Inside The Writers Room

Writer/producer Matt Witten talks with Deutsche Welle about the Media Exchange "Writers Room" seminars I’ve been doing with Action Concept in Germany. Matt sums it up pretty nicely:

American shows tend to be pretty fast-paced and vigorously structured,
and the way we structure the action and the conflict for our main
characters has been thought through in ways that are fresh for German
writers, they haven’t necessarily heard it described in these terms. So
it gives them a new way of looking at the writing they’re doing. They
were also intrigued by the fact that in America we have staff writers
who meet every day, and we have a head writer responsible for the
consistency of the show — "the show-runner." These concepts are new in
Germany, where there is no cohesion of writing staff. Instead, episodes
are written by freelancers who turn in maybe just two a year. Another
thing in American TV is that directors don’t have the power to change
the script without talking to the writer.

Diagnosis: DVD

TVShowsonDVD reports that the second season boxed set of DIAGNOSIS MURDER, which includes my first contributions to the show, will be released in June. Our mentor Michael Gleason (creator/EP of REMINGTON STEELE) was running DM during the second season and signed Bill Rabkin and me to write four freelance episodes, one of which turned out to be the season premiere. We were thrilled. But a few weeks later, we got hired as supervising producers on THE COSBY MYSTERIES. So we found ourselves balancing two jobs and two TV icons at once …Bill Cosby by day and Dick Van Dyke by night. We did it and somehow we even managed to write a pilot that year, too. Little did we know that our relationship with DIAGNOSIS MURDER was only just beginning.

Remembering Richard S. Prather

The appreciations for my friend Richard S.  Prather are coming in from all corners. Check out what J. Kingston Pierce, Ed Gorman, James Reasoner, Bill Crider, and Steve Lewis have to say.

Author  Stephen  Marlowe contributes an entertaining essay today on Ed’s blog about what it was like collaborating with Prather on a Shell Scott/Chester Drum novel, an idea cooked up by their mutual agent.

[…]Until then, we had never met. We developed the plot as
we went along, mostly by long-distance phone call. There were telegrams
too, including one that went something like "Body of Hartsell Committee
lawyer found in Rock Creek Park" that must have startled the Western
Union operator.

[…]Well, we finished that first draft by writing alternate chapters, as
those of you who read the book may remember, Scott narrating chapter 1,
Drum chapter 2, and so on–to a total of more than eight hundred
pages–enough for three Gold Medal books. Drastic measures had to be

Ever been out to the Coast? Dick asked me by phone. Nope, I
hadn’t. Well, said Dick, come on out and we’ll help each other cut.
How? I said. There was a silence. Maybe, I suggested half-heartedly, I
cut your deathless prose and you cut mine. Maybe, Dick said. Come on

So a couple of days later I flew out of Idlewild for LA, and
was met at the airport by Dick Prather and his wife, Tina, in a snazzy
pale blue Caddy.

    "It’s yours while you’re here," Tina said.


"Well, you see, we’ll work together at the house but we figured you’d
like some privacy, so we booked you a room at a seaside motel."

    "So the car is all yours while you’re here," Dick explained.

The Prathers were like that–private people but the best hosts I’d ever known.

“Oh, my naughty love, Tod thought. Where could you be?”

My Brother Tod is having lots of fun messing with the fanfic crowd over at Fandom Wank:

Just wanted to pop in to say that, no matter how much you hate Lee or
me, I’ve enjoyed reading all of this and several other posts beneath
this one. You guys are exceptionally funny. That you point out the
general fucktardery of your particular world is something I can get
behind. I’m hooked. Now, will someone write something about me where
I’m involved with Dave Navarro, Carmen Elektra and a dagget from the
original BSG? Seriously. You write it, I’ll put it on my blog. Just
make me skinnier and more handsome than I am.

And they’ve done it.  Tod is brilliant.

Woe is Me

Sorry I haven’t been around — jet-lag and technology woes have worked against me. Two days before I left for Europe, my desktop computer crashed. While I was away, my wife reported that my wireless home network crumbled, my Tivo locked up, and the brakes on my car failed. The day I got home, the power adapter for my laptop burned out (better then than on the trip!) and my wife’s laptop belly-flopped. I have spent the last few days fixing all of that…and myself, too (I really got nailed by jet-lag). And yesterday was my birthday, so I took a day off to rest up.

I have since ordered a new desktop computer, a new laptop for my wife, a new power cord for my laptop, reset my router (and added Range Expander to the system), and took my car into the shop. Everything should be humming  along again in the next few days. I’m even beginning to feel like myself again.  But the price-tag for all of those repairs/purchases is going  to be pretty steep. I’d better get to work!

Today I met with the casting director on a new movie/pilot I am working on, paid bills, sorted through the accumulated mail (email and snail-mail),  read two scripts for proposed Action Concept projects, and took a ton of clothes into the dry cleaner. Exciting, huh?

Which has left me with nothing really to say for the blog. I’ll be back soon, I’m sure.

Wheeler on a Roll

Congratulations to my friend Richard Wheeler on the starred review from Publishers Weekly on his new book CANYON OF BONES. They wrote, in part:

Spur Award-winner Wheeler adds this splendid 15th
volume to his superb Skye’s West series about
redoubtable mountain man Barnaby Skye…Wheeler is
one of the best western authors around today. He doesn’t rely on epic
battles or gunfights to tell his stories, relying instead on
fascinating characters, vivid imagery, subtle action and carefully
drawn historical detail.


Home Again

I’m back in L.A…and feeling the full wallop of jet-lag. My last day two days in Sweden were  rough — I got some kind of awful stomach bug that nearly sidelined me completely. As it was, I didn’t eat and hardly slept for 24 hours…and no sooner did I recover from that, I had to get up at 3 a.m. to make a 6 a.m. flight home.  Ugh.

Other than that,  I had a great time in Stockholm working with writer-producers, network execs, and studio development folks from Holland,  Norway, Belgium and Sweden.  I love these "cross-cultural" exchanges…I certainly learn a lot from the experience and I hope the others do, too.

I’ve been surprised to learn that often American television shows do better than the locally-produced programs, despite  the language and cultural differences. Production values play a part, of course, but I believe the success is due to the power of  franchise in American television shows. Our series  tend to have  concepts so distinct that they are clear whether the characters are speaking French, German, or Swahili. Look at CSI, MONK, LAW & ORDER, HOUSE…the concepts and characters are so strong, you can immediately grasp what the shows are about regardless of where you come from.

I also think American shows do so well  because of the four act structure, something that’s missing from virtually all European TV shows. The four-act structure creates a narrative drive that’s simply missing from most European shows that I’ve seen.  All you need to do is spend ten minutes watching a German or Swedish cop show and the difference is clear.

And it probably also has something to  do with the reliable consistency of U.S. shows…regardless of the series, viewers know that they are going to get the same show every week, only different. You know what you are going to get from CSI…the stories may change, but it’s essentially the same show week after week, year after year.

My job on this trip — along  with William  Rabkin and Matt Witten — was  to introduce the European writers/producers/execs to the principles behind creating and serving a franchise, developing stories within the four-act structure, and maintaining the consistency of a series. The people we worked with embraced the ideas we discussed and were very enthusiastic about applying the principles so that they can be more competitive both in their  own countries and internationally.

They Hate Me, They Really Really Hate Me

My brother Tod stumbled on a seething horde of  people who really, really hate me and he couldn’t be happier about it.

They are fucking hysterical. I mean this. I laughed my ass off reading
about their hatred of Lee, their dubious thoughts on me (they are
particularly upset with my poor grammar and word choice and misogyny,
which is basically what Wendy is upset with me about on a fairly
regular basis, but someone liked "Simplify" which thrilled me, as that
is, and always has been, my favorite story)  and then their rants on
other topics happening in and around fandom. I spent about thirty
minutes reading this website and I about pissed myself. I’ve actually
bookmarked it.

UPDATE (2-19-2007): Tod only scraped the surface. There’s much more Lee-hating to enjoy.

Sad News

I’ve just learned that my friend Richard S. Prather, author of the Shell Scott novels, died peacefully in his sleep last night at his home  in Sedona, AZ.  I spoke to him  a week or so before I left for Europe and he was thrilled about Hard Case Crime re-publication of  THE  PEDDLER.  I’m so glad the reprint happened for him before he passed away.