The Show Must Go On

51tnYP0UMrL._SS500_Don't be fooled by the title of Douglas Snauffer's new book, The Show Must Go On: How The Deaths of Lead Actors Have Affected Television Series…this is not a lurid or gossipy book but rather a serious, well-researched, detailed reference work about the business of television.

On the surface, the book is about what happens to a TV show when one of its stars dies, covering the impact of the calamity from every angle. But that death is just one part of the story. Douglas Snauffer, author of the exceptional Crime Television, gives us the full picture of the show, before and after the tragedy that may (or may not) have ultimately defined that series in TV history. Each chapter offers an in-depth look at the creation, development, production, and history of an individual series. It's that detailed examination of each series — backed by interviews with all the key players in front of, and behind — the camera that gives this book it's real value.

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know how TV series are created, written and produced…and why some succeed while others fail.

Work Work Work

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you've probably noticed that I haven't been posting as much lately. That's because I've been hard at work writing an action movie, an international co-production that is presently scheduled to be shot before the end of the year in Europe and China. 

For the last few weeks,  I've been toiling on various drafts of the detailed beat sheet but, if everything goes according to plan, I will start writing the screenplay in the next week or so. That will give me about four weeks to write the script which for me, coming from years in episodic TV and armed with a ridiculously detailed beat sheet, feels like plenty of time (we'll see if I feel the same way once I'm in the thick of it). 

While I await the official greenlight, I will go back to writing MR. MONK IS CLEANED OUT, my next Monk novel, which I had to mostly set aside while I concentrated on the film. This morning I re-read and edited what I've written so far, so I'm ready to plunge back in. I've also got the galleys for MR. MONK IN TROUBLE arriving tomorrow that need to be proofed in the next two weeks. 

It's nice to be busy! 

In the midst of all this, my Kindle arrived last night and I've only just started to play around with it, but I'm beginning to see already why it has become so popular. I'm looking forward to reading a novel on it to really get a feel for it. That probably won't happen until I hop a plane on August 12 for Owensboro, Kentucky to be a guest at the International Mystery Writers Festival.

ROCKFORD Revived

Variety reports that HOUSE creator/showrunner David Shore has been tapped by NBC/Universal and Steve Carrell's production company to revive Stephen J. Cannell's THE ROCKFORD FILES. It's no surprise that they approached Shore for the coveted gig…he's a TV A-lister who tried to spin-off a Rockf0rd-esque character from HOUSE last season.

"It's one of the shows that made me want to become a writer," Shore said. "I had no interest in adapting any old stuff, but this was the one exception."

Shore's just starting to think about an approach to bring "The Rockford Files" into the present day, but he intends to stick with the basic foundation of a private eye in L.A. just trying to make a living.

"What makes 'Rockford' timeless is that he's vulnerable, he's flawed. He's used to hustling and getting hustled," Shore said. "Sometimes he's a hero and sometimes he runs away."

The hard part won't be getting the script right…it will be finding this generation's equivalent of  James Garner to the play the part. (Is George Clooney still a movie star?) 

Spy News

Variety reports the very good news that Steven Spielberg's next movie might be a new adaptation of Donald Hamilton's MATT HELM books. The Paramount project has been in development at various studios for decades, but apparently a script by A-list screenwriter Paul Attanasio that's closer to Matt Damon's BOURNE IDENTITY than Dean Martin's campy 1960s Matt Helm movies has everybody excited. 

And in other lit spy-to-film news, Ron Howard has signed on to direct the movie adaptation of Robert Ludlum's PARSIFAL MOSAIC from a script by David Self.

Book Reviews

771-1 Elmore Leonard has often said that his writing was deeply influenced by the works of Richard Bissell.  Curious,  I searched for a copy of Bissell's work…and I am glad I did. And after reading HIGH WATER, a tale of a first mate on a Mississippi steam boat during an epic flood, it's easy to see the influence Bissell has had on Leonard's approach to character and dialog. Bissell has that same naturalistic, funny, amiable way with characters, whether they are "good guys" or "bad guys," that makes even the most minor players in the tale memorable and interesting. His plotting is loose and yet surprisingly powerful. And his eye for the telling details is sometimes astonishing in their simplicity and truth. I can see why Leonard, as a young writer, was impressed, and why he adopted some of the same techniques. HIGH WATER is well worth reading, not only for insight into Leonard's writing style, but on its own considerable merits. I loved it and look forward to devouring Bissell's other work.

41ys98QUH+L._SS500_ I went from that pleasurable surprise to a real disappointment. I really wanted to like Kate Christensen's TROUBLE, because I have heard great things about her work in the past. But from the first chapter, I knew I was in trouble, and not the kind she had intended. The characters are literary constructs rather than characters, totally unsympathetic and unrealistic in just about every way. From the moment her heroine, a shrink in a decaying marriage, describes herself by looking at her reflection (a tired cliche and a surprisingly lazy gimmick for a PEN/Faulkner award winner to employ), and decides to dump her husband as a result, things go downhill fast.

Her decision to leave her husband is the impetus for everything that happens in the book, so it's important that we, as readers, buy into it and are invested in her and her journey. But the decisive moment is so unreal, so oblique, and the guy she is talking to at the time is such a caricature, that the crucial moment of reader investment in the heroine doesn't happen. And never does. I wanted to like her, or at least to care, but I never did. It doesn't help that what follows her introduction are pages and pages of exposition meant to establish what is, at heart, a contrivance. I never believed the relationship between Josie and her world-famous, rock star friend, nor did I care about her journey of self-discovery through sex. Her adventures are laden with exposition, contrivance, and stilted conversations that feel so written, so self-conscious, that it's maddening rather than entertaining. My advice: skip this and try one of Christensen's earlier works.

My REVIVALS Revived…And Revived Again

My 1993 book TELEVISION SERIES REVIVALS is back… in trade paperback (as I mentioned last week) and now in a Kindle edition. I have no idea if Kindle users are interested in non-fiction, TV references books…but I figured I had nothing to lose by finding out. If it looks like they do, I may make my book UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS available for the Kindle, too, though that might actually take some time and effort on my part.

The Mail I Get – Mr. Monk Edition

MR. MONK AND THE DIRTY COP was released two weeks ago, so perhaps that's why I've been getting deluged with Monk-related emails lately. Here's one I enjoyed:

I am a BIG fan of your books- I have read every Monk Book (except the latest), every Psyche book (except the latest), and I have all the Diag Murder books (I've read the first two).[…] In MONK IS MISERABLE they refer to events in the TV episode MONK CAN"T SEE A THING. Hence that episode takes place in the same universe as your novels. AH-HA, the events of MONK AND THE FIREHOUSE are similar, so whichever one came second, Monk or Natalie or someone should have said WOW- This is JUST LIKE our other case.

This is, of course, a silly plot point.

[…]Diag Murder and Monk novels are in the same universe since they both interact with the same detective in Hawaii. Monk and Psyche novels are in the same universe since Natalie meets with a people who help out quirky deteritives
and one of them is clearly Gus (though he is not named). The novels and TV shows take place in the same universe. Gus's Uncle who thinks that Gus is Psychic watches alot of TV. He mentiosn the TV SHOW Diagnosis Murder.

AH-HA- in the Psyche universe Diagnosis Murder is a TV show. So it can't be real.

This is, of course, a silly plot point. 

The fact that I noticed these things and am writing to you about them is an immense compliment.

…which is exactly how I took it. Here is how I responded: 

You have a keen eye! Here are some trivia for you.  William Rabkin writes the terrific PSYCH novels. We wrote an early episode of PSYCH together…and we wrote the "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing" episode of MONK which was, of course, based on my book MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE

Ian Ludlow is a character who also appears in the DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MONK books….and Ian Ludlow the pseudonym I wrote under in the early 1980s.  Is your head spinning yet?

I got some other nice notes. Here's a sampling:

I'm thrilled you are continuing the Monk book series. It always frustrates me when "stars" (who have wanted to be famous all their lives) hit paydirt with a huge success … and then can't seem to quit fast enough because they need to conquer new lands or whatever. As much as I hate to see the Monk TV series end, I'm thrilled I can still buy new stories in the book series. If anything, they are far better than any TV episode ever was. Thank you.

I assured him that the end of MONK has nothing to do with the stars being unappreciative of their success and the interest of their viewers. Quite the opposite. They have been doing this show for over 100 episodes and I suspect that they want to end while they are still at the top of their game (as did the stars of CHEERS, SEINFELD, MARY TYLER MOORE, MASH, NEWHART and lots of other shows). I think it also takes some guts to walk away from success rather than milking something until it withers away. That said, I share his sadness, too, that the show is ending.

Here's one more from the email bag:

I wanted to take a brief moment to express the enjoyment my family has found in your Monk novels. We have all been fans of the TV series since its inception, yet we have only recently discovered your novels via Amazon.com. I ordered all of them last week and I, along with my wife and 14-year old son, are in the process of reading them now. Your novels are a seamless transition from the TV series, and I can pay no higher compliment than that. It’s great to know that Adrian Monk will continue to crack cases for the SFPD even after this final season concludes on USA Network.

It's emails like that one hat keep me going on days when the writing isn''t going so well. Finally, I got this one today:

I just read 'Mr. Monk is Miserable'. I didn't know there were Monk books (AND Diagnosis Murder too), I'm in heaven. Anyway, in chapter 26, at the end of Natalie's description of her time with Stottlemeyer interviewing victims of Chalmers' ID theft activities; there is a sentence that reads "The captain managed to prove that Le Roux's theory about Barlier's scheme was right." Isn't it supposed to say Chalmers? If it is not a typo and it is supposed to say Barlier can you please explain why, because I'm a bit confused.

I haven't answered that guy yet…it has been so long since I wrote the book, I can't remember the details of the plot and I just don't have the energy to re-read it again so I can give him the right answer. Then again, I hate to leave an error uncorrected…

Odds and Ends

P7240042 I spent yesterday at the San Diego Comic Con, where I talked shop with writer/producer Bill Freiberger and the terrific novelists of  International Association of Media Tie-in Writers, like Max Allan Collins, Scribe Award winner James Rollins (pictured witih me on the left) and  my old friend and Scribe Award winner Bob Greenberger, who was an editor at Starlog back when I was writing for the magazine in the 1980s. I think it's been 20 years since I've seen him.  Afterwards, I grabbed an early dinner at a faux Irish pub with TV writer/producer Phoef Sutton and my brother Tod. We had a great time sharing anecdotes about our experiences in TV and publishing. I really have to get out more with other writers because it always reinvigorates me.  

This morning I received the latest issue of the Mystery Readers Journal, which is chockful of articles, including one from me, about Los Angeles as a setting for mysteries. Other contributes include Gregg Hurwitz, Kris Neri, and Wendy Hornsby.

I decided to spend some of my Kindle royaltes from The Walk and My Gun Has Bullets on — what else? — a Kindle. It should arrive next week in time for me to take it on the plane to Owensboro for the International Mystery Writers Festival, where I will be moderating a panel with my friends Sue Grafton and MONK writer/producer David Breckman. 

Scribe Award Winners Announced

P7240039 The 2009 Scribe Awards were handed out a ceremony and panel at Comic Con in San Diego on Friday. Participants included James Rollins, Max Allan Collins, Tod Goldberg, Matt Forbeck and Keith R.A. DeCandido, who was honored as this year's Grandmaster for excellence in the field. The winning books are marked with asterisks.

GENERAL FICTION 

BEST NOVEL—ORIGINAL 
**CSI: HEADHUNTER by Greg Cox 

BURN NOTICE: THE FIX by Tod Goldberg
CRIMINAL MINDS: FINISHING SCHOOL by Max Allan Collins

BEST NOVEL—ADAPTED 

**INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL by James Rollins

DEATH DEFYING ACTS by Greg Cox

THE TUDORS: KING TAKES QUEEN by Elizabeth Massie

THE WACKNESS by Dale C. Phillips 
THE X FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE by Max Allan Collins 

SPECULATIVE FICTION 

BEST NOVEL—ORIGINAL 

**STAR TREK TEROK NOR: DAY OF THE VIPERS by James Swallow

GHOST WHISPERER: REVENGE by Doranna Durgin
RAVENLOFT: THE COVENANT, HEAVEN'S BONES by Samantha Henderson 

STARGATE SG-1: HYDRA by Holly Scott20& Jaime Duncan

BEST NOVEL—ADAPTED 

**HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY by Bob Greenberger
THE MUTANT CHRONICLES by Matt Forbeck 

STAR WARS—THE CLONE WARS: WILD SPACE by Karen Miller
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS by Greg Cox 

YOUNG ADULT—ALL GENRES 

BEST NOVEL—ORIGINAL 

**PRIMEVAL: SHADOW OF THE JAGUAR by Steven Savile

DR. WHO: THE EYELESS by Lance Parkin

DISNEY CLUB PENGUIN: STOWAWAY! ADVENTURES AT SEA by Tracey West 


BEST NOVEL—ADAPTED 

**JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 3D by Tracey West 

IRON MAN: THE JUNIOR NOVEL by Stephen D. Sullivan
THE DARK KNIGHT: THE JUNIOR NOVEL by Stacia Deutsch and Rhody Cohon

THE GRANDMASTER AWARD 

KEITH R.A. DeCANDIDO

(Pictured above: Max Allan Collins, Matt Forbeck,  James Rollins, Stacia Deutsch, Tod Goldberg, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Robert Greenberger and Nathan Long)