Letterman Writer’s Good-bye to Dave

Bill Scheft, one of the backbones of the Letterman show over more than twenty years, has written this insightful look into the finale. When TV series work, everything about them becomes family. Scheft’s article works wonders, letting everybody who reads it into the clan:

lettermangbye (Final) Show Diary of Stuff Noteworthy Only to Me, Day 28 (End of Daves)…
by Bill Scheft

It is Sunday, around 1:30 pm, as I write this. If you must know, my boss of 24 years, Dave Letterman, is where he always is on this day, somewhere on Pit Row at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His driver, Graham Rahal, is currently running ninth with 132 laps to go. Maybe by the time I finish this, he’ll be further up on the others. And so will you people….

If you must know, I feel relieved and extremely proud. But that’s all I can give you right now. Mercifully, for the purposes of this exercise, how I feel is not important. You saw it, you know how it made you feel. That’s all that is relevant, practical and real. But I can take you through the last day and maybe they will be something there. Something else. Something else, like that last 78 minutes we all had together.

THE MORNING: I am not a superstitious man, but I do love subtle symbolic gestures. So, I decided to wear the same grey glen plaid suit I had worn to the last show at NBC 22 years ago. I didn’t think of it until Chris Albers posted that photo of me on Twitter at my desk. I knew I still had the suit, and I hoped it still fit. In the spirit of rigorous honesty, I could have worn it as is, all zipped up and buttoned, but I might have passed out somewhere during the Taco Bell remote. So, I had my dry cleaners take out the pants an inch. I got a lot of compliments, and when I would tell people the significance of the suit, they would look skeptically until I produced a photo or two from my pocket.

THE WORK DAY: The final show had been lovingly built brick by brick by Barbara Gaines over the last six months. Her title was Executive Producer. Her everlasting credit will be my best friend. By the time we all turned up for work Wednesday, there’s was almost nothing to do. Almost. The four tape pieces (Kids, Taco Bell, Day In The Life and the final montage) had gone through their last incarnations and had been signed off on by Dave. The guests for the Top Ten had been booked. We knew there may be some final changes to the list, but that wouldn’t happen until rehearsal, which was five hours away….which is like a generation on a strip (nightly) show. So, for most of the morning, everyone was kinda antsy. Antsy like Alan Shepard in the cockpit of Freedom 7 (”Let’s light this candle!”). We just wanted the show to start.

The monologue, my main responsibility (along with Steve Young), had been put together the night before. We never do it this far in advance, but because there were no jokes based on topical material and Dave wanted no distractions on the final day, we compiled it just after the Tuesday night taping and just before a 7 pm technical rehearsal. We settled on 11 straight jokes and five enhancements (one live element – the giant print on the cue card, and four short tape pieces) for 16 total jokes, which is the number we usually shoot for. We knew if we got anything on Wednesday that we really liked, we could slot it and replace what we had. We monkeyed with the order a bit, but the Tonight Show joke (written by Mulholland and Barrie, aka “The Boys” even though they’re Dave’s age) was always going to be first out of the shoot. In 24 years, I remember a handful of times when the opening remarks had been set a few hours before the taping (Anniversary shows, the first show at CBS, the first show after his heart surgery), but never the day before.

For those of you who really want the complete monologue deconstruction, we started with 22 jokes under consideration (on cue cards) and we quickly got down to 12, then 10. The last two jokes cut were a mini-run, I now enter a new phase of life: Moping…. I now enter a new phase of life: Shouting out answers while I watch game shows…. They were cut because he had done a joke that day, I now enter a new phase of life: Googling “foods that help your prostate…”  which he felt was the best version of that premise and it didn’t make sense to revisit. So, we had 10. We were one short. I pitched a joke to him written by Steve Young that he had passed on: My son is not clear on what’s going on. He keeps asking, “Why does Daddy have to go to prison?” He remembered it and laughed and realized we had nothing in the monologue on his family. So, it went in. Over the years, I have pitched a lot of jokes in the eleventh hour and I would say he’ll take one for every 20 I offer up. It was especially gratifying because it was a Steve Young joke, and it didn’t sound like anything before or after. The final breakdown of jokes was also pleasing in its numerology: 3 for The Boys, 3 from Chris Belair, 2 from me, 2 from Steve Young, and one from Chris Albers, who wrote jokes at the old show when he was Paul’s assistant before moving on to a 18-year career running Conan’s.monologue. Chris was one of a half dozen former writers I invited to contribute to the final opening remarks: Gerard Mulligan, Adam Resnick, Larry Jacobson, Frank Sebastiano and Jeff Stilson. They were all touched and grateful to have the chance, and I loved that one of them scored.

Even though we had a monologue, the main opening remarks writers (me, The Boys and Belair) pretended it was just another day and turned in our submissions at the regular time, along with the freelance guys. Dave considered a couple, but nothing made it through. My last effort looked no different in format than my first, which I typed on an IBM Wheelwriter and turned in Monday, October 21, 1991, except that just under Opening Remarks  Scheft  5/20,  I wrote the last line of Catullus poem #101 (Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.). In the makeup room, he asked me to translate the Latin, and I managed to not choke up when I said, “And into eternity, brother, hail and farewell….”). Truth be told, there was one joke of mine I would have loved him to slot in under the wire: 35 years ago, I stopped drinking. I think that’s long enough, don’t you?

Read it all at Bill Scheft’s blog

Herbie J Pilato: DARK SHADOWS’ Original Incarnation is Originality in Action

the real barnabasPart 1
by Herbie J Pilato

Live performances.  Rehashed ideas.  Retold stories.  Dead-on scripts.

Turn of the ScrewPicture of Dorian GrayDr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeDraculaFrankensteinThe Wolfman.  Even HP Lovecraft’s The Cthulhu Mythos.

Actors play a piece from each, working, temporarily, steadily.  Stereotyped, indefinitely.  Fallen movie stars, resurrected for the small screen. TV superstars yet to be born.  Future TV angels, present spectres.

AIDS.  Death.  Divorce.  Lawsuits.  Murder trials.  Daytime, night-time drama – behind and in front of the camera. Shadows of things to come; dark, but clearly defined.

TV stars return to the big screen.  Convolution.  Suffocation.  Cancellation.  Restoration.  Thrice.  Almost four times.  Nostalgic television actors replaced with unfamiliar faces (except maybe one).  Reality mixes with fantasy in the past, present, future and parallel time, immortal.

This sums up the experience of Dark Shadows – one of TV’s most unique and enduring series – one which debuts on ABC, June 27, 1966 and continues to enjoy a kind of cult following once thought solely exclusive to the likes of Star Trek.  (Or should that read, “occult” following?)  It ends its original run on April 2, 1971 and – more than forty years later – thrives in syndication on the new Decades classic TV channel, a few years after contemporary film star Johnny Depp failed to bring its leading character back to life…this time, for the big screen.

Decades before Decades and Depp, however, the original series introduces scary new American sex symbols, and canonizes nontraditional saints in the church of classic TV.  Dark Shadows becomes the first alternative daytime serial, focusing on the lives of a bizarre troupe, instead of relatively regular ones (ages before NBC lets loose it’s a supernatural persuasion with the daytime soap, Passions, airing from 1999 to 2007).

Its audience is rare among soaps – legions of counterculture teens replace their stereos with TVs.  It becomes the first non-prime-time soap to be syndicated (eons before the onset of the all-soap channels).  It premieres in the mid 1960’s – in a time littered with assassinations, illicit drug use, a sexual revaluation and a misbegotten war; lost souls pine to find themselves in another realm – an era rife with interest in sorcery and the occult.  On prime time TV there be witches, genies and monster families.  On daytime, a little bit of the same – but not as upbeat.

During the day – when the undead are supposed to be asleep – a vampire rises consistently at 3:30 (and later 4) in the afternoon.  His name is biblical, but he’s far from holy (at least in the conservative sense).  The character is immortal, but the actor is middle-aged.  He becomes a pop phenomenon that few people admit to watching, but one of whom all hold dear as their secret love.

Then, the bat is out on the cad.  He winds up on the cover of upscale magazines like Time and Newsweek.  Before the term blockbuster becomes part of the movie-going vernacular, Dark Shadows, or “DS,” as it is known in some spectre sectors, spawns a feature film for which hordes line up to see.  A less-than spectacular sequel is produced, while the TV series moves forward then finally succumbs to a stake in the hardcore of its appeal.

Still, the show does not die.  An updated prime-time addition arises in the early 1990’s.  Lunch boxes, books, memorabilia and countless followers refuse to gather cobwebs, and instead gather for bi-annual Dark Shadows Festivals…and not Conventions.  For indeed there is a clear amount of joy associated with this darkly-premised TV classic, as its fans reach beyond obligation in their dedication to their favorite show, and rest upon it with true, perpetual celebration.

THE DAWN OF THE DEAD

It’s 1966.  DS begins as a soft-focus Gothic soap, with slightly mysterious aura and a few minor ghost tales – a vision that haunts producer Dan Curtis in a dream – an idea that ABC buys into with eager immediacy.  But it soon becomes a nightmare for the network.  No one watches.  It gets pelted in the ratings. Despite the presence of a famed former movie queen in the guise of Joan Bennett and the talented presence of stage-trained actors like Dennis Patrick, the Shadows begins to fade, to hit a brick wall, of sorts, before it even has a chance to rest upon one.

1967:  Curtis entertains a second vision.  He decides to go full-throttle with the “spook stuff,” and creates a tortured bloodsucker named Barnabas Collins, portrayed with earnest torture by Jonathan Frid.  Curtis breaks all the soap rules by instructing his writers to inject something scary into every script, every day. If the vampire-thing doesn’t work, Curtis decides, “…we could always drive a stake into its heart.”

But there’s no need to take such drastic measures.  The stakes, so to speak, are too high.  The viewers love Barnabas, as he falls first for the kindly Collinwood governess Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) and then Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), the amiable waitress at the Blue Whale.  Audiences reach 15 million, 90% of which are teens – in other words 13,5000,000.  Originally intended for a mere two or three week visit, Barnabas instantly becomes a permanent resident of Collinsport, or specifically – Collinwood – the centuries-old mansion with eerie ancestral family ties to the past, namely Barnabas himself.

That’s right. He’s lived before – in the “old house,” on the Collinwood grounds.  The new house holds the descendants of today’s Collinwood family.  But Barnabas is the one constant in all time periods…be it the 18th, the 19th or 20th Centuries, all of which are visited “at one time or another” on DS (circa 1795, 1897, 1966, 1969-71).

“Through the years,” however, the 45-year-old Frid waxes apprehensive at portraying the frightful lug, the 200-year-old creature of the night that seduces America by day – with biting commentary.

No wonder the actor is nervous at first, about joining the cast.  He senses something brewing. A hint of things to come, although he doesn’t know just what. He can’t put his finger on it. Meanwhile, he can’t put his fangs on right.  Frid is so manic with anxiety during his first “necking” scene; he slips his fangs on upside down, and chews them to bits. Little matter.  For the viewer, it’s love at first bite.  They adore him, and the show – taped live every day – despite its awkward camera movements, off-stage wranglings, and flies resting upon many an actor’s nose.  That’s part of its charm.

Frid tries to make sense of it all – this happy dilemma he finds himself in. “I suppose women see Barnabas as a romantic figure,” he says years later. “Because I played him as a lonely, tormented man rather than a Bela Lugosi villain. I bite girls in the neck, but only when my uncontrollable need for blood drove me to it. And I always felt remorseful later. As to his appeal with the younger crowd, he says, “Youngsters…are looking for a new morality. And he is Barnabas. He goes around telling people to be good, then suddenly sets out and bites somebody’s neck.  He hates what he is and he’s in terrible agony.

Just like kids today, he’s confused – lost and screwed up and searching for something.  I’m a lovable and pitiable vampire.  All the girls want to mother me.”

THE YEAR FROM HELL

The show produces its most controversial storyline. It deals with the witch Angelique (played by hypnotic beauty Lara Parker) – who originally put the curse of the vampire on Barnabas – her fellow partner in evil, warlock Nicholas Blair (Humbert Allen Astredo), and the big man downstairs, Satan, to whom both of them report.  A cameo by the Devil himself provokes negative mail from viewers. Various interest groups and individual viewers are now convinced that DS is dangerous to the minds of children.  Letter-writing campaigns are initiated, complaints from fundamentalist ministers pour in, saying the show is “leading innocent children down the rosy road to Hell.”  Even noted psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers states that the series is “indoctrinating our young people into dissociation.”

Parents are apprehensive as their kids identify with Barnabas, a character who “bricks people” in between walls. Some church groups are especially offended when the person being sealed up is none-other-than an evil minister, the tenacious Reverend Trask (Jerry Lacy, future spouse to Julia Duffy, of Newhart). The DS writers opt to back off, labeling Satan, Diabolos…not “the” devil…but merely “a” devil.

In the meantime, the cast is dealing with demons of their own. Some actors are downright frightened, not by the show, but rather the fans.  Strange presents arrive in the mail.  A gift-wrapped box of live ants labeled, “Appetizer.”  A box of cookies to actress Donna Wandrey (Roxanne Drew) – cutout in the shape of tombstones and painstakingly iced with all the actors names.

While the debate rages on as to where the real evil abides, Dan Curtis begins clandestine negotiations with the suits at MGM. The show needs some new blood, in this case – a new monster, one with the hypnotic appeal of Barnabas.  The werewolf Chris Jennings has become been popular, but DS craves someone more charismatic. The result is Quentin, a ghost (played by David Selby, later of the CBS prime-time soap Falcon Crest).

In the interim, a few actors grow impatient with their fading screen time, and scant character development. Joel Crothers (Joe Haskell) is so unhappy, he exits for another soap (Somerset).  Alexandra Moltke – three years into her five-year contract of playing a once central character in the form of governess Victoria Winters – now complains about her diminishing role in the series. “Victoria is so dumb,” she protests. “All I do is stand around saying, I don’t understand what’s happening. Jonathan (as Barnabas) has hypnotized me into eloping with him, tried to cut off my boyfriend’s head to stick on that goofy monster they made (Adam), even sent me hundreds of years into the past during a séance.  And I still haven’t figured out that he may not be quite normal.”

Never really satisfied with the limitations of her role, Moltke frequently requests to be given another character, a villainess, or at least someone with a dark side. The opportunity never arises.  So she marries in real life a young lawyer named Philip Isles – a very Collins-like heir whose late grandfather founded the famous Lehman Brothers. Now she’s expecting. A pregnant Victoria Winters doesn’t do. She’s released from her contract.  Betsy Durkin plays Vicky for a few weeks; Carolyn Groves for a few days.  But it’s not the same.  They’re never really accepted by the audience.  The character of Vicky is never seen again.

But the audience can see through Selby’s spectred Quentin.  The handsome DS addition is a feast for the eyes.  He first appears as a ghost in present-day 1969, and Quentin’s Theme – heard every time he materializes, becomes a Top 40 hit.  The show once again journeys to another period from the past.  This time: 1897 – when Quentin is very much alive. He’s the womanizer of this era Collins family – and again, the viewers eat ‘em up, especially the female watchers.  The Partridge Family has David Cassidy. Dark Shadows has David Selby.  They both appear side-by-side on Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine.  What’s more, Selby’s Quentin becomes just as popular as Frid’s Barnabas – and Jonathan couldn’t be more relieved.

MORE TO COME (including “The Mayhem of the Macabre”) later this week!


In addition to his work as an author, and TV producer, Herbie J Pilato is the Founder and Executive Director of The Classic TV Preservation Society, a formal 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between popular culture and education.  For more information, log on to www.ClassicTVPS.blogspot.com.

 

IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S A GIRL!

The SUPERGIRL trailer from CBS has gotten mixed reviews. Some viewers love it. Others think it’s an abomination. This particular TVWriter™ leans mostly toward agreeing with what ComicMix writer Martha Thomases has had to say:

 Supergirl-Super-Horseby Martha Thomases

My editor suggested, if I was having trouble coming up with ideas about what to write, that I note that the new CBS prime-time show,Supergirl, will air at eight o’clock Eastern time on Mondays when it starts this fall… up against Gotham on Fox.

The assumption, when he mentioned this to me last week, was thatSupergirl would have trouble against the adventures of Bruce Wayne as a boy, since the Batman character has a known success across several media for more than fifty years. Kara Zor-El, on the other hand, starred in one lousy movie and guested on a season ofSmallville.

And then, this happened. Pitch Perfect 2 beat Mad Max: Fury Road for highest grossing opening box office this weekend. By a lot.

“Well,” you say (you being my rhetorical projection), “that’s really irrelevant, because movies are different from television.” This is true.

“And anyway,” you continue, “women don’t like superheroes, so who will watch the show?”

You, my rhetorical projection, are wrong. Women watch the current crop of superhero shows in large numbers. They also watch shows in related genres, including fantasy (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, for example) and horror (like Supernatural and iZombie).

I’m really psyched because, as you know, I’m a long-time Supergirl fan. I have enjoyed almost every incarnation of the character, including the one who had a flying horse that would turn into a cute guy when the occasion required. This new television version seems to owe a bit too much to The Devil Wears Prada, at least in the trailer, but it is my hope that, as the writers get comfortable with the material they’ll find a more unique take on the characters. It’s what happened in other 0808-produced shows, including Arrow and The Flash.

Read it all

23 Top Showrunners Tell All

We didn’t know there were 23 top showrunners, but here they are, in all their too cool for school glory:

ShowRunnerSurvey

by Lacey Rose

If these top showrunners were running their networks instead of their shows, what would their first move be? And how about if it were these guys (and gals) who got a shot at writing the finale episode of Mad Men as opposed to creator Matthew Weiner? We asked these and many more questions of the masterminds behind such hits as Scandal, Empire, Modern Family, Arrow and more in THR‘s third annual showrunner survey. Below are a collection of their honest, comical and, at times, biting responses.

Live tweeting is …

GOLDBERG An amazing way to engage with the fans.

GORDON Something I’ve been told I should do.

KITSIS A great way to remind yourself you’re not as cool as you thought you were.

NOWALK Fun until you come across a comment, or 50, that make it clear the audience hates something you wrote months ago and have no way to fix. That’s when I drink.

RIDLEY Not something that should be done live.

LLOYD Ingenious, Twitter being the chief modern-day manner by which people persuade themselves that they matter. Their every thought and feeling is essential reading to thousands of followers (sometimes live!), with no accounting for how many people actually consume these precious notings. Twenty years ago there wasn’t a comedy writer alive who wasn’t consumed byLarry King‘s USA Today column wherein he rewrote the record book for banal musings; it was glorious because it was so excruciatingly self-involved. Now half those writers have Twitter accounts. (In a too predictable footnote, Larry King recently opened his own account. Last week he let it be known that he has literally never been on a roller coaster.)

HARMON Like most things, dumb now that the grown- ups are doing it.

The one idea I’m still mad the network won’t let me do is …

BARRIS Police brutality.

SOLOWAY Send stuff free the next day.

NOXON My musical version of The Black Dahlia.

URMAN I don’t know about “mad,” but I’m bummed I couldn’t do a whimsical little incest story.

HARMON Well, you know. My show and stuff.

If I could steal a character from any TV series currently on the air for my show, I’d take …

CUSE Dinesh and Gilfoyle from Silicon Valley. Put ’em in The Strain, throw a couple of vampires at them. No matter what happens, it’s awesome.

SOLOWAY Brian Williams.

HOROWITZ Saul Goodman/Jimmy McGill from Better Call Saul. I think he’d do an excellent job hammering out all the complexities of Rumpelstiltskin’s deals — and after dealing with Tuco, he certainly wouldn’t be intimidated.

KHAN Abbi and Ilana from Broad City. They would have a bad drug trip, go back in time and find themselves as twin sisters in the Huang family. The actual story once they were there would be to convince Jessica to let them get bunk beds.

BERLANTI Easy one: Daredevil. DC-Marvel mashup!

MOORE Peter Campbell from Mad Men. Watching him getting lost in 18th century Scotland would be great.

My cure for writer’s block is …

GORDON Denial.

MOORE A paycheck.

PLEC A deadline. I’m a co-dependent people pleaser.

RHIMES My cure for almost anything is sleeping.

CHAIKEN Baking.

MESSER Repeats of 30 Rock.

BERLANTI Hot yoga and going to see a (good) movie.

WEINER A 20-minute nap. Anywhere.

LLOYD Vigorous sweating, or drinking, or sex, or crying; as with any complicated engine, maintenance of proper fluid levels seems to be essential.

Read it all at Hollywood Reporter

Peggy Bechko: Stuck in the Mud – The Bogged Down Writer

mud

by Peggy Bechko

If you’re a writer there are times when you get stuck. I’m not talking about full-blown writer’s block (which I have a few opinions on but won’t get into here) just stuck. You know, it’s not that nothing will come and you can’t come up with any creative ideas, it’s more like you reach a point where you have to work out what comes next. You might have ideas that aren’t working or you might just be spinning your wheels.

So here’re a few guidelines to help you, the hapless writer stuck in the mire, to move forward. There are basics to story. Characters, what they need or want, what happens if they don’t get it, how they can get there, what’s the worst thing that can happen and how does the character(s) change throughout the story.

It really is mostly the same for scripts and novels.

So the main thing to backtrack yourself on if you hit a bump and end up in the sticky mud of ‘stuck’ is what your main character wants/desires/needs. This forms the core of your story and if you don’t know the answer or have gotten side-tracked then it’s no wonder you’re not moving. You need to know a lot about that main character you created. What does he/she want out of life in general and specifically in this story you’re creating? When you think about the story line be very specific. Don’t say the character want to run from the bad guys. Think more along the lines of: He wants to reach the zoo before the terrorists who know he is aware of their plot kills him. Specific. And think about the bad guy(s) too. They’re not simply bad. Where did their badness come from?

Secondarily you’ve created a situation where action is required and consequences will be felt. What will those ramifications be? You want to make the stakes high and ratchet them higher. So, think about it, what happens if the hero doesn’t succeed, aside from him getting dead? Whatever it is he must want it very, very badly and be very determined to achieve his goal. He can be a mess if you want, scared, confused, unhappy, not happy about being thrown into this, but in the end he has to have a clear path, a strong desire to see it through. And the reader or the film fan has to be clear on exactly what will happen if the hero fails in his quest.

This brings us to what the worst thing that can happen to the hero is. And, saying that, short of killing him, make it happen. Tossed out of his apartment? Cool. His kids hate him? Great. He’s going to lose his job no matter which way this shakes out? Excellent! If the hero doesn’t stop him the terrorist is going to blow up the zoo, kill who knows how many people and animals and maybe remain free to do it again! Ahhhhhh! What if they know who his family is and kidnap his kid to stop him from doing what he’s doing to prevent the tragedy? OMG! Keep throwing it at the hero/heroine and you’ll keep moving.

This is an oldie but a goodie. There’s an arc in the story and an arc to your character. At the end of the story the character is going to be different somehow unless he’s a stick character. There has to be a fundamental change at the core. If the main character is a librarian who manages to stop the zoo bombing and save his/her kid at the same time it won’t be the same person after.

Think about it, play with it and get the heck out of the mud.


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. Read more of Peggy Bechko’s posts and articles on her sensational blog and learn more about her HERE.

 

LILAC Captures 3 International Independent Film Awards

Lilac Awards

Hack Isaac and his cast and crew do it again. But we’ll let him tell it:

I just learned that the pilot episode of Lilac has won three Silver Awards in the Spring 2015 International Independent Film Awards:

Actress in a Leading Role (Elora Coble), Directing, and Webisode.

Congratulations to our entire production team and especially Elora for her third win in this category in three separate awards competitions!

Hank

Congrats and envy to Hank and Elora and the whole gang from all of us here at TVWriter™ as well!