Proving that TV Series Bibles are Pointless

The NY Times reports that the producers of 24, LOST,  THE OC, and DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES have no clue how their seasons will end.  As if you didn’t know. We know they don’t know. The presidents of the networks seem to know it, too (if you believe what they say in the article). The only people who don’t seem in-the-loop on this are development executives, who often want to know before the pilot is written every detail of the hero’s life…who all his relatives are and what they do… and who is best friend was in preschool. But the fact is…none of that matters. And even if the writers tell you, it’s bullshit. They’re gonna toss the bible as soon as they get the series order.

After the
network ordered the first full season of "24," the writers presented a
huge map of the entire first season. The blueprint, however, didn’t
endure. "We used to obsess over that in Year 1," Mr. Cochran said. "You
know, Oh, God, let’s story out as many episodes as we can. We always
got in a lot of trouble with that because if you try it, you end up
locking yourselves into things that don’t really work and it gets
really contrived."

After his four seasons of "24," Mr. Cochran endorses the same approach:
save big decisions till the end of the season. The writers and the
audience, he insists, will then enjoy the benefits of a looser process.
"At the beginning of the season, we certainly don’t know," he said.
"Halfway through, we certainly don’t know. As we’re writing episode 16
or 17, we start thinking in a very general sort of way, where we’d like
to end the season."

It’s the same on shows with a far-less restrictive franchise.

"Lost" and "The O.C.," along with "24" and "Desperate Housewives,"
are high-profile serials with substantial, devoted audiences, but no
one – not writers, not network executives and not viewers – knows
exactly how they will end their seasons. Their writers, like others in
Hollywood, are trying to devise the perfect season finale – with little
time to spare.  According to interviews with writers from all four shows, their finales are unshot, and mostly unwritten.

So forget about "bibles." They’re pointless. What counts is a strong pilot script and a showrunner with a vision.

SeaQuest Meets Baywatch?

I worked on SeaQuest, with an enormously phallic submarine, Roy Scheider, and a talking dolphin. I also worked on Baywatch, with an enormous collection of fake boobs, Monte Markham, and a talking David Hasselhoff.  So you can understand my miss-givings when I read in the NY Post that,  in a union spawned in hell, the two are coming together.  Steven Spielberg, exec producer of  SeaQuest, is bringing Baywatch to the big screen.  Save yourself while there is still time.

House as Dr. Sloan’s Son

The folks over at  Toobworld are pondering who should play the father of  Dr. Greg House (Hugh Laurie) on Fox’s hit  HOUSE M.D.  They’ve settled on Dick Van Dyke… as Dr. Mark Sloan.  Here’s their thinking:

From a production viewpoint, [the] obstacles could be smoothed over.  It’s from the inner reality of the plotline that we might face a few arguments.  Most of all, it’s the fact that there was never any mention of a second son for Dr. Mark Sloan in all the years ‘Diagnosis Murder’ was on the air.
He had two children – Steve Sloan, a Los Angeles police detective who often worked with his dad in solving cases;  and a daughter who was tragically murdered.  Added to this is the obvious difference in their last names – Sloan and House.

I’m not the only one who can see the obvious answer, right? Greg House is the illegitimate son of Mark Sloan.

The days when our TV heroes were cast as exemplars of virtue are long gone. Nowadays they have flaws, and foibles, and failings – they are the F-Troop. They make mistakes in Life, but eventually they admit to them and they rise above them. (Unless of course we’re talking about Detective Vic Mackey of ‘The Shield’.) That’s what makes them human, what makes them real. And what makes them interesting to watch week after week. Having been the bastard son of a noted crime-solving doctor on the West Coast might be a great explanation for some of Dr. House’s acerbic attitude towards the rest of the world at large. And a chance to rectify that situation with a renewed relationship with the father he never knew might provide for as many episodes as they wanted to run with it; perhaps a once-a-year type of reunion.  And nothing says they HAVE to iron out all their differences. After all, we don’t want House becoming all sweetness and light – that’s not why he’s
become such an interesting character for the audience.

There’s only one excuse for someone giving this idea so much thought.  Procrastination. The same reason I am posting this instead of plotting my next (the seventh!) DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel.  How’s that for irony, eh?

Editing Your Life

I’m always amused by the way some actors and writers edit their credits, trying to pretend that some of their work never existed (you don’t hear Michael Mann talking about his days on VEGA$ much). Jessica Alba has been doing a lot of that credit-editing lately as she promotes FANTASTIC FOUR and SIN CITY. In her GQ interview, for instance, she charts the course of her career like this:

At 13 she decided to give acting a try and immediately found herself cast in an episode of the TV series Chicago Hope, playing a teenage girl who contracts gonorrhea of the throat from her 30-year-old boyfriend. Imagine explaining that
to your pastor. Next, at 16, she joined the Atlantic Theater Company
Acting School in Vermont, founded by David Mamet and William H. Macy,
where she was drilled in contrapositive Pygmalion fashion, on the intonation of lines like, “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!

She forgets to mention that, between her gigs with David E. Kelley and David Mamet,  she spent three years in Australia as a regular cast member acting opposite a zany dolphin on THE NEW ADVENTURES OF FLIPPER  (you don’t see Emmy & WGA Award winning writer Terrence Winter hiding from his producing gig on that show… he even mentioned it in his Emmy acceptance speech. That’s being a man. That’s integrity, bucko. In fact, I’ll admit here and now I worked on FLIPPER, too… and, even worse, THE HIGHWAYMAN).

Alba wants you to think she just burst onto the scene with DARK ANGEL. Speaking of bursting, let’s talk about Dave Gardetta, the horny reporter who was interviewing Alba and aching to go more, much more, in-depth :

Alba made an off-color joke about lawyers, and she glowed: Her skin
glowed, her hair glowed, her lips glowed. Where once her carnal
features—lips, breasts, posterior—seemed preternaturally swollen, as if
in a dead-heat race to burst from her skinny, teenage frame, now Alba
and her twenty-three-year-old body have settled into delicacy and grace
and balance while still drawing chat-room catcalls like “Damn! Shortie
got back!”

Down, boy. And later he writes:

And then one day her body rebelled against God. Her teenage breasts bloomed; her buttocks began straining against her dungarees.

You can almost hear him panting as he beats the keys on his computer…or something further south.

At The Movies

Victor Gischler posted a list on his blog of 25 movies that have most influence his writing… and my brother Tod quickly followed up with a list of his own. I would have a much easier time listing the TV shows that have influenced me but, off the top of my head, here’s my list, in no order whatsoever, with lots of films left out that I will regret that I forgot to include:

  1. Jaws
  2. About  Schmidt
  3. Harper
  4. Get   Shorty
  5. Fiddler on the Roof
  6. Terms of Endearment
  7. Lost  in America (actually, any Albert Brooks movie except Defending Your Life)
  8. Alien
  9. Tao of Steve
  10. The  Terminator
  11. Goldfinger   (all the Bond films, even the bad ones)
  12. Return  of the Pink Panther (all the Pink Panther movies, even the bad ones)
  13. La  Femme Nikita
  14. Funny Girl
  15. Cider  House Rules
  16. Wizard of Oz
  17. Broadcast News (particularly one line in one scene)
  18. Fistful of Dollars (the whole Man with No Name Trilogy)
  19. Dirty Harry (all the Dirty Harry movies, even the bad ones)
  20. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  21. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  22. Chinatown
  23. The Incredibles
  24. Patton
  25. Jackie Brown

Gee, looking at that list, you can really get a keen sense of  my astonishing lack of depth. Now imagine what my writing must be like…

Spur Awards Announced

The Western Writers of America announced the winners of the coveted Spur Awards,  the Oscars of western-writing. The winners will get their statues at the WWA convention in Spokane in June.Vengeancevalley

Best First Novel: FIELD OF HONOR by  D.L. Birchfield (University of Oklahoma Press).
Best Original  Paperback:  VENGEANCE VALLEY by Richard S. Wheeler (Pinnacle) [his fifth win!]
Ednah New
Rider Weber
(Lee & Low Books)
Western Novel
: BUY THE CHIEF A CADILLAC by Rick Steber (Bonanza Publishing)

Best Novel of the West:  PEOPLE OF THE RAVEN (Forge) By Kathleen
O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear
[Best Western Novel is for books under
90,000 words; Novel of the West goes to longer works

by Thom Hatch of Calhan, Colo. (John Wiley & Sons).

Harris III and Louis R. Sadler of Las Cruces, N.M. (University of New Mexico

Nonfiction-Historical: BEASTS OF THE FIELD Richard Steven Street of San Anselmo,
Calif. (Stanford University Press).

Short Nonfiction: BLOOD FOR OIL by Jim Doherty of Chicago
from the collection JUST THE FACTS (Deadly Serious Press).

PROMOTION by Larry D. Sweazy of Noblesville, Ind., from the anthology TEXAS
RANGERS (Berkley).

Juvenile Fiction: FIRE IN THE HOLE! by Mary Cronk Farrell of Spokane,
Wash. (Clarion Books).

Drama Script: HIDALGO by John Fusco of Burbank, Calif. (Touchstone Pictures/  Disney).
Documentary Script: WILD WEST TECH: DEADWOOD TECH by Laura Verklan of North
Hollywood, Calif. (executive producer Dolores Gavin, The History Channel).

Poetry: A
THOUSAND MILES OF STARS by Walt McDonald of Lubbock, Texas (Texas Tech
University Press).

Storyteller (illustrated children’s book): APPLES TO OREGON by Deborah
Hopkinson of Corvallis, Ore. and illustrator Nancy Carpenter of Brooklyn, N.Y.
(Simon and Schuster Children’s Books).

Congratulations to all the winners! Richard Wheeler offers this amusing anecdote about his Spur-Award winning novel VENGEANCE VALLEY:

This one has a cowboy brandishing a gun on its cover, even if there are no cowboys with guns in the novel. That’s part of the paperback mystique. Almost all western pocketbooks have cowboys with guns on the covers. That’s done so that readers of westerns, who are usually ancient bald males will big and gaseous bellies, can identify them. Vengeance Valley  was the title of a famous Zane Grey novel so the publishers probably thought to get a free ride by giving this story the same moniker. The author had named it Yancey’s Jackpot  but in the world of
mass-market paperbacks, authors’ titles are summarily executed.
This cover is especially egregious because the story takes place on a mountain ridge instead of a valley, and there is no  vengeance in it, and no cowboys with guns in it.

I wonder if Richard has considered putting Dick Van Dyke on the cover of his next book. It has certainly helped my sales.

Remember HUNTER?

It’s not often you see a review of a 15-year-old rerun airing in syndication…but this week, Entertainment Weekly spotlights an episode of HUNTER written by my buddy Morgan Gendel.

This 1990 Hunter ep is titled "Unfinished Business" but I call it "the one where
Hunter and McCall have all the sex." After six years of stake-outs, innuendo,
and lingering looks over dead bodies, Rick and Dee Dee finally get it on in a
series of positively Bergman-esque flashbacks– and a shiveringly unresolved
ending. Mulder and Scully got nothin’ on this heat. Truly, the crap cop show’s
finest hour. Episode: A. Series: C+. TVLand, March 25th at 1 pm.

I’m sure it was the best episode. Morgan has a knack for writing the episode everybody remembers…no matter what series he’s on.  For instance, his STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION episode "The Inner Light" was an instant classic, a Hugo-award winning script that every other STAR TREK series felt duty-bound to ripoff at least once, and sometimes twice (most recently on the ENTERPRISE episode "Twilight").

Another Brilliant Idea for a TV Series That Will Change the Very Course of Mankind

I got this email today:

Dear Mr. Goldberg,

I read the story about the woman who wanted a shortcut into the television arena. I can understand where she’s coming from on that. But how about the individual who doesn’t have 22 scripts or wants to make  the big bucks? How about the individual who has an idea that begs for a  collaborator…and you don’t know who to call (man! the theme from Ghostbusters
haunts after all these years!!!)? What if the idea isn’t a different type of children’s show? What if it is a story that is based on something Jews, Christians, and Muslims would buy into? What if it is show Oprah would love if  her staff would listen to someone who doesn’t have an agent (again? Who do you
really go to here?)? What if it is a show that NARAS would love because it would help the sales of music, and the industry would appreciate because it helps young writers showcase their talent? There are so many "what ifs" that Creed would have a run for their money. Simply put. Some guys have that place on the perch and others who want to get half way there…just don’t know how. But all it takes is just someone to reach out and give someone a chance (ah! yes, the theme from Mahogany….) Such is life…

Here’s how I replied:

I’ve answered this one so many times, I should probably just use a boilerplate.  So here’s the shorthand version. Again.

Ideas are cheap, execution is everything. No one buys ideas. What the networks are buying are scripts and proven producing skill.  BLIND JUSTICE is not a  great idea.  What ABC bought was Steven Bochco and his stellar writing/producing team doing a show about a blind cop.  It doesn’t matter whether your idea will appeal to Jews, Muslims,  Christians and lovable chipmunks.  No one cares whether Oprah, Ellen, or Biff The Talking Wonder Chimp would love your idea or not.  No one cares if your idea will revolutionize the entire entertainment industry, the American culture, and life as we know it.

No wants to hear your idea. Especially me.

Virtual Bookworm

I got this email today:

I am considering publishing with Virtual Bookworm. I saw them listed on your list. Anymore you can tell me  about  them.

They are a print-on-demand publisher, also known as a "vanity press." They will not get your books distributed to stores. They will not promote your book. And you will have difficulty getting the book reviewed or taken seriously by anyone (not to mention selling any copies). You may have even more problems than that… just a simple "Google" search on them turns up nothing but complaints and warnings, like this one:

Writer Beware has received a number of complaints about Virtual Bookworm. Most involve unpaid royalties, or royalty statements that don’t reflect the actual  number of books sold. Some authors are looking into legal action.

I found all that out in about 8.5 seconds. Have you done any research at all yourself? If so, you wouldn’t be asking me about them.  If you are intent on paying to have your book published, try  iUniverse.

California Girl

There’s been a lot of hoopla surrounding T. Jefferson Parker’s CALIFORNIA GIRL, including an Edgar nomination, but  (you can probably see where this is going) I was underwhelmed. T.J. Parker  is one of my favorite writers and I look forward to each of his books. While I liked CALIFORNIA GIRL, I didn’t think it was his best work or the crowning achievement of his career, as some of my friends have said. To me, that honor has to go to SILENT JOE, which is still my favorite of his books.  I also liked LAGUNA HEAT, BLUE HOUR and RED LIGHT a lot… and more than CALIFORNIA GIRL (then again, you can’t go wrong with any of his books).

That’s not to say CALIFORNIA GIRL isn’t a fine book with lots going for it… but after all the hoopla, and the terrific books of his that preceded it, I was expecting more. Perhaps that was the problem…the reviews and the acclaim amped my expectations way too high.