Late Scripts

The DGA reports that TV drama series producers have notched a 61% improvement in delivering scripts on time.

The percentage of on-time scripts for single-camera one-hour dramas had increased to 61% for the 2003-04 season, up from 47% in the previous season. The DGA also said the proportion of scripts delivered more than two days late had been cut to 23% from 41% and the number coming in five to 15 days late dropped to 8% from 20%.

By “on time,” the DGA means having a script ready for the first day of pre-production, aka “prep.” Episodic TV directors have seven days to scout locations, cast actors, etc. before beginning the actual shooting of their episodes. It doesn’t seem like a lot of time when compared to features… but in TV shows, the majority of actors are already in place (the regular weekly cast), the major sets are already built (the standing sets, like the hospital in ER), and the production team is already a well-oiled machine. But if a director is new to the show, a week can seem like precious little time… even to a director who has worked on the show before, it can be tight.

It’s even tighter when the script isn’t ready for prep. Not only is the director screwed… so are the location scouts, the wardrobe department, the production designer etc… everyone is pressed for time and can’t possibly do their best work.

But mostly, it’s terribly unfair to directors. Because when the director delivers their show, and its mediocre, nobody at the network or studio is saying “yeah, well, he only had four days to prep.” The director gets the blame… and everyone conveniently forgets he was sabotaged from day one.

And I’m saying all this as a producer who just delivered a script one day late for prep.

Guild said the writers for eight series — “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Law & Order,” “The District,” “JAG,” “Judging Amy,” “She Spies,” “Hack” and “Strong Medicine” — delivered all scripts on time in 2003-04. “Six Feet Under” was the only series to deliver all its scripts on time in 2002-03.

The DGA also said 12 series improved by 20% — “24,” “Alias,” “Angel,” “The District,” “ER,” “The Guardian,” “Hack,” “JAG,” “Judging Amy,” “Law & Order,” “Third Watch” and “The West Wing.” It credited CBS, Fox, Sony, Touchstone, Universal and Warner Bros. with improvement of 20% in the 2003-04 season.

Guild also singled out “Ed” and “The Gilmore Girls” as not delivering a single script on time and pointed to five other shows — “Charmed,” “Everwood,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “NYPD Blue” and “The Practice” — as delivering more than 70% of their scripts late.

The number one priority of any showrunner, I believe, is the make sure a shooting script is ready on the first day of prep. Ideally, the teleplay should be in well before prep, so all the department heads … casting, production design, wardrobe, etc… have plenty of the opportunity to do their best work and to be thinking about the episode even before the director arrives. You get better guest stars for the parts if the casting director has two weeks instead of one to find the right actors for the role…if the location scout has an extra week to find best places to shoot… if the set designer has the extra week to create interesting sets. You get the idea.

There are times when events beyond a producer’s control make it impossible to deliver a script on the first day of prep… one of your stars takes ill, a storm makes it impossible to shoot an “outdoor” episode outdoors, the network re-arranges air order of the episodes at the last minute, etc. Inevitably, on every series I’ve been on, at least one or two scripts are delivered late.

It’s quite common on the first season of a show for scripts to come in late. Everything seems to be conspiring against delivering the scripts on time.. a late-pickup from the network, last-minute staffing and especially, the creative process as a show “finds itself” while being battered from all sides by notes from the network, the studio, the stars. Plus, it takes some time for everyone to learn how to work together, to discover the unique production problems inherent in your show. It can take a while for a new series to get settled, creatively and from a basic production stand-point.

But after a show has been on a season or two, there’s really no excuse for 70% of the scripts being delivered late. “NYPD Blue,” “Charmed,” and “Law & Order SVU” have been on the air for years… with relatively little staff turnover. You’d think they’d have it down by now. I can’t imagine what their excuse is. (And in the case of “SVU,” they aren’t waiting around for a back-nine pick-up, they already have a multi-year renewal, they can bank scripts well in advance)

The lateness of “Gilmore Girls” and “The Practice,” I would guess, has more to do with the fact that most of the scripts are written or rewritten by one showrunner (ie David Kelley on “The Practice”) who is stretched too thin. This, to me, is a big argument against the “writer-auteur” in episodic television… unless, like British TV, all the scripts are written well before production begins.

I’m glad to see there’s been a concerted effort in the industry to deliver scripts in time for prep — it’s good for everybody.

I’m a TV Geek

Last night, I was in TV Geek heaven…

I went to the Television Academy’s salute to TV themes at the Hollywood Bowl. It was wonderful, with the Hollywood Bowl orchestra playing salutes to Earle Hagen, Jerry Goldsmith, Vic Mizzy and Stu Phillips, among other things.buddyebsen

The show included some of my favorites themes — “Mod Squad,” “Virginian,” “Green Acres,” “Addams Family,” “Wild Wild West,” “Hawaii 5-0,” “Peter Gunn,” “Gunsmoke,” “Room 222,” “Man from UNCLE,” and “Barnaby Jones — accompanied by the main title sequences on the big screens. The Rembrandts showed up play “We’ll Be There For You,” the Smothers Brothers did a schtick over clips from their variety show, and there was a nice set piece on great television choreographers. They also featured suites from “Deadwood,” “Jag,” and, as the big fireworks finale, “Battlestar Galactica.”

My nine-year-old daughter turned to me afterwards and said: “I think I’m beginning to like classical music.”

I thought about telling her nah, it’s just TV themes… then again, better she thinks of me as a man with refined tastes than as a big tv geek.

A Mickey Mouse Boob Job


Defamer reveals that Keira Knightley’s breasts were photographically enlarged for Disney’s KING ARTHUR ad campaign. See the photos for yourself here…and here

This isn’t the first time Disney has digitally altered the actress. They also reportedly erased her erect nipples in an early scene of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN.

So, I guess in the Magic Kingdom, the ideal woman has ample boobs and nipples that behave. Or is a very large mouse in a dress.

UPDATE: There was a wonderful analysis of the BEFORE and AFTER photos of Keira Knightley on the blog tagline…

Before: “Rrrarrrrgh, I’m a badass Celtic warrior princess. I’m not here to fucking seduce anyone. Come here, little man, and I shall rip your balls off with my teeth.”

After: “Oh, hiiiiiii. Listen, I think I must be lost. I was supposed to be fighting, like, an evil army, and you boys look way too cute to be evil! Don’t you like my halter top? It’s made of hemp.”

Harsh Reality

I’m a big fan of Discovery’s AMERICAN CASINO reality show… and one of the major “characters’ is Michael Tata, the nasty, back-stabbing, scheming 33-year-old vp of hotel operations at Green Valley Ranch Casino. Today, Variety reports that Tata was found dead in his home. Now there’s a twist the producers never imagined.

Tata was often shown feuding with hotel manager Ninya Perna as they sought to maintain the hotel’s high standards for VIP guests. Production of the series is ongoing, and the sixth of the 13-episode run will air Friday. Discovery wasn’t sure if or how it would pay tribute to Tata in an upcoming episode.

If Tata was murdered, and if this was a scripted TV show, Perna would be the obvious suspect, but my vote goes to the mousy exec Tata humiliated in a meeting by calling him “a human toilet who lets everybody shit on him.”

The staff of the Green Valley Ranch has hardly come off well in this series….the casino execs would have to be insane to participate in a second season of this show on their property, especially after this. But the big question is, if the ratings spike, will other reality shows knock-off their most-hated “characters?”

Another Unfair Attack on Fanfic

jeriryanThe funny folks at Defamer got in a dig at fanfic in their coverage of the Jack Ryan sex scandal…

I have a hard-time believing Jeri Ryan is the "most favored masturbation target" in the Star Trek franchise. Are they forgetting about DeForest Kelley?

Actress Jeri Ryan, best known as Seven of Nine, the most favored masturbation target in the history of the Star Trek franchise, alleges in court papers (filed in 2000) that her ex-husband pressured her to go to sex clubs and perform sexual activities in front of other couples. Oh, and her ex-husband is Jack Ryan, the Republican senatorial candidate from Illinois. (We’ll leave it up to sister blog Wonkette to detail the undoubtedly hilarious political implications). We just hope that they managed to keep the sex hijinks in da club and away from the hotel rooms at the Trekkie conventions. It’s way too early in the morning for us to handle the image of a Republican, Jeri Ryan, a guy in a Klingon mask, and a midget dressed as a Tribble banging away in a Borgy at the Burbank Ramada Inn.

[Ed.note–We don’t want any Trekkies writing in to tell us they like to jerk off to someone more than Seven of Nine. Just redirect that energy into writing yourself a fan-fiction orgy scene with the object of your intergalactic spank-attacks. OK, another fan-fiction orgy scene.]

Fan Bigotry

Space1999_2My dust-ups with the “Save Karina” fans the last couple of days… and a recent invitation to speak on a panel at Comic-Con next month… reminded me of something that happened at a Worldcon many years ago.

At the time, I was a writer for STARLOG, and the editors hosted a panel called “Meet the Starlog Writers,” or something like that. Much to my surprise, quite a few people showed up… though many of them were dressed as Klingons or trying to squeeze into Federation uniforms that were two-sizes too small.

Anyway, there were a lot of inane questions… (“if they did a mirror-universe episode of LOST IN SPACE, what color do you think their uniforms would be?”). Finally, one guy stood up and complained about how inane and stupid the questions were… how could people be some obsessed with such drivel when there were far more interesting and provocative issues to explore.

My ears perked up. Maybe something interesting was finally going to happen…

The guy said “It’s time we confronted the issue of fan bigotry.”

Wow. Fan bigotry. It sounded important. It sounded provocative. Though I had no idea what he was talking about…

The guy went on, “We can’t turn our backs to it any more. We can’t pretend it doesn’t exists. We must deal with the hatred and unfairness shown by Star Trek fans towards Space: 1999 fans once and for all!”

I must admit I broke out laughing…

The poor guy turned bright red, quaking with rage… “This is a SERIOUS issue!”

Of course, that only made it worse.

I wasn’t subscribing to VARIETY at the time, but I bet he took out an ad….

Where Have All The Cool Heroes Gone?

avengersthiefThere’s nobody cool on television any more.

Not so long ago, the airwaves were cluttered with suave spies, slick private eyes, and debonair detectives. Television was an escapist medium, where you could forget your troubles and lose yourself in the exotic, sexy, exciting world inhabited by great looking, smooth-talking, extraordinarily self-confident crimesolvers.

You didn’t just watch them. You wanted to be them.

When I was a kid, I pretended I had a blow-torch in my shoe like James T. West. That I could pick a safe like Alexander Mundy, seduce a woman like Napoleon Solo, and run 60 miles an hour like Steve Austin. I wanted to have the style of Peter Gunn, the brawn of Joe Mannix, the charm of Simon Templar, and the wealth of Amos Burke, who arrived at crime scenes in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.

But around the time coaxial cable and satelite dishes made TV antennaes obsolete, television began to change. Suddenly, it wasn’t cool to be cool. It was cool to be troubled. Deeply troubled.

TV cops, crimesolvers, and secret agents were suddenly riddled with anxiety, self-doubt, and dark secrets. Or, as TV execs like to say, they became “fully developed” characters with “lots of levels.”

You can trace the change to the late 80s and early 90s, to the rise of “NYPD Blue,” “Twin Peaks,” “Miami Vice,” “Wiseguy,” and “The X Files” and the fall of “Magnum PI,” “Moonlighting,” “Simon & Simon,” “MacGyver,” and “Remington Steele.”

None of the cops or detectives on television take any pleasure in their work any more. They are all recovering alcoholics or ex-addicts or social outcasts struggling with divorces, estranged children, or tragic losses too numerous to catalog and too awful to endure.

FBI Agent Fox Mulder’s sister was abducted by aliens, his partner has some kind of brain cancer, and he’s being crushed by a conspiracy he can never defeat.

CSI Gil Grissum is a social outcast who works knee-deep in gore and bugs while struggling with a degenerative hearing disorder that could leave him deaf.

Det. Lennie Briscoe of “Law and Order” is an alcoholic whose daughter was murdered by drug dealers.
Det. Olivia Benson of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” is a product of a rape who now investigates the worst forms of sexual depravity and violence.

“Alias” spy Sydney Bristow’s loving boyfriend and caring roommate were brutally murdered because of her espionage work, she’s estranged from her parents, one of whom just might be a murderous traitor.
I’ve lost track of how many of Andy Sipowitz’s wives, children and partners have died on horrible deaths on “NYPD Blue,” but there have been lots.

Master sleuth Adrian Monk solves murders while grappling with his obsessive-compulsive disorder and lingering grief over his wife’s unsolved murder. And Monk is a light-hearted comedy. When the funny detectives are this psychologically-troubled and emotionally-scarred, you can imagine how dark and haunted the serious detectives have to be not get laughs.

Today’s cops, detectives and crimesolvers work in a grim world full of sudden violence, betrayal, conspiracies and corruption. A world without banter, romance, style or fun…for either the characters or the viewer. Robert Goren, Bobby Donnell, Vic Mackey, Chief Jack Mannion… can you imagine any kids playing make-believe as one of those detective heroes? Who in their right mind would want to be those characters or live in their world?

And that, it seems, is what escapism on television is all about now: watching a TV show and realizing, with a sigh of relief, your life isn’t so bad after all.

I think I preferred losing myself in a Monte Carlo casino with Alexander Mundy or traveling in James T. West’s gadget-laden railroad car… it’s a lot more entertaining than feeling thankful I don’t have to be Det. Joel Stevens in “Boomtown” or live in the Baltimore depicted in “The Wire.”

At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon at my tender young age, I long for a return to escapist cop shows, to detectives you envied, who live in a world of great clothes, sleek cars, amazing apartments, beautiful women and clever quips. Detectives with lives that are blessedly free of angst and anxiety. Detectives who aren’t afraid to wear a tuxedo, sip fine champagne, confront danger with panache, and wear a watch that’s actually a missile-launcher. Detectives who are self-assured and enjoy solving crimes, who aren’t burdened with heartache and moral ambiquity.

Yeah, I know it’s not real. Yeah, I know it’s a fantasy. But isn’t that what television is supposed to be once in a while?

Congratulations, Naren!

Many years ago, when I was a supervising producer on Seaquest, we had a wildly enthusiastic story editor on staff who was justifiably frustrated by the scientifici silliness of our show. He was Naren Shankar, and I was thrilled to read in Variety of his recent success…

“CSI” scribe Naren Shankar has been upped to exec producer of the top-rated crime drama, inking a new seven-figure, multi-year deal in the process.
Shankar has been with “CSI” the past two seasons, most recently as co-exec producer. Deal with CBS, Alliance Atlantis and Jerry Bruckheimer Television is expected to keep the scribe with the show through May 2007.

“CSI” exec producer-showrunner Carol Mendelsohn — already at work on the fifth season of the Thursday-night blockbuster — said Shankar fits in well with “all of us on the show, who are preoccupied with death and murder. And he brought his own warped sensibility with him to the show.”Shankar also adds something else to “CSI” not usually associated with drama scribes — a Ph.D. from Cornell U. in applied physics. Scribe started out his showbiz career as a WGA intern and, later, a science consultant on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

So you can imagine what it was like for him writing on a show where the characters included a talking dolphin and a guy with gills. Still, he gave it his all… doing his best to make the show as good as it could be… against insurmountable obstacles (like, for instance, the concept of the show). Naren wrote arguably the best episode of the season, “Good Soldiers,” which revealed that goody-goody Capt. Bridger (Roy Scheider) was, in the past, the equivalent of a Nazi concentration camp guard who turned his back on horrific abuses.

It’s great to see nice guys… and friends of mine…doing so well!

Your Show Belongs to US, the Sequel

lwordLooks like some of the “Save Karina Lombard” organisers stumbled on my rant from a while back (“Your Show Belongs to US) and left some comments.

Who is Karina Lombard, you ask? Well, unless you’re watching THE L WORD (The L is for Listless), the lesbian soap on Showtime, you can’t be blamed for not knowing who she is. In fact, I doubt 95% of the people who do watch the show could tell you her name. Anyway, apparently her character isn’t coming back next season and it has a vocal minority of fans in a tizzy. On the Karina Lombard site, the welcome screen reads:

She has given us a priceless gift. The purity of her soul. We are drawn to her reality. Her spirit lives within us. We will not let her go.

Keep in mind, they’re talking about a TV CHARACTER. .. a sexually predatory bartender who seduces a guy’s fiance into the bliss of lesbian love…and, presumably, the purity of her soul. Or, worse, they’re talking about AN ACTRESS… who gives us the priceless gift of performing every scene as if she’s under heavy sedation.

Either way, it’s icky… and creepy.

Thank God Karina, or whoever she plays, can live on in the fanfic.

Hey, now there’s something to contemplate… listless lesbian soap fanfic. I wonder if anyone has started writing the QUEER AS FOLK/L WORD crossover fanfic yet…or, L WORD “slash fic”… where the characters have straight sex!