Syndi Shumer: New Approaches in, um, PARENTHOOD

haddieby Syndi Shumer

I’ve always been a sucker for a music montage, particularly when it settles in at the end of an episode, wrapping up the events of the hour like a sort of warm, cathartic blanket.

In the PARENTHOOD season finale, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin” provided the soundtrack that took us to the end of season five, a season that has left many of the Braverman clan hanging on the precipice of change, and we, the viewers, cliff-hanging right alongside them.

Will there be a season six? The jury is still out, but I, for one, will be very disappointed if we don’t get a solid resolution to the limbo that we’ve been left in concerning the relationship between Joel and Julia…my favorite couple… the series’ former “rock” of a pair…

Ok, ok, I digress. While I clearly didn’t love the often seemingly out-of-character roller coaster ride of this season’s “Joelia” storyline, there is one thing that I do love about this series overall, and that is its willingness to approach situations from new angles. So that’s what I’ll focus on here. (Joel and Julia, you’ll just have to wait for another post all of your own.)

Autism, for instance, is a condition that viewers have grown used to seeing, as the show has been effectively exploring this subject over the past five seasons through the character of school-aged Max Braverman (Max Burkholder), diagnosed early on with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.

However, this season the writers put a fresh spin on the subject through the role of “Hank” (recurring guest star Ray Romano), a man in his forties who is just now for the first time coming to terms with the fact that he, too, may have Asperger’s. Watching late-bloomer Hank grapple with self-realizations about his own long-standing behaviors and personal challenges, has added new dimension to his character while lending a whole new outlook on the condition itself.

I can’t help but root for him. While it’s too early to know whether or not his challenges will hinder his ability to make a relationship work with Sarah (Lauren Graham), this fresh approach by the writers certainly keeps me wanting to find out what’s going to happen next.

Another issue being explored from an angle that’s different than the “norm” is the definition of what it means to grow older. Traditionally on family-centered shows, too often the patriarch and/or matriarch characters seem to be relegated to minimal roles, portrayed as being more a means of support for their adult offspring and grandkids rather than as exciting individuals in their own right.

But in this series, both parenthood and personhood are valued and celebrated, regardless of whether or not such characters are the parents of infants or of thirty-somethings. From the beginning of the series, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) and Zeek (Craig T. Nelson), the matriarch and patriarch of the Braverman clan (characters who, I’m guessing, are both in their sixties), have dealt with their own challenging circumstances: spousal infidelity, the need for independence, and the weighty consequences of clinging to tradition vs. breaking free from it.

Prompted by free-spirited Camille’s desire to live out their golden years in a manner which would afford them the ability to travel and explore their personal interests, she and Zeek make the tough decision to sell the house they had called home for over thirty years and raised their four children in.

I love that Camille isn’t comfortable with the idea of becoming a complacent housewife as she ages — she wants to thrive! And I love that Zeek, a character very rooted in tradition, took it upon himself to dig down deep and find the means within to meet her on this. I look forward to discovering how the brand new life of this gently time-worn couple will unfold and take shape.

Finally, the show has just embarked on a storyline involving homosexuality; not a new subject for a television series to tackle by any means, but the lens through which it’s being approached here is refreshing. When Haddie Braverman (Sarah Ramos) returns home from college for the summer with her new “best friend” Lauren in tow, she briefly wrestles with how to tell her parents that Lauren is more than just her friend, even though she does trust that they will be supportive.

I’ve personally never seen the subject of homosexuality introduced in a family series while being presented as acceptable from the get-go. There are no worries about disappointed parents, no dark internal struggles, no hard-won battles. It’s just simply a matter of how to say it for the first time; other than that, it’s a non-issue. And it’s a wonderful thing to witness.

In fact, all of these fresh approaches are wonderful to see. Why? It’s not simply because the show’s writers are coming up with newly interesting ways of exploring topics and characters, but because, with these examples, those who have been traditionally positioned in society as outcasts for being “different” (the mentally ill, the aging, the gay/lesbian) are here, at last, being presented in ways which show off their sameness.

These characters and their situations are not shunned, they’re celebrated with normalcy. Hank gets the girl. Camille and Zeek embark on a new, exciting life. Haddie is accepted without question. In many ways, these thoughtful new approaches are a reflection of the times. And thankfully, indeed they are a-changin’.

Yo, Canucks! There’s now room for you at the top of the U.S. TV writing tree!

Yeah, that’s a bullshit, condescending headline. We apologize for the ‘tude, but our parent company is heavily into that sort of thing and made us do it.

Oh, wait, we don’t have a parent company. How about this: The headline’s a placeholder. We’re coming back to change it before this article is published. Absolutely. We swear–


BITTEN is an interesting series idea, no?

TV shows like Orphan Black signal rise of the Canadian showrunner
by Tony Wong

One summer morning, Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern woke up abruptly to their clock radio blaring news about a hostage taking at Toronto’s Union Station.

They went downstairs to watch the drama unfold on television. After a tense standoff, and much to the horror of bystanders, the assailant was shot by an emergency task force officer.

“It was really a shock seeing this in real time. And one question that went through our minds was, what was it like for the police officer who took that shot? What’s the rest of his day going to be like?” Ellis says in an interview.

That moment translated into one of Canada’s most successful TV exports, Flashpoint. The show ran for five seasons on CTV and was licensed in more than 100 territories globally.

It also kick-started a new-found confidence from Canadian TV producers that their stories could not only have broad appeal but also make a pile of money. Finally, Canada could offer the kind of slick, pyrotechnic police procedural that was on par or better than its Hollywood counterparts. Perhaps more importantly, Ellis and Morgenstern helped to birth a new generation of screenwriters who wanted to produce their own stories, also known as “showrunners.”

The new “golden age” of television is due in large part to the increasing prominence of the writer as the creative executive on television shows; the person ultimately responsible for that singular, passionate vision.

Already 2014 has been shaping up to be something of a breakout year for Canadian TV.

The lineup includes Vancouverite Daegan Fryklind’s Bitten, the Toronto-shot werewolf thriller starring Laura Vandervoort (Smallville’s Supergirl) on Space channel. It is joined by Greg Spottiswood’s well-received hospital drama Remedy on Global. And Season 2 of Graeme Manson’s Toronto-produced science fiction thriller Orphan Blackpremiered Saturday after winning 10 Canadian Screen Awards for the first season.

Read it all

Peer Production: HELL’S KITTY

Close, so close. And so fucking wacky as well:

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See More Episodes HERE

We like this series, created and directed and most other stuff as well by Nicholas Tana. But we have to alert you: Nick’s put in a lot of time at the TVWriter™ Advanced Workshop. Which means we might be prejudiced in his favor. (But…not.)

Hi dood! Nice going! What else is new, man?

Mother of Mercy! Is This the End of Cable…At Last?

We’re gonna go out on a limb here and say: Yeah.


Cable companies, you’ve been put on notice.

Cord cutting — ditching your steep monthly cable or satellite bill and instead watching video online — is on the rise, according to a new report from Experian Marketing Services.

In fact, some young adults may never even pay for cable TV in their lifetimes.

The number of cord-cutters, which Experian considers people with high-speed Internet who’ve either never subscribed to or stopped subscribing to cable or satellite, has risen from 5.1 million homes to 7.6 million homes, or 44 percent, in just three years.

In 2013, 6.5 percent of households in the U.S. had cut the cord, Experian found, up from 4.5 percent in 2010.

What’s more interesting, though, is that number goes way up for households that use Netflix or Hulu, the subscription services that stream movies and TV shows online. Nearly a fifth of Americans who use Netflix or Hulu don’t subscribe to cable TV.

And that number gets even higher if you look at a younger segment of the population. Almost a quarter of young adults between 18 and 34 who subscribe to Netflix or Hulu don’t pay for TV, Experian found.

Read it all

Julie Livingston: 3 Rules for Writing Workshop…And Life


by Julie Livingston

So here I am. Finally settled in L.A.. Well, settled-ish anyway. I’m actually moving again in a couple weeks, but that decision was motivated more by my personal desire to live in a neighborhood where no one pees in the produce section of the super market than anything professional. Workwise, after the initial flurry of activity of having a manger and then not having one, things have been fairly quiet. Hollywood hasn’t exactly been beating a path to my door. The phone isn’t ringing off the hook with job offers and pilot deals. Fortunately, I’m not sitting around waiting for that to happen. I am doing what I always do when I’m not sure what else to do, I’m going to school.

A few weeks ago I started the UCLA Professional Program For Television Writing. It’s a year-long intensive in which students essentially get all the writing classes they’d get in the MFA program without all the theory. And so far, I have to say, it’s awesome. There is something truly exquisite about geeking out over the thing you love with other people who love it as geekishly as you do for six hours a week. I am impressed with how smart and experienced my fellow students are and inspired by the sacrifices everybody has made to be here, but the thing really solidified the belief that I am in the right place is the set of rules set out by my teacher, Rick Williams. No one is more surprised than I am that my favorite part of the program so far is the rules, but these rules are not about page counts or act breaks. They are instructions on how to be a person who creates and guidelines to becoming someone people want to work with, which makes me feel they are worth sharing outside the ivory tower.

Rule Number One:
Attendance Is Mandatory. You must be present, not just physically, but mentally too. Like everyone, I sometimes struggle to put away my cell phone and let go of the distractions of the day, but I know I owe it to my classmates to try. Television writing is, after all, essentially a team sport. I get that. But to be honest, my real motivation to follow rule number one is selfish. I generate more ideas, make better jokes and generally have more fun when I am fully engaged. So while I hope my classmates feel like it’s a benefit to get my full attention, truth is, I do it as much for myself as for them.

Rule Number Two:
Invest In Your Classmate’s Success. This one is HUGE. In the someday land of real TV, shows are usually written by a room full of writers. They work together to create character arcs, break stories, write jokes, but to earn a spot in the sandbox, you first have to demonstrate you understand the game by playing alone — or as LB one once told me, “Before you get to do it the easy way, you have to do it the hard way,” which means as you work to establish yourself in the business, you must do alone what might otherwise by the work of a half a dozen people or more. One of the great benefits of a program like mine, or a class, or a writers’ group, is that it is an opportunity to draw on other people’s insight, experience and sense of humor to make your work better. No one can (or will) do the work for you, but ohmigod, what a difference it makes to have other people lend you some brainpower. Working on each other’s projects is really gratifying, and in my experience, it is usually a whole lot easier than working on your own. More importantly, working on other people’s projects makes you care about those projects and those people. Assuming everybody does their part – comes prepared, participates actively, gives feedback constructively — you become a de-facto writer’s room, which is, by definition, an organism that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. Then, theoretically, at some point down the road, when one of you makes it into an actual writer’s room, that person looks to the people who sweated alongside her in the trenches of anonymity to become her comrades in the ranks of the gainfully employed, once again proving that helping other people is also a way to help yourself. Which brings me to Rule Number Three.

Invest In Your Own Success.
There’s way around it (at least none I’ve ever found, and, believe me, I’ve looked), if you want to do this thing, you’re going to have to put your money where your mouth is. And by money, I mean time – and money. Writing is a greedy time-eating beast. There, I said it. And Rick says it too, although he phrases it somewhat more delicately asking each student to make a commitment to, “prioritize our work.” Ass, meet Seat. And while he stopped just short of suggesting we withdraw from society completely, Rick didn’t mince words in explaining that a fairly unavoidable part of saying, ”yes” to your own success is saying, “no,” to pretty much everything else. Maybe not forever, but definitely during the large swaths of time when you are what he calls, “on script.” “No one will ever care about your work more than you do,” Rick assures us, and even in this early phase of the journey, we all know it’s true.

In the months and years ahead, I imagine there will be any number of concepts and constructs I will struggle to understand, so it’s nice to start out with a few basic principals that instinctively make sense. Knowing there is unfamiliar territory ahead, it is comforting to know I have already have a basic roadmap and three simple rules to guide the way: Show up. Be nice. Work hard. 

Looking for a TV writing/producing gig in Oklahoma City?


We’ve got just the thing for you.

KFOR-TV, the Oklahoma City NBC affiliate, has a job opening for a writer-producer who can create, write, produce, and edit the station’s entertainment and news promos, including radio spots and web ads as well. Whomever gets the gig will also be part of a team that writes publicity and sales materials and takes part in the daily operation of  the station.

In other words, these guys are talking total immersion here, a chance to do it all. And, yeppers, that often means the pay sucks, but you never know. Look at all the great talent that’s started in Oklahoma and become Hollywood stars. (You know, like Will Rogers and, um, erm…we’re thinking, we’re thinking!)

Anyway, it’s a gig. In showbiz. Beats Taco Bell, right?

Get all the info and apply HERE. Tell ‘em TVWriter™ sent you. Or don’t. Whatever. We just want you to be happy, y’know?