Remakes and Sequels A-Go-Go

Variety reports on a slew of remakes and sequels today. Disney has signed Johnny Depp for a fourth PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie and he will play Tonto in a new LONE RANGER flick (honest, he will!).  Warner Brothers is bringing back Will Smith in a prequel to I AM LEGEND. And Sony TV and Geffen Records are developing a remake of THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY, which will be written by Jeff Rake of CASHMERE MAFIA.

Still Clueless After After All These Years

I am in Berlin…and too busy and jet-lagged to post, so here’s some feldergarb-from-the-past. This post is from Sept. 2004 is about a group of fans clamoring for the return of  "Battlestar Galactica" with the original cast…despite the fact that there’s a hit revival of the show already on the air.   What’s even more amazing is that these clueless morons are still at it, three years later…

Yesterday in Variety, a bunch of clueless morons calling themselves The Colonial Fan Force ran a full-page, color advertisement clamoring for a "Battlestar Galactica" movie starring the original cast.

Millions of fans still dream of seeing the Battlestar
Galactica roam the heavens once more in a big screen continuations of
the epic story that began in 1978 with the original cast and characters
leading a new generation of warriors

Yeah, right… there are millions, no TENS of millions, of fans
clamoring for the return of Herb Jefferson, Laurette Sprang, Dirk
Benedict, and Richard Hatch (who is not nearly as powerful an actor as
the nude guy of the same name on "Survivor"… nor as successful). I
suspect the real audience is about 100 fat guys in their 40s, who at
this very moment are busily duping all their Heather Thomas videos onto
That said, I am always amused by the losers who spend their comic book
money on pointless ads like this (or, worse, the ones who publish a
synopsis of, or excerpt from, their unsold screenplays). The
advertising guys at Variety and the Hollywood Reporter must laugh
themselves silly with glee every time one of these suckers comes in.

In the case of the "Battlestar Galactica," the folks at "The
Colonial Fan Force" urge the readers of Variety (most of whom are
entertainment industry professionals) to write writer/producer Glen A.
Larson and Tom DeSanto, a guy who once tried to launch a movie version
of the TV show. This shows just how little the people who paid for this
ad understand about how the business works…and even sillier when you
consider the SciFi Channel is already in the midst of shooting a new
"Battlestar Galactica" TV series from NBC/Universal Studios with an
all-new cast led by Edward James Olmos.

I suppose we have Gene Roddenberry to blame for this, ever since he
cleverly engineered the so-called "viewer campaign" to save "Star Trek"
from cancellation. So now we get ads demanding the return of dull
supporting characters axed from TV shows (the "Save Marina" campaign on
"The L Word" comes to mind) and from the millions of fans still crying
over the demise of "Manimal." I’m looking forward to the "Bring Gloria
Reuben back to MISSING" ads… maybe the Colonial Fan Force can take up
the cause.

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t joke. This "Battlestar Galactica" stuff is
serious business, as is clear from the Colonial Fan Force website:

We’ve got to buckle down, and get to work. It’s going to be
up to each member of fandom to make sure our efforts come to fruition.
The CFF and its leadership will remain active in coordinating fan
efforts as much as possible, but everyone reading this page has got to
accept individual responsibility for making sure that we, as a group,
rise together and speak with one voice. None of us can afford to think
that "someone else will do it." We’ve all got to find some time (and
some stamps), and make it happen. We’ve got to make some collective

This would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Think of all the truly
worthy causes that could benefit from the same time, effort and money
these morons are devoting with such earnestness to this idiotic

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Tit for Tate

I am getting lots of hits today from people looking for information about the vanity press Tate Publishing. Here’s what I wrote about the company last year, when I got the following email from someone…

My daughter (14 years
old) recently submitted (through her school) a children’s book that she wrote.
  Surprisingly, she received a contract to publish her book from Tate
Publishing.  However, they are asking us to invest almost $4,000.  I am simply
trying to determine if Tate is a vanity publisher, POD publisher, or what?  I
want to support my daughter, but I want to be educated first.  I cannot find
much on the internet about Tate Publishing.  Any information you could provide
would be greatly appreciated.

can’t imagine why any school or responsible teacher would submit
student work to a vanity press, but that issue aside, here’s what I
told her (which will be familiar to any of you who read this blog on a
regular basis):

Legitimate publishers pay YOU, not the other way around. Any publisher that asks you for money in return for "publishing" your
book is a vanity press.  If you are intent on publishing your
daughter’s work in book form yourself, go to iUniverse, it’s a hell of a lot cheaper.

Here’s another email I received about Tate:

What can you tell me about Tate Publishing Co?
Unfortunately, I have already invested almost $ 8,000 in 2 books, both of
which are now published. I visited their offices twice, met the staff and felt
they were legit Christian organization.

don’t know what being Christian has to do with anything. What makes him
think that a Christian won’t rip him off? I guess he ‘s unfamiliar with
most TV evangelists and their "send me your cash" brand of faith and
spirituality. But that’s a different issue. As far as Tate goes, I told
him basically the same thing I told the other person: 

are a vanity press. I’m sure you can find some legit Christians at
another vanity press who will print your manuscript in book form for
much less money.

This is Why Producers Like Shooting TV Shows in Canada

The Drake Hotel in Toronto is offering sex toys on the room service menu, according to USA Today. Vibrators, massage oils, condoms, velvet restraints and how-to videos can be sent up the guests. The "pleasure kits" start at $35:

The 19 room Drake is a boutique hotel that attracts artists and actors. The aim is service that complements the hotel’s artsy image.

"We see ourselves as a bit of a trailblazer," owner Jeff Stober says. The racy room service menu […] is "in keeping with the theme of sex that has always played a role in artistic works. We are embracing that artistic spirit."

Actual embraces cost extra. They aren’t the only Toronto hotel that’s added sex-centives. The Grand Hotel, where our MISSING directors liked to stay, provides two channels of free, 24-hour porn, for their guests (for the record, I stayed at the Cambridge Suites, which offered no such goodies).

If Governor Arnold wants to keep movie production in California, he can forget about tax incentives and renegotiating with unions. Free vibrators for every member of the film crew! Sexual surrogates sent to the door of every screenwriter faced with a production rewrite!

The Lady with the Great TV Series Idea

Since I’m out-of-town, and you all seemed to enjoy my recent re-post about the San Francisco Writers Conference, here’s a rerun of a 2004 post about an experience I had at Sleuthfest in Florida…

I was a guest at Sleuthfest in Florida a few years back and after one of my panels, a woman approached me saying she had a great idea for a television series. Even better, she already had 22 scripts written and a list of actors she felt were perfect for the parts.

All I had to do, she said, was sell it and we’d both be rich.

I get this a lot.

So I asked her, what if I was an engineer from General Motors? Would you approach me with a sketch of a car and expect me to manufacture it?

“No, of course not,” she said. “That would be stupid.”

So was her suggestion that I run out and try to sell her TV series.

And I told her so. Politely, of course.

The thing she didn’t understand is that networks don’t buy ideas. They buy people.

Or, as the old saying goes, ideas are cheap and execution is everything.

Take NYPD Blue, for example. It’s about a bunch of cops in a precinct in New York. Not the greatest, most original idea in the world, is it? But that’s not what ABC bought. They bought Emmy winning writer/producer Steven Bochco doing a series about a bunch of cops in a precinct in New York.

The network was buying Bochco’s track record and experience in television. The idea was a distant second.
When the network buys a series, they are investing $50 million. They aren’t going to hand the kind of cash to somebody who hasn’t proved they can write, produce and deliver 22 episodes a season.

So, that’s what I said to her.

She told me I wasn’t listening. She already had the idea and the scripts. All she wanted me to do was sell the show. And produce it. And send her the big bags of money for her great idea and brilliant scripts.

I could see it from her point of view. She wanted a short-cut into television and finding a producer to hitch herself to seemed like a good one. A lot of other people have had the same idea, which is why I get pitched series all the time. From my mother. My gardener. My pool guy. The rabbi at Bill Rabkin’s wedding.

I even got pitched during a proctology exam. In middle of a very delicate procedure, the doctor started telling me his great idea for a TV show: the thrilling story of a proctologist who’s actually a suave, international jewel thief.


The truth is, it’s highly unlikely that any TV producer wants to hear your ideas, whether it’s after a panel at mystery convention or while you’re shoving a camera up their rectum.


Well, for one thing, it’s rude.

For another, television is a writers’ medium. The majority of TV producers are writers first and producers second. Every one of us wants to sell a TV series of our own. It’s the dream. It’s the chance to articulate your own creative vision instead of someone else’s. It’s the chance to not only write scripts and produce episodes, but also have a piece of the syndication, merchandizing, and all the other revenue streams that come from being an owner and not an employee. It’s the chance to become the next David E. Kelly, John Wells, J.J. Abrams, Stephen J. Cannell, Dick Wolf, Aaron Spelling, Donald Belisario, Glen A. Larson, Steven Bochco, or one of the other members of that very small, very elite, very wealthy club of creator/owners.

Getting to the point in your career that networks are interested in being in the series business with you isn’t easy. You have to write hundreds of scripts, work on dozens of series, and build a reputation as an experienced and responsible producer (Or you have to write and produce a huge hit movie, which often leads to an invitation to work your same magic in television). The point is, you don’t work that hard just to share the success with someone else who didn’t have to work for it.

Which brings us back to the basic rule of television: ideas are cheap, execution is everything. We want to sell our own ideas to the networks. Producers like me aren’t interested in your idea unless, of course, you’re asking me to adapt your best-selling novel or hit movie into a TV series. But that’s different, because you’re bringing something valuable to the deal, a pre-sold commidity with commerical and promotional value.

I told her all of that, too.

She just glared at me.

“You just don’t get it,” she said to me. “I’ve got a great idea. I’ve got 22 terrific scripts. You won’t have to do any work.”

No, I said, you’re the one who doesn’t want to do any work. You don’t want to learn the craft of screenwriting. You don’t want to struggle to get that first freelance script assignment. You don’t want to compete to get on a writing staff. You don’t want to work for years on a series, moving up from staff writer to producer, gaining experience and skill and becoming someone the networks want to be in business with. You want to bypass all of that and go straight to having your own series on the air.

“Well,” she said. “Yeah.”

At that point, I gave up. I did what anybody in my position would do. I pointed across the lobby at Jeremiah Healy.

“Go tell him your idea,” I said. “Maybe there’s a book in it.”

And then I ran away.

Forgive me, Jerry!

Lori Prokop to the Rescue

It’s been eight months since I last wrote about Lori Prokop  (best known for her Book Millionaire debacle) and I often wonder what she’s up to these days (surprisingly, she’s finally gotten around to excising me from her spam mailing list). Maybe while I am away, this post from March 2006 will inspire someone to check up on Lori Prokop for me.

Onephoto_1_2 Lori Prokop, the self-described "selfless supporter of families, children and animals," is apparently tired of blogs like this one mischaracterizing her as a get-rich-quick huckster. In fact, "her life goal is to advance the well-being and enlightenment of humanity" when she isn’t selflessly striving to help the downtrodden "achieve the goal of Best Selling and Celebrity Status"  and showing "people how to choose most any car off the showroom floor and drive it free while our company makes your payments."

So Lori Prokop, who "lives in and creates from the upper energy levels of life  (Anyone can choose to live and create in these powerful upper levels as detailed in Lori Prokop’s Life Guidance System)," is tackling the problem as only she, Lori Prokop, can:

Blogs are a powerful force for good in the hands of those people living in their upper level energies/emotions and less-than-good in the hands of those living in their lower level energies/emotions. (Continue reading to learn about the Energy Mastery System.)

Lori Prokop has an upcoming work being release called, “Launching from Good to Great Online,” which is a definitive work on blogs where she interviews leaders and experts in blogs and human psychology.

I, for one, am looking forward to this definitive work which, no doubt, will be published by Bestseller Publishing, the vanity press run by future Nobel Prize winner Lori Prokop, who describes herself in her fascinating and definitive mass mailings as "Leading Expert, Author and Creator of books, CDs,DVDs, Online Videos, workshops, television shows, speaking and more!"

To learn more about this selfless individual, who has  profound "respect and humanistic regard for all species," (She is, afterall, the visionary who asked the burning question: "Where are the best sellers by Doctors of  Chiropractic?”) just read her previous definitive books, like "Awaken Your Million-Dollar Intuition," "77 Streams of Super Lucrative Income for Authors, Experts and Speakers," and Employee No More: How to Stay Home and Still Make Money."

You, too, can feel her humanistic regard, especially for those species who possess a Visa or Mastercard.

How To Write a Treatment

This was originally posted back in June 2005…but since I get asked this question a lot, and I am on a plane to Germany right now, I thought I’d share it with you again.

Bryon Stedman  asked me this question in a comment to another post:

I have a situation where a broadcast entity claims they want to hear my idea for a boxing series or made for TV movie. The characters belong to my family from a comic drawn by my father.

If a narrative is they way to go, what are the key points to include? Do I go as far as dialog and cameas shots and locations or simply text with main characters CAPITALIZED? Advice requested and appreciated.

A series treatment and a TV movie treatment are very different. A series treatment sells the characters and the franchise of the show…the relationships and format that will generate stories week after week. A TV movie treatment sells a story.

If the studio is already familiar with your Dad’s comic, I don’t know why they need you to come up with a series treatment…the strip itself sells that or they wouldn’t be interested in the first place.

A series treatment isn’t about telling a story…it’s about describing the characters, how they interact within the unique format of your show. Who are they? What do they do? And how will who they are and what they do generate 100 interesting stories?

For a TV movie treatment, you’re selling the characters and their story.  At this point, you’re trying to sell the broadstrokes…they can pay you to work out the rest. Write up a punchy over-view of what happens in the story, as if you were writing a review of a great movie (only minus the praise). You want to convey the style and tone of the movie. But don’t go into great detail. Keep it short, tight and punchy.And whatever you do, DON’T include camera shots or dialogue.

Don’t fixate on treatment format, because there isn’t one. Tell your story in the style that works best for you. Don’t worry about whether the character names are in capitals or not (it doesn’t matter). Concentrate on telling a strong story.

Breaking In

I’ve been looking at my stats and I’ve noticed that there are some posts that people are repeatedly searching out. I’ll start reposting some of them for those of you who only started following this blog in the last year or so. This one is from November 2005 and is also available as an article on the Writers University website…

How do I become a television writer if I don’t have any contacts?

I get asked this question a lot…but it’s disingenuous, since I’m a TV writer/producer and whoever is asking me that is really asking me to either read their script or to invite them in to pitch. So, theoretically, they already know somebody in the business.

They’re luckier than I was when I got started. I didn’t know anybody in the TV industry. But I got in. How did I do it? Everybody’s story is unique. Most of those stories, however, share one common element. You have to put yourself in the right place to get your lucky break. And it’s easier than you think.

The first thing you have to do is learn your craft. Take classes, preferably taught by people who have had some success as TV writers. There’s no point taking a class from someone who isn’t an experienced TV writer themselves.

You’d think that would be common sense, but you’d be astonished how many TV courses are taught by people who don’t know the first thing about writing for television or who, through a fluke, sold a story to Manimal twenty years ago and think that qualifies them to take your hundred bucks. Even more surprising is how many desperate people shell out money to take courses from instructors who should be taking TV writing courses themselves.

There’s another reason to take a TV writing course besides learning the basics of the craft. If you’re the least bit likeable, you’ll make a few friends among the other classmates. This is good, because you’ll have other people you can show your work to. This is also good because somebody in the class may sell his or her first script before you do… and suddenly you’ll have a friend in the business.

Many of my writer/producer friends today are writers I knew back when I was in college, when we were all dreaming of breaking into TV some day.

A writer we hired on staff on the first season of Missing was in a Santa Monica screenwriters group… and was the first member of her class to get a paying writing gig. Now her friends in the class suddenly had a friend on a network TV show who could share her knowledge, give them practical advice and even recommend them to her new agent and the writer/producers she was working with.

Another route is to try and get a job as a writer/producer’s assistant on an hour-long drama. Now only will you get a meager salary, but you will see how a show works from the inside. You’ll read lots of scripts and revisions and, simply by observation, get a graduate course in TV writing. More important, you’ll establish relationships with the writers on the show and the freelancers who come through the door. Many of today’s top TV producers were writer/producer assistants once. All of the assistants I’ve had have gone on to become working TV writers themselves… and not because I gave them a script assignment or recommended them for one. I didn’t do either.

The first step towards getting into pitch a TV producer for an episodic writing assignment is to write an episodic teleplay on spec.

By that I mean, a pick a show and write an episode for it.

Although there are some producers who prefer to read screenplays, most showrunners, agents, and network executives want to read an episodic teleplay. Even if your spec feature script has acceptable levels of dialogue, characterization, and structure, people thinking of hiring you will still wonder “yes, but can he handle my characters? Does he understand the four act structure?” An original piece can demonstrate that you have a strong voice, but it doesn’t show whether or not you blend that voice with ours. Can you write what we need without losing whatever it is that makes you unique? That’s why we need to see your talents applied to a TV episode. To someone else’s characters. To someone else’s voice.

How do you pick a show to spec? Easy. Pick a show you like. Odds are, if you’re thinking about trying to become a TV writer, you already know what show you want to spec — you just don’t know you know. It’s the one you watch every week, and when it’s over, you find yourself thinking: That was pretty good, but wouldn’t it be cool if —"
Don’t worry about what’s hot and what’s not – choose a show you feel a connection to, one that you “get.” With some exceptions:

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Is a Story Really Necessary?

I got an email from a reader asking for a copy of this post from February 2005, so I thought I share it again with everyone…

I spoke at the San Francisco Writers Conference about screenwriting and
breaking into television. Afterwards, I was cornered by a senior
citizen who showed me his scrapbook from his days in Hollywood and
rambled on endlessly about all the stars he met. I don’t know why he
wanted to share this with me…but we had to go through every single
page, clipping and photo. Then I mingled with the attendees,  got asked
some incredibly stupid questions and had some bizarre conversations.
Here’s a sampling…

"I’ve written a novel and everyone tells me it’s a script," one woman said. "How do I turn it into a script?"

"Well, you write a script." I said.

She stared at me. "How do I do that?"

"You get a book or take a course, learn the principles of screenwriting, and then you write a script."

"That’s too much work," she said. "Isn’t there software that can do all of that for me?"

"Yeah," I said. "The same way Microsoft Word wrote your book for you."

* * * * * *

Another person came up to me and asked me if I wrote for television. I said yes.  She then asked, "How do you do that?"

"You mean, how do I write for television?"

"Yes," she said.

"I write screenplays," I said.

"Which is what, exactly?"

"The story, the action, the words that the characters say," I replied.

She stared at me. "Somebody writes that?"

"Yes," I said, resisting the urge to strangle her. "It’s like a
writing a play, only for the camera instead of a theatre audience."

She shook her head.  "No, it’s not."

* * * * * *
"I’ve written  a book but everyone tells me it s a TV series," the man said.  "How do I make it into a TV series."

"You can’t, " I said, and gave my standard speech about how ideas
are cheap and execution is everything, how networks go to people with
TV experience, or who have written hit movies, or who have written
bestselling novels, blah blah blah.  And when I got done, he stared at
me. I got stared at a lot today.

Hee said:  "How can I get around that?"

"You can’t," I said.

"Why not?"

"Because you haven’t established yourself  as a writer in any
field," I said. "Why would a network, studio or producer buy a TV
series idea from you?"

"Because I’m smarter and more talented than they are," he said.

"It’s not going to happen," I said.

"Is it because I’m black?" he said. "That’s it, isn’t it. It’s because I’m black."

* * * * * *

"Did you have to sleep with a lot of people to get into TV?" a woman asked me.

"Just my wife," I said.

"You were lucky it wasn’t someone else," she said and walked away.

* * * * * *
"I have a great idea for a movie," a woman said to
me. "What’s the market like for true stories about black lesbians in
the 1880s?"

"I don’t think studios are looking for scripts to fill that
particular niche," I said, "but there’s always a market for good
stories that are told well."

"Oh," she said. "That’s going to make it a lot harder to sell."

* * * * * *
"Mysteries are hard work,"  a man said to me. "Could
I write an episode of a mystery show but leave out the mystery for
someone else to do?"

"No," I said.

"But my talent is character and I’m brilliant with dialogue," he said. "I really don’t know how to plot a mystery."

"Then don’t write a mystery," I said.

"But that’s what’s selling," he said.

"Don’t try to write what’s selling," I said. "Write what you enjoy. Write the story you want to tell."

"The thing is, I don’t know how to tell stories," he said. "But I write killer dialogue. Is a story really necessary?"

"Yes," I said.

"You people in Hollywood don’t make it easy, do you? That’s  the
problem with the Industry. They are constantly creating obstacles so
people can’t get in."