LB: Epix is Doing a Series Starring Nick Nolte

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24:  Actor Nick Nolte from "A Walk in the Woods" poses for a portrait at the Village at the Lift Presented by McDonald's McCafe during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival on January 24, 2015 in Park City, Utah.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Now here’s a guy I could have a drink or 10 with, “ex-POTUS” or not

by Larry Brody

…And even though I’m almost clueless about what Epix is – except that they’re a “premium cable network” and seem to do a lot of streaming over the web – I absolutely would watch (as in try out) their upcoming series GRAVES, starring Nick Nolte “as a former President of the United States…who twenty years after his term ends…begins to think that his policies have damaged the country…[and] goes on a Don Quixote-like journey to fix things.”

Oh, and it’s a single camera, half-hour comedy, in case you couldn’t tell from my abridged longline…not that I could tell from their longer, tedious logline the Hollywood Reporter ran a few days ago.

The creator-showrunner is Joshua Michael Stern, who wrote something I haven’t seen called SWING VOTE, and Oscar winning producer of THE HURT LOCKER (which I thought was naive in its “gritty reality”) Greg Shapiro is also on board as an executive producer. For all I know, these two men are the funniest, most creative individuals on the planet, but I’ve got to be candid here. I’d rush to watch this thing even if it was from the GILLIGAN’S ISLAND gang because Nick Nolte being Don Quixote? C’mon!

Here’s hoping GRAVES’ ten episode season starts soon…and that the real Nick Nolte shows up to hit one out of the park.

LB: Old TV Shows are Being Rediscovered by New Viewers – Yikes!

Cannon_William_Conrad_TV_Intro_1971

Well, well, what do you know? According to the New York Post, “older shows are seeing renewed popularity among a new generation of viewers, who learn about the shows via social media, because they feature well-known actors or directors, or are discovered simply by scrolling through Hulu or Netflix.”

According to the Post:

Maria Claudia Sanchez wasn’t even born when “Twin Peaks” originally aired on ABC — but it’s one of her favorite shows.

Even though it was from the ’90s, it doesn’t look dated, because it’s just so interesting,” says Sanchez, 17, of Weehawken, NJ. She says she recently watched the series with her mother on Netflix — where she has also discovered shows like “Freaks and Geeks,” “Undeclared” and “Doctor Who.” “It’s easier to watch [on Netflix] than record something on TV and make the time to watch it.

Now I’ve gotta admit. This really made me smile. A new generation – my grandchildren’s generation – seeing shows I wrote, like CANNON (that’s the star,  Bill Conrad, above), BARNABY JONES, POLICE WOMAN, POLICE STORY, IRONSIDE, MEDICAL CENTER, MEDICAL STORY, THE BOLD ONES, THE FALL GUY, MIKE HAMMER, MAN UNDERCOVER, WALKER TEXAS RANGER, HAWAII FIVE-0, THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, and even more.

Now theywould understand what I did all day and night all those years. Now they would appreciate the talent and effort of the Old Brode. Life doesn’t get any better than this, right?

But then I watched a few old episodes…and my happy fantasy started corroding.

After all, those shows, from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and even ’90s are a whole different thing from most episodic shows today. For the most part, instead of featuring the titular heroes, they’re really about the villains, with the guest stars getting as much air time as the recurring stars, and sometimes even more.

And the talk! The characters in 20th Century television have this habit of yakking, yakking, yakking. Confiding their hopes and dreams, planning their diabolical crimes, declaring their love, avowing their principles. No one on TV does that anymore. They just exchange significant looks and we all know what they mean.

Visually everything’s different too. The colors are brighter. A huge majority of the scenes take place during the day. And instead of just popping from place to place, the characters would actually get into their cars and drive there…and we see the drive-aways and the drive-ups as well.

And then there’s the establishing shots, to make sure the audience knew where everyone was…

As I think about all this it strikes me that while I think some of what we did back then was “better” than the way things are done today (all those causes, for example, lost and otherwise), a lot more of it was a hell of a lot worse. Way too much time was spent underestimating the intelligence, attention spans, and equipment of the audience.

And even more time was spent bending over backwards to not offend anyone. About anything. I can’t think of one TV episode I ever wrote – or produced, for that matter – that had anything resembling a sex scene. And it was a huge breakthrough in the early ’70s when POLICE STORY actually showed one of its heroes cohabiting a bed with a woman who wasn’t his wife. And he doesn’t burn in hell for it or anything! (Man, did we have to fight for that one.)

What if my shows can’t pass the tst of time? What if my grandkids don’t like what they see? What if they can’t even bring themselves to sit through more than the credits?

What if I go from being the highly respected and slightly serious Old Crank I am today to just another airhead who’s nowhere near as hot as he thinks?

Curse you, Netflix!

Damn you, Hulu!

What happened to “here today, gone tomorrow?” This stuff wasn’t made to stick around.

I’m more insecure about my old output now than I was back in the day.

See what you all have to look forward to when your careers catch on?

Insert ELEMENTARY Pun Here (The Writers of This Show Probably Would)

Um. The violin music is a nice touch. It may, in fact, be the most appealing element of Elementary, a title which seems to refer mostly to the level of skill displayed on the show.

 

Show. Don’t Tell.

One episode in, I have a predictive formula for future episodes of Elementary: take one small part Sherlock, add a healthy helping of Law and Order (mixing different iterations liberally), and add just a pinch of Criminal Minds. Elementary, my dear…(never mind. Just. Never mind).

Short story short: If you’re looking for innovation, look elsewhere.

The show works best if you think of it as a kind of postmodern pastiche of the shows mentioned above that, and even then, it’s not working well.  The Americanization of Sherlock Holmes  – he’s sexier, sexed up, and talks in catchier if slightly less intelligent phrases – is a sorry one, and it’s too bad: both Liu and Miller have charisma and chemistry to spare.

Problematic also is Holmes’ legendary brusque, dismissive and condescending attitude toward Watson: they really didn’t think that gender-bending casting decision through. If you thought  Steven Moffat making Irene Adler a dominatrix did a disservice to strong female characters, try making the much-abused sidekick Watson the only major female character:  whip-wielding Irene Adler starts to look like Susan B. Anthony.

OK, maybe slightly creepier than SBA.

Fragments of dialogue echo Sherlock; you can see the invisible pen writing around the British mega-hit constantly, and in some cases, it’s just impossible not to feel that the writers are cheating us, and clumsily too. The beginning, structurally, is very reminiscent of Sherlock’s beginning, which starts things off on the wrong foot altogether.

This is minor, but annoying: because Holmes is British, he occasionally speaks like an eighteenth century person. Hilarious.  My favorite instance of this: referring to the Mets as the “Metropolitans of New York.” Yes. Yes. I’m sure that’s how well-cultured British people living in New York talk.

On a personally disappointing note: they miss at least one great opportunity for a cereal/serial joke, probably because most of the jokes on the show are like a Midwest thunderstorm: you see them coming two miles out and resign yourself to the inevitable conclusion just as quickly. Which is kind of (aside from the music!) a microcosm of the show as a whole.

What’s Up With Inequality?

Hey! It’s that time of the year again!

You know what time I’m talking about! The week to two weeks that every major organization tracking gender diversity in theatre/television/film creation releases their terrible statistics on how few women and people of color are making their way to the top of their profession so we can write angry blog posts about it for a week and then go back to business as usual!

That’s right, within one week,

Oh wait, but my favorite punchline to all of this: this editorial titled (I kid you not) The End of Men, TV Titles Edition  – which, more ridiculously, shows up when you post it as a link reading “Proof That Women Have Taken Over TV.”

Analysis: well, we don’t get to write, direct, produce, or create, but, hey, women are really being mentioned a lot in television titles.  Hello, progress!

Reveal statistics. Cue bitching and moaning from both sides. Close discussion. Rinse and repeat next year, when these statistics have altered to the tune of four points, or a couple more women on the list.

WAIT. STOP. NO! Let’s talk about this!

Hey, what’s up? Seriously, what’s up with inequality?   If this was one set of statistics, we might be able to get away with wondering if they are valid,  but these are three major data sets that all point to one big, uncomfortable fact: climate of our industry is one of serious misogyny.

Whoa, boys. I’m not talking about man-on-woman misogyny. I am talking about an across-the-board attitudes, from men, women and corporations alike (hey, corporations are people too), the result of which is a serious lack of women’s voices represented in our mainstream culture.

The bad news: this is not about convincing a few cigar-smoking men to champion the ladies. This is actually about changing our conversation about women.

Famous case in point:

Why are we still asking that question?  Why are we still sold on this idea that in making deals, in choosing scripts, in what we like, we are blind to everything but talent? Why will some of you reading this article cringe at the mere mention of the word “inequality,” thinking, “I’m so sick of hearing about this”?  Yeah, it sucks. It sucks to experience it too.

Great. So. Let’s stop talking around this issue, and start a serious conversation about inequality that is not about shaming any particular demographic.  Let’s start an ongoing conversation that addresses the endemic nature of the way we talk about women, represent women, view women, and why it is we’re having that conversation – as a culture – with men’s thoughts on the matter voiced twice as loud as women’s.

While we’re at it, let’s talk about the fact that women are more likely to discriminate against women. With women about half as likely to succeed as men, one prominent showrunner suggests that women feel twice as keenly the cutthroat nature of showbiz, and are reluctant to help others succeed. Let’s talk, then,  about why we pit women against each other to compete for meager spots in women’s-only prizes. Let’s talk about the women who succeed and the women who don’t, and why we are more likely to choose a man’s voice over a woman’s, let’s talk about it.

It’s not rocket science. We have an exceedingly powerful reach as a culture, in a world where women across the globe are disempowered and disenfranchised. We have the opportunity here to literally change the world . Now. Not in twenty years.

 If we are stopped by our own stubbornness, if we (much like the US Congress) cannot have an intelligent conversation oriented toward how we change at a much more rapid rate, then we are not the creative powerhouse we believe we are.

But we are. We are an industry of visionaries, innovators, and creators. We can change how this goes, and we can change it now. So, great. Glad we agreed on that.

Where do we start? Where do you start?

SMASH V. REALITY

There is theatre, and then there are cliches and assumptions about theatre.

Certianly the single biggest achievement of Smash’s first season (and perhaps the thing we should applaud it for) has been cataloguing an astonishingly thorough collection of the latter.

As a New Yorker and a theatre artist, I thought it might be fun to debunk a few of the bigger myths Smash throws our way about theatre and it’s business:

MYTH #1: Actresses don’t like each other (although they occasionally pretend to like each other).

Truth Factor: 10%

This might actually be an interesting myth to explore if it was addressed in any sort of nuanced way: say, looking at how difficult it can be when young women are directly pitted against each other for big opportunities, and the insecurity and issues that ensue.

But scarcely a nod is made toward the intelligent, multi-talented and collaborative women that actually populate the New York theatre scene, despite unlimited opportunities to show it off. Actresses other than Ivy, Karen and the appallingly one-dimensional Rebecca appear as one-line, one-dimensional characters, who always, for some strange reason, seem to be cuddling with gay men and/or stretching.

In related news: : shockingly, not every actress in New York would scratch eyes out to play Marilyn Monroe.

MYTH #2: All theatre happening anywhere other than Broadway is exactly like Rent.

Truth factor: 1%

I have seen hundreds of off-off Broadway or “downtown” shows since I moved to New York. I have written them, been in them, produced them, and supported others in doing all of the same. I can safely say that the percentage of these shows that resembles Rent is one in a hundred, if that.

Smash wastes every opportunity to examine or even make a nod toward the innovative people and work going on outside the Broadway scope.  The lesson of Smash is that theatre in New York about being the star of the show and getting famous, not making interesting work.

There is a plethora of companies making amazing work that is collaborative and imaginative in nature. And not about film stars. Surprise!

MYTH#3: Women in theatre cannot resist the powerful men around them.
 

Truth Factor: .01%

This is a real eye-roller.  Yes, yes, yes. People in theatre do engage in that bastardization of a word which is hateful to even say: the “showmance.”   Sometimes they are married. So – it’s just like real life! Office romance!   Most women in theatre, though, especially those that have been working for any time period longer than six months, know how to have at least some professional relationships with the men around them.

In Smash-world,  the handsome, narcissistic actors and directors of the theatre world prove an irresistible temptation to the women who work with them – and when these affairs and intrigues start to go south, the women  suffer from hysterical emotional outbursts which sabotage their careers and marriages.

I don’t even feel the need to debunk this. It’s sexist and ridiculous and debunks itself.

 MYTH  #4: Assistants are crazy,  fame-hungry lunatics.

Truth factor: 5%

Tom’s creepy assistant/former-assistant, Ellis, who I think is the strangest character on the show by a long mile, is like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. From a passing comment, he leaps to assume that he is a creative force and then proceeds to implausibly stuff himself into corners and appear in crannies like an evil wizard from Harry Potter. Really? Come on.

Here’s a little insight into the world of assistants and what they want: a career. That’s right! I know it sounds crazy, but most assistants actually want to have careers! Not only that, they want to work with successful, creative people, not sabotage them! So they actually, when not prevented by some sort of inherent sociopathic tendency, work hard, learn a lot, and often are rewarded for working hard, and end up succeeding.

Three bonus myths to be on the look out for!

 #5: People in the theatre like to throw drinks in other theatre people’s faces in real life, because it’s just so dramatically fulfilling.

#6: Everyone that lives outside of New York is a caricature, preferably sourced from a Norman Rockwell painting or a Hannah Montana movie.

 #7: People from the theatre love to use lines that sound like they could come from plays. Ex. “Don’t walk away.”  or  “I can’t do this anymore.”

I can only think there must be a drinking game in there somewhere.

Advanced Studies in Collaborative Endeavors

Whether you’re working with a team to make your new web series happen, producing a short pilot for a website like Channel 101, or just writing a script with a fellow screenwriter, there is collaborative technology out in the world that is designed to make your multi-person workflow easier.

I dipped my toes in the sea of collaboration when working in theatre first, where the writer relationship to the process is much more hands on. However, the trend in the industry lately seems to feature writers that cross titles: writer-directors, writer-actors, writer-director-actor-producer: whatever dual or triple or quadruple roles are available, there is someone willing to wear those hats (and that’s a lot of hats).

Even collaboration by email is going the way of the dinosaur: with applications like DropBox and Evernote, there is the possibility of what I like to call ‘Insta-Collaboration.’ Often when I start working on visual projects, such as a short piece or a pilot, I find myself trading seven or eight emails a day with other collaborators. Often we all have a hand in producing it, on varying levels, when working with a limited budget, and need access to some or all of the creative information about the project.

This means dialoguing in as many mediums as possible: words, visuals, articles, and concepts. And often my email inbox is out of control enough as it is: I don’t need an email with eight pictures attached coming back to me every five or ten minutes.

Applications such as Evernote are designed with this in mind: you organize everything into Notebooks, which can be shared with other users. Then you can upload photos, copy articles, make to-do lists, and share all of it instantly with your collaborators – and with all of your mobile devices, including a convenient icon on the taskbar of your laptop or desktop. What I like about this kind of process is that ideas can be instantly recorded and shared: often I find myself juggling notebooks while running for the subway with coffee, trying to write down that brilliant idea before I forget.

…and also saving civilians from danger!

Even an application as simple as Google Docs has powerful collaborative tools built in, where document contributors can dialogue within a document by commenting on elements without altering (how great for revisions!).

simplenote is another easy-to-use collaborative application. Like Evernote, you can share with collaborators. Unlike Evernote, simplenote deals with text only (but hey, we’re writers, right?).

If you’re in the brainstorming or outlining phase of a project, MindMeister is your ticket: it allows you to create clearly defined “mind maps” that can be edited easily and viewed in many different ways. MindMeister forces you to organize your outlines in clear and logical maps – which can be good for those of us with unruly minds. If you really get into organization, they even have a convenient Life Plan map (good luck with that one).

Of course, if you don’t care for outside collaboration, all of these can be used just as effectively for organizing and saving your own information and ideas – and having them accessible wherever you go.

Chances are, though, that if all goes right, you’ll be sharing your ideas and thoughts on your projects with high-level execs and directors – and with this type of software sharing your information to your phone, tablet, and laptop, you won’t be forgetting your key piece of paper at home.

Sherlocked: The Game is ON

If you haven’t heard of the BBC’s Sherlock as of the date of this post, get off your couch where you’ve been watching Law and Order: SVU marathons for the last three months. There’s a new detective in town – and judging the walloping publicity campaign for the much-anticipated CBS show Elementary, he’s here to stay.

Sherlock, co-created by Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss, follows the modern-day adventures of one Sherlock Holmes and his put-upon assistant, Dr. John Watson.

The show exists in a kind of sexy hyper-reality where the audience is privy to text messages, blog entries, and the thought processes of the characters through the layering of text and images over the screen images.   It’s a little bit like Google Glasses for television (remember Google Glasses?).

If you’re anything like me (and I always assume that you’re a least a little bit like me), you spend most of your day taking in at least two sources of visual information: you’re walking to the subway and you’re catching up on Deadline.com. You’re watching television and you’re catching up on Deadline.com.  You’re hanging out with friends and…well, you get the idea (don’t hate. I’m very informed).

Sherlock masterfully capitalizes on our multi-multi-multi-tasking brains and manages to essentially compress a great deal of information into a few seconds by making the delivery of that information exciting and making the audience feel, like Sherlock, hyper-smart.

This is intelligent television-making we should all pay attention to and here’s why.

This may be the trend to watch.  As viewer attention spans change and become less focused, there are two ways to start working more effectively: a) fit as much story as possible into a smaller amount of time, or b) create a world for the show where information is multilayered and rapid, never allowing your audience downtime to say, check their cellphones.

Sherlock, with episodes that are essentially mini-movies, has the luxury of length, but Moffatt and Gatiss, smart television folk that they are, have created a world where suspense and character are created on a number of levels simultaneously (there’s a great chase scene in the first episode, A Study in Pink, that really shows this off).

Watching an episode feels like being a in a high-speed amusement park ride, where we are occasionally intentionally stopped for a few moments before being taken around the next curve.  The iron-handed control of how the audience experiences each episode’s narrative is fascinating.

It will be interesting to see what direction Elementary goes in, whether CBS embraces this stylistic choice, and what audience response will be.  While I am a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes (the books), I doubt very much that Sherlock’s success is all due to the story of the detective – and has quite a bit to do with how this re-telling is packaged.