Saturday, September 30, 2006

Turd Polishing (Or How I Learned One Of The Smelly 'Truths' of Series Television)

This started out as a Series TV Tip but turned into a Series TV tale - my initiation to the writer's room reality of 'polishing a turd'.

I'll never forget the first time I heard the expression - it was about ten years ago during my first stint on staff of a tv series...a series where we had to produce 44, count 'em... FORTY FOUR half hours in the first season. We prepped two and then shot two at a time - every seven days another two scripts were was mental. Insane mental. Not to mention it was a show still figuring itself out....there were major power struggles going on at the top amongst executive had stunts and special effects... the story department was terribly understaffed (the first time I begged for another story editor I remember being told "...but the shows, they write themselves, right?"). Uh, right.

Eventually I got two more writers on board and we still barely made it. Thank god it went to only 22 hour long stories the following season. Only? I think if I'd had any idea of what I/we were going to be in for, I'd have never taken the gig. But I did. And it will go down as the most intense, crazy, nutty, stress-filled, laugh-filled, year in my life (the twins were also born midway through it all). The stories the stories the stories I could tell. Here's a small taste.

We're talking a scifi/paranormal series here - sort of the poor man's 'X Files', and with that many scripts needed, we had a fair number of freelancers writing episodes. Some were good writers, some were friends of the exec producers, and then there were the bodyguards or girlfriends of 'the stars'...that kind of thing.

Early in production, one 'bodyguard' story was just laying there, and in desperation to make it amount to something, I added a lot of the syndicated action/adventure tv staples you tend to fall back on - stunts, chases, special f/x, etc.. I'd got it to a point where there seemed to be enough bells and whistles to jam it down the throat of the machine...but then it was time to sit down with the line producer and go through it in detail - generally to cut cut cut to keep costs down. The Line Producer (LP) was great in this case because even though he was the money guy, he also knew story and would justify his cuts and spends with story in mind.

Sidebar: this line producer is one of the best in the biz here in Canada, and has become one of my dearest friends. But our first meeting was less than pretty. I'd just delievered a draft of what was being considered as the template episode as it were - some execs had read it, consensus seemed to be that it was in the ballpark. So I did another quick draft and I was called in to discuss it. I'm standing out in the corridor with one of the execs waiting to go into a bigger meeting, and this line producer comes striding up holding my script in his hand...he and I had never met...and the exec tells LP that a new draft of said episode was here and did he want to see it? LP sighs and begins just slapping the script against his thigh almost violently and mutters: 'Well, it can't be any worse than this piece of shit.'


Exec introduces me as the writer...some hums and haws and then it comes out LP was referring to the first draft and didn't see any way to shoot it for the budget he was being given...'that's' what he meant by piece of shit - or at least that's what he told me. It's probably b.s. but what else was he gonna say with me standing right there. Anyway, we got past it and got through it and laugh about it to this day...

So back to the walk-thru of the dud script in question - and the LP's feet (cowboy boots) go up on the desk and the arms cross as he reclines back in his chair...

"So...I hear we're still gonna shoot this turkey?"

I stare at the floor like a kid being punished - "Uh yes...we start prep tomorrow and I ain't got nuthin' else in the hopper." (weak smile)

More silence, then LP sighs and sits up and says quite quickly: "Well if we shoot it as is it will put us half a mil over budget, so lose this this and this - I'll give you the gag on the airplane and let you see the alien at the end but only the end, and I think we can make it happen."

Thank you thank you I say - but then realize I've lost half the story and have got to find something to fill the about a big explo --- No! -- he cuts me off - its got to be story stuff...

Story stuff - hmmm - so I threw out some ideas, inexpensive ideas I hoped, got some 'nope's' got some 'eennngh, maybe's', but I felt progress was being made...and that's when he uttered those infamous words: "Look, just go do what needs to be done and keep it cheap, because at the end of the day, you're just polishing a turd."

Talk about being punched in the gut. There it was, in all its glorious truth...what I deep down already matter what I did, I was still only polishing a turd. Where on earth do you find the energy and get excited about a fairly extensive rewrite for something needed the next day when it still will be, after all is said and done, a big steaming pile of poop.


It's a very difficult thing to go and write with enthusiasm while those words are clanging around your brain. But I did and in series tv, you just do.

In the course of a tv season, you will have some turds. How the hell does it happen? I don't know...a cool idea or premise was essentially flawed and just doesn't play out in a satisfying or entertaining way...a writer is sent off to write prematurely because you're swamped and overwhelmed and 'think' it will come together.... or the bodyguard or girlfriend of the star insist they will make it gold and to 'trust them' (I grew so wary of those words) - and you don't want to argue because if their relationship to 'the star'... And not to play all high and mighty - I'm sure I've laid a few turd eggs on some desks over the years.

Like I've said - I don't think anyone sets out to make a bad tv just happens. Big ugly curlie-fried shit happens...and you've still got to polish it.

The trick seems to be to catch the turds before they land in and end up stinking up your lap(top). Easier said than done.

I think I need a shower.


p.s. sorry about the edits but I'd been trying all day to upload that picture and deposit it in the post. Also, Greg at Web of Lies and Deceit has a great blog and a nice post inspired by this one.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Sweet Victory!

Not really...lot of notes on my draft - there's a rewriting weekend in the forecast...but first, some Friday Fun with Spongebob and the band geeks kicking Squidward's evil brothers ass...

Because it makes me smile...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Good, the Ugly, and the Bad (Version)

Getting knee deep in the muck now - production approaching fast...crew starting to and cast lobbed in a few wrenches (bad)...delivered a draft today (good)....notes back tomorrow (ugly?)....

Scripts aren't getting eaten up by the big bad series tv monster quite yet, but soon...very soon.

Series TV Tip #4 - the writers room is always going going going - silence usually a sure sign of trouble. There are tight deadlines so the ideas fly fast and furious...a constant chitter chatter of spinning, pitching, fixing, reworking, and trouble-shooting. And the reality is there isn't the time to always come up with the perfect line or beat or moment - but you still need to get your point across to the table.

Enter 'the bad version'.

As in..."Okay, here's the bad version - Joe's in the hospital bed, and he looks up at his mom gazing down at him and yells something like: 'Why are you even here? I don't have a mother anymore.' And she smiles and says: 'You'd love my son - he sounds just like you....'" (hmmm that's actually pretty good - hang on while I write it down... kidding). It's not how you'd actually write the scene (well, maybe on your first pass), but hopefully it quickly conveys the gist of the moment to the rest of the room so you can agree it's an idea or fix that works and then move on.

Moving on...

p.s. my apologies in advance if any of these so called tips have been already posted in some form or another by better bloggers/writers than I - just posting off the top of my head.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Shut Up, Listen, and Enjoy!

Over at Creatively Progressing, Callaghan basically wrote the post I wanted to write about Sorkin's new show, so go read it and imagine I was saying the same thing.

"When I asked for the butter, it killed in the read-thru, but died in the dress rehearsal. Why?"

"In the dress rehearsal, you asked for the laugh. Just ask for the

'Studio 60' - I like it quite a bit actually.

So it's not about running the government. Get over it.

Read Between The Lines....

Portnoy tagged me - I promised I'd play along... take from it what you will.

1. One book that changed your life. Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ see my post

2. One book that you've read more than once. ‘The Hobbit’ – Went there and back again. Bilbo rules.

3. One book that you'd want on a desert island. ‘How To Boil Water’ by Jennifer Darling

4. One book that made you laugh. Since Portnoy took Woody Allen’s ‘Without Feathers’, I will take Allen’s two other books: ‘Getting Even’ and ‘Side Effects’. Hi-larious stuff.

5. One book that made you cry. ‘Where the Red Fern Grows’… ‘sniffle’

6. One book that you wish you had written. ‘Harriet the Spy’ by Louise Fitzhugh. Brilliant.

7. One book you wish had never been written. I am very quick to dump a book I’m not enjoying, so can’t really say…

8. One book that you are reading at the moment. David Mamet’s 'True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor'. What I really want to do is...act?

9. One book that you've been meaning to read. ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby or ‘The Wishbones’ by Tom Perrotta

10. Tagging anyone? Uh, stops here, dammit!

SONG & ARTIST? - "Chapter One we didn't really get along
Chapter Two, I think I fell in love with you
You said you'd stand by me
in the middle of Chapter Three
But you were up to your old tricks
in Chapters Four, Five and Six..."

Monday, September 25, 2006

How's That Novel Coming Along?

Repost of the most popular google search to bring visitors here and the Funniest Family Guy clip ever...

Because it makes me smile...still.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

TV Eye On You?

Too Much Vacation... Too Much Junk Food... Too Much Car Trip...

I don't know how many of you have kids, but those who do most likely crossed paths with the Berenstain Bears books. A family of bears + moral and ethical dilemmas = bedtime tales with a life lesson.

Too Much TV was one that always stuck with me.

The kids would be harping on me to watch some show and I'd say:

"Remember Too Much TV? Remember what happened, how the two bear cubs became lazy and complacent and grouchy?"
Kids look at each other and nod.
"So go on, play outside or draw a picture or something."

Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't (when it didn't, it probably didn't help that I would be watching something (for work, of course) whilst giving the speech)...parents...sheesh...

And now there's this USA today report about how the number of televisions in American homes is starting to outnumber the number of occupants (I have 4 tv's so its kind of a break even thingaroo). Combine that with a week of work on a tv series and the fall season premieres kicking into full gear...ugh...too much tv.

So I went out for a walk, got a slice of pizza, came back and tried to read a bit, and then watched 'Squid And the Whale' on the Movie Channel. A movie at least...but I still watched it 'on tv'. Sigh. It seems we can run, but cannot hide.

How many tv's in your home?

SONG & ARTIST? - "See that cat
Yeah I love her so
See that cat
Yeah I love her so
She got a TV eye on me
She got a TV eye
She got a TV eye on me, oh"

Friday, September 22, 2006

How About A Little Something...You Know, For The Effort...

After a busy but ultimately satisfying week, and also to commemorate the best three days in pro golf (the Ryder Cup!), some Friday fun with Carl, a caddy, and the Dalai Lama himself...

Because it makes me smile.

SONG & ARTIST? - "I'm alright...
Don't nobody worry 'bout me
You got to gimme a fight
Why don't you just let me be..."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Blog, Don't Tell...

...I like it quite a bit actually! (remember that one, jc?) Thanks for the notion, Portnoy aka Reel Hollywood.

I realize I'm no Jane Espenson, but...

Series TV Tip#3 - when casting new roles for a series or existing series and trying to quickly come up with sides (sample scenes for the auditioning actors to perform), instead of struggling with making up scenes for episodes yet to be written, don't be afraid to just take some old scenes from the show that have a lot of twists and turns and beats and emotions - and paste your new character's name over the name of the existing character in those samples.
The point of the audition is to see the actor in as many situations and going through as many beats and turns and emotions as possible, so as to show their range. A good scene is a good scene. It doesn't matter where it came from or who it was originally written for.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wedding Crashers And Crickets...

Well, I've survived the first two days. Lived to tell about it. Haven't broached the blog yet. Waiting for the right time....but when the first order of business for the writing staff is to come up with a new and suitable season arc for one of the main characters because the network just decided to toss out the already approved one - me tapping the producers on the shoulder and asking if I can blog about the series just didn't seem like the right me a wuss...

Not sure what I can or want to post yet (and I'm kinda brain dead) - so I'll try to toss out a couple of tips....

Series TV Tip #1 - when joining a series with writers that have worked together for years, its kind of like being seated in the one extra chair at a packed table at a wedding of someone you just met. Everyone else is related, by birth or marriage - and are presumably sitting together because they know each other and have a lot in common and a long history together to reference....and then there's you. I will tend to keep a low profile and do a lot of listening and digesting and reading the room while trying to keep up. Like Buddy Ackerman snapped at Guy in 'Swimming With Sharks': "Shut up, listen, and learn..."

Series TV Tip #2 - Once everyone in the writers room has relaxed and its time to get down to business, I like to use 'tv' as my way into the my point of reference. Because I may not know you, or your show as well as you do, but I do know...television. Hopefully, we all do. I've been on shows with people where you've just had to say: " know, like that scene in Buffy...when Spike turns..." and someone finishes your sentence and another quotes a line of dialogue from the scene and everyone is nodding and knows exactly what you are talking about. Very cool. But if you're being too obscure or people are unfamiliar with the show you're referencing, I tend to go so far as to quickly act out scenes or sequences from the show/movie - portray it as best I can...jump up out of the chair and be the it...sell it. All the while relating it to the discussion and series on the table, of course. Sometimes it's 'crickets'...but a lot of the time it works.

I'm realizing now I may not be capable of the 'quick and dirty' post. Or at least the quick and dirty 'good' post. I like to think them through and rough them out and then revise and edit them...but for tonight, this is all I've got.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hey Kids, Rock & Roll...'Blog' On!

Had some swell family face time with my two brothers this weekend - one in from Cowtown and the other in from the Big Apple...even though ma mère tried to quell it all with her traditional: "Next time we'll all be together will be for a funeral." Cuz that's what mums say.

My Big Apple bro works for New York magazine. And being the older brother I usually react with derisive snorts and "uh, yeah...whatever..." when he fills me in on what piece they are working on or what accolade the magazine just received. Cuz thats what older brothers do.

Anyway, this year they won the top prize in the circulation 500K category at the National Magazine Awards, which I guess is like the Oscars for them...even I was impressed. And he brought me an issue that had this article on the blog world that the magazine did earlier in the year.

Unfortunately, you can't see all his fine design/creative directoring work in the on-line link, just the text, but it was very cool. Cuz that's what he do.

Now I know I'm just catching up with the rest of the world, but I found this piece fascinating --- it did a great job of getting moi up to speed on the workings of the blog world. How it all started...what are the most popular...why they are much money the A listers are pulling in...

Go. Click. Read it.

Not sure how much I'll be around this week (one thing the article said spells a quick death for any blog... :( ), so I'll leave you with the inevitable wcdixon questions: why'd you start blogging and have you found your niche? Are you an A, B, or C-list blogger? Presuming we are all C's, do you want to become a B or an A? If so, how do you see accomplishing that? Always with the questions, cuz that's what I do.

Okay...(ulp)...getting ready to head off to the 'room'... Jimmy Dean...Rock On...

p.s. first stab returning the favour and added several links worth visiting to my 'blogroll' (BTW the article clarified that term for me)...some serious insider anecdote possibilities from Portnoy at Reel Hollywood, and a special mention to a cluster of cool Brits worth checking out - they all seem smart, clever AND funny...bonus!

Friday, September 15, 2006

You Know The Crocodiles Were Pissed...

...just under the wire, some Friday fun with Norm MacDonald on the Daily Show riffing on the recent demise of the Crocodile Hunter...

...borderline inappropriate, but it did make me smile.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Yippie-kay-yay, my MoFo's....

So finally some good news, for me at least. Just was hired to join the writing staff of a existing teen drama tv series which should take me until almost Xmas.

Believe me, I am thrilled and grateful.

Thrilled because as much fun it is to develop projects or direct now and then, nothing beats being in the trenches breaking and writing stories, troubleshooting production problems, interacting with crew and cast and network execs, trying to help keep the speeding train that is series television on the tracks...really, nothing beats it.

Grateful because when life intervenes and personal shit forces you to essentially withdraw your name from the freelance work table for an extended period of time - it doesn't take long, especially in the fast-moving 'chew em up and spit em out' television/entertainment business, for you to land on the 'where are they now?' pile. Pleased to have an answer to that question.

Ironically, this didn't come about as a direct result of the Banff TV Fest - the most promising deal from there still sits in limbo - though I'm sure just showing up at Banff and presenting yourself as alive and still playing the game never hurts.

Am sitting down with the show producers later this week and will broach the blog with them. Hopefully they won't mind me 'anecdotally observing and informing' - my intent wouldn't be to just dish dirt...

So I'll either be posting less because I'm busy and there's a gag order...or posting as much as I can manage about the behind the scenes of a tv series in production...

Either way, it's still good...all good.

SONG & ARTIST? - "I've listened to preachers
I've listened to fools
I've watched all the dropouts
Who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you have the role

Mental wounds still screaming
Driving me insane
I'm going off the rails on a..."

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Montreal, I'm Sorry...

..okay, enough 'future of entertainment business' news info and heart goes out to all the victims in the Montreal student shootings today.



More new US tv shows premiere or available online as reported here and here at MediaPost and here at Variety and over at USA Today. And then this...

Big Publishers Shed Media Assets

Two of America's most powerful publishing companies Tuesday announced plans to shed major assets to better position their core offering for the future. But the divestiture strategies revealed by The New York Times Co. and Time Inc. are pursuing markedly different paths. The Times Co. said it was getting out of the broadcast business, while Time Inc. said it would pare its consumer magazine portfolio by 18 publications, including some classic print titles such as Popular Science, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, as well as its Parenting Group, while the Times Co. will divest its entire broadcast TV operation, including nine network affiliated local stations in order to focus on its newspaper and digital operations.

The Times Co. owns a duopoly in Oklahoma City; four CBS affiliates, located in Memphis and Norfolk, Va.; and two each affiliated with ABC and NBC. The company said it expects the station group to post $150 million in revenue this year. Last year, it accounted for 4 percent of company revenues.

The local station business is no longer the cash cow it once was. Audiences are fragmenting and advertisers are consolidating into national marketers. Stations have tried to bolster their Web operations and have demonstrated growth--but by and large, they still trail the local newspapers in the local-market digital sphere.

At Time Inc., Chairman-CEO Anne Moore tried to spin the spin-off properties as "good performers" on the auction block.

According to the latest FAS-FAX from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), Popular Science experienced a 10.2 percent drop in subscriptions in the first six months of 2006 compared to the same period of 2005, with overall circulation sinking 8 percent. Field & Stream fared somewhat better, with overall circulation holding steady, but newsstand sales saw a 7.9 percent drop in the same report. Outdoor Life turned in a similar performance, with subscriptions basically even and newsstand sales down 10.6 percent. And Parenting did worst of all, with a 6.1 percent drop in subscriptions and a 25.8 percent drop in newsstand sales.

Samir Husni, a professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi also known as "Mr. Magazine," summed up the sale: "It's massive. They're getting rid of some very big titles, including Parenting, which has been with them a long time. And if you are looking for specific information about sports equipment or rates, for example, you can just Google it." Small magazines will continue to proliferate on a "micro-scale" for very specialized audiences, Husni predicted, but they'll never again attract the attention of companies like Time Inc.

I'm really becoming interested in what the Canadian networks take or response to all this is? No, really...I am.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Really cool to see visits here to Uninflected Images leap from modest to astronomical by my wee standards thanks to complimentary shout outs from Denis McGrath and Alex Epstein to my guest post on the weekend.

But at the end of the day, the comment tally was relatively insignificant.

Why is that?

I'm not whining...just wondering. I admit I'm a bit of a comment hag. I tend to leave a note pretty much everywhere...mostly to acknowledge that someone took the time to type something up and then put it out there for anyone who stops by to read and hopefully enjoy...for free.

And I like getting comments. I like knowing if someone actually took the time to read what was written and then said something about it - what they thought about it made them it made them not feel...if they hated it...anything.

Believe me when I say I'm not just looking for hand jobs all round --- know that probably sounds sexist, but it was the most heard congratulatory statement in the writing rooms I've been a part of...after a story was broken or a network note addressed or some other so called writing victory...even in the story departments populated with women. It was easier to say than fellatio or cunnilingus all round...and more fun to say than good job everyone! 'Hand jobs all round!' But I digress...

I realize a lot of people check blogs from work and may not have time to read entire post or aren't able to put together a thoughtful or meaningful comment. And I realize now that a lot of people must just be 'clicking' - from site to site...story to to blog...letting the information sweep over them but not necessarily engaging with it. Or just killing time before heading back to the porn fields. Who knows....

Hey, I know people shouldn't be forced to comment, but I do know that most writers out there would REALLY appreciate it...

In other news, following up on the streaming revenue and impending reduction of sales of US product to Canadian television stations issue that was raised in the guest post - first there's this USA Today article, and then this article about what the NFL is starting to do...

And then this article...

NFL Goes Long: Global TV Loses, Internet Scores
by David Goetzl, Monday, Sep 11, 2006 8:47 AM ET

FINDING NEW REVENUE STREAMS ABROAD is a top priority for the already cash-flush NFL. That's why the league is bypassing country-by-country TV distribution deals and making its games accessible to billions--on the Internet.

A new deal, which kicked off yesterday, makes NFL games available live outside North America for a fee on Yahoo.

In addition to possibly generating new fans and revenues from countries such as China and India, the move dovetails with another league goal: exploiting new-media opportunities. It's the first time the full NFL season will be accessible via the Web.

In addition to broadband, the NFL has moved aggressively into the mobile-phone and satellite-radio arenas.

The Yahoo deal allows the NFL to reach fans worldwide without
enduring the tedious and potentially contentious process of cutting TV deals with cable and satellite operators in individual countries.

Consumers can view games via the subscription service for $24.99 a week, or $249.99 for the full 17-week season. "NFL Game Pass" games will be available on-demand for up to 24 hours following their conclusion.

One catch: the subscription fees may be pricey for those in lower economic strata in China and India. Given that reality, the NFL may favor consumers in wealthier European countries and Japan, rather than emerging markets. Of course, ex-pats are also targets. The league is always loath to distribute its content for bargain-basement prices.

"We are pleased to offer NFL fans around the world an innovative way to watch NFL games," says Brian Rolapp, the NFL's vice president of media strategy. "The NFL is committed to taking advantage of new technologies to bring more value to our fans everywhere. Yahoo's proven leadership in technology makes them an ideal partner for a product like 'Game Pass.'"

International Yahoo and NFL Web sites and other properties will promote the service.

It's already happening's already happening.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Guest Post: No BullSh*t Here...

A heads up that this entry is primarily of interest to the Canadians in the crowd (okay, maybe not so much of a crowd...more like a gaggle), but it's still a good read.

I've had the pleasure and priviledge of working with a lot really smart and talented people in the television business. And some of those people have become good friends.

The following guest post is from one of those friends. He's a pretty big wig in Canuck tv circles, and someone I can honestly credit with having a lot to do with me getting somewhere in this business. I will always be indebted.

Part observation, part vent --- it's an enlightening yet ultimately damning overview of the Canadian tv/entertainment business. He said he didn't care if I credited him, but this ultimately being a 'people' business, I chose to keep it anonymous. No need to burn any bridges if you don't have to.

Read on.

I was born about the same time that television arrived in this country, growing up in a rural setting that was populated by cowboys and farmers and others whose living came from the land.

Entertainment was the local rodeo, when everybody put on their best boots, shiny buckles and Stetsons and went to watch the Bull riders. It takes a lot of courage and skill to ride a bucking Brahma bull and staying aboard for the full eight seconds earns the rider not only a handsome purse but a great deal of respect. So, the rodeo ring is full of swaggering young cowpokes, wearing their best chaps and looking for all the world like bull riders.

But all of them are aware of a simple rodeo adage – “You can fool everybody but the bull.” In other words, if you don’t know what you’re doing, the bull will figure it out in an instant and you not only won’t stay on his back, you may not survive the experience.

In the entertainment world, the bull we all try to ride, the creature we all try to subdue and conquer has another name. It’s called the audience. And anyone truly connected to this business understands that they are the ones who determine whether you succeed or end up gored and stomped on.

It’s my contention that the problems in the Canadian television industry arise from the fact that the audience is seldom, if ever, given consideration, as are many of those creative professionals who have learned how to ride it.

I began my professional career as an actor, dedicated to a then rare commodity known as the “Canadian play”. I had the good fortune to perform in more than a hundred new plays that told Canadian stories and enjoyed the additional pleasure of touring many of them to Europe and the United States. I moved on to writing films and television and then to producing. To date I can be held responsible for more than 200 hours of prime time drama – the vast majority for American television networks.

Yet, I have chosen to live and work in my own country, sharing the goal of seeing the kind of homegrown dramatic work that is produced all over the world produced here. But while I’ve had some success within the Canadian industry, you need to know some of the reasons why I think the ultimate goals we both seek are not being achieved.

There will be numerous people pointing the finger at the CRTC and its 1999 rulings. But I feel, as I’m sure you do, that there is far more to the problem.

Most of what I write and produce is considered popular entertainment. Cop shows, science fiction, horror and stuff for kids; romance films, movies with rampaging dinosaurs and TV shows with lots of cleavage. In short, I create what most people who turn on a television like to watch. I doubt that anybody would ever consider any of it “important” work.

But I also have a stack of letters from people whose lives have been informed, enhanced and even occasionally changed by what I’ve written and produced. So I know I’m doing something right and perhaps contributing to somebody’s definition of a culture at the same time.

But interestingly enough, Canadian networks barely return my calls. It’s a situation that is not unique to me, but unfortunately all too routine to many Canadian creative professionals with a resume of successful popular programming. We’ve never had anyone from a Canadian network tell us our material isn’t suitable, is too expensive or needs some re-tooling. They’re all simply “not what we’re looking for at this time”.

Requests for information on what they are seeking, illicit vague responses; if we receive any responses at all. We’re simply not on the list of people to whom they are talking.

In other words, they don’t want to be involved with someone whose track record proves they not only know and understand the bull, but also know how to ride it.

All that might encourage a normal person, or at least a well one who hasn’t been bucked on his head a few times, to look for another line of work. It might also indicate I’m hideously out of touch, over-the-hill or no longer relevant – except -- I still manage to sell scripts outside my own country.

Recently, I submitted a script to Telefilm for development. That submission garnered two immediate responses: one that the submitted material was “more than 25 pages long” and a second informing us that another document “was not double spaced”.

Another project was rejected within hours because I “didn’t have enough experience”. Calls to Telefilm for clarification went unreturned, even after we learned that projects had been accepted from producers who had little more than a couple of ten minute films or a single feature that had failed at the box office to their credit

I understand Telefilm is a hill I’ll have to die on at another time, but it got me wondering if either they or the CRTC were really seeking to further the development of popular entertainment or just continuing a process which has succeeded in virtually killing off a once thriving indigenous production industry.

Because we feel our culture is synonymous with being known as the “nice people” from the Americas; that means that those creating our programming are encouraged, either directly or indirectly to make sure our television doesn’t exhibit the same things we and the rest of the world associate with American television. As a result, we counter their big stars, action formats and fascination with sex with something that I’ll call “gratuitous niceness”.

In keeping with this same desire for acceptance, our programming is, for the most part, more concerned with “issues” than with character; more directed toward “reasoned exploration” than conflict, and more focused on “not offending anyone” than plot. All of these are laudable traits outside of the dramatic arena, but an assured recipe for creative disaster when they occur within it.

Look at any ad for a Canadian made television movie and you’ll notice that its selling points are seldom the stars or the story, but the “issues” we are told the film will earnestly address, and which, it is implied, we as Canadians are wrestling with in our daily lives, or have elsewise formed us as who we are.

I ask you to consider that the reason for this is not because the creators of those films passionately believe that such work will find a popular audience, but because they know it will find acceptance among those who want Canada to be associated with earnest values and more “acceptable” programming – and simply get made.

But it has been my experience that most Canadians do not turn on a television to be reminded of their Canadianism, or wrestle with societal issues, but only to be entertained. And in the same way a bull has been trained to buck, their understanding of what constitutes entertainment comes from years of watching the American version.

Therefore, if our programming does not replicate the more familiar technical and contextual traits of that programming, it will not find a popular audience, let alone hold it.

Some people might think such a statement means I want to see more American programming created in this country. I don’t. But I feel our dramatic films and series must be created by people with an understanding of what makes that programming style work and can then imbue it with an artistic vision that reflects this country.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity of meeting Peter Bart, the legendary Paramount Studio head of the 1970’s; a period considered by many to be the true Golden Age of American film. Mr. Bart green lighted such iconic films as “The Godfather” and “Chinatown” and is credited with discovering many of the great filmmakers of our time.

He visited our set, and during a discussion with the crew, I asked him what he thought of the Canadian industry. He kind of sighed and shook his head, “Canada,” he said, “I’ve never seen so much talent living in such denial.”

It’s a sentiment most creative professionals in this country completely understand. Those of us, who have ridden American bulls with success, aren’t even asked to climb on the back of the Canadian version. God forbid, we might speak to the Canadian audience in a language they understand or by way of stories that might interest them.

In many ways, we have become part of a process which puts the audience in third place, behind the needs of Government agencies and the networks; both of which appear motivated more and more by a “nine to five” culture.

In other words, decisions are made according to what is necessary to keep the system operating smoothly rather than accomplishing the most positive goals.

The simple answer to why we’re not succeeding in our own country is that the bulk of the programming is being overseen by people less than interested in doing it, let alone in doing it well or finding an audience for it.

A few years ago, economists Arthur De Vany and W. David Walls published a detailed study of 2000 movies and concluded: “Revenue forecasts have zero precision. A large budget and high profile stars may increase a film’s chance of success, but not enough to make the investment worthwhile. The only real determinate of long term success is word of mouth.”

Like I said, “You can fool everybody but the bull.”

The only way Canadian television networks will find an audience and the profits that come with them, is to back those creative professionals who have proven they can ride the bull and understand its next moves.

Please don’t interpret that as meaning you have to hire only me or someone with my experience. There is plenty of fresh talent in this country that suffers under the same restrictive operating procedures. It’s the process which needs to change.

In the American model, a script is written, either before or after a concept is sold to a network, and then a single episode is produced. If that single program finds acceptance with advertisers, who spend their entire lives figuring out what the Audience wants, then a few more (3 or 4) are ordered. If the market research is wrong and the audience does not appear, the project is usually cancelled and something else replaces it.

That makes for a fairly cut throat business; with a large turnover in creative and executive staff. It’s a process which demands a high level of dedication and talent. But it inevitably produces programming audiences watch and to which enormous profits flow.

The Canadian model, more often than not, is to write a pilot script, and then write up to 13 more scripts which all undergo network scrutiny and receive some stamp of approval before a pilot is ever considered. More often than not, rather than a pilot, all 13 episodes are filmed, edited and in the can long before the first even debuts to its first audience.

Because script writing alone can take a year or more, these projects are always in danger of being out of date or overtaken by competitors before they ever see the light of day and they make the process more expensive than it has to be.

More importantly, it ignores the basic realities of finding an audience. What if the audience doesn’t like some part of the concept or the arena in which the series takes place? What if they don’t like a character? It’s too late to change those elements, because your series is finished, you just have to keep disappointing them, and they go in search of something else.

Television series are very organic creatures. They’re created by a collaborative team of individual artists who bring their own unique talents to the process. I’ve never worked on a series where scripts were delivered more than a few weeks in advance of their production dates. And while that means longer hours and more stress for all concerned, it also means that the stories can take advantage of growing strengths within a production and eliminate the weaknesses or dislikes we’re picking up from not only our network bosses, but the audience.

Because the audience is the purpose and the most important element of this process.

I’ve worked on series where bit players have evolved into stars because the opportunity existed to discover their talents and give their characters room to grow. I’ve seen stars reveal their true talents by radically altering characters an audience had initially rejected, and I’ve seen series revise their entire creative direction when the audience indicated what they really wanted to see.

Sometimes those changes make you proud of the work you are doing, because you can tell stories that an audience connects with because they are “into” the show. Sometimes they add to the time you spend in a bar on Friday nights. But good or disappointing, you know that the audience will be back the next week for more and whatever artistic agenda you have gets another chance.

The Canadian system of virtually ignoring the audience’s participation leaves you open to their dissatisfaction or disinterest, while serving that “nine to five” mentality. “We’re giving them the Canadian content we need to keep our license.” “It’s a cost of doing business.” “It doesn’t matter if anybody is watching because it isn’t our money and …oh, it’s five o’clock, time to go home.”

The same money that funds 13 episodes of one show could more productively be spent on shooting four episodes of three shows, or three episodes of four, even pilots for a dozen. That money should all come from the networks and producers, who, knowing that they didn’t have grants and government funding to make their jobs “safe”, would actually have to acquire the very real producer skill of figuring out what the audience wants.

If a show appears to be getting ratings, that’s when the funding could kick in. And it should be done at a level that rewards the risks already taken, by making a commitment to a full season of shows, not the anemic orders of 13 that typify a Canadian “season”.

As Les Moonves, president of CBS, has been oft quoted, “You must be available to your audience at least 22 times a season. It’s like dating a pretty girl. If you don’t come around to see her, somebody else will.”

Canadian broadcasters are well aware that they compete directly with the most successful television networks in the world. Yet, with a few exceptions, they insist on beginning seasons of shows 3 or 4 months after viewers, already into their winter viewing patterns, have picked favorites or which nights they are even watching television. By debuting shows in December or January, Canadian series are virtually assured they will never be found. It’s a policy which is “safe” but, once again, gives an edge to failure.

As risky as it may seem to debut Canadian series at the same time as American networks, we have to realize that this is when the audience has been programmed to make its selections. And if they are offered programming which, as I said earlier, replicates what they are used to seeing from American sources, at least contextually, they will have no problem with the Canadian content we all want to see included.

I’m constantly overwhelmed that our execs all know the right buzz phrases, but haven’t figured out what’s really behind them. And while they try to find that “just right” program that will set them apart (as long as it has a US partner to pay for it) they fail to see that the business they’re in is only a couple of inches away from totally disappearing.

While Bravo/Showcase/History/Whoever are trumpeting the debut of the first season of “Deadwood”, the high school kid next door has just burned season 3 for all of his buds on first day back to school. None of them will ever watch the Canadian broadcast. Yesterday he showed me the episode of “Eureka” that aired this week on his Creative Zen player. One of his friends emailed it to him along with the new Okay, Go album.

None of these guys buys anything anymore except hardware – and blank media.

The audience has adopted that old Vegas motto “Everything. All the time.” They want “Entourage” now, not when somebody with a broadcast license decides to feed it to them. Even Tivos are yesterday’s tech. When CBS is making more money on itunes downloads of CSI than they’re getting in rentals from CTV, CTV may suddenly realize they didn’t make (or own) any independent programming they can sell to offset the audience that isn’t watching their American product anymore.

Humor me, as, in closing, I return to my roots and the rodeo. If you don’t have the courage or skill to step inside that corral, you have no business even being there. And the same is true of producers and networks. If they don’t have the trust, in their own skills and talents, to take the risk such a system will ask of them, and the needs of the audience demand, they also shouldn’t be where they are.

A bull rider must pay an entry fee before he draws a bull and rides for the prize money. It’s not unusual to see a cowboy “sell his saddle” to pay that entry fee. If he loses, he’s broke and without any way of earning a living.

That same risk is taken daily by every creative professional in this country. At the moment, it is not a risk shared by the producers and networks who dominate our industry. Safely funded, safely unscrutinized, they continue a process that generally does not find projects that connect with our nation’s audiences.

They continue to fool everybody but the bull and its time they were made to ride him.

Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves and shout back...

Friday, September 08, 2006

Aka and Vis-à-Vis...

Some Friday fun with David Brent's slam dunk entrance to the first episode of the original 'Office'...

Because it makes me smile...

SONG & ARTIST? - "Pretty girl on the hood of a cadillac, yeah
She's broken down on Freeway 9...
I take a look, I get her engine started,
and leave her purring and I roll on by.
Bye, bye."

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

I Wanna Be So Famous That...

...Andy Dick and Jessica Simpson will beg to do a guest spot on my tv series - and I can say no thanks.

Let's have some fun. How famous do you want to be?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Juxtaposition Radio...Ga Ga...

So I'm driving back from the mall having picked up the rest of the kids school supplies (didn't they bring most of this crap home with them back in June?) with the radio turned on.

I only listen to the radio here in Buttkick, mostly because I'm never in the car long enough to get into a cd. It's like one and a half songs and you're there. Unlike Toronto which was a lot of personal mix tapes. And as opposed to LA where Books On CD passed the time during the one hour each way commutes.

And a song begins on the local FM rock n' roll station I usually have cued up...the kind of station that has ads like:

"We don't want listeners with good taste...we want listeners that taste good!"

Booyah! You get the picture...

Anyway, the song is a new one from Nickelback - 'Rock Star' - see it/hear it here and a lyric excerpt:

"'Cause we all just wanna be big rockstars
And live in hilltop houses driving fifteen cars
The girls come easy and the drugs come cheap
We'll all stay skinny 'cause we just won't eat
And we'll hang out in the coolest bars
In the VIP with the movie stars
Every good gold digger's
Gonna wind up there
Every Playboy bunnyWith her bleach blond hair
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar
Hey hey I wanna be a rockstar"

There it is in a nutshell. I kept waiting for the twist, or the irony to kick in...but it didn't happen. It was a simplistic three chord progression stating the obvious...I wanna be a rock star.

The next tune was 'Man In The Box' by Alice In Chains. See/hear it here and a lyric excerpt:

"I'm the man in the box
Buried in my shit
Wont you come and save me...
Save me

I'm the dog who gets beat
Shove my nose in shit
Won't you come and save me...
Save me

Feed my eyes, can you sew them shut?
Jesus christ, deny your maker
He who tries, will be wasted
Feed my eyes now you've sewn them shut"

A kickass guitar riff...anquished vocals...a song about BEING a rock star, sung by a man royally f*cked up by all the trappings. Layne Staley had a bad heroin and cocaine habit. He didn't eat. And partied with models. He lived the dream described by Nickelback...and now he's dead. Overdosed in 2002.

Now Nickelback is catagorized as Grunge or Post-Grunge on several music download sites. Give me a break. On the other hand, Alice In Chains IS grunge - early 90's arguments please. Pretty black and white.

"Rock Star"

"Man In The Box"

Juxaposition Radio...

Did the dee-jay plan this? I severely doubt it since, as I pulled up to the house, the first words out of his mouth when the song ended merely trumpeted loudly an end of summer 'sexiest male swimsuit contest' being held at a seedy north end bar.


SONG & ARTIST? - "So don't become some background noise
A backdrop for the girls and boys
Who just don't know or just don't care
And just complain when you're not there
You had your time, you had the power
You've yet to have your finest hour..."

p.s. How long did it take me to get home from the mall?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Putting MY Space To Bed...

Well, that was an interesting little experiment.

While soliciting comments from readers last week about their feelings about MySpace, I also embarked on a 'friends' quest under a pseudonym. I didn't put much thought into it, and basically clicked 'add me' to every other person I came across.

As for creating my MySpace home, I went through the motions of filling in the 'about me' sections...did a few short blog posts...put up a few provocative pictures - you know, the usual...

...and after three days I had over 400 'friends' (I realize that term needs to be used loosely here, since only 50 actually checked out my profile). There were a few legit adds like Paris Hilton, Jessica Simpson, U2, Angelina Jolie, Howard Stern, and Jessica Alba (sarcasm implied) - but most were either adverts for aspiring bands or portals to the world of models, strippers, porn stars or wannabe actresses.

I remained 'friendly', and sent every single 'friend' who added me a note thanking them for their kindness, and asked if they would tell me about MySpace and what it does for them or what they like about it.

I got zero responses to my questions.

I did however get dozens of requests to 'look at my new pics' or 'join the hottie train' or 'check out our new song'. And I got two chastisings - one indignant: 'why are you talking to me - I don't even know you!" {but you added me... :( } and another outraged: "why are you trying to communicate with my 18 year old sister, YOU SICKO!!!!!!" ...{Hey, I was just clicking the add button and not paying much attention to details)

I also was given a password to some kind of cyber virtual 'party' that all seemed very weird. I tried to get more info --- best as I could tell, 'everyone' was 'meeting' as some 'website' on Friday needed the password so undesirables couldn't 'crash' the party...'you remember what happened last time when someone crashed!'...there was a lot of cryptic talk about trading partners and group sex and some S&M and bondage (this is all taking place online, remember...) nevertheless, I quickly found out you should just 'do' on MySpace...asking questions gets you nowhere or into trouble.

I was 'uninvited' from the party.

Aside: I also lost two subscribers to uninflected images juxtaposed during MySpace week...which seemed strange considering all the extra traffic. And had hardly any to begin with - sorry if that little requesting comments thingee turned some people off. I know...I'm too sensitive. But it's hard not to take it personally if someone cancels their subscription. It's not like they're 'moving' or something.

Anyway, I cleaned up the friends list and deleted most of them ...and then things got kinda funny. I began to get 'add me' requests from some of the bloggers that frequent these film/television/screenwriting blogs. So much for being anonymous...obviously my pseudonym wasn't very original.

Not really part of the plan.

So, because it was all just an experiment, I've since closed said MySpace account. Should I ever return to that realm, I promise I'll find those who found me and return the favor.

And in conclusion? Well, you all said it best in many different ways. If you want to set up a personal website for friends and family to check in on and keep in touch through (though I still don't see why email or a personal website can't accomplish the same thing), it was fairly easy to set up and maintain. And if you want to network or correspond with like minds, I suppose it can be okay. And if you want to promote your product/services/wares and try to get yourself noticed, why not. And if you got no time or space for it...totally understand.

But for me, in amongst the silliness and sordidness, well...something happened. It's a little difficult to talk about, but....

All I know is I met someone...on MySpace. It's too soon to tell but I really think he/she might be the one. I liked his/her profile, and really got off on what he/she had to say. Things like:

Think what you will about MySpace, but in my humble opinion, it totally rocks. Even if he/she can't spell.

Blogger? I may never return.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Laughing Out Loud... this Friday Fun clip from a Dutch talk show where the interviewer can't stop cracking up at one of the guests funny-sounding voice...

...because it makes me smile. Happy Labor Day weekend!

SONG & ARTIST? - "I remember when...
I remember, I remember when I lost my mind
There was something so crazy about that place
Even your emotions had an echo in so much space .
And when you're out there,without care
Yeah I was out of touch
But it wasn't because I didn't know enough
I just knew too much..."