On the Tube

I gave in to my curiosity and watched the much-hyped, game-changing, earth-shattering, awe-inspiring sixth episode of DOLLHOUSE written by Joss Whedon. Yes, it was much better than the first two episodes of the series…but it still wasn't very compelling, believable or entertaining. I won't be tuning in to episode seven…and I suspect not many others will, either. MY OWN WORST ENEMY, which was similar thematically, was a lot more clever and engaging than this…and what happened to that show? It didn't survive the season. I suspect the same fate is coming for DOLLHOUSE. 

TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES is winding down for the season…and, if my guess is right, forever. The show has been on a downward spiral creatively this season..it never picked up from the high set by the season one finale (and never again matched the clever moment early this season when a urinal morphed into a Terminator). This episode, besides being dull, struck me as a big F-you to loyal viewers like me. SPOILER ALERT: Supposedly, John Connor knew for the last few episodes that Reilly was from the future and that Reese was sneaking around with the Asian chick, who he also knew was from the future. Yeah, right. If that's true, then none of his behavior this season makes any sense at all. It felt to me like a totally manufactured twist that the showrunners came up with on the spur of the moment. If it wasn't, it sure felt that way, which means they did a lousy job of setting it up. The payoff certainly didn't work. This series deserves to die…and it will.

The final episode of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was a very satisfying conclusion to the series, even if it didn't quite tie up all the loose ends (who or what was Kara Thrace anyway? They didn't explain how she stumbled upon her corpse on Ancient Earth). No matter. While it wasn't the greatest final episode of all time, as some critics were over-enthusing,  it did the job it set out to do and did it well. They even gave a nod to the original BATTLESTAR theme at the end. This is a series that, as a whole, will go down one of the best scifi shows ever.

DOLLHOUSE UPDATE: New Jersey Star-Ledger critic Alan Sepinwall sums things up nicely.

So, does "Man on the Street" change the way I think about "Dollhouse," about series television, about the classical tenets of storytelling and the merits of Aristophanes versus Brecht? Did it, in fact, cure my lactose intolerance? Well, no[…]But "Man on the Street" was a marked improvement over what's come before.

But he is curious enough now to stick with it. Not me.

BATTLESTAR UPDATE: Sepinwall has a lengthy analysis of the BATTLESTAR finale and the entire series that, on the whole, I agree with. I also agree with much of Jamie Poniewozik's take on it at the Time Magazine blog.

Heroes in Costumes

I've been approached to adapt a superhero comicbook so I've been catching up on a lot of superhero movies lately. I went to see a noon show of WATCHMEN this week and I was the only person in the theatre for the entire 27 1/2 hour running time. That should have told me something. 

I've never read the graphic novel, so I came into this cold, without any expectations or preconceptions. Bottom line: I thought it was a bloated, dreary, cliche-ridden, self-important mess. The only thing I enjoyed was the main title sequence. I hated everything else about it.

The truth is, I have grown weary of these dark, dismal, and yet ultimately simplistic superhero movies that substitute CGI-laden, over-the-top set-pieces for character and ingenuity. IRON MAN is my favorite of the bunch lately because at least it had a sense of humor and an unpredictable central character who wasn't wallowing in self-pity all the time. THE DARK KNIGHT was energized by Heath Ledger's brilliant performance as The Joker.

The only remotely interesting character in WATCHMEN was The Comedian, but, sadly, the movie wasn't really about him. It was about an all-too-obvious, supercilious James Bond bad guy and a glowing nude-guy with delusions of God-hood. Yawn. There wasn't a single character the audience could relate to…and the only "regular" people were either psychotic killers or innocent victims. It's hard to give a damn about a bunch of one-dimensional characters in silly costumes. And I thought the violence was gory simply for the sake of being gory…it added nothing to the movie. If anything, it detracted from it. The sex scenes were so clunky and awkward it was as if the actors, and the director, had never actually had sex before…but had simply read about it. The trailer for UP was more erotic.

WATCHMEN movie was preceded by a trailer for WOLVERINE, which also looks like another $150 million montage of CGI stunts (though it seems more entertaining than WATCHMEN). How many variations of superheroes tossing cars at each other can Hollywood churn out before the audience grows tired of it?

One of these days it would be nice to see just one superhero movie that doesn't revolve around morose people in ridiculous costumes tossing cars at one another and bemoaning their emotional isolation from an unappreciative populace. 

“Take Me To Your Leader, Lee Goldberg”

One of the biggest, most persistent, and bone-headed cliches in TV & movie science fiction is the alien and/or robot who enunciates every syllable when he speaks, doesn’t use contractions, and calls everyone by their full name. Where did these aliens learn English? From watching movies about space aliens coming to earth? They can master travel at light speed, but can’t figure out how to say “don’t” instead of “do not?” Or why doesn’t someone, as William Rabkin laments, ever tell them:  

“In English, we have a last name that we share with our family and a first name that uniquely identifies us. And if you want to pass unrecognized as an alien, it’s important that you learn this distinction.” 

So why does this ridiculous conceit continue in movie after movie? Pure laziness […]it’s such a hideous cliche by now that you’d think even the aliens would have figured it out…

Apparently, the new WITCH MOUNTAIN remake is the latest offender to perpetuate this hoary cliche…

Of course, the cliche that comes next is the alien asking “what is this thing humans call love?” If I recall, the bad remake of DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL pulled that one, too. 

Look up “Pathetic” in the Dictionary and this is what you will find

Trekkies who watch Star Trek reruns while sitting in their replica Enterprise Captain chairs and wearing costumes are the walking — or should I say sitting — definition of pathetic:

So what, beyond pushing buttons, do these men — as all Kirk chair owners appear to be — do with the most conspicuous piece of furniture in the room?

Some watch TV in theirs, or simply loll, and some seem to find the chair an empowering place from which to deal with others. “When we have a little family powwow — I have four children — I sit in it to lay down the law,” said Mr. Boyd, the auto parts manager.

And most, of course, indulge their fantasies, imagining doing battle with Klingons and otherwise cruising the cosmos. “Sitting in it,” said Mr. Bradshaw, the graphic designer, “I find myself striking an action pose quite unconsciously.”

To his regret, he must strike those poses in his home office. “My wife is not big on it,” he said. “I’ve actually been threatened with divorce if it comes into the living room.”

Customer Support Lines… for books?

William Rabkin blogs that he got contacted by the "Consumer Communications Department" at Penguin Books with a complaint about his PSYCH book:

We have a consumer complaint about pages 210-213. The consumer states that these are the only pages in the entire book that mention characters by the name of Kent Shambling and Nancy, and he says that there is no mention of these two characters leading up to this point and they seem to have nothing to do with the story.

It wasn't the complaint that surprised Bill…it was that Penguin has a "Consumer Communications Department."

Who knew that […]if I found a bit of a book I didn’t like, there were operators standing by to take my complaints? If I wrote to the CCD at Farar Strauss Giroux and pointed out that after almost a thousand pages of 2666, I still didn’t know who killed all those women in Mexico, would they send me back the name of the murderer?

I've never heard of this either. I wonder if all publishers have these hotlines and if they outsource their customer support to India like the computer companies do ("Hello, this is Rajneesh, how may I assist you with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo today? Is this a plot-related or prose-related problem?").

The Canadian Invasion

The attitudes of the major U.S. networks towards Canadian programming has changed dramatically since the success of the CBS import FLASHPOINT and the global economic crisis. Canadian TV distribution exec Noreen Halperin told The Globe & Mail:

"It's an extraordinary change in the lay of the land from even a year ago[…] The shift with some of the network presidents has been exceptional."

Last year's strike by the Writers Guild of America, she says, "paved the way, and allowed a show like Flashpoint to be sold. Once it aired and was a success, it made people take notice. That, coupled with the economic downturn, means all broadcasters are looking for interesting alternatives. The Canadian way is one of these," adds the TV veteran, who says Americans can save up to 50 per cent by splitting costs.

She brought Canadian showrunners Tassie Cameron and Ilana Frank to L.A. to meet with network chiefs to pitch their pilot script COPPER in hope of finding a U.S. home…and co-financing.

A year ago, Halpern adds, it would have been ludicrous to assume that Cameron and Frank – both highly respected on their home turf – would get easy face time with big U.S. players. But times have changed. CBS will make six fewer pilot episodes this year than in 2008, when 15 were produced. And everyone's feeling the pinch from the freefall in advertising.

"The U.S. networks, like the ones in Canada, are clamping down in an enormous way to find cost savings," says one veteran Toronto producer, who asked not to be named. "They're all pulling back on the kinds of salaries that actors, directors and writers are being paid. They're taking a week-by-week approach to green-lighting new shows or renewing old ones.

Canadian shows are continuing to find homes on cable networks like Lifetime, Ion and Oxygen, for whom shopping up north for cheap content is nothing new. But whether the high interest in Canadian programming at the Big Networks will continue probably depends more on economics than content, and whether CBS's second Canadian series, THE BRIDGE, and NBC's midseason pickup THE LISTENER (already an international success) can perform as well as FLASHPOINT. 

(Thanks to Denis McGrath for the tip)

Money Won and Lost today for Novelists in Hollywood

There was lots of news today about money being made…and lost…by crime novelists in Hollywood. 

Informant Media has optioned the late William Diehl's novel HOOLIGANS as well as the screenplay adaptation that he wrote. Diehl is perhaps best known for his novel SHARKEY'S MACHINE, a remake of which is in development at Warner Brothers as Mark Wahlberg project. Diehl's novels EUREKA and 27 are also in active feature development. It's a shame he wasn't this hot while he was still alive to enjoy it.

Clive Cussler probably wishes he'd never got a call from Hollywood.  He was just ordered by the L.A. Superior Court to pay Crusader Entertainment $14 million in legal fees after losing the lawsuit he filed against the studio over the film version of his novel SAHARA. The pricetag doesn't include the $13 million he's already paid his own lawyers. Naturally, Cussler is appealing. It must be nice to be able to afford to spend that much on lawyers.

Patricia Cornwell is someone who probably knows what it feels like to be that rich. She's just signed a deal with Munich-based Tandem Communications, which will produce movies for Lifetime based on her books AT RISK and THE FRONT. 

All You Need to Get a Movie Deal is an Old TV Guide, baking soda, and Richard Dean Anderson.

MacGYVER is the lastest old TV series being developed for the big screen. Raffaella De Laurentiis, Dino De Laurentiis, Martha De Laurentiis and series creator Lee Zlotoff are producing for New Line. 

"We think we're a stick of chewing gum, a paper clip and an A-list writer away from a global franchise," said New Line's Richard Brener.

The Skinny on Gun Monkeys

You may have noticed that I haven't talked much here lately about my TV and screen work. That's because I don't feel comfortable talking about projects that are in development and not yet a certainty. But since CrimeSpree broke the news about me scripting the movie version of GUN MONKEYS, I've been getting a lot of emails asking about me about the project.

I've always been a huge fan of Victor's book. In fact, we first met at the Edgars, where GUN MONKEYS was up for an award, and have been good friends ever since. About a year or so ago, I optioned the book and wrote a spec screenplay adaptation, which my agent then shopped all over town.  The script was strong enough that it got me "meet and greet" meetings at studios and production companies everywhere…and nearly got me a gig rewriting a Major Studio Action Movie, but that fell through (however, the aborted Major Studio Action Movie rewrite got me into business with the Director, with whom I have been out pitching TV series concepts). More on that whirlwind experience another time…

Eventually Two Hot Young Producers with deals all over town eventually optioned my GUN MONKEYS script, and with it my underlying option on Victor's book. They spent several months in negotiations with A Major Hollywood Star who was interested in directing the film…but not starring in it. That deal fell through at the last minute. 

Now the producers have attracted the interest of a Major Distributor and a Major Hollywood Agency is packaging GUN MONKEYS. They've also signed director Ryuhei Kitamura, who has an astonishing visual style but is better known in Japan than he is here (his only U.S. film was last year's horror flick "Midnight Meat Train"). That will change soon, whether it's with GUN MONKEYS or another film. I'm told that the script and the director make an attractive package and, for the last few weeks, another Major Hollywood Star has been circling the project. If he signs on, things should come together very quickly…but that's a big IF.  

I don't know whether all of this will lead to the movie finally getting made, but it has been a interesting ride for Victor and me. It has also given me a refresher course in the feature film business, which I've discovered is a completely different planet than the TV world that I have been living on for so long. More on that some other time…