop the zenith of all literary achievement. Ultimately, all fiction begins with an author projecting their hopes, dreams, fears or fantasies onto a page.

For a legendary writer like Stephen King whose life is a matter of public record, this maxim clearly holds true: as an addict throughout the 80s, perhaps the most prolific part of his career, the themes of addiction, relapse and redemption run clearly through his output during that decade. Since beating his demons, King’s work has sometimes traded darkness for reflection. 2011’s 11.22.63 found him at his meditative best, the critically-acclaimed tale of high school teacher Jake Epping travelling back into history to stop the assassination of JFK perhaps reflecting King’s own desires to rewrite the mistakes of his past.

When it comes to TV however, it’s fair to say that the bad outweighs the good. The Tommyknockers, The Langoliers, The Dead Zone and that ill-advised attempt to outdo Kubrick’s take on The Shining… to put not too fine a point on it – they’re terrible. Even adaptations that are more fondly remembered such as IT don’t hold up particularly well when dusted off and watched again.

The great thing about being Stephen King, however, is that you don’t need a time portal in your broom cupboard to be able to improve your body of work. There’ll always be scores of producers and directors queuing up to have a crack at King’s material as this mammoth list of forthcoming adaptations clearly demonstrates. Hulu’s 11.22.63, airing on Fox from April in the UK is a clear example of this: never mind that if you stacked up the wreckage of all of the failed King TV shows into one pile you could probably see it from space, the fact that the project has managed to attract the likes of J.J. Abrams, James Franco and Chris Cooper is testament to the enduring popularity of the writer’s work. That said, does it buck the trend? With TV adaptations of The Mist, Ayana and possibly even The Stand on the way to name but a few, it would be wonderful to see a King revival take place on the small screen.

11.22.63 is certainly a step in the right direction. Although only a few episodes have been broadcast across the pond and with UK episodes arriving on the 10th of April, it’s already clear that this King adaptation is a cut above the poorer adaptations of the author’s work that for decades have plagued the smaller screen….

Read it all at Den of Geek

Showrunners’ Guide to Effective Apologies (Hi, Jason Rothenberg!)

by Kathryn Graham

The majority of the time showrunners don’t need to apologize for their creative choices. If a fan favorite is killed or a ship doesn’t come in, that’s just a product of the story being told. People may or may not like what they see, but that’s a given in a creative industry. Creators don’t owe their viewers the story they want, and if viewers don’t like what they see, they don’t owe creators their time and investment.

But sometimes the messages creators send are received in a greater social context that means they can cause active harm. If, as in the case with THE 100, the narrative of the show touches on a long and troubling history of stigmatizing a minority on television and taps into a cultural story that has real life repercussions, then creators may decide that apologies are warranted. In that case, I’ve written this guide to effective apologies to help.

This is for The 100‘s Jason Rothenberg and his writing staff as well as any other television writers who can use it, but the basic principles can be applied to any apology.

Let’s take a moment to remember that the same fans who are now knocking down your door are the ones who were most invested in this aspect of your story before this incident. You created something they deeply loved. These were the kind of fans who would stay up drawing breathtaking works of art, analyzing every detail of your scenes, and telling all of their friends to watch and support the show.

It’s also worth noting that ours is a socially conscious fan base, who (along with generous outsiders) have given over 110,000 dollars and counting to the Trevor Project to benefit LGBT youth. We were attracted to your show because of its story, its diversity, and because you and everyone working with you gave us a dream we loved and believed in. We were on your side.

Assuming that you care about this part of your audience, how can you make it better?

1. Apologize

You tried this in a blog post. You tried this on the panel at WonderCon (video). It didn’t have a generally positive reception. Why are so few people accepting your apology? Partly, because some aspects of what occurred with social media were not sufficiently addressed. In a more general sense, it is because, when it comes to apologies, explanations come across as justifications.

Your reasons for what you did mean a lot more to you than they do to the people who got hurt. Anyone who was hurt by this is going to hear an attempt to defend the indefensible. A simple apology acknowledges that someone else’s pain is valid, and you regret your part in hurting them even if it was unintentional.

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Nobody wants an apology that explains. It’s reminiscent of when the adults in your life forced another kid to apologize to you on the playground. They did it, sure, but no one was satisfied with the solution.

2. Be Humble

Most of us are afraid of making mistakes. Depending on the severity of our blunder, we’re subject to a number of consequences. Those consequences are often unpleasant and sometimes devastating. We want everyone to think we’re perfect, and we try to convey that in everything we do.

We’re so afraid that if people look behind the mask they’re going to see how weak and foolish we really are. Yet, we also know that not a single one of us escapes making mistakes. Owning up to them is a sign of integrity and authenticity. People have great respect for these two qualities, especially because they tend to be so rare.

If instead of insecurity, you carry pride, then you have a tougher obstacle to overcome. Pride will pretend to elevate you while taking you down. Pride sits on your shoulder, pets your head, and tells you that you’re always right. It will cast you as a misunderstood hero and your detractors as cruel and unyielding villains. Pride wants you all to itself. It will actively rob you both of your ability to learn and your ability to connect with other people.

Humility is the antidote to both. Humility is a gift to yourself. You allow yourself to be as you are, to not know everything, to be human. It’s too much to ask of anyone to be infallible. You’re going to fall short. We all are. Everyone understands this. We admire others for their virtues, but we connect with them through their flaws.

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3. Listen & Learn

Clearly, a disconnect occurred between the message that was meant to be conveyed and that which a large part of the audience received. Most people understand the reasons why these choices were selected. It wasn’t personal, but that’s what makes it feel personal.

That which was vitally important to someone else didn’t factor into your decision. If you want to learn from this, that need has to be identified and understood. For your lesbian and bisexual community, a large part of that was safety. We felt that we were offered a safe space and a place of honor at the table (both things we are rarely afforded). That was clearly not the case. Our needs were not as important as another aspect of the story.

The wheel has now turned in such a way that that which was previously ignored is now a defining feature of your show. What’s done is done. Now we can only move forward. Knowing more about the people to whom you are speaking by meeting us face to face (physically being with another person and reading their body language aids powerful connection), hiring writers or consultants from the community, and/or reading as many stories as you can only helps.

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To understand, you have to become one with your beloved, and also one with your so-called enemy. You have to worry about what they worry about, suffer their suffering, appreciate what they appreciate. You and the object of your love cannot be two. They are as much you as you are yourself.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

No one is required to make someone else’s truth their own, but it’s worthwhile to sit with what’s being said without immediately reacting. Writers are good at putting themselves in other people’s shoes. You may never fully understand what it’s like to be degraded, demeaned, and abused because of who you love, but that’s part of what stories are for: to allow us a brief window into someone else’s life and bridge the gaps between us. You have not been asked to tread the path we have. Now you have the opportunity to walk with us for awhile. The choice to come along is yours.

4. Atone

Taking everything you’ve learned and applying it to your work going forward is the truest test of sincerity. You’ve indicated that you will take the lessons from this with you when you write season four.

It’s worth asking yourself, however, are you doing this out of love for those affected or to protect yourself? Intention is important because it will show up in your work. The difference between a story told out of love and one told of obligation is immense. It shows up in a hundred subtle ways.

That’s why a truly effective apology is atonement without expectation of forgiveness or reward. The truth is, you have no control over whether anyone else forgives you or is willing to continue the journey of The 100 with you. That is up to each individual. You can only control why and how you proceed.

You are free to ignore this guide entirely. You’re free to come at your story from a place where you are thinking of yourself, others, or both. It’s a creative challenge to honor your vision and practical restraints while also prioritizing your directive to make amends. It’s in meeting these challenges that remarkable new stories can be told.

With that, of course forgiveness is possible. Love is a profound healer. There is freedom in saying “Whatever you think of me, I give my love to you.” That love can never be taken from you, whether the ones you care about spit in your face or walk away.

If you’d like to see all of this in action, I suggest watching Lexa apologize to Clarke on Season 3 of The 100. It’s a great example.

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