My Strange Encounter With Shelley Berman

Shelley Berman in an episode of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM

Comedian Shelley Berman died yesterday. I never worked with him but we did spend an afternoon together.

Six years ago, I was having my car repaired at MBZ Motors in a dreary corner of the San Fernando Valley. I can’t remember why, but I was stuck there all day while the work was being done. There was no where else to go. I had my laptop with me and I was trying to write. Shelley Berman came in to have his Mercedes repaired and sat on the couch across from me to wait it out. I recognized him immediately (my Dad had his records when I was a kid and I saw him perform once — I believe it was in San Francisco) but I didn’t pay attention to him out of respect for his privacy. And I wanted to get some work done.

But it soon became apparent from the way he was talking to people in the waiting area, all of whom were relatively young, that he was very eager to be recognized and was greatly disappointed that nobody knew who he was. They treated him as an irritating old man they wished would just leave them alone (though, I must say, the staff at MBZ was incredibly friendly and respectful to him — they clearly had known him for some time). I felt sorry for him. He was an incredibly talented comedian and actor…and it broke my heart that it appeared to him that he was forgotten. So I spoke up, addressed him by name, told him that I knew who he was, and that I enjoyed his work on BOSTON LEGAL, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and that my father had his records. 

He broke into a big smile. Berman then went on to regale me over the next few hours with amusing and emotional anecdotes from his life — even sharing with me the heartbreak over the death of his young son (and tearing up as he told me). It was remarkable experience…and also a bit uncomfortable. There was something not quite right about his need for attention or how open he was with me, a complete stranger, about his life (I remember wishing I’d recorded it all). Now that I’ve read his obit, and learned that he passed away from Alzheimers, the strange encounter makes a bit more sense. But it was a memorable afternoon and I felt honored to have been his audience of one.

It’s a Good Idea to Own The Rights to a Book Before You Film It

James Franco
James Franco

Actor James Franco made big news in the Hollywood trades when he began pre-production on a movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s BLOOD MERIDIAN that he was slated to write & direct. He got Scott Rudin on board to produce, lined up IMGlobal to distribute the film, and managed to cast Russell Crowe and Vincent D’Onofrio, among others. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Except that Franco, the distributors and the producers forgot one niggly detail: they didn’t acquire the rights to Cormac McCarthy’s book. The Hollywood Reporter revealed the embarrassing story earlier this month.

I was astonished. You’d expect something like this from amateurs…but from experienced professionals and a major international distributor? I can’t imagine how the movie got this far along without anybody in business affairs double-checking that someone had actually secured the rights to the book. What makes this even more unbelievable is that Scott Rudin produced the adaptation of McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN…and yet he was apparently unaware that no deal had been made with the author.

But that’s not all. It turns out that Franco shot 30 minutes of test footage several years ago, you might call it his own fanfic adaptation, with Luke Perry and Scott Glenn among the cast in an effort to snag the rights…but McCarthy didn’t bite. So did Franco just decide to make the movie anyway and hope that McCarthy would end up being okay with it?  It’s mind-boggling.

Coming Next Fall to a TV Near You

It's the time of year when networks start ordering pilots for proposed TV series for next year's fall schedule. The Hollywood Reporter has a wrap-up of what's been ordered so far. It looks like this is the first pilot season in years that doesn't include a "re-imagining" of an old TV show. Thank God. But there are plenty of adaptations of movies in the works (About a Boy, Bad Teacher, Beverly Hills Cop, etc.) and quite a few based on books.

Here are some of the more unusual concepts being considered…

The Returned
Logline: What happens when the people you have mourned and buried suddenly appear on your doorstep as if not a day's gone by? The lives of the people of Aurora are forever changed when their deceased loved ones return.
Cast:
Team: W/EP Aaron Zelman (Criminal Minds)
Studio: ABC Studios, Brillstein Entertainment, Plan B

The Ordained
Logline: The son of a Kennedy-esque family leaves the priesthood and becomes a lawyer to prevent his politician sister from being assassinated.
Cast:
Team: W/EP Lisa Takeuchi Cullen; EP Frank Marshall, Larry Shuman, A.B. Fischer; co-EP Robert Zotnowski
Studio: CBS Television Studios

Delirium
Logline: Based on best-selling trilogy about a world where love is deemed illegal and is able to be eradicated with a special procedure. With 95 days to go until her scheduled treatment, Lena Holoway does the unthinkable: she falls in love.
Cast:
Team: W/EP: Karyn Usher (Prison Break, Bones); EP Peter Chernin, Katherine Pope
Studio: 20th Television, Chernin Entertainment

The List
Logline: When members of the Federal Witness Security Program start getting killed, U.S. Marshal Dan Shaker leads the hunt for the person who stole “the list” – a file with the identities of every member of the program.
Cast:
Team: W/EP: Paul Zbyszewski (Lost, Hawaii Five-0, Daybreak); EP Ruben Fleischer (Gangster Squad)
Studio: 20th Television

Girlfriend in a Coma
Logline: After almost two decades, a 34-year-old woman wakes up from a coma to find out she has a 17-year-old daughter from a pregnancy she was unaware of when her life was put on hold.  (Single)
Cast:
Team: EP/W: Liz Brixius (Nurse Jackie); EP Dick Wolf, Danielle Gelber
Studio: Universal Television, Wolf Films
Format: Single-camera

Bloodline
Logline: A contemporary pulp thriller that revolves around an orphaned young girl named Bird Benson, who because of an accident of birth is caught in the struggle between two warring families of mercenaries and killers. Mentored by a Chinese man, Bird has to accept the quest to find and defeat her mother in mortal combat if she is to ever lead a normal life.
Cast:
Team: W/EP David Granziano (Awake, Terra Nova), EP/D Peter Berg, EP Sarah Aubrey
Studio: Universal, Film 44

 

Tie-In Synergy

Heat-wave-richard_castle

The Los Angeles Times has an interesting piece on the shrewd way that Hyperion has handled publication and cross-promotion of their CASTLE tie-in novels. They said, in part:

Publisher Hyperion, which had success with similar projects connected to sister company ABC’s soaps “One Life to Live” and ” All My Children,” decided to bypass a traditional TV tie-in and instead go with a Richard Castle-authored book after seeing the greenlit pilot. Castle’s name alone appears on the books, without any nod to a real-life scribe. “The main character’s a writer! How perfect is that?” says Gretchen Young, an executive editor at Hyperion and its editorial director for ABC Synergy.

[…] The show plays with fiction and reality: On it, Castle has talked about his upcoming publication commitments with his agent (yes, Hyperion will be publishing two more) and played poker with real-life mystery writers James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell, who died in late September.

In an upcoming episode, “Heat Wave” — a novel written by a fictional television character — has been optioned by Hollywood. “It gets very meta in the show,” Marlowe admits, laughing.

And in person. As part of Hyperion’s release last year of “Heat Wave,” Fillion appeared as Castle at two Southern California bookstores.

It’s not a new idea. The MURDER SHE WROTE books are written by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain, and she was a mystery novelist, too. But the producers didn’t integrate the tie-ins into the TV series as cleverly as the CASTLE folks have (or at all, if memory serves). But now that HEAT WAVE has become a bestseller, you can expect more TV tie-ins to follow their example…

My Brothers Are Selling TV Shows

Carl Beverly and Sarah Timberman, the producers of JUSTIFIED, have sold a TV series pilot to FX based on my brother Tod Goldberg's short story Mitzvah. Crime writer Joel Goldman is often mistaken for my brother, so I suppose it's only fitting that those same producers just sold CBS a TV series pilot based on Joel's short story Knife Fight. Now if either pilot goes to series, I am expecting my brothers to play the nepotism card and insist that I be brought on staff.

 

Hollywood on a Book Binge

The Wrap reports that studios are buying lots of books these days by first-time authors, though not all of them are necessarily newbies when it comes to writing. For instance, Paramount snapped up Hank Steinberg's yet-to-be-published novel OUT OF RANGE, the first in a tw0-book series. While Steinberg may be new to publishing, he's hardly new to Hollywood — he was the creator of the long-running CBS series WITHOUT A TRACE. Even so, it's interesting to see Hollywood chasing books at a time when everyone seems to be wondering what the future of publishing is going to look like.

It’s All About Buzz

If you read the newspapers, the blogs and the trades, there's no question that MAD MEN is a huge critical and popular hit.

But if you look at the numbers, it's a different story.

On Sunday, MAD MEN, drew 2.2 million viewers and scored a 0.8 rating. THE GLADES, which isn't getting nearly the same amount of buzz or adoration, drew 3.1 million and the same rating. THE GLADES also out-performed HBO's HUNG (2.5 million, 1.4) and ENTOURAGE (2.6 million, 1.5) in eyeballs, if not rating.

So THE GLADES has more viewers than ENTOURAGE, HUNG, and MAD MEN… and yet isn't drawing anywhere near the same amount of media attention or adoration. Which, I suppose, may prove it's not how many viewers are actually watching your show that makes you a hit… it's how many people in the media say that you are one.

 

Dorchester Getting out of the Paperback Biz

Publishers' Weekly reports that Dorchester is getting out of the paperback book business and shifting to an e-book and POD model.

Mass market romance publisher Dorchester Publishing has dropped its traditional print publishing business in favor of an e-book/print-on-demand model effective with its September titles that are “shipping” now. President John Prebich said after retail sales fell by 25% in 2009, the company knew that 2010 “would be a defining year,” but rather than show improvement, “sales have been worse.”

[…]Dorchester will continue to do print copies for its book club business and has signed a deal with Ingram Publisher Service for IPS to do print-on-demand copies for selected titles. According to Prebich, some e-books that are doing well in the digital marketplace will be released as trade paperbacks with IPS fulfilling orders; the company, however, will not do any more mass market paperbacks for retail distribution.

I am running out the door, so I haven't had a chance to give this development much thought. I'll probably post more about it later. But I wonder what this means for their Hard Case Crime imprint?

UPDATE – Apparently, the Wall Street Journal was wondering the same thing:

Hard Case Crime, an imprint owned by closely held Winterfall LLC, said it may seek to move its mystery books from Dorchester to another publishing house.

"It's been a good run, but if they aren't publishing mass market paperbacks, we'll have to decide what to do. I'm a believer in the mass format, but I do understand the reality of the marketplace," said Charles Ardai, who owns Hard Case Crime.

The country's largest consumer book publisher, Bertelsmann AG's Random House Inc., said it continues to be a strong believer in mass paperbacks. One of the country's most successful mystery writers, the late John D. MacDonald, is available from Random House exclusively in mass paperback.

"It's still a viable, popular, lower-priced alternative to the other reading formats," said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House. "It also has a committed readership. Will that commitment be forever in a transformative marketplace? We'll have to wait and see.

UPDATE: And Charles Ardai elaborated in a comment he left here, that says:

It means that future Hard Case Crime titles will most likely be published by a company other than Dorchester (although Dorchester may still distribute them to their book club members).

Interesting times. More info to come as things ripen…

Glades Kicks Ass

The premiere of THE GLADES made TV history for A&E, according to Deadline Hollywood:

Third time proved to be the charm for A&E whose third original series, The Glades, debuted with 3.6 million viewers last night, posting the network's most-watched original drama series telecast ever. The Glades also broke records in the adults 18-49 and 25-54 demographics, delivering 1.4 million viewers and 1.2 million viewers, respectively. Combined with the encore airing, The Glades was watched by a total of 5.1 million viewers last night and grew by 38% from its lead-in.

I have a vested interested in the news. Bill Rabkin and I wrote the third episode and are in the midst of writing another one now.

Good News for Fanboys

Looks like BORAT director Larry Charles and CHARLIE'S ANGELS director McG have been watching STAR TREK: THE NEW VOYAGES, PHASE II,  the fan-produced sequel to STAR TREK. Variety reports they've sold a pilot to NBC about a group of fans in a small town who produce their own version of a canceled TV show.

Speaking of CHARLIE'S ANGELS, Variety reports that Josh Friedman is scripting a remake for ABC. Friedman previously wrote & produced the Fox series TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES with writer/producer John Wirth who, incidentally, wrote a CHARLIE'S ANGELS reboot with LOST's Carleton Cuse that ABC passed on a few years ago.