Cara Winter: The Anglo Files 5

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Martin Freeman as Watson and Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock.

On Sherlock Holmes
by Cara Winter

As we all know, since 2010 two shows (CBS’ Elementary, and the BBC’s Sherlock, which has also been picked up by PBS Masterpiece) have reimagined Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective Sherlock Holmes within a modern setting.   As a writer trying to modernize a Victorian piece myself, I have been wondering  why, exactly, one of these modernizations has set the world on fire… while the other is just on?

It all starts with the fact that the BBC’s version came first.  In 2012, when CBS (as has been reported here and here) approached creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss about remaking Sherlock in America, Moffat & Gatiss politely declined.  Smartly, CBS chose not to embroil themselves in a legal battle by ripping off Sherlock whole-hog… and instead did everything they could to make their take on a “modern Sherlock Holmes” really, really different from Sherlock.

I get it, I do. CBS wanted to move forward; Sherlock Holmes was sexy, all of a sudden.  Who wouldn’t want to capitalize on that?  But, as all Moffat and Gatiss really did was move the characters and stories they loved into our century, creator Robert Doherty would have to change more than just the ol’ anno domini.  (By the way, his show Medium?  Genius.  So, I know he’s likely not the problem…)

So change, they did.  But… at what expense?  If you’ve ever watched Elementary for more than five minutes, well, you know…  it isn’t ground breaking.  It’s a pretty standard network cop show, with a huge budget and all the pretty pretty things.  (A Sherlock Holmes purist might say they ruined it.  Which I am not.  A purist, that is.)   But, how?   How did this happen?  Well, apologies to my lawyer friends (sorry guys!)… but my money’s on the lawyers.  The writers probably wrote a hundred drafts, and each time CBS’ lawyers said “no”, for fear of being sued (which was justified, as they were, you know, running with an idea that wasn’t theirs to begin with).

Still, even with a possible lawsuit looming, methinks they could have done more to capture the heart of the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

Starting with:

  1. Location, location, location

Elementary is set in New York City.  Hmm.  Concerning.  Because Sherlock Holmes’s address is 221B Baker Street.   It just is.  There isn’t even a Baker Street in New York City.

I’m kidding, of course; it’s not the address.  It’s that, even at home, Sherlock is an outsider.  Holmes doesn’t fit in to the one place he’s supposed to fit into.  That makes Sherlock Holmes’ relationship to ‘home’ tricky, and layered, and very important to his story. (Which, in turn, makes ‘home’ one of the characters in the story.)

By making Holmes an ex-pat living in New York, Elementary has completely ruined this lovely, all-important layer.   One could argue (and I do!) that if they wanted to set it in New York, make Holmes a New Yorker!  That way, the larger point could be conveyed that even when Sherlock Holmes is at home, he doesn’t quite fit in.

Which leads me to my next point:

  1. A Fine Bromance

In CBS’ Elementary, Dr. Watson is a woman.   Now, trust me, I love to see great women characters on TV.   But… the beauty of the Holmes/Watson relationship is that they are both men.  I’m sorry, it just is.  Blame it on societal conventions, or Sunday Night Football, or the whole of Christianity if you want.  Fact is, we live in a world where dudes aren’t supposed to be so fond of each other – yet Holmes and Watson are.  Sherlock gets this right, and as their friendship grows, it’s very moving and powerful to watch.

By making Dr. Watson a woman, Elementary has cut us off at the knees.   There are other gender roles you could play with; make Lestrade a woman, or give Sherlock two mommies!  Something!  Don’t change The Great Original Bromance, arguably the first and finest ever created, the one relationship which lies at the very heart of the whole thing.

(And not for nothing, there also seems to be absolutely zero chemistry between Lucy Liu and Johnny Lee Miller.  They’re both cute, but they treat each other like strangers!   Conversely, the chemistry between Freeman and Cumberbatch is electrifying.  Come to think of it, everyone seems to have palpable chemistry with The Batch.  Oh, for a walk-on…)

But I digress.

  1. Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Moffat & Gatiss (or “MoffGat”, as I like to call them) have loved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories since childhood.  Their genuine joy for the work, therefore, comes through in the final product.  (Imagine that!)  And everyone involved with the show seems to share that love, and also have a sense of humor about what they’re doing (making telly, not curing cancer!).  As a result… Sherlock is funny. Very funny.

Elementary …is not funny.  I can’t even put my finger on why; it’s just all as serious as an E.R. heart attack.  Or, a 24 heart attack.   It’s as if Elementary is made by children trying to seem grown up, whereas Sherlock is made by grownups who enjoy life as though they’re still children.

Great adaptations take care, they take love, and they take a deep understanding of the source material.  And, as in any story (original or adapted), locations matter, but they matter because of how they inform the characters.  Relationships matter even more; relationships must be clear and universal, and most of all meaningful to the story.  And for the love of all that’s holy, let us laugh!  If you can get your audience laughing, they’ll care, and then they’ll follow you to the ends of the earth.  Or, if not to the ends of the earth, at least as far as PBS.

PS:  Fellow writers, it was very enlightening to examine these two shows side by side.  Next time you find a show “meh”, wait before you change the channel… see if you can figure out why.


Cara Winter is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

Anne Rice Talks to Writers

…Cuz there’s no such thing as too much info for us newbies, right? Right?

(Unless you’re as sick of everybody claiming to know everything about writing you don’t as I am, that is. Let’s see if I can slip that in here.)

Vampire – and Jesus – popularizer Anne Rice gives us the advice that back in the day our mothers would’ve clipped from a magazine and mailed to us when we were struggling through college. Except Anne’s is kind of interesting cuz…vampires! And big, big $$$! And video to boot:

Let us know whatcha think, ‘kay?

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Diana Vaccarelli Sees the VERONICA MARS Movie

 

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by Diana Vaccarelli

I have never watched the television show VERONICA MARS, but the premise of the film intrigued me.

After a very successful Kickstarter campaign, Rob Thomas, the creator and showrunner of the series, has brought us this feature-length sequel. In the film, Veronica, now living in New York and interviewing for prestigious jobs at law firms, is pulled back into the life of a private eye when her ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls, becomes embroiled in a murder mystery involving old high school friend Carrie Bishop.

Kirsten Bell stars as the super private eye just as she did in the series. She’s good, but as a fan who loved her in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, I expected better. She she does have good chemistry with Jason Dohring, who reprises his role as Logan, and they play off each other well. But overall, the acting in the film is subpar. Every major cast member I’ve seen before has been better before than they were here.

The signs point to this being a Rob Thomas problem. Thomas both wrote and directed, and while the script provides the actors with plenty of witty and comedic dialogue to contrast with a rather dark story, the story itself is unconvincing. Possibly even to the cast.

Why, for example, did Veronica so easily give up the New York life she worked so hard for? Why was I supposed to care about the small town sheriff booted from office because of corruption?

And where are the twists and surprises we expect from a good mystery? To be sure, we’re presented with a number of subplots which could have been interesting, but most of them end up as loose ends seemingly existing only to distract us from the fact that VERONICA MARS takes a very predictable plot path and even ends exactly as I expected it to.

If you are a fan of the show, I’m sure you’ll appreciate the film and be glad to see the return of familiar fictional friends. But as someone who didn’t watch, its lack of originality was a huge disappointment, especially in a genre where the whole point is to keep the audience guessing.

2014 Nicholl Fellowship Finalists Announced

The Motion Picture Academy’s Nicholl Fellowship may not be for TV writing per se, but it’s absolutely the most important contest aspiring screen and television writers can win in terms of future prospects. Which means that these finalists definitely are worth learning about:

academy-of-motion-picture-arts-and-sciencesby the Deadline Team

About half of the finalists for the 2014 Academy Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwritingare from the Los Angeles area, but the rest span four states and three continents. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today released its list of 10 screenplays whose writers are on the shortlist for as many as five $35,000 fellowships.

The winners, judged by the Academy Nicholl Fellowships Committee, will be announced during a November 13 ceremony and live read at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

The finalists and their screenplays are Sam Baron (Cambridge, UK), The Science Of Love And Laughter; Alisha Brophy (Los Angeles) and Scott Miles (Austin), United States of Fuckin’ Awesome; Robert D. Cain (Los Angeles), Gagarin; Josh Golden (Buffalo Grove, IL), Road To Oz; Melissa Iqbal (London), The Death Engine; Ben Jacoby (New York), Earthwalkers; Duncan Samarasinghe (Dandenong, Australia), The Caretaker; Ryan Trevino (Seal Beach, CA) and Robert Wolfe Dunn (Los Angeles), Arcadia; Mike Van Waes (West Hollywood), Grave Hearts; Sallie West (Charleston, SC), Moonflower.

You can – and if you’re really into showbiz you should – read more important stories from Deadline HERE.

Women Created Only 20% of TV Shows Last Season

Not good. In fact, we’d call it a failing grade. Shame on you, TV biz. Really – shame!

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by Melissa Silverstein

The current narrative in the media zeitgeist is that TV is so much better for women than film. Well, it might seem so on the surface,
because you see more women on our TV screens, but when you drill down into the numbers, it’s not so good for women behind the scenes.

According to new research from the Center for Women in Television and Film, women are doing pretty well onscreen. Women made up 42% of the characters and speaking roles in the 2013-14 season. But even that number is down one percent from the previous year. ABC has the most female characters at 44% (thank you, Shonda), followed by CBS, FOX, CW, and NBC, which is last with 39%.

But it is the behind-the-scenes leadership positions where women continue to struggle. Women created just 20% of all the shows during the same period, which is down four percentage points from the previous season. That means only 2 out of 10 shows you watch are made from a woman’s perspective. There are plenty of shows about women that are made from a male perspective, but only 20% of the shows are made from a female perspective.

Additionally, women accounted for just 23% of executive producers, which is the most powerful position on a TV show. Most shows have multiple executive producers, and those are the most senior writers on the show. (Executive producers (EP) also often include non-writers, such as directors and creators who are there at the beginning but don’t do the day-to-day work. Also, if the show is generated at a production company, lots of times those executives are EPs, but they are not in the writers’ room on a daily basis.)

There are lots of women populating the writers’ room, but they have a harder time moving up the ladder. 43% of producers (which is a lower-level writing position on TV) are women, and 25% of people identified as staff writers are women.

Read it all

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 9/21/14

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Kevin Nealon (WEEDS) & Susan Yeagley (PARKS & RECREATION) have sold a to be titled comedy to NBC about “a recently divorced couple still tied to…each other…through their jointly owned business.” (To which munchadillio can say only, “Congrats to one of the coolest couples in Hollywood!” I’d be trying to hook them up with each other personally as well as professionally, but the good news is that I don’t have to. They’re already married – to each other. Lookin’ forward to this show, kids!)
  • Brad Copeland (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) is writing the pilot ABC’s new comedy set to star Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. (Who aren’t a married couple and about whom I’m not all that excited cuz let’s face it, Chevy’s onstage antics are legend, and not in the most positive way. And Mz D’Angelo? Well, hasn’t she basically been a kind of a cipher in every role she’s ever played? Good luck, Brad!)
  • Angela Kinsey (THE OFFICE) has joined forces with Rachel Spector & Audrey Wauchope (COUGAR TOWN) to create another untitled series, this one a “female buddy comedy” for ABC. (Sorry, gang, but munchero isn’t much interested in this one. Best female buddy comedy of all time has already been on the air for over 60 years – I LOVE LUCY, yessir. What? You thought that show was about Lucy and Ricky? Watch it again – it’s a Lucy-Ethel vehicle all the way. And the only show in the world that’s ever even come close to it is BBC’s miraculous MIRANDA, which only lasted 3 series. Sigh.)
  • Jeff Astrof (GROUND FLOOR) is writing the pilot for our last untitled comedy series of this post, a “restaurant comedy” for CBS based on some guys who own the Meatball Shop restaurants in New York City. (My suggestion is that you simply insert your own snark here cuz when it comes to meatball jokes, hey, everybody knows they write themselves.)

That’s it for now. Write in and tell munchilito what you’ve sold today. TVWriter™ can’t wait to brag to all your friends. (And, more importantly, enemies. Hehehe….)