She-Wolf Memories

The Retropolitan fondly remembers SHE-WOLF OF LONDON, a little-seen syndicated horror/comedy/romance that Bill Rabkin & I wrote and produced years ago…

The show’s biggest asset was the likability of the two leads. Going back and watching the show years later, after most of my memories had faded, I sort of expected to see a prototype “Buffy and Giles” relationship between Randi and Ian; I thought I was in for forty-odd minutes of a stuffy Brit getting dragged into adventures by his feisty American student. Perhaps that was the way that it was originally envisioned (it certainly has the set-up for it), but the show turned into something closer in spirit to a screwball comedy, with Randi and Ian flirting and grinning through their mysteries. Hodge and Dickson had great chemistry, and it was as much fun to watch them get into trouble and bicker with one another as it was to watch the ghoul-of-the-week come to life.

Not That Stupid

I am not a master negotiator by any stretch. I get embarrassed when my wife haggles with antique dealers and I break out in a flop sweat whenever I have to buy a new car. But I’m not as stupid as the AMPTP seems to think I am. I wasn’t the least bit surprised by the timing of today’s front-page story in the LA Times about how important residuals are to writers …and the AMPTP’s subsequent announcement hours later that they’ve pulled the plan off the table in the interests of furthering negotiations.

Extending an olive branch to Hollywood’s restless writers, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers today said it would withdraw a controversial and deeply unpopular proposal on residual payments that had threatened to derail talks on a new contract when the current one expires Oct. 31.

The action does not mean the two sides are much closer to a deal, but it does remove what had been a major stumbling block in negotiations.

"In the overriding interest of keeping the industry working and removing what has become an emotional impediment and excuse by the WGA not to bargain, the AMPTP withdrew its recoupment proposal," Nick Counter, the industry’s chief negotiator, told guild leaders this morning.

Aren’t they sweet? Aren’t they caring? Aren’t they so reasonable? All the networks and studios want in return now is for the radicals at the WGA to pull their insane demand for a larger cut of DVD and new media revenues off the table.

Is there anybody who believes for one second that the demand for a complete revamp of the residual system was anything but a negotiating ploy? It was obviously a PR stunt to manipulate the media and play on the fears of the weakest-willed of the WGA membership.

The media may be gobbling it up ("Extending an olive branch to Hollywood’s restless writers.." !?), and also a lot of anxious below-the-line crew members who will be terribly hurt by a strike, but I’m not that stupid and I hope the majority of my fellow WGA members aren’t, either.

The AMPTP’s ploy reminds me of a trick that an old mentor of mine used to pull on the network. He would always add a scene to a script that knew the network would object to. And when they did object, he would fight for the scene as if it was the most important thing in the script to him. But later, when they were arguing over another point in the script, one that really did mean something to him, he would give in on the other, hotly disputed scene. It would appear to the network that he’d given up something very important to him, that he’d made a real sacrifice, and they would relent on the other scene…which, in fact, was the only scene he really cared about. He called those fake scenes his negotiating chips…and the network never caught on to his act.

I hope the WGA negotiating committee has caught on to the AMPTP’s…and that they stick to our reasonable demands and don’t fall for this obvious and insulting ploy. I see the fight over DVD and new media revenue as nothing less than a fight for the future of our Guild…a fight as necessary as the battles fought to get us residuals in the first place.

Are these issues that I believe are worth striking over? Hell yes.

Do I want a strike? No, but so often in the past when we have caved in to the AMPTP’s pleas to cut them a break on "new media" (like video cassettes and basic cable once were) by granting them a "temporary" residual system that gives us pathetically small percentage of the revenue, we have been rewarded by being stuck with that "temporary" system for good. We have been weak, and we have been played for fools, too many times before.

It’s time now to take a stand.


Biodog1t I’ve seen three episodes of THE BIONIC WOMAN (including the lackluster pilot) and it’s obvious to me what the big problem with the show is: Nothing happens. I mean it. Nothing. The show is called THE BIONIC WOMAN, yet the heroine never does anything bionic…which, frankly, is the main reason why anybody would watch in the first place. The most she did in the last episode I saw was toss around a couple of bored stunt men in a nail salon (yeah, a nail salon) and wince real hard until her nose bled. That’s what passes for bionic action these days. I’d take Lindsay Wagner running in slow motion over that. Hell, I’d ever prefer to watch Maxmillion the Bionic Dog fetch a tennis ball. The new, improved, re-imagined Jaime Sommers spends the bulk of her time whining and sulking around, working out on the standing sets, and engaging in painfully forced, wanna-be GILMORE GIRLS repartee with her sister and her co-workers. It’s obvious that the producers desperately want THE BIONIC WOMAN to be a hip cross between LA FEMME NIKITA, GILMORE GIRLS and the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, but they are so busy trying to mimic the look, feel, and rhythm of those series that they’ve overlooked the most important element of any show, old, new or "re-imagined": A compelling story.

The Power of Themes

It’s interesting to see the effect on an audience when they hear a beloved theme. The James Bond theme in a trailer always seem to elicit cheers. I still remember the enthusiastic audience reaction to just the finger-snapping theme in the trailer for for the Addams Family. The audience went wild. The STAR TREK, STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES, SHAFT, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and Harry Potter are among the many other themes that have that same power. We have a strong, emotional reaction to theme music. It evokes not only memories of the show, but memories of who we were, and what we were doing, at the time we were watching those movies of TV shows. You can’t buy that kind of instant audience reaction (which is why I am baffled by the decision of movie-makings NOT to use the themes for WILD WILD WEST and MIAMI VICE in the movie versions).

But there’s an aspect to theme music I never thought of. I recently bought screenwriter Christopher Wood’s self-published memoir JAMES BOND, THE SPY I LOVED (which you can order from and in the book he makes an interesting, almost throwaway observation relating to the emotional impact of a score on the screenwriter:

Now we have the credits and the delighted writer’s name in happy proximity to a seemingly naked, somersaulting girl whilst Shirley Bassey belts out the theme song of the movie (MOONRAKER). I like this song and it is hardly surprising. There is a form of umbilical cord that binds any writer to the music from a film he has written. I only have to hear a few bars from the score of CONFESSIONS OF A POP PERFORMER and tears come to my eyes — mind you, that score brought tears to a lot of people’s eyes.

The theme to MOONRAKER is almost universally despised among Bond fans (right up there with OCTOPUSSY), and yet I can totally understand Woods’ reaction. I have that same, emotional bond with themes to the shows I have been a part of. Who but the writer of the show would love, much less remember, the totally unmemorable themes to THE COSBY MYSTERIES, THE HIGHWAYMAN, or COBRA? It’s not because the music is any good, it’s because of the memories they evoke for me and the emotional investment I made in those shows. I have a ridiculously strong attachment to the themes from SPENSER FOR HIRE, BAYWATCH, DIAGNOSIS MURDER and SEAQUEST that have nothing to do with the quality of the music. They are on my iPOD and I listen to them more often than I care to admit.

Already the score of FAST TRACK has a hold on me — and it’s only been a few weeks since we completed the movie. The music will always remind me of my summer in Berlin, making the movie, and the fun I had. It will always remind me of my trip through Europe with my family. It will always remind me of my friends in Germany and the good times we have had together over the last year. Long after the movie is gone and forgotten, the music will still have this power over me and I’m glad.

Burnt and Spent

Reed Coleman writes in the October issue of Crimespree that he’s "burnt, seriously burnt, toasty, toasted, fried, and spent" from the grind of book promotion. He was in the midst of the BEA in New York when he finally had enough:

It was also the accumulation of the petty indignities: the tour dates when no one came, my name misspelled on book covers, press releases, and promotional posters. It was the blank stares from people who’d ask me if they’d ever heard of me […]It was all the dumb questions about when I’d be on Oprah, the dreadful panels, bad moderators, all the same old jokes. […]It was the thousands of dollars spent on rented cars, motels, bad meals, cab fare, air fare, and poured into the abyss of PR.

It’s a very honest article, one I am sure that a lot of authors can relate to. I certainly can. When I first started out, I scheduled as many signing as I could get up-and-down the West Coast and in key bookstores nationwide. I attended Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime every year and accepted just about every invitation to speak that came along. That has changed, not because I have become a bestselling author (I haven’t, not by a long shot), or because I have been traveling a lot for work lately, but because it’s not a productive use of my time or money.

I have books coming out so often, that it hardly makes sense to do more than two or three local signings for each of them – and even then, I don’t think it has any real impact on sales. Most of my novels now are tie-ins, and as much as I like to believe I have a following, I am realistic enough to know that the sales are driven by the success and promotion of the beloved TV shows they are based on. It’s the actor’s face on the cover, not my name, that is selling most of the books. But even for THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, I didn’t set up a big book-signing schedule or attend a lot of conventions.

There are some authors I know who are at every single convention, year after year. I don’t know how they do it…or how they avoid the boredom of hearing the same advice and anecdotes over and over again (from themselves and from others). When I go to conventions now, the only panels I attend are the ones I am on…or that feature first-time authors. That’s because I know the majority of the authors at these events and I have heard them speak dozens and dozens of times at conventions, signings, seminars, etc. As clever, funny, and intelligent as they are, I have heard it all before. Some writers have become more known for their promotional efforts and panel appearances than the books they write. (It must be equally boring for the attendees. If they get bored and overly familiar with you at conventions, does that translate into boredom and over-familiarity with you as a writer? My guess is that it does).

I end up spending most of my time at conventions these days in the dealers room, at the bar, or the hallways talking to readers, booksellers, and authors. That’s fun but is it the best way to be spending my time? Probably not. With the exception of Bouchercon, where I get a chance to see my agent and editors, I can’t really justify the time and expense from a business point of view.

So I’ve skipped a lot of conventions and I have been turning down far more invitations to attend events than I have been accepting. This way, when I do show up some place, I think it’s more fun, productive, interesting and fresh for both me and the readers who are there. I can’t wait for Left Coast Crime in Hawaii in 2009. Would I be as eager to go if I’d also attended Left Coast Crime in Bristol, Seattle, and Denver, Bouchercon in Alaska and Thrillerfest in NY? I don’t think so. Reed says:

I had let myself get farther and farther away from being a writer. It had happened by the inch, in tiny, almost imperceptible, increments. Whether I’d done it gladly with eyes wide open or had it foisted upon me was beside the point. I was no longer where I wanted to be, not even close.

He’s back at the keyboard, focusing more of his energy on the writing and less on the selling. I am, too.

Emmy is a Geek

I just got back from a night in geek heaven: the Academy of Television Arts and Science’s salute to TV Themes and Main Title Sequences. The sold-out event was held in the ATAS theatre and was hosted by Steven Bochco, Robert Vaughn, Lindsay Wagner, Maureen McCormack, William Daniels and Stacy Keach, to name a few, and included a terrific, and very funny, musical performance by John Schneider (yeah, the guy from DUKES OF HAZARD). The guests and honorees included Sherwood Schwartz, Vic Mizzy, Earle Hagen and Mike Post. Probably a hundred main title sequences were screened but the best parts of the show were my friend Jon Burlingame’s short, and often hilarious, interviews with Mizzy, Post, and Bochco. Unfortunately, I had to leave early (over two hours into the event!), in the midst of a salute to Earle Hagen, because my 12-year-old daughter (by far the youngest person in attendance) was falling asleep in her chair. It was a wonderful event and I could have sat there watching those main title sequences, and listening to the anecdotes from those amazing composers, all night long. It was just as entertaining as the two "Celebrations of Television Music"  that ATAS has sponsored at the Hollywood Bowl over the years and a lot more intimate. I  also learned a surprising fact tonight — the Emmys didn’t start giving an award for best main title song & theme until 1993. Think of all the classic themes and composers that never got the acknowledgment they deserved.

Hysteria and Paranoia over new MWA Standards

First, let me say I am speaking here only for myself an not on behalf of the MWA, the MWA Board or the Membership Committee. I am not claiming to represent the views of anyone here but myself.

There’s lots of hysteria being whipped up by a handful of aggrieved pseudo-publishers and self-published authors who are furious about the new MWA standards for active membership and approved publishers list.

They are, quite frankly, spreading falsehoods and stoking fear for self-serving reasons.

The pseudo-publishers don’t want to treat writers fairly and be more forthright about the kind of business they are actually running BUT they still want to be acknowledged by the MWA.

The self-published authors — and those who weren’t paid and whose manuscripts are only available via POD — want to be considered professional, published authors even though they aren’t.

Let’s tackle the outrageous falsehoods one by one…

1) Active members are being thrown out of the MWA. NO CURRENT ACTIVE MEMBERS ARE LOSING THEIR MEMBERSHIP STATUS as a result of the new rules. This is the most poisonous of the lies. It is being spread to stoke fear among authors who gained active status with books published by companies that are, for various reasons, no longer on the MWA’s Approved Publisher’s list.  The lie is being spread by certain "publishers" who don’t want to change their business practices to treat writers fairly or who don’t want to honestly state the true nature of their publishing business.

Anyone who was granted active status membership under the old guidelines will remain an active status member as long as they pay their annual dues.  And even if someone lets their membership lapse and then rejoins months or even years later, they will have the same status they had before (unless they are an affiliate member seeking Active Status).

2) The MWA is trying to "eliminate small publishers."  That’s ridiculous. There are many wonderful small publishers on the MWA’s list. By tightening our standards, the MWA is simply protecting writers from being screwed and maintaining the professional integrity of the organization and its members. 

We are weeding out "publishers" who are actually self-publishing companies, or are thinly disguised vanity presses (meaning they were founded by an author to primarily print his own work and those of his family, co-workers, etc.), or are "back end" subsidy publishers (meaning they pay a miniscule, token advance and then withhold royalties against a litany of non-standard charges), or are publishing primarily in POD (and therefore are not available in bookstores), or are engaging in deceptive, unfair, and unprofessional business practices that harm writers.

There are writers who will gladly sign horrible contracts or go with pseudo-publishers just to see their manuscripts printed in book form. But just because those authors are content to be screwed or be willingly misled doesn’t mean that the MWA should grant those companies the legitimacy and implied endorsement that comes with being on our Approved Publisher’s list.

That is NOT to say that all the companies who have been denied approval are dishonest. Far from it. But many do not pay advances, or have minimal prints runs, or only publish in POD, or publish only a couple of authors besides those who run the company, or haven’t been in business long enough to establish any kind of reputation.

Active Status members are professional writers…and professional writers are PAID for their work. Publishers who don’t pay writers for their work don’t meet our standards of professionalism.

Professional publishers publish books and distribute them to bookstores for sale.  That is their business. If they aren’t publishing a minimal number of authors and a decent number of books, they aren’t running a  business…they are enjoying a hobby. 

Publishers who are also authors, and who publish fewer than five other writers, are essentially operating a self-publishing operation, not a publishing company.

Two years of business creates a history by which we can judge whether the publisher is actually a publisher (meaning more than a vanity operation), if they are financially sound (actually paying authors advances and royalties), and if they are reputable business people.

3) The MWA is an "old boys" club and an elitist organization. That’s actually partly true. We aren’t an "old boys" club but we are, to some degree, elitist. All organizations have guidelines for membership and, therefore, practice some degree of exclusion. 

Our active members are professional writers. We, therefore, have to create and maintain standards of what we define as “professional” and what defines “publication.” Among those standards are that professional writers are paid for their work, that their novels are published, and that their books are distributed to bookstores.

In a world where anyone with a credit card and the web address of POD service can call themselves a “published author” or a “publisher,” it’s even more imperative that the MWA maintain strict guidelines of what constitutes professional publication. The MWA will cease to be a respected organization if we don’t have high standards and if we don’t maintain them in the face of a changing marketplace. Our membership criteria isn’t even as extreme as the SFWA’s.

Anyone who is excluded from gaining Active Status membership (or being on the Approved Publishers list) will feel the title grants an elite status and that they are being excluded from enjoying the benefits that come with it. So, to that degree, yes, the MWA is an elitist organization.

4) The MWA is eliminating publishing opportunities for writers and their chances to expose their work to the public. We are not, in any way, limiting publishing opportunities or exposure for authors. All we are doing is establishing criteria for books that we will consider for Edgars and for publishers we will consider for our “approved publisher” list. You can publish your book with any company you want…but you may not qualify to enter the Edgars or become an Active Member of our organization. That’s your choice.

5) These new rules actually hurt writers. That’s the biggest lie of all…and the one the pseud0-publishers really want you to believe. These new rules protect aspiring writers and current members alike from being taken advantage of by vanity presses, less-than-reputable publishers or companies whose practices don’t meet accepted professional standards in our industry. The new rules assure that only publishers who pay writers for their work, publish their books, and distribute them to bookstores receive the implied endorsement that MWA approval brings.

As result of the MWA’s new rules, I hope authors will be more careful about the publishers that they do business with…and that more publishers will hold themselves to higher ethical and professional standards in the way they treat their authors and conduct their business. 

A Novel Twist on Self-Publishing

Author Archer Mayor’s  CHAT, the 18th book in his "Joe Gunther" series is about to be published by Grand Central Publishing later this month and St. Martin’s Press has just signed for books 19-21…but his back list of 17 previous books in the series are out-of-print. So Mayor, a death investigator for Vermont’s medical examiner, mortgaged his house and lined up investors to publish all the previous Gunther books himself. Publishers Weekly reports:

Mayor said he was encouraged to bring back his books in part because of his consistently good reviews. The New York Times Book Review has called him “one of the most sophisticated stylists in the genre.” And Publishers Weekly has
given six of his books starred reviews. He is also a recipient of the
New England Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Fiction.
Despite the attention, his books still average only 18,000 copies in

He’s focusing his efforts on a regional approach, sticking to his local stomping ground but hitting it hard.

Mayor has 88 signings over the next two months. “I’m going to
cover New England like a wet T-shirt,” he joked. He kicked off the
campaign by taking a table at the NEIBA trade show in Providence last
month, where he got orders for 300 units. The sales rep for Hachette
even gave him a stack of galleys for Chat so Mayor could promote the new book with his backlist.

“We ordered tons of his new editions,” said Lynne Reed, co-owner of
Misty Valley Books, who has Mayor on her fall events schedule. “I think
once we get all the books back in stock, people will be very happy.
They want to start with the first book in the series and read them
straight through.”

Mayor is being conservative with his initial print runs, 500 trade paperbacks of each.

Unlike other self-publishing ventures, Mayor has several advantages. He is starting with titles that he was paid to write and that were previously published,  were well-reviewed and already have a following among readers and, most importantly, booksellers.

On top of that, he has four new novels coming established publishers that will have national distribution and that could stoke interest, and sales, in his previous titles.

He also made two very smart and realistic decisions — he avoided the POD vanity presses for his venture and he’s focusing his sales and promotional efforts on one region of the country, rather than trying to blanket the nation. 

I’m sure that lots of other mid-list authors with a big back list and a new book in the offing will be watching how he does, but I doubt that many of them have the financial resources or the guts to attempt the same  high-stakes gamble.