Tonight’s Sopranos

A good friend of mine, Terry Winter, writes for the Sopranos. He’s a very funny writer, and not surprisingly, writes the funniest episodes of the show. Despite best-known for running the Pines Barrens episode last season. Anyway tonight he wrote episode that was pure Terry. Besides being damn funny, it was full of TV references. Including nods to that’s life, which was written and produced by former Sopranos writer Frank Renzuli, as well as Nash Bridges, which was written by John Wirth, who Terry also worked with. There were also some sly references to law and order, Dick Wolf, and Rene Balcer. There was also a clip on the TV in one of the flashbacks to episode of Cannon — and it wouldn’t surprise me if David Chase worked on it at one point in his early career. In an episode a season or two ago, Terry had junior watching diagnosis murder. I still can’t figure out why Terry didn’t use a clip from the episode he wrote for us!

The Walk

This is a true story…

I was in the offices of a major movie producer who had just read a manuscript version of my new novel The Walk (Five Star, January 2004) and wanted to talk about a possible screen version. The story is about a TV producer who is stuck in downtown Los Angeles when a major earthquake decimates the city and has to walk back home to the suburbs.

The executive loved the book, the human drama, and the action-adventure elements. He only had a few thoughts and concerns.

“Does the guy have to be a TV producer?” he asked.

I was prepared for that question. I knew the character might be “too inside,” meaning too much a part of the entertainment industry, to connect with a wider audience.

“No,” I said, “Of course not. We can give him a different profession.”

“How about if the TV producer was a team of cheerleaders instead?” the executive asked.

I laughed, thinking he was joking. He wasn’t. But he wasn’t done with me yet.

“And what if the earthquake was a tidal wave?”

The book remains unfilmed.

Westerns

An article in Variety about westerns got me thinking about this sadly overlooked genre.

Let’s face it westerns are basicly dead. They don’t command anywhere near the audience they used to at the box office, in bookstores or on television. I’ve only recently come to enjoy and appreciate westerns. It was Larry Mcmurtry’s “lonesome dove” that got me hooked — then I discovered Elmer kelton, Frederick Manfred, AB Guthrie, Edwin Shrake, Tom Eidson, Robert Randisi, Loren Estelman and fell in love with the genre. I even joined the Western Writers of America to learn more about it and discover more authors. I thought “the missing” an “open range” were terrific, and was sad to see them tank at the box office. During my recovery in the hospital, TNT or some other network reran a couple of Tom Selleck’s TV westerns — and I thought they were well-made, well-written. well-acted, and very entertaining (or maybe I was just high on painkillers). Selleck is very convincing as a western hero, and clearly loves the genre. I guess he’s the TV equivalent of Kevin Costner in that regard. I’ve even come to appreciate Gunsmoke — I never realized what an intelligent and adult series it was. Of course, it also had a period when it was awful – in the late 60s — but I’m enjoyimg rediscovering the show. It’s actually possible now, if you have tivo, to watch the black-and-white half-hour episodes on the Hallmark channel from the fifties, the the black-and-white hourlong episodes from the sixties on the Western channel, and the hourlong color episodes from the late sixties occur seventies on TV. I’ve even come to enjoy some classic radio westerns on my morning and evening commutes — particularly James Stewart as the six shooter. Westerns deserve a comeback — in the same way cop shows and mysteries are today. Perhaps hbo’s deadwood will reignite interest in the genre.

Rebus Axed

From the Evening Post

Rebus show killed off by ITV bosses

EDINBURGH’S most famous fictional crime fighter, Inspector Rebus, has been axed by television bosses after just four episodes.

The show – starring Scottish actor John Hannah – has been dumped by ITV despite proving a hit with viewers. But producers hope the show will get a new lease of life in the United States after being snapped up by BBC America.

Four books about the fictional detective, who was created by award-winning city-based author Ian Rankin, were adapted for television by Clerkenwell Films, Hannah’s own production company, and Scottish TV.

Feature-length film Black and Blue pulled in nine million viewers when it was aired in 2000.

A spokeswoman for ITV said: “Four episodes were commissioned and they did very well. But we are not obliged to make any more.”

In other words, she’s saying the show sucked. I don’t disagree. I’m a huge rebus fan and I was really looking forward to the series. But John Hannah was miscast, the direction was flat and the scripts didn’t capture the feel of Ian Rankin’s wonderful books at all (it reminded me of the lousy Blood Work adaptation…it, too, sounded so good on paper and was so bad in execution). It wasn’t the Inspector Morse/Nero Wolfe sort of adaptation all of us rebus fans were waiting for. I hope they try again — with new writers and a new star .

He’s back…better than he was before. Better. Stronger. Faster…

I’m writing this using Dragon naturally speaking dictation software. isn’t technology grand? I just got home from three days in the hospital where my shattered right elbow was replaced with a brand-new titanium one.  I asked the surgeon to install a laser cannon and a tivo remote while they were at it, but they wouldn’t do it. It’s no fun  having two broken arms. You can’t do anything for yourself.  You can’t eat.  You can’t pee. You can’t button your shirt. You can’t scratch your…well, you get the point. I find myself being far more intimate with my wife than I ever imagined. I’m sure shes as thrilled about it as i am. my daughter is getting a big kick out of feeding me, though. I just wish she’d stop speaking to me in baby talk.

I will try to keep this blog up-and-running…I’ll share with you my efforts to continue writing and producing "Missing"….and making the july1 deadline on my next Diagnosis Murder book… while dealing with my two broken arms.  And I might even find a few Other Things to Rant about. So stick around… and forgive the typos!

UPDATE: I will be attending the LA Times festival of books this weekend. I don’t know if I’ll actually be signing my books — but I will be showing up at all of my scheduled panels and signings.

update

Lee is doing fine — he’ll be having surgery to reconstruct his right elbow on Thursday. He’s in very good spirits and wants to start writing as soon as possible. I’m gettinghim dictation software tomorrow. Thank you for all your good wishes and kind words! Valerie

Lee will be off-line for a while

Hi, this is Valerie Goldberg. Lee has broken both his arms and won’t be able to answer e-mails for awhile. He’ll be fine. One of the cast is coming off in three weeks. The other arm will require surgery. The D.M. book was half way done and Lee hopes to be resuming work on it (and his scripts) next week using dictating software.

Fanfic Rant II

Karabair defends fanfic on her blog

I think some of these real TV writers need to breathe. Lee Goldberg writes for "Diagnosis Murder," so I’m not sure exactly what kind of artistic or professional integrity he’s protecting. On the other hand, anyone who writes fanfic about "Diagnosis: Murder" worries me much more than someone who writes it for money.

 

I have to admit, that made me laugh out loud. It’s mean, but it’s FUNNY. No one will ever mistake "Diagnosis Murder" for great literature or even exceptional television. For what it was, a humble little whodunit, I believe it was done well. Whether you agree with that or not, "Diagnosis Murder" represents an expression of someone’s (or a group of people’s) creativity. Those characters belong to somebody. You don’t have to like "Diagnosis Murder", or appreciate it, to respect the author’s right not to have his or her characters ripped off by someone else.

She later writes:

I mean, for most people it’s not a choice of publishing in the real world for money and publishing fanfic among their friends

Huh? I don’t get her reasoning at all. 

Writers write. It’s part of who they are. Most can’t help themselves. If they are lucky, they are able to sell their work and make a living at it. If they can’t, there’s nothing preventing them from making copies of their stories for their friends to enjoy. Who says if your work isn’t published you have to write fanfic??

Why is it a choice between "publishing in the real world" and "fanfic?" 

Because, um, it isn’t. It’s a bizarre rationalization.

I think it’s far more likely that writers turn to fanfic because it’s a hell of a lot easier than coming up with something original. It’s creative laziness.

This, of course, is coming from a guy who writes "Diagnosis Murder" novels, based on a TV series created by Joyce Burditt, who obviously isn’t me.

Ironic, huh?

The difference is I wrote & produced the TV series for years…I have a certain pride of ownership (if not actual ownership) of those characters. For a long time, they were were my characters… I was responsible for them, and "controlled them," for nearly 100 episodes (with my writing partner, William Rabkin, of course, assisted by a terrific staff of writers and freelancers).

But even if you don’t buy that argument, I’m now getting paid by the copyright-holders to write authorized novels. They have, in essense, given me the characters and their blessing to do with them as I creatively see fit. Big difference from fanfic.

She then argues:

I don’t see fanfic as an attempt to replace the show’s writers or tell them how to do their job. It’s a way to tell stories that don’t fit within the format of a series. Cutting away from Buffy & Spike in the basement in "Chosen" is absolute-fucking-lutely brilliant story telling.

That’s like saying somebody adding lyrics to somebody else’s hit song is engaging in "abso-fucking-lutely brilliant song writing." The logic is faulty, to say the least. 

Offending the Morons

This is a true story:

I was working on Murphy’s Law, a light-hearted detective series starring George Segal as an insurance investigator when I got this call from the network censor with notes on our script:

“You’ve got one of your characters calling another character a moron,” the censor said.

“Yeah, so?”

“You can’t do that,” he said. “We’ve approved ‘dolt,’‘dummy’ or ‘dink,’ as acceptable alternatives.”

“What’s wrong with calling somebody a moron?”

“You’ll offend all the morons in the audience,” he said.

I thought he was joking.

He wasn’t.

So I said, “Don’t worry, all the morons in the audience are watching Hunter.”

Three months later, Murphy’s Law was cancelled… and I got a job on Hunter.

CSIfication of America

I got this note in response to my “Fiction is Reality on Television” post:

I was amused by your post on CSI, because I work in a forensics lab [name and location omitted] and CSI has affected our business, too, albeit in different ways than it’s affected yours. One problem we have is that with CSI and NEW DETECTIVES and the like, everybody’s an expert (as Briscoe
wise-cracked on one episode of LAW & ORDER). Except, of course, they’re not.

Example: this week, a cop brings in a case. Some landscapers were doing work in a yard when they unearthed a tin labeled with an engraved plate bearing a name, birth date, and death date. Inside
were burned bone fragments. The cop gives us his theory: he thinks it’s a young kid, but the remains are very small for the three-year lifespan on the cover, so the kid was clearly malnourished. The cremation was done by the parents, in some improvised way, before they got rid of the kid. He had a very strange, lurid scenario worked out.

So we open the tin up, dump it into the screens to sift, and what do we find? A buckle. From a collar.

This wasn’t a kid. It was somebody’s pet cat.

The good news: CSI’s success means a) funding and b) jobs. The bad news: people actually *believe* what they see on the show, down to the bizarre plots.

I’m sure people on jurys now consider themselves forensic experts, too. I wonder what impact the show is having in America’s courtrooms.