Fanfic Rant II

Karabair defends fanfic on her blog

I think some of these real TV writers need to breathe. Lee Goldberg writes for "Diagnosis Murder," so I’m not sure exactly what kind of artistic or professional integrity he’s protecting. On the other hand, anyone who writes fanfic about "Diagnosis: Murder" worries me much more than someone who writes it for money.


I have to admit, that made me laugh out loud. It’s mean, but it’s FUNNY. No one will ever mistake "Diagnosis Murder" for great literature or even exceptional television. For what it was, a humble little whodunit, I believe it was done well. Whether you agree with that or not, "Diagnosis Murder" represents an expression of someone’s (or a group of people’s) creativity. Those characters belong to somebody. You don’t have to like "Diagnosis Murder", or appreciate it, to respect the author’s right not to have his or her characters ripped off by someone else.

She later writes:

I mean, for most people it’s not a choice of publishing in the real world for money and publishing fanfic among their friends

Huh? I don’t get her reasoning at all. 

Writers write. It’s part of who they are. Most can’t help themselves. If they are lucky, they are able to sell their work and make a living at it. If they can’t, there’s nothing preventing them from making copies of their stories for their friends to enjoy. Who says if your work isn’t published you have to write fanfic??

Why is it a choice between "publishing in the real world" and "fanfic?" 

Because, um, it isn’t. It’s a bizarre rationalization.

I think it’s far more likely that writers turn to fanfic because it’s a hell of a lot easier than coming up with something original. It’s creative laziness.

This, of course, is coming from a guy who writes "Diagnosis Murder" novels, based on a TV series created by Joyce Burditt, who obviously isn’t me.

Ironic, huh?

The difference is I wrote & produced the TV series for years…I have a certain pride of ownership (if not actual ownership) of those characters. For a long time, they were were my characters… I was responsible for them, and "controlled them," for nearly 100 episodes (with my writing partner, William Rabkin, of course, assisted by a terrific staff of writers and freelancers).

But even if you don’t buy that argument, I’m now getting paid by the copyright-holders to write authorized novels. They have, in essense, given me the characters and their blessing to do with them as I creatively see fit. Big difference from fanfic.

She then argues:

I don’t see fanfic as an attempt to replace the show’s writers or tell them how to do their job. It’s a way to tell stories that don’t fit within the format of a series. Cutting away from Buffy & Spike in the basement in "Chosen" is absolute-fucking-lutely brilliant story telling.

That’s like saying somebody adding lyrics to somebody else’s hit song is engaging in "abso-fucking-lutely brilliant song writing." The logic is faulty, to say the least. 

Offending the Morons

This is a true story:

I was working on Murphy’s Law, a light-hearted detective series starring George Segal as an insurance investigator when I got this call from the network censor with notes on our script:

“You’ve got one of your characters calling another character a moron,” the censor said.

“Yeah, so?”

“You can’t do that,” he said. “We’ve approved ‘dolt,’‘dummy’ or ‘dink,’ as acceptable alternatives.”

“What’s wrong with calling somebody a moron?”

“You’ll offend all the morons in the audience,” he said.

I thought he was joking.

He wasn’t.

So I said, “Don’t worry, all the morons in the audience are watching Hunter.”

Three months later, Murphy’s Law was cancelled… and I got a job on Hunter.

CSIfication of America

I got this note in response to my “Fiction is Reality on Television” post:

I was amused by your post on CSI, because I work in a forensics lab [name and location omitted] and CSI has affected our business, too, albeit in different ways than it’s affected yours. One problem we have is that with CSI and NEW DETECTIVES and the like, everybody’s an expert (as Briscoe
wise-cracked on one episode of LAW & ORDER). Except, of course, they’re not.

Example: this week, a cop brings in a case. Some landscapers were doing work in a yard when they unearthed a tin labeled with an engraved plate bearing a name, birth date, and death date. Inside
were burned bone fragments. The cop gives us his theory: he thinks it’s a young kid, but the remains are very small for the three-year lifespan on the cover, so the kid was clearly malnourished. The cremation was done by the parents, in some improvised way, before they got rid of the kid. He had a very strange, lurid scenario worked out.

So we open the tin up, dump it into the screens to sift, and what do we find? A buckle. From a collar.

This wasn’t a kid. It was somebody’s pet cat.

The good news: CSI’s success means a) funding and b) jobs. The bad news: people actually *believe* what they see on the show, down to the bizarre plots.

I’m sure people on jurys now consider themselves forensic experts, too. I wonder what impact the show is having in America’s courtrooms.

Fanfic Rant

Jim Winter writes:

"I agree with a lot of your points even though I am a recovering fanficcer.  I say this because I went in to that particularly literary ghetto with my eyes wide open.  I never wrote "slash" or hurt/comfort, and anything resmebling a Mary Sue got personality and depth hammered onto it.

But Lee, you haven’t dealt with the worst of the fanfic community —  the Trekkies.  Yes, that was the world I inhabited.  My approach was to invent an entirely new cast whose adventures took place in a time not likely to be hit upon by any of the series.  Until Enterprise (which convinced me I’d overstayed my welcome in fanfic), I pretty much was able to adapt to anything the writing staff threw out there.  Others were less accomodating.

To which I, Lee Goldberg, say: no offense intended, but why bother? If you are creating a "new cast," why not just write an original novel that takes place in space? Using other people’s characters seems like a collosal waste of time and talent. Jim writes:

I cannot believe the sheer numbers of people who really believed that Kirk and Spock were so gay that they made the Queer Eye guys look like cousins to The Rock.  The worst case was one group, who like me did an original cast of characters, that threw a very public temper tantrum when Deep Space Nine changed writers and upset the intricate little universe they created.

I, on the other hand, and a few others knew we were just having fun with our favorite show (though I’d come to really hate it by the end of Voyager’s first season), that we were "playing in someone else’s sandbox," and that none of us would make a dime off of this.  (Hell, I lost money on a fanzine and still give the evil eye to anyone who says, "Hey, Jim, you should try editing.")  Several of us had to post reminders on a few Usenet groups that what we wrote was subject to the whims of someone else, and no one in Hollywood was bound by anything "established in fanfic."

By 2000, though, it occurred to me that, if I was as good as my friends were telling me (and every fanfic writer who gets a following hears this), I was wasting my time on copyright infringement that would make no one any money.  I also realized I never really liked reading science fiction much.  So I switched to crime fiction.  I went from being an obscure fanfic writer to an obscure crime fiction writer, dropping fanfic altogether when I wrote my first novel.

Money and copyright aside, what an incredible waste of creativity. Why toil on characters you don’t own in a world that’s not your own? It’s not even literary masturbation. It’s more like the literary equivalent of having sex with an inflatable woman who looks like Halle Berry. I honestly don’t get it.

Sixteen years ago, my then-girlfriend (and now justifiably acclaimed novelist) Karen E. Bender was trying to break in to publishing. I got her a job working as an editorial assistant at Starlog magazine, where one of the editors gave her this sage advice:

"You want to break in to writing, the best place to start is with a Saavik story. Writing for the secondary characters is where the literary giants of tomorrow get their experience. If you make a mistake with them, it’s a lot easier to fix in later fanfic. But blow it with Kirk or Spock, and your reputation as a serious writer is ruined." (I later used that quote in my book "Beyond the Beyond").

He also said writing sequels to movies, like his own to "Planet of the Apes" and "Superman," were good ways to hone her craft. The poor schlub didn’t see any difference between the fanfic world and the literature. 

Last I heard, he was still living with his mother. Jim writes:

So, Lee, I really do sympathize.  I hope to God I never come across any Nick Kepler fanfic.  I understand the motivation and the appeal of it, but really, 95% of it proves that Shatner was right during his SNL skit.  Or, at least, the evil Captain Kirk from…  um…  10?  "The Enemy Within". 

Or was he really saying just pay attention to the movies?"

UPDATE: Jim expanded on his thoughts about fanfic in a lively rant on his own blog.


The Mail I Get…

Because I am a “TV producer,” I get all kinds of weird solicitations… mostly people asking me to read their script, buy their script, or give their script to Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, or Martin Scorcese (like they hang out with the guy who wrote “She Wolf of London.”) The following letter is real, it was emailed to me through my website last month:

“Dear Lee

I have just read your very interesting observations regarding the choice of actors for “James Bond” and I agree with you completely. I have read all the books over many years and had a picture in my “minds eye” of what he looked like.

Now comes the ‘crunch’……he looks exactly how my son looks!!! – Please don’t stop reading at this point and call me a doting Mother!! – I have other children who do not have “IT” but James most certainly does.

Everyone who meets my son is ‘captured’ by some factor I cannot really define, other than to repeat he has “IT” – Wherever he goes people (especially females) stare at him and want to talk to him or even just touch him!! – He is 6’ 2” and the proverbial tall dark and handsome guy. He also has great style and is very cool..i.e.nothing phases him!!

As a child he did some acting and I made him give it up and concentrate on his education, perhaps |I was wrong to do that! – He recently went to install some new computer equipment at a private hospital, a t.v. unit where there to film its opening and decided on the sput of the moment to ask James to appear on the film!!!..The camera loves him…it is impossible to take a bad picture of him.

Having said all that I wonder could you please point us in the right direction…i.e. who could we contact with regard to getting him into films? Preferably the next Bond movie or something else perhaps?

If you can help at all or indeed telll us who to contact we would be most grateful.

Very Best Regards”

Fanfic Sequel

From my brother Tod’s latest column in the Las Vegas Mercury:

The Single Best Piece of Fan Fiction I’ve Read This Year: A few months ago, I wrote a column about people writing fan fiction; subsequently, I’ve been on a nonstop search for the most bizarre entry into this sordid world. I’ve read “Diagnosis Murder” fan fiction that includes a near-anal rape of a main character. I’ve even read “Star Trek” slash fiction, which illuminates a dimension to Sulu’s sometimes contemptuous relationship with Capt. Kirk in a rather, uh, prickly fashion. But it wasn’t until I happened upon Lance Bass fan fiction that I truly understood what it means to love.”

TV Writing 101: The All Important Drive Up

We’d just delivered our script on a long-running cop show. The star called us into his trailer for his notes.

“I read your script,” he said. “There wasn’t a single drive up.”

“What’s a drive up?” I asked.

He stared at me. “How can you call yourself a professional writer and not know what a drive up is? It’s the scene where I drive up, get out of my car, and walk to the door of wherever I’m going.”

“Oh,” I replied, relieved. “We didn’t put any of those in on purpose. We like to start a scene in the middle, after you’ve arrived, after all the introductions. The viewers all know who you are and how you got there.”


“What do you mean?”

“How can they be certain how I got there?” he asked.

“I’m sure they’ll assume you drove,” I said.

“But which car did I drive? What color is it? Is it a cool car or a lame car?” he said. “The drive-ups are important. People love to see me drive up. It’s what’s made this show a hit.”

He then turned to the first scene of the show. “Great scene,” he said. “Powerful stuff.” He tore the page out of his script. “But I can do all of this with a look.”

He then went to the next scene and tore two pages from it. “I can do this with a look, too.”

It didn’t take us long to figure out why he really liked the drive-ups so much…and why the drama of most scenes was best conveyed with a look rather than a word. No dialogue to learn.

Rampaging Lesbians!

That got your attention, didn’t it?
One of the amazing things about the world wide web is how searching for one thing leads you to another then another… and then you’re someplace in cyberspace you never would have discovered before. I started by stumbling on a mention of one of our “SeaQuest 2032” episodes (yeah, I’m one of those ego maniacs who googles his own name every so often), which guest-starred Patricia Charbonneau. I clicked on her name, because I wondered what she’s been up to lately, which led to links for a lesbian romance movie she did with Helen Shaver, which led to…

…The Encyclopedia of Lesbian Love Scenes, also known as “Clublez,” which is soon going to be my friend Bill’s favorite site on the web. Clublez is essentially an online list of lesbian love scenes in movies and TV series the world over, with reviews and a point scores for “Buildup,” “Kissing,” “Love Scenes,” and “Movie Overall.” Many of the reviews include — hubba hubba — vidcaps. Most of the stuff is from mainstream movies, direct-to-video thrillers, TV episodes (the site’s definition of what qualifies as “lesbian scene” is pretty liberal… two women who happen to be in the same room is almost enough) and in a seperate section, a handful of x-rated stuff from some guy named Viv Thomas.
The guy who created this site (I’m assuming it’s a guy) also has something called “Kissing Galleries” — pictures of women kissing from around the world. Two gals kissing seems to be what this guy gets off on most…judging by his reviews and his “galleries.”
As you can see, I thoroughly explored the site… all in the name of research. I’m doing a script on, um, guys who compile lists of lesbian love scenes. Honest.

Getting Ahead

On the heels of saying most execs we deal with are bright, funny, and a pleasure to work with… that’s not always the case. Here’s one of those cases…

We were writing our first episode of a detective series. We turned the script in to the network executive for his notes. The first note was in scene one, act one.

“The hero doesn’t know what’s going on,” the executive said.

“That’s right,” I replied. “Because it’s a mystery.”

“You can’t do that,” the executive said. “The hero should be ahead of the story.”

“Ahead of the story?” I asked. “What does that mean?”

“The hero should know,” the executive said.

“Know what?” I replied.

“Everything,” The executive said.

“But he just arrived at the scene,” I said. “He’s taking his first look at the body… and you want him to already know everything?”

“Is he a hero or a complete moron?” The executive asked. “Nobody wants to watch a show about a guy who’s lost, confused, and stupid.”

“It’s a mystery and he’s a detective,” I said. “He’s going to show us how smart he is by solving the crime.”

“If he was smart,” the executive said, “he wouldn’t have to solve it. He’d already know.”

“So what’s the mystery?” I asked.

“There isn’t one,” the executive said.

“So what’s our show about if there’s no mystery to solve?”

“You tell me,” the executive said. “You’re the writer.”