Batman Flies Again

Variety reports that Christian Bale is returning to play Batman in THE DARK KNIGHT, which will feature Heath Ledger as The Joker (quite a turn from Jack Nicholson).  Christopher Nolan will direct the movie, which will be written by his brother Jonah (from a story by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan). The movie is already set for release in May 2008, up against the so-far-untitled 22nd Bond movie and IRON MAN.

Back from Germany

I returned from Cologne late last night. It was a great experience working with the German writer/producers and it looks like I may be going back soon to continue what I started.

On the 7 1/2 hour flight from Dusseldorf to LA, I worked for a bit on DM #8, which is due this week, and watched BASIC INSTINCT 2, which was a horrendeous piece of shit (except for the production design, which was great. You know an erotic movie is bad when you’re appreciating the locations and sets and not the people who are fucking).

On my flight from NY to LA, I sat across from a gregarious and very friendly rap star named Flavor Flave or Flave Flavor or Flaky Flavor. I don’t know, I’m all jet-lagged and out-of-it today. He wore a wall clock around his neck, which I thought was odd and rather uncomfortable (and he had spares in his carry-on bag). But he was a nice guy and seemed to have boundless energy.

Next to me was a Hassidic Jew who wore the big, heavy black overcoat, the hat, the whole thing…he smelled like ten men’s locker rooms. He was pleasant, but isn’t there such a thing as Kosher deodorant?

Behind me, was this young girl, in her late teens or early 20s. At one point in the flight, she took out a fancy camera from her bag and began scrolling through some pictures. The man next to her, who was perhaps in his late 40s or early 50s, asked if she was a photographer. She said she was an aspiring one, and that she’d just spent a few weeks in Paris taking pictures, and that she’d interned at some newspaper or magazine, the name of which I didn’t catch. He then introduced himself — I didn’t get his name, but apparently he’s some famous photographer for magazines like Esquire, Vanity Fair, etc.  She knew who he was, of course, and nearly wet herself in surprise.  So for the next six hours, this kind man gave her a tutorial in photography, answering her questions, showing her examples, reviewing her photos, and giving her advice in a very professorial sort of way (he  mentioned at one point that he’s taught before).

I didn’t understand all the stuff they were talking about, but I certainly picked up on her excitement at this opportunity and her respect for the man she was seated with. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for that girl.  It would be as if I was 18 or 19, got on a plane and happened to be seated next to Larry McMurtry or Stephen J. Cannell. Of course, this sort of thing is far more likely to happen in First Class than coach.

At the end of the flight, she thanked him, saying that never in her wildest dreams did she think she’d ever meet him. He said it must have been meant to happen, gave her his card and wished her luck in her career.  I thought it was great. I only eavesdropped on the whole thing, but I felt her excitement and I was struck by how attentive and nice the man was (there was no hint of hitting on her or anything like that, by the way. He was very fatherly and polite).

Tonight, I have my class at UCLA and a mountain of mail to catch up on… not to mention a book to finish writing!

Our Worst Script

Ken Levine writes today about the worst script he and his partner ever wrote.

In 1993 my writing partner, David Isaacs and I did a short run series
for CBS called BIG WAVE DAVE’S starring Adam Arkin and David Morse. It
ran that summer, got 19 shares, kept 100% of MURPHY BROWN’S audience
and was cancelled. At the time CBS had starring vehicles in the wings
for Peter Scolari, Bronson Pinchot, and the always hilarious Faye
Dunaway so they didn’t need us.

We were given a production order
of six with three back-up scripts. We assigned the first two back-ups
to our staff and planned on writing the third ourselves. When the show
was cancelled we put in to CBS to get paid for the additional scripts.
They said fine, but we had to turn in the completed scripts. Gulp!

Bill Rabkin and I had almost the exact same experience on SEAQUEST. We’d already turned in the outline for for episode 14 when we got cancelled. But in order to get paid for the teleplay, we had to write it. We did it in one day, while we were packing up our office. I still live in fear that some sf fan will stumble on a bootleg draft at a scifi convention, post it on the net, and people will think we actually write that bad. I’m in Germany now, or I’d post an excerpt. I’ll try to remember to do it when I return.


Greetings from Germany

Whenever I go into those airport bookstores, I always wonder who buys those Penthouse and Playboy magazines. Now I know. On the flight from JFK to Dusseldorf, there was an elegantly dressed  German business man in the first classs row beside me casually browsing the Penthouse pictures and Playboy centerfold during the flight, leaving the magazines open in front of him as the stewardesses served him his drinks and snacks. The stewardesses seemed unfazed by it but I found it pretty bizarre.

It’s my third day here in Germany teaching the American approach to TV writing and "showrunning" to a dozen local writer/producers. They are eager, open-minded and enthusiastic to learn how we do things. For them, the four-act structure and the notion of a series "franchise" is a revelation. We’ve been screening episodes of American TV programs and analyzing the structure together of the stories and the overall series concepts. Today, we’re going to look at some of their programs and explore how the four-act structure, and a clearly articulated franchise built on character-based conflict could improve the shows they are already working on. I’ve been having a great time and eating like a moose. At night, I’ve been hammering away at my eighth DM novel, trying to get it done to make my deadline. The temperatures here are in the high 90s and the Germans are really suffering — they aren’t used to this kind of heat.  It was 118 at home when I left, so for me this is almost winter.

Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing

This coming Friday, July 28th, the USA Network is airing a very special episode of "Monk" entitled "Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing," which was written by yours truly and Bill Rabkin.

Bill and I have written a few episodes of "Monk" before and, to
be honest, the show has spoiled us. They fly us out to Summit NJ for a
week, all expenses paid (which is, by itself, a dream come true. Who
wouldn’t want to spend a week in Summit?) to sit around laughing with
the "Monk" writing staff. I’ve never had so much fun plotting and, best
of all, it’s hundreds of miles from the nearest studio or network

So when "Monk" creator/showrunner Andy Breckman asked me a year or so ago if I would like to
write some original "Monk" novels, I jumped at the opportunity. Sadly,
the deal didn’t include any free trips to Summit NJ and I had only
eight weeks to write the novel. But "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse"
ended up being a lot of fun to write and, much to my delight and
relief, Andy really liked the book, too. He liked it so much, that he
thought it would make a dandy episode of the show.

"It almost writes itself," he said, mainly because it was, well,
already written.

I immediately called Bill, my screenwriting partner, and told him the
good news. He was thrilled. We both were. And why shouldn’t we be? We’d
be getting another trip to Summit, NJ, we’d have another chance to hang
out with the fiendishly clever "Monk" staff, and it would be the easist
script to write ever — mainly because it was, well, already written.
This trip would almost be a paid vacation. In Summit, NJ! Does life get
any better than that? I think not.

But there was an especially geeky reason for me to be thrilled. There
have been plenty of novelizations of TV episodes, but as far as I know,
there has never been a TV adaptation of a TV tie-in novel. "Mr. Monk
Goes to the Firehouse" would make TV tie-in history (If there is such a
thing as TV tie-in history. If there isn’t then there should be. Maybe
even a TV tie-in museum. If it can’t be at the Smithsonian, I say let’s
put it in Summit, NJ).

A week or so before the trip, Andy called up, very excited. He’d been
noodling with some ideas for the "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse"
episode. He wanted to make one tiny change in the story.

"What if Monk is blind?" he said.

It was a very funny idea which, of course, meant throwing out just
about everything in book. But I honestly didn’t mind and neither did
Bill (even though it meant that writing the script would actually mean
doing some work). Every time we write for "Monk," our goal is to tell a
great mystery that’s funny, touching, entertaining and uniquely,
undeniably, unmistakeably Monk. And this certainly would be.

So the first thing we did was set aside the sacred text and start from
scratch. All we kept from the book were the basic bones of the mystery
plot and a couple of clues. Everything else had to arise from the
predicament of Monk being blind. We even changed the title to "Mr. Monk
Can’t See a Thing" to reflect the new central conflict of the story.

As usual, we had way, way, too much fun plotting the story and were
impressed, once again, by Andy’s unerring ability to find the emotional
center at the heart of even the broadest comic moments.

When we turned in our script two weeks later, I couldn’t help thinking
that it would have made a hell of a good book.

Greetings from the Swiss Air Lounge

I am sitting in the Swiss Air business class lounge at JFK, awaiting my flight to Germany. On the LA to NY flight, I sat across from Norman Lear. I managed not to stare or chat him up. What could I have said that he hasn’t heard a thousand times before? Still, it was cool to see that he picks his nose just like the rest of us.

More later…

Nightlife Afterlife

Variety reports that DreamWorks Pictures is developing a feature film version of my friend Thomas Perry’s novel NIGHT LIFE, which will be written by Ehren Kruger (THE RING) and produced by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci (ALIAS, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3).  The book is about a female serial killer who changes her identity after every murder and is pursued by a female detective.

In other book-to-film news, Ed Conlon’s book BLUE BLOOD is the basis for a new Fox TV pilot, to be written by Neil Tolkin and directed by Brett Ratner. The proposed series will be about a Harvard grad who becomes a rookie NYPD police officer.

New Hope for the Dead

TV Critic Chuck Barney reports that the flop WB sitcom pilot NOBODY’S WATCHING, which got a lot of hype and thousand of hits when it was "mysteriously" posted on YouTube, has received an order for six scripts from NBC. The network will produce some original "webisodes" while they ponder whether or not to order the series.   You can expect to see a lot more busted pilots "mysteriously" showing up on YouTube now…

Mr. Monk and the Bestseller List

I’m pleased to announce that my novel MR. MONK GOES TO HAWAII was the
#8 bestselling mass market paperback at Barnes & Noble stores
for the week of July 9-July 15.

1. Devil Wears Prada  by Lauren Weisberger
2. The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
3. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
4. DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
5. Eleven on Top by Janet Evanovich
6. A Fistful of Charms by Kim Harrison
7. Pirate by Ted Bell
8. Mr Monk Goes to Hawaii by Lee Goldberg
9. 4th of July by James Patterson
10. The Bormann Testament by Jack Higgins

Barnes & Noble Store Bestsllers are based on nationwide sales at
Barnes & Noble stores. They are updated weekly, based on the
previous week’s sales.