Germany Finally Gets It’s “Hannibal Lector” Series

It was announced today that ProSieben, a big German network, has bought the rights to air Hannibal, the new TV series from NBC, showrunner Brian Fuller, and French studio Gaumont. The series depicts the early relationship between FBI agent Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lector, who we all know is a horrific serial killer. 

I wasn't surprised by the news. ProSieben has long been interested in a series built around the concept. In fact, five years ago, they developed a series called Beauty and the Murderer, which was about a Clarice Starling-type homicide detective who discovers that the department's long-time psychiatric consultant is actually a prolific serial killer himself. She puts him away…but is stunned when the department continues to use the killer shrink as a consultant, even secretly bringing him out in chains to crime scenes to offer his insights. 

The network ordered  six scripts, including the pilot, and a twenty minute presentation film from the production company, a prolific supplier of TV movies for them. But early on in the development process, the project ran into trouble and the network brought me to Munich from the U.S. to redevelop the pilot script, set up the writers room, and oversee the writing of the five episodes.

The biggest problem that I saw was that the project was, basically, a beat-for-beat rip-off of Silence of the Lambs.  I knew I couldn't dismantle the concept they bought, so the key for me was to strip it of everything that smacked of that movie, and Hannibal Lector, and focus much more on the characters. So I tried to tone down the serial killer's Lector-like qualities and make the heroine as far removed from Clarice Starling as I could, especially in her relationship to him.  

The project was also unremittingly dark, so the other thing I brought in was some humor, which the network embraced but the German writers had a hard time with it. They didn't see how a show could be dark, but also still have some humor.  So the network asked me to write one of the scripts as an example…which I did.  You can read my first draft here.

All in all, it was a great group of writers, we had a terrific time, and we had a very supportive production company behind us that was eager to sell the project. I remember leaving Munich after a couple of months being very pleased with the six scripts that we developed and feeling good about the show's prospects, since I knew from the network that they liked what they'd read and were very pleased with my work (so much so, that they asked me to rush back and fix another troubled show, an X-Files rip-off, but I declined).  

The fate of Beauty and the Murderer all came down to the pilot presentation. And that's where it all went wrong.

In Germany at the time, they had yet to embrace the showrunner system. Directors were in still charge, and the guy that the studio brought in, someone who had never done a pilot before, didn't like the scenes or the series concept. So he re-wrote everything, taking out the humor and making every scene a horrible, laughable rip-off from Silence of the Lambs…and trashing months of hard work by seven writers. 

It infuriated me. I couldn't understand how the production company, after investing all the time and money in crafting the six scripts and developing a strong franchise, could stand by and let that happen. Why didn't they fire the guy and hire someone who would shoot the show that we developed…and that the network was expecting?

He's the director, they said. You can't tell him what to do.

Needless to say, the network took one look at that presentation and backed away from the project. They hated the demo film but, more importantly,  they lost faith in the production company's ability to ever deliver the show that was promised in those six scripts.

Now, it appears, ProSieben is finally getting the series that they wanted five years ago. 

UPDATE:  The pilot presentation is actually available on YouTube with English subtitles. Here it is:

The Tired Procedural

Ken Levine reveals on his blog today the tired formula behind  most of today’s procedural crime dramas. Here’s an excerpt:

[The hero] must have some supernatural power. He or she can read minds, has an amazing photographic memory, can remember every lunch he/she ever had, is a math whiz, or the most common – can see Fairy Tale characters. 

But with this gift must come a curse. They must be tortured emotionally. They must have a dark past. Their wife/sibling/child/imaginary friend has been killed and they’re still haunted by it. 

They’re only helping the police solve crimes as a way to better get in touch with resolving the unsolved circumstances of their dark past. The killer is still out there!  But only week one and the season finale.  Otherwise, it’s business as usual.  Solving crimes and tossing off zingers…


For the rest, check out his blog.

Boob Tube

Farrah_fawcett_011 Boobs are back on TV…and in a big way…this season with CHARLIE'S ANGELS, PAN-AM, and THE PLAYBOY CLUB, to name a few. As The Wrap reports:

Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D., the executive director for Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, suggests that, particularly in dour financial times, male viewers — not to mention the overwhelmingly male decision-makers at the networks — might be looking to retreat into less complicated, more comforting times.

"In times of economic and social upheaval and difficulty, nostalgia and a longing for an era when life seemed simpler tend to bloom," Lauzen said.

That could be especially true in an era when men — at least the ones not on TV, anyway — find themselves losing economic and social ground to the fairer sex.

"As women continue to gain economic, social and political power, there is always some sort of backlash, a desire to put women 'back in their place,'" Lauzen adds.

"These programs may reflect that type of wishful thinking."

Naturally, those involved with the series have a different take on the matter. At the Television Critics' Association press tour earlier this month, "Pan Am" star Christina Ricci dismissed cries of sexism, claiming that her series provides "a really great message for young girls and women … [Air travel] is something that's exciting for these women. We're as excited as the passengers are."

Never mind that the Pan Am stewardesses were subjected to mandatory girdle-wearing and weigh-ins. Or that the trailer for the series prominently features a clip of one of the stewardesses stripped down to her bra as she frantically changes clothes in the back of a taxi.

I,for one, can't wait for the new take on THREE'S COMPANY as a female-empowered show…with female empowered breasts.

Just One More Thing…

OB-OL738_pf14_E_20110624145933 I wrote about Peter Falk, and his portrayal of Lt. Columbo, for the Wall Street Journal today. I said, in part:

Before Peter Falk came along with his iconic portrayal of Lt. Columbo, TV detectives were never people like us. For the most part, they were a smug and self-assured bunch, comfortable in their mental, moral, and physical attributes and their obvious superiority over not only the bad guys, but everybody else, too.

They were smooth and elegant, like Gene Barry’s millionaire homicide cop Amos Burke, or stalwart do-gooders like Jack Webb’s by-the-book Joe Friday, or handsome tough guys like Burt Reynolds’s Dan August. We watched them because they were better versions of ourselves, wish-fulfillment caricatures who didn’t have our imperfections, our doubts, our anxieties. They weren’t so much characters as they were a means of escape from our dreary lives.

But we watched…no, we adored…Peter Falk’s Columbo because he was us:  an everyman, working class, messy, and imperfect, dealing with the physical and domestic woes we know so well, and constantly underestimated by wealthier, better-educated people as a result.



Take the Money and Run

L_a27c32717aa07da12a34161d16601927 Back when I was a teenager writing my .357 VIGILANTE books as "Ian Ludlow," my publisher thought it would be nice if I met some of their other writers who lived in my area. One of'em was "Pike Bishop,"  who was writing the DIAMONDBACK westerns.

So they set us up on a lunch.

I was expecting a leather-skinned, laconic cowboy with a boots and a Stetson…and he was expecting a hardened, streetwise tough guy.

Imagine my surprise when "Pike Bishop" turned out to be uniformed cop Paul Bishop...and imagine his surprise when "Ian Ludlow" turned to be, well, me…who was then a very geeky teenager.

But that lunch started a friendship that has endured for nearly thirty years (OH MY GOD, thirty years!?). In that time, Paul has become a highly decorated LAPD detective (twice named homicide detective of the year), nationally acknowledged interrogation expert, an acclaimed crime novelist (CITADEL RUN, TWICE DEAD, etc), and a TV writer (among his credits, three DIAGNOSIS MURDER scripts that he wrote for Bill Rabkin & me).

Now Paul can add another accomplishment to his list: TV STAR.

He's the star of ABC's new summer reality/game TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, from hitmakers Jerry Bruckheimer & Bertram van Munster, the team behind THE AMAZING RACE. Here's the description from the press release:

"Combining all the elements of an edge-of-your-seat spy thriller with the excitement of rooting for real people in different locales trying to outwit legitimate professionals, "Take the Money and Run" is an exhilarating competition series that will take reality television to a whole new level. The cat and mouse format will pit everyday people against real life law enforcement for a $100,000 prize."

The series premieres on August 2nd…and I, for one, can't wait.

Review: 101 Best TV Crime Series

9781842433508 I'm  a sucker for books about TV, so I couldn't resist nabbing Mark Timlin's 101 BEST TV CRIME SERIES.  Let me state at the outset than I am a fan of Timlin's books, so if I had a bias going in, it was a favorable one. That didn't last long. 

The pluses are that Timlin, a top-notch mystery author himself, is a real fan of the genre and he writes in a casual, easy-going style. As a whole, the book provides a nice overview of a bunch of UK series that are probably obscure and unfamiliar to most U.S. viewers. 

The cons, however, far, far outnumber the pluses. Apparently, Timlin's actual knowledge of the shows he's talking about isn't as strong as his admiration for them…and nobody bothered to fact-check the book, so it is filled with cringe-inducing errors and unfortunate omissions. 

For example: 

1) he refers to the lead of THE FUGITIVE as Dr. David Kimble when, of course, everyone knows it's Dr. RICHARD Kimble. 
2) He says the iconic IRONSIDE theme was composed by Oliver Nelson when it's actually among Quincy Jones' most famous pieces of music (Nelson supplied some of the episodic scores, but didn't compose the theme). 
3) He says that the Quinn Martin shows had a voice over that went "This has been a Quinn Martin Production" when, in fact, each show opened with the narrator announcing the name of the series, followed by the words "A Quinn Martin Production." 
4) He says the UK LIFE ON MARS began with DCI Sam Tyler walking down a Manchester street, listening to David Bowie on his iPod, when he's hit by a car. That is, in fact, totally incorrect, making this reader wonder if Timlin actually saw the show he was writing about. 
5) When discussing HARRY O, he says the hero was an ex-LA cop. He was actually an ex-San Diego cop. 

I could go on and on. Beyond the numerous errors, there's also a lack of detail. For instance, when referring to KOJAK, he mentions the 2005 remake with Ving Rhames but either completely overlooked, or was totally unaware of, the six KOJAK TV movies Savalas did on CBS, and later ABC, a decade after the original series was cancelled. In fact, almost all the entries suffer from a paucity of useful information in favor of irrelevant, personal asides by the author ("Oddly enough, it was 'Hill Street Blues' that got me my first video recorder; back when it started, I was offered a job driving a loser heavy metal band called 720. The show had just started and I took the job o the condition that the manager paid for the hire of a VCR. He agreed. Blimey the thing was the size of a suitcase…") Maybe Timlin is a celebrity in the UK, and the readers there are more interested in his asides than information about TV cop shows, but it doesn't play on this side of the pond. 

One other beef…I found Timlin including his own series, SHARMAN, among the best TV Crime Series to be more than a little self-indulgent (although he didn't write the entry, he had someone else do it, which only makes the inclusion feel even more self-serving). If only he'd given all the other series mentioned in the book the same loving attention as he did his own (he gives THE SOPRANOS three tiny paragraphs, but the short-lived SHARMAN gets four pages!). 

Overall, unless you can get this book at a major discount, I'd skip it.

A&E Loves Casting Australians as Americans

70075067 Matt Passmore, the Australian lead of A&E's hit detective series THE GLADES, may soon have some company from down under. The network has cast Aussie Robert Taylor, best known here for his role as Agent Jones in The Matrix, as the lead in LONGMIRE,  the pilot based on my buddy Craig Johnson's terrific series of books about Walt Longmire, the sheriff of Absaroka County, Wyoming (not to be confused with Jim Longworth, the Florida detective in THE GLADES).

Pictured: Taylor starring in the Aussie version of BALLYKISSANGEL.

Take a Hint

The print ads for the awful new TVLand sitcom RETIRED AT 35 feature the three stars of the show under the headline "When Your Career Goes South." I couldn't help noticing what's missing from the picture. See if you can spot it (click on the photo for a larger view):

The show's three stars are pictured, but only two are identified — George Segal and Jessica Walter. The poor guy who is at the center of the sitcom and the advertisement isn't mentioned at all. Apparently, his career has already gone south. If I was him, whoever the hell he is, I'd start looking for a new agent.