Good-Riddance to Star Trek

It’s about time STAR TREK was cancelled, or so says bestselling science fiction author Orson Scott Card in the Los Angeles Times. He was no fan of the original series, either.

The original "Star Trek," created by Gene Roddenberry, was, with a few
exceptions, bad in every way that a science fiction television show
could be bad.

Yikes, is he in for it from "The Fen. " And he takes a shot at them, too.

And then the madness really got underway. They started making
costumes and wearing pointy ears. They wrote messages in Klingon, they
wrote their own stories about the characters, filling in what was left
out — including, in one truly specialized subgenre, the "Kirk-Spock"
stories in which their relationship was not as platonic and emotionless
as the TV show depicted it.

He’s certainly one author who isn’t afraid to express a controversial opinion that could, uh,  alienate his readers.

Flying Without a Pilot

TV Writer Paul Guyot tells all about the demise of his TNT pilot THE DARK, which he wrote and produced with Stephen J. Cannell and that was directed by Walter Hill. So what went wrong?

Who knows what happened – you can speculate and Monday morning
quarterback forever – but the bottom line was once the thing was shot,
edited and presented to the network, the original script and story just
wasn’t there. The first thing the network said when they saw the cut was "Where’s the script we bought?"

Now, I’m not saying it was awful. I don’t love the finished product,
but I will say that, overall, I’m happy with about 70% of it. These
days that’s not a bad percentage. But it was that other third that
killed us.

A few years ago, we shot a two-hour, back-door pilot on DIAGNOSIS MURDER starring Fred Dryer as the Chief of Police of Los Angeles. The co-star was an unknown actor named Neal McDonough, who has since gone on to star in BAND OF BROTHERS, BOOMTOWN and MEDICAL INVESTIGATIONS (as well as a three-episode arc on MARTIAL LAW for us). The pilot was called THE CHIEF.

Since DIAGNOSIS MURDER was, itself, a spin-off of JAKE AND THE FATMAN (which itself was a spin-off of MATLOCK), Fred Silverman demanded that we do at least one pilot per season imbedded in an episode of the show. 

ChiefopThis is a cheap way to make a pilot and allows the studio an opportunity to recoup their costs in syndication. You also go straight to film without all the intermediate steps in the development process. The other advantage is that the pilot will air and the ratings, if they are high enough, can be a valuable sales tool.

The downside is that backdoor pilots-as-episodes have a much harder time being taken seriously at the network because they usually aren’t developed through the usual channels and, therefore, there’s no one championing them internally at the network.  (Of course lots of pilot-as-episodes have sold… CSI:MIAMI and MORK AND MINDY are a few such examples, my book UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS is littered with others that haven’t, like ASSIGNMENT EARTH from STAR TREK and LUTHOR GILLIS form MAGNUM PI)

THE CHIEF had a lot going for it. For one thing, we had Fred Dryer, a proven star with HUNTER and this role was absolutely perfect for him (and I have to say, he was great in it). For another, the two-hour pilot aired during sweeps and got fantastic ratings, ranking something like #14 for the week, a tremendous accomplishment for us. And finally, we tested the show with audiences at ASI and the scores were amazing, among the best our partner Fred Silverman (former head of ABC, CBS and NBC) had ever seen. We were sure we had a slam-dunk sale at CBS…and if they were foolish enough to pass on it, we definitely land at another next network. Little did we know…

We met with Les Moonves at CBS…and he passed. He didn’t want to work with Fred Dryer. We met with Jaime Tarses at ABC. She didn’t want to work with Dryer. We met with Dean Valentine at UPN. He didn’t want to work with Dryer.  And so it went at every network. What killed us wasn’t the execution,  the concept, the acting, the ratings, or the testing. What killed us was bad blood between Dryer and execs he’d worked with before on other projects.  Basically, we were victims of the burned bridges Dryer had left in his wake.  The television audience loved Fred Dryer, but the major network execs didn’t. Had we known that going in, we would have cast someone else as THE CHIEF. Then again, we might not have enjoyed the same terrific ratings and sky-high testing…not that they did us any good in the end.  (Ironically, CBS ended up doing a similar show with Craig T. Nelson
called THE DISTRICT. And from what I hear, Nelson was no picnic)

I’ve since had another experience like that with another star which is why, from now on, we call around about the actors we’re thinking about working with so we aren’t derailed from the get-go by burned bridges or a history of "difficult behavior on the set.

(You can read the two-part pilot script here and here or watch a five minute sales presentation culled from the two-hour movie here, just go to THE CHIEF logo and click on it). 

Hot Sex and Gory Violence

Graham at My Boog Pages has unearthed my sleazy past of Hot Sex and Gory Violence,  which I wrote about in Newsweek.

[The article]  detailed Lee’s work on a timelessly classic men’s adventure series, .357 Vigilante." I’d only read a few lines when I was shocked to realize that I had read this piece when it came out.  21 years ago.


was a big fan of the Mack Bolan, "The Executioner" series back then,
and when I stumbled across the article in a doctor’s office waiting
room I read it. At that time Lee was a disaffected college student who,
instead of partying or dating, spent his time writing about a man with
a large, loaded, concealed weapon.

At the time, I liked to think of myself as a man with a large, loaded, concealed weapon. Sometimes I still do.

The Bottom Line

A reader alerted me to this "blowback" from my Hot Buttons post from last week. Vera, on her blog, thinks an interesting issue got lost in the 164 comments about fanfic the post generated.

He was reporting on a mystery writer’s knees-up and wrote some stuff
about controversial yet unspoken opinions among mystery writers such as
the inappropriately open membership of MWA (Mystery Writers of
America?) and how many mystery writers objected to fan fiction but were
too scared to ever say this to fans. What followed in comments was
mostly the expected back and forth between a reasonable pro-fan-fiction
writer and a crazy-arse anti-fan-fiction writer with some side comments
from other people.

But what interested me most of all was that no-one – NO-ONE – addressed
the issue of why the mystery writers weren’t going to bring the subject
up with fans they met at cons and signings and things. These pro
writers Lee references behave as though they believe that the people
who are writing the fan fiction are the people who buy their books, and
all the associated merchandise should they be so successful to justify
it, and that to alienate those fans is to kiss good-bye to income.  When it comes down to the line, it’s the bottom line.

So, what do you think?  Are authors afraid to speak their minds on controversial issues for fear of losing readers or awkward encounters with fans?

Don’t Hire This Spenser

Bob Sassone reports over at TV Squad that Rykodisc is releasing the four, made-on-the-cheap-in-Canada SPENSER reunion movies  on DVD. Those crappy, flatly-directed, and exceedingly dull MOWs shouldn’t be mistaken for the underappreciated SPENSER FOR HIRE  series (and I’m not just saying that because I wrote for it).

Robert Urich and Avery Brooks were the perfect Spenser and Hawk,
the scripts were literate and intelligent, and the on
location filming in Boston added a lot of atmosphere and color. But
then the show was cancelled, and they decided to make these rather
so-so movies, and they don’t include Barbara Stock as Susan Silverman
(sorry again: Wendy Crewson and Barbara Williams just aren’t the same).
The good news? They aren’t the lame Joe Mantegna Spenser
flicks that A&E produced later, and it’s great to see Urich and
Avery together again. The bad news? It’s not the TV series.

I hope the TV series comes out on DVD soon and not just because I’d like pristine copies of my episodes. It was a very good PI series and seems to have dropped out of syndication a few years ago.

Unlike Bob Sassone, I actually liked Joe Mantegna as Spenser a lot (and I love his readings of the Parker novels on CD) …but he was teamed with lousy actors as Hawk and, once again, the movies were shot on the cheap in Toronto with bland Canadian actors. The scripts weren’t so hot, either.  I think if they’d cast Mantegna and Avery Brooks, and shot the movies in Boston, and hired better writers (like Bill Rabkin & me!), the movies might have worked…

Tom Selleck, who did a bang-up job playing Parker’s Jesse Stone on TV recently, would make a good Spenser. So would Robert Forster who, incidentally, does a great job reading the Jesse Stone novels on CD.

Suckered by PublishAmerica

Derek, an aspiring author, posted a comment to one of my old PublishAmerica posts, saying he’d just received a contract from them and has only just learned that they may not be a reputable publisher. He asked what he should do.  I didn’t want the discussion to get buried in the comments, so I’ve decided to make a new post out of it. Here’s what I suggested that he do:

Contact PublishAmerica and ask them to release him from his contract immediately. They have no legitimate reason to refuse you…
especially since they have done anything for you yet. If they do
refuse, please come back and share their letter with us so everybody
can see the type of people you’re dealing with.

Once you get your manuscript back, don’t look for a
short cut into publishing. Submit to reputable publishers. How do you
find them? You can start by walking into a book store and taking down
the names of publishers with books on the shelves… then do you
research. Make sure they are legit and then submit your book to them.  Here’s a hint: Do not go with any publisher that wants to charge you
any kind of fee or wants a list of your relatives to market your book

Derek replied:

It was just great to go from a kid who mispelled every other word in
high school, to sitting down one day and writing a horror novel. And
better yet, to have what I thought was a decent publisher show interest
in what I busted my ass to accomplish. Then this. You have to realize what a crappy feeling I have in my gut
right now, having an actual contract, and thinking of turning it down
to try again. It’s like hitting the lottery and returning the winning
ticket in hopes the next jackpot will be more lucrative.

He was still holding on to the illusion that PA was a reputable publisher because he wanted it so badly to be true. Here’s what I told him:

You’re deluding yourself.You haven’t won the lottery. You don’t have
an actual contract with a real publisher. It’s exactly that attitude
that has made you ripe for the picking by predators like
PublishAmerica.  You want to believe the fantasy that you’ve landed a real publishing
contract. Then go ahead, live the fantasy. Just remember that it is one.

Read more

Make Me A Star

Today I got two emails from two different people, both hoping for the same thing, that they could use me to achieve their dreams of success in Hollywood. This first email came in under the subject heading "I Have Some Great Screenplays!" (The names, addresses and phone numbers have been removed, otherwise the emails are untouched):

Hello Mr. Lee Goldberg my name is XYZ but people call me Hollywood.
I have three great screenplays ready to be shoot and I am working on my forth
one which should be done in a month or so.  If you would like to know more about
my scripts please give me a call at XXX-XXX-XXX or email me at thank you for your time.

I responded:  Hello Mr. XYZ, my name is Lee Goldberg, but people call me Pierce Brosnan. Why would I be interested in your screenplays? I’m trying to sell my own

I received a polite email from a guy on the East Coast who says he has a great idea for an episodic legal drama:

Though I spend a great deal of my time developing and
selling creative concepts (for direct marketing applications), I’m not a script
writer.  I’m contacting you because I’m looking for a talented television writer
with industry credibility that might be interested in partnering to develop a
pilot. If you are interested in exploring this or know of a
writer who might be,  please let me know.

I get this offer several times a week from people outside the industry who have "great ideas" but just need a guy like me to partner up with.

To be blunt, why would I want to do that? What’s in it for me? I’ve got lots of ideas of my own and all you’d be doing is benefitting from my experience, my "industry credibility,"  and years of hard work. What do you bring to the table? An idea.  Sorry, but that’s not enough.

There’s a saying in television, ideas are cheap and execution is everything. The networks  don’t buy ideas, they buy ability, experience, point-of-view, and a track record.  LOST is not a great idea — People shipwrecked on an island. It has been done a hundred times before. What ABC bought was hit-maker JJ Abrams doing people shipwrecked on an island.  NYPD BLUE is not a great idea. It’s cops in NY solving crimes. What ABC bought was Steven Bochco doing cops in NY solving crimes.  They also bought the proven ability of JJ Abrams and Steven Bochco to write and produce a series.

I know… that’s what you need me for, right? You need my "industry credibility" and "talent."
But here’s the thing: there’s absolutely no upside in it for me, or any other established writer-producer, partnering up with you.  We didn’t work for years to establish "industry credibility" so someone else without any could take a shortcut and ride on our coat-tails.

If you were a bestselling novelist with an idea, that’s something else. You have something to offer beyond an idea.  You bring your name,  reputation, and proven track record as a storyteller. If you were a  famous actor, that’s something else. You bring your image,  your fans, and proven ability to draw a large audience.  If you were an ex-D.A., and your idea draws on your background in the field, then you have something to offer. You bring years worth of courtroom experience  and credibility in the field (for instance, I’ve partnered with cops before to pitch ideas based on their unique experiences).

I think you get my point.  Thank you for thinking of me, but I’m not interested.

Fanfic as Folklore

Diane Werts, a terrific TV columnist and feature-writer, wrote about fanfic this week and champions a view very different than my own:

Fan fiction has become a booming hobby, with millions of stories written for
cyberspace by ordinary consumers of TV shows, movies, books, even video games.
"Fanfic" recycles well-known characters by taking them down fresh paths,
recounted in epic-length chronicles, 100-word "drabbles," explicit character
vignettes and crossovers between completely unrelated series. The reimaginings
use existing entertainment icons to present an alternative mythology to the
"official" version – a modern grassroots folklore subverting corporate control
of "intellectual property."

I wouldn’t characterize KIRK/SPOCK slash as "grassroots folklore," but I certainly agree that it’s "subverting corporate control of  intellectual property" as well as the authors intellectual property rights (something she makes only passing reference to in her piece).

Diane definitely sees fanfic as something positive and buys heavily into the romanticized notion of  fanfic as modern-day folklore, continuing traditions began around the campfire centuries ago. Obviously, I don’t agree… but since Diane and I are friends, and my views on fanfic are hardly a secret,  I’ll leave it at that.

Scam of the Month

OneimageThis month’s "Scam of the Month" is, oddly enough, the same as last month’s… that’s right, Lori Prokop’s Book Millionaire. She sent me an email and posted a comment here about what I called a  get-rich-quick infomercial scam.  All you really need to know about Lori is best summarized by the email address she used to write me:

Kind of says it all about who she is, her motives, and her so-called publishing company, doesn’t it? And what she doesn’t say, in her comment to my original post, tells you the rest:

Instead of bashing the show or myself, how
about using your talents to help? I’d be very happy to hear your comments or
ways you would like to participate.

How about instead of rants and bashing that we work together to make this a fun
experience that really helps writers?

Why would I want to help you? Why would I want to participate, or encourage others to participate, in what is an obvious "get rich quick" scam to swindle aspiring authors out of their money?  It’s a real tempting offer, Lori.  I’ll help you on your show as soon as I finish my volunteer work for the American Nazi Party.

Ofcourse, she doesn’t bother to refute any of my charges, because she can’t.  All she says is that her show isn’t an infomercial.


So if your show isn’t an infomercial, Lori, how about telling us which network has commissioned it? Or if it’s syndicated, what stations will be airing it and under what terms? As I said before, I believe we’ll be seeing your show, if it ever airs at all, as "Paid Programming" or on public access cable.

UPDATE: For more about Lori Prokop and her other book marketing schemes, check out this thread at Absolute Write. Here’s an excerpt from one message about her publishing  company:

Read more

The Thought Police

CBS News reports that some neanderthal lawmaker in Alabama has introduced a bill that would ban all books from public school libraries by gay authors or about gay characters. 

"I don’t look at it as censorship," says Republican State Representative
Gerald Allen.  "I look at it as protecting the hearts and souls and minds of
our children."

Books by any gay author would have to go: Tennessee
Williams, Truman Capote  and Gore Vidal. Alice Walker’s novel "The Color
Purple" has lesbian characters.

Allen originally wanted to ban even some
Shakespeare. After criticism, he  narrowed his bill to exempt the classics,
although he still can’t define what a classic is. Also exempted now
Alabama’s public and college libraries.

Librarian Donna Schremser fears
the "thought police," would be patrolling her shelves.

"And so the
idea that we would have a pristine collection that represents one  political
view, one religioius view, that’s not a library,” says Schremser.

think it’s an absolutely absurd bill," says Mark Potok of the Southern 
Poverty Law Center.

First Amendment advocates say the ban clearly
does amount to censorship.

"It’s a Nazi book burning," says Potok. "You
know, it’s a remarkable piece of work."

But in book after book, Allen
reads what he calls the "homosexual agenda," and he’s alarmed.

not healthy for America, it doesn’t fit what we stand for," says Allen. "And
they will do whatever it takes to reach their goal."

He says he sees this
as a line in the sand.