Hank Isaac: Will Lightning Ever Strike Your Digital Series?

hankandlilacUnderfunded Overachievers #8
by Hank Isaac

I was going to write to the question: “Is it even worth it?” but, you know, it’s Spring (or Autumn if you’re down under) and, either way, it’s a time of change. So…

I’m a sailor. I’ve been one for well over half a century. And the fact I can boast that is frankly a bit disturbing. I was also a pilot. So weather is something that is not only interesting, knowledge of it is essential. In fact, ignoring the weather can quickly put lives in jeopardy.

So here’s where I pass on my little bit of knowledge – as a metaphor, because I’m supposed to be a writer.

Especially on spring & autumn days, when the air is cool and the Sun heats the ground, bubbles of moist air are released and stretch skyward. If conditions are right, when the air in the bubble gets high enough, where it’s cool enough, the water vapor condenses on stuff and we can see it. We call it a cloud. The cloud is actually the top of that rising column of air. Sometimes there aren’t any clouds visible. But the column of rising air is still there.

The up-moving air can come from a just-plowed farmer’s field, a hot shopping mall parking lot, or even an entire town. It can also come from a breeze running into hills or mountains which shove it skyward. A cold front, which is like a plow made out of air, can also do that. It’s like a moving hill.

Once the air cools, it stops rising and the cloud eventually evaporates back into vapor and disappears.

But sometimes, when everything is almost just right, the cloud will continue building. It won’t need the field or the hills anymore. It begins to pull in more moist air from around and beneath it. On days like that, the puffy clouds can get pretty tall. They’re often called “towering cumulus.” They’ve become little heat and water engines, producing giant castles in the sky.

But more often than not, those guys poop out eventually.

That’s why I said, “…almost right.”

Totally right is when the cloud’s engine keeps drawing in fuel from further and further away. It pulls air from what might have become their own clouds, sucks it up, then adds it to its growing resources. It even consumes its own “waste air” – air that rolls down the outside of the cloud.

We’ll never see the little clouds who gave themselves up to the ever-growing behemoth.

Inside this engine, water is cycling through various stages. There’s condensing and evaporating going on at a frenetic pace. Thousands of relatively tiny columns of air are racing every which way inside.

As the cloud grows and grows and gets taller and taller, its upper reaches start to tickle the bottom of the Stratosphere. Up there, it’s really cold. Damn icy, actually. So now snow begins to form. And when snow crystals form under these very unique circumstances, tiny electrical charges are generated and stored.

You already know where this is going.

So now, in addition to massive exchanges of heat energy and tons and tons of water changing from one state to another and back again, all this mess is storing more and more electrical charges.

Until… BLAM! A spark jumps. Sometimes from one part of the cloud to another. Sometimes to the ground if the charge is strong enough.

But this thing is just beginning to cook.

Keep in mind, it’s original source of energy is long gone. It probably can’t even remember where it first came from or even how it got started – as that little bubble of rising air. Drawing in more fuel from distances than can span many, many miles now, the top of the cloud wanders into a place of very little air pressure and temperatures colder than any place on the planet.

And even though we’re often afraid of such power, we’re still drawn to that very same power and marvel at the display of this incredible energy. A sort of majesty that we really can’t duplicate. We can only wonder.

Sure, all that marvelous power eventually dissipates. Maybe the storm soaked that farmer’s field as a thank you. Who knows.

So now, if you’ve read this far, are you wondering what the heck this has to do with creating a TV series?

If you got the metaphor, then I have an answer for you:

Not every little rising bubble of air will become a thunderstorm, but every thunderstorm began as a little rising bubble of air.

Lilac is HERE

Next time: Who knows, maybe something interesting…

Social Issues and TV – At Least Some Showrunners are Trying

Since the beginning of television addressing social issues has been a constant problem for those working in TV. Back in the day, rebellious writers had to depend on executive producers who were little more than salesmen when it came to convincing networks that relevance mattered. Now that writers have taken over most of the executive producer chairs, writers have to fight their own battles. How are they doing?


How the Biggest TV Shows are Weaving in the Big Issues
by Jennifer Swann

ring the season finale of the hugely popular Fox soap opera Empire Wednesday night, the show sent more than a few socially charged messages to its loyal audience of more than 16 million. During a press conference in one scene, the singer Patti LaBelle gives a shout-out to Black Lives Matter by announcing that proceeds from a concert with Rita Ora, Juicy J, and Jennifer Hudson will benefit the activist movement.

The hip-hop family drama not only blends real-life pop stars into its fictional record label but also folds of-the-moment issues such as LGBT rights and mental illness into the glitzy, melodramatic story lines—without interrupting the show’s fantastical narrative, which often hinges on sex, money, drugs, and violence.

Empire isn’t the only show on television that’s seamlessly integrating social issues without relying on them to advance the plot. We’ve rounded up advice from the minds behind some of TV’s most innovative shows to talk about addressing race, gender, and sexuality while keeping the story specific and authentic.

Danny Strong, cocreator, Empire: “One of the great things about our show is we can do that. The finale is not a race episode whatsoever, but, all of a sudden, we can just throw that in, and it’s perfectly organic to the storytelling. In Empire, we’re able to look at social issues that are important and to keep discussing them in a way that’s not preachy or in your face. It’s just completely organic, because in the real world that would happen. I love that we get to do that on the show.” (via Deadline)

Lena Dunham, creator, Girls: “I and we do care deeply about politics and do care deeply about things that are happening in the United States right now, particularly to women, particularly to women of color, particularly when it comes to reproductive rights…. So while we don’t set out to be didactic or turn our show into a Trojan horse about all our ideas about who you should vote for, the natural truth about our politics comes through in what we are doing so we can fully tell stories. We tell stories not just about the world we live in but about the world we want to live in.” (via The Hollywood Reporter)

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How the BROAD CITY Writers Make the Show So Funny

Yeah, we see the problem here, so just between us, if you don’t find BROAD CITY hilarious, you may not want to read on. OTOH, if you do jump into this article, you may find the actual methodology quite valid and worth exploring. (And, hey, if so, let us know, ‘kay?)

broad cityby Aly Weisman

With its second season [closing last] Wednesday night, Comedy Central’s “Broad City” has quickly become a cult favorite.

The show’s casual and off-the-cuff feel is part of the appeal, but behind-the-scenes there’s a long writing and production process before anything makes it onto the air.

“Writing is the first act of our three act experience of the show of acting, shooting, editing,” one of the show’s stars and creators, Ilana Glazer, tells Business Insider over the phone.

“It’s pretty stressful, the deadlines come quickly,” she adds, “but those deadlines actually make us feel like we’re running around Broad City, too. It has the same feeling of the show and we feel like the process of rushing to come up with good ideas for an outline and make it into a script, the process feeds the product.”

Despite the improv backgrounds of “Broad City” creators and stars, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the show is actually written by a whole team of writers.

“What it looks like is a room of writers who we came up with here [in NYC] in the comedy community, and we all come up together with these bigger concepts of what the episodes could be and we all kind of write every episode,” Glazer explains. “We come up with the outlines and a writer or a writing team may go off and write the script but I think the whole writers’ room is all over every episode.”

Adds Jacobson: “Yeah, because the script then comes back into the room and we all go over the script together. The whole process is very collaborative.”

And for the most part, all actors stick to the script.

“The show is very, very much scripted,” says Glazer. “We use some new little details in and out of scenes, but we do stick to our script a lot. Just in general, how it works on set is we do two or three scripted takes and then we say to the actor: ‘Okay, now just put it in your words, just so it feels natural.’ What we usually end up taking from people’s improv is flourishes people put on.”

Adds Glazer: “The way the shows feels very present and in the moment is exactly how we write it. Our No.1 goal is always the comedy and the funniest thing over other goals of like plot, or where they end up. I feel like we’re very much about the moment that the characters are in and what’s the funniest expression of their experience.”

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Peggy Bechko Blogs: World Building for Writers


by Peggy Bechko

Here’s what writers face every day. It’s simple really. If they’re creating a world that is known, that is, some version of the earth or the country you live in or the town, or whatever, research is necessary to fill in the background of your story. Experience, webcrawling, visiting libraries, whatever it takes. It’s still pretty straight-forward.

The hitch comes in when a writer sits down to create any kind of what is referred to as ‘speculative’ fiction. That’s when it gets to be great fun. Or at least it better be fun or I advise you not to do it.  Here’s where the writer has the opportunity – even the necessity to create fictional worlds, cultures, languages, the whole shebang. Think about writers like J.R.R. Tolkien  Orson Scott Card  Edgar Rice Burroughs and others.

So, how does a writer go about creating a whole culture? Well, the industrious writer can simply steal one. By that I mean he or she can use an event in history, say the fall of the Roman empire the characters can be ‘renamed’ and recycled; just keep the core values and what’s at the base of the culture still there and plunge in. Only problem is, if your skeleton is too visible lots of history buffs are going to say, hey, this isn’t original – it’s a remake!  And another thing to think about is if you want to add something to the mix, like the paranormal or magic or some such and don’t think it thorough as to how it would affect the underlying skeletal culture things get complicated.

On the other hand you can construct a whole new world by borrowing bits and pieces of various cultures that appeal to your storytelling instincts and add dollops of your own unique elements.  But beware, you’re now on your way, on that slippery slope to creating your own worlds and cultures – gasp, building fictional cultures from scratch just like JRR Tolkein did.

Admittedly this is the toughest route to take, but it’s very cool. Problem is (isn’t there always one or two or …. Well, you get it) the writer has to keep everything straight as the story is created. This creates a literal minefield of problems that can explode in the writer’s face.  You think you can mess up a story with plot holes? Just try holes in story background when you’re creating your own whole culture. Think about it. If no one is allowed to harm a bird, why are they sitting at the table eating turkey? Why do your characters fear the terrible dragon if each village has its own ‘hero dragonslayer’? If they live in verdant, lush farm country why are they starving and not farming?

The examples are a bit extreme, but you get the drift. The writer must be aware at all times of these little things, keeping track of them, finding ways to work them into the story or work a way around them.

So the writer, in beginning to create a culture from scratch, such as the rich and varied world of Lord of The Rings really should plan things out in broad strokes from the beginning. Ask himself questions like where do the people live? Mountains, desert, forest? Is it hot, cold, mild? Scorching heat or blizzards or both? Are they near lakes, rivers, creeks, the ocean?  It needs to be taken into consideration what types of resources they have. Is the soil fertile? Farming? Do they have the wheel and/or metalworking? Do they have a buried asset like gold, diamonds or something with the worth of oil even if it’s black and yucky?

Where do they live? In caves? Houses? What kind of dwellings? Straw, clay, brick, wood?

And what kind of food do they eat? Deer and rabbits? Fish? Do they have rare and exotic spices? Do they raise livestock like cattle, chickens, etc.? Or maybe they fish farm. Or perhaps they eat some fruit/veggie/meat the writer has created from scratch as well.

It isn’t easy this culture/world-building. The writer has to consider things like if using the paranormal or magic or SciFi elements, how does that work in and does it make sense throughout the story? If the main character can ‘see dead people’, i.e. paranormal, is that character feared? Courted for his abilities? Messed up because this is driving him crazy?

And that would lead into what the people of that culture believe in. If very superstitious they might well shun the Seer of Dead People as being some kind of threat. If that’s the case is there an organized religious leadership that would come out against the character?

If advanced, curious and intelligent, they might seek his guidance. Or, they might not believe in anything, so then where does the culture/story go?

And what do they have at their disposal? There’s quite the debate about vaccination right now. What if the society had no access to anything like it, no vaccines, no way to fight infections?  What kind of a society would that be?

And who’s in charge? In the Harry Potter books it certainly seemed the magically inclined were actually in charge despite what the ‘muggles’ might think, yet of course the magically inclined did not rule in that series of books.

On the other hand, governing might be left to that guy who Sees Dead People as he the small population like him are privy to information the ‘normal’ person of that culture is not. And if they are the ‘governors’ then what kind of governing? Tyranny? Monarchy? Representative Government?

Take into account things like who their friends and enemies are, do they have trade, is there a war (if so what are the weapons and how are they procured?) or are they in the wake of a previously fought war?

When building a new culture there is a lot of extrapolation involved and a lot of follow-through.

Truly it is a very difficult task, yet a very rewarding one.

Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

Creator Bryan Fuller on Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, and Being Cancelled

Okay, so your show getting cancelled isn’t the end of the world. But we’ve never heard of one solitary writer-producer who doesn’t feel like he and his team and their creation just took a bullet to the brain. For example:

So this is what Bryan Fuller looks like...

So this is what Bryan Fuller looks like…

by Jennifer M. Wood

With Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, and Hannibal, Bryan Fuller has made a career out of finding both the humor and humanity in what would largely be considered the darkest of subject matters: death. And it’s a good thing. Because up until this year, a third season of any one series has eluded Fuller.

Sure, Fuller’s work has been widely acclaimed and recognized. Pushing Daisies alone was nominated for three Golden Globes and won seven of its 17 Emmy nominations during its too-short life. But for just about every series that he has actually gotten on the air (add Wonderfalls, which was canceled after four episodes), Fuller has had another one of his small-screen creations stopped in its tracks (a planned reboot of The Munsters called Mockingbird Lane, which only aired a special; an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs’s first novel; No Kill, a pet project of Fuller’s and his first bona fide sitcom). While Fuller admits that he always takes rejection personally, he’s not about to write off any one project or character. He’s famously written characters from his past series into his current ones, and he already knows what he would do if given a second chance to breathe new life into any one of his dearly departed earlier shows. (Are you listening, Netflix?)…

Dead Like Me was your first series as showrunner, but was it the first series that you actually created?

Yes. Many hymens were broken on Dead Like Me.

It premiered in the summer of 2003, but when did you begin writing it?

I had written it my last year at Star Trek: Voyager. While we were winding down that year, I was writing the pilot for Dead Like Me on spec, and writing it almost as a writing sample because I had only been writing for Star Trek and my manager told me, “Nobody’s going to read that so you need to write a spec that serves as your calling card.” He said I could write a script for another show or write something original and asked if I had any original ideas. I pitched him three and he said, “Write Dead Like Me. I can sell that one.”

Between Dead Like Me and Six Feet Under, death was pretty in vogue. But what’s interesting about Dead Like Me is the way it deals with the idea of life after death so literally. How did the concept come about?

I had gone to a lot of funerals as a child, so I was more than just a little death-obsessed. And I had always loved horror films, so I wanted to do something in the horror genre but wanted it to be sweet and charming at the same time. Because there’s a difference between watching horror, where you can leave it behind, and writing horror, where you have to live in it for months and months at a time. It becomes very oppressive. At the time I was also very in touch with the post-college malaise of the twentysomething who didn’t know where to go or what to do. I was temping before I got the job at Star Trek, and I really wanted to relate my experiences as a temp through a character that also had something to say about life. So here was this young woman who was avoiding being alive and engaging in life and the universe kind of threw it in her face and said, “Okay, you avoided being alive but now you are dead and you still have to deal with all of the problems of being alive for eternity.” There is no escape from that and that seemed like the fun thing to explore with a young woman.

Was the show close to what you originally envisioned?

Well, the world became much smaller than what I had imagined. I imagined a great death set piece in every episode, with a startling visual representation of what every individual imagined as their death, and what death meant to them translated through a happy thought or a happy image. There was a greater mythological sense in the show that slowly got weeded out because we simply couldn’t produce it where we would understand what these Gravelings were that set things into motion. They were the kind of the Rube Goldbergs of death who would set a variety of traps that ultimately led to someone’s death. So understanding what they did and the difference between the Grim Reapers, who pop the souls, and the creatures who actually set the death in motion and the relationship between those two entities was something that was going to be explored much more. There was also an interesting aspect of Georgia Lass, the main character, in the pilot: She starts to suspect that her father is homosexual and then realizes what a miracle her life was because if her father is gay and had followed his true path he wouldn’t have set out to marry a woman and create a child. But because of various influences he did, so she started to realize what a fluke her life actually was… So it was another aspect of you-are-who-you-are and the design is random and accepted and that is what life is. It was another philosophy of the show that kind of got whittled away in the process as it kept going.

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Remember when the GOTHAM TV series was first announced? Comic book fans were all “Oh wow!” about seeing the U.S.’s most crime-riddled city (pre-Batman) on the home screen. The joy turned to angst – a common development when it comes to moving comics from their home turf – and then the bad feelings kind of leveled off. If, like us, you’ve been wondering where GOTHAM stands now, here’s one comics pro’s take:

by Marc Alan Fishman

Gotham-penguinBack in November I lamented that Gotham was a train-wreck with glimmers of hope peaking out amongst the smoldering boxcars abandoned near Arkham Asylum. Well, here we are, a large smattering of episodes later, and I’m starting to change my outlook on Fox’s proto-Batman dramedy. Hear me out, skeptics.

My turn of opinion first peeked its tepid head out into the light when I came to the realization that the show was not, nor would it ever be, Gotham Central by way of Ed Brubaker. The fact is I’ve circled my wagons around the ideology that business and the boardroom will always help dictate the creative endeavors of the Big Two™’s creations. That means that as critically acclaimed a graphic novel may be, at the end of the day all Warner Bros is going to care about is ratings and the potential syndication of Gotham. Hence, the fact that producers are making a show that by-and-large is built to appeal to the widest audience possible by way of brazen continuity-shattering canon-damning characterizations was bound to happen. Or in lesser terms, we were never ever ever going to not get interpretations of Batman’s rogue gallery. So I got over it.

And when I did, the sky opened up, and the show instantly became more entertaining to me. Jim Gordon – the John Wayne of Gotham – and his trusty drunkish sidekick Harvey Bullock are the lone moral compass amidst a sea of corruption. Hell, Bullock up until the 8th or 9th time Gordon saved his ass was as much a part of the problem as anyone. But as the show settled into itself, there was a slight shift in the dynamic duo’s camaraderie.

After sticking his neck out on the line enough times, Bullock and the police chief both turned from broken records (“You’ll never beat this city, Jim!) into begrudging do-gooders. And it did the series a hell of a favor. Instead of one man against a city, there was a subtle cracking of a window, piercing the muck and mire with rays of hope.

Hope. It’s the biggest concept the show misplaced at the onset. But over time, the cases of the week gave way to those notions that yes, in fact, some people did want to fight against the rampant corruption. And to a degree even those who existed on the other side of the law started to show depth of character. Make no bones about it: Carmine Falcone is an evil and bad man. But he bleeds the same blood as we do, and through the plot line of Fish Moody’s planted girlfriend, we saw shades of grey in what was an otherwise black and white caricature of any gangster we’ve seen a million places elsewhere. OK, and let me not give too much credit here. The shtick of an Italian-American loving his mother is not exactly original storytelling. Again, lowest-common-denominator here. Take the small victories as big ones.

Because Gotham was given more than twenty shows to produce within the first season, the writing team has been very sneaky in utilizing slow-burn storytelling in-between the predictable ratings bait. While we’ve been treated to outright terrible iterations of the Scarecrow and the maybe-Joker to-be, we’ve been privy to the ebb and flow of several well-defined debauchees….

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