Friday, August 31, 2007
Stepping outside my comfort zone again here...what do you need in order to 'write funny'?
The previous post was my latest stab at writing something humorous. Did it pass mustard? No idea. And it took me three or four passes until it finally seemed to have the right rhyme and rhythm to convey what I intended. Notice I used the word 'seemed'...I still have no idea.
Because writing funny is one of the toughest tasks out there, and it's certainly not my forte (if anything is).
And I'm not talking about 'being funny' or 'acting funny'...I'm talking 'on the page funny' --- the placing of one sentence after another until it transforms from a sequence of words to an amusing notion in the mind of the reader, hopefully eliciting a response along the lines of a chuckle or guffaw or even just a "Heh, that's funny."
It's tougher than it sounds.
I think I've got a pretty good sense of humour. And I know it's subjective but I think I know what's funny and what's not. But to 'write funny' seems to need that and a whole lot more.
For me growing up, Woody Allen was always funny on the page. A deft combination of jokes and and intellect and situation penned in an absurd yet clear, concise, and effectively comedic fashion. If I was to pick one, he would be my funny writing hero (see The Complete Prose of Woody Allen).
Because you can 'think funny' and 'be funny' and even 'tell funny', but to write funny is almost an art form. Inflection has to be implied...pauses and beats inserted with dashes and dot dot dot's...pace and timing determined by word and sentence placement...funny words chosen over unfunny ones...the list goes on and on. Not to mention irony and sarcasm can so easily be lost on a reader without the tone of a voice to clue them in.
Comedy screenplays are a whole entirely different animal, because there's the advantage (or disadvantage) of performers being able to take the words and situations and 'make it funny'. Actually, if it needs to be made funny, that's a dangerous proposition...take it to another level would be a better way of putting it. But if it's just on the page, we don't have that luxury.
Who writes funny in our little blogging circle? Well, I think John Rogers does...and Josh Friedman did. Here in Canada Mr. McGrath can...and Henshaw does (sometimes). Jane doles out a lot of good comedy writing advice, and let's not forget Ken Levine. And Joss Whedon and Darin Morgan and Craig Mazin can write funny screenplays. But all of the above do it in such unique ways and different styles, it makes the rules of 'writing funny' really hard to nail down.
I suppose there is no one way...and nor should there be. But there should at least be a right way and wrong way.
I'm still trying to discover the write way...
(okay - that last line's not funny)
Thursday, August 30, 2007
(imagine embed here if I could get it to work! click above link)
Cuz, it's not funny if it's true, right? I mean, that happens to me on every show I've worked on...so...um...well, I just thought...
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
About ten years ago, the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television teamed with Anne Frank to edit together a bunch of articles and essays from several prominent Canuck TV and film writers.
The resulting text was Telling It: Writing For Canadian Film and Television. It was the compliment to Making It: The Business of Film and Television Production in Canada. Both books were firsts of their kind up here in Hollywood North, in that they actually talked about the industry as a 'real' industry....and treated those succeeding here as sources worth hearing from.
And you can't buy copies anywhere. Seriously. Out of print for ages.
But I recently found mine.
Writing It is really a great read. There are informative and insightful articles about long-form drama from Suzette Couture and Keith Ross Leckie and Dennis Foon. And lots of clever tips and observations about series television writing from David Barlow and Donald Martin and even Peter Mohan. And all with a unique Canadian spin.
But the home run, as it were, is old pal Hart Hanson's (Bones, Joan of Arcadia, Judging Amy) 'How The Writer Deals with Story Editors, Story Teams, and Story Conferences'.
It's a classic...people would reference it at parties, and the story meeting archetypes described in the post title should be in Websters. Not only is the essay very smart, funny, informative, and entertaining...yes, it's still relevant ten years later.
Find it below in the best form my low-tech brain could muster...18 jpeg scans...each is a page from the article. You can click on each jpeg to enlarge them, and you should go in order because there's no page numbers on the scans.
There you go...print away and read. But please read with attention --- there'll be a test later.
So sayeth a Wayback...(but at least I'm not a Wonk)!
Monday, August 27, 2007
What has marketers scratching their heads is that so many of the winning campaigns are direct ads, like CORT's (Furniture Rentals). Ask execs at some top-flight creative agencies (who are responsible for some big-budget, glitzy Super Bowl ads), and they'll launch into the type of spin used by oil companies when they say more study is needed on global warming. (One exec asked me: "Do we know that this machine accounts for when people fast-forward but then rewind to watch the ad?") If there's one lesson learned from TiVo StopWatch, it's that relevancy outweighs creativity in TV commercials --- by a lot. The ads on the "least-fast-forwarded" list aren't funny, they aren't touching, and they aren't clever. And they don't have big budgets.
Before you know it, we're not only seeing shows set in the 50's (a la Mad Men), we're gonna see TV ads looking like the 50's again ('cept no one will be smoking, of course)...that's news, isn't it? (And that's only a line that could come from an ad exec).
And to kill some time, go peruse this list of the 100 Greatest Film Directors over at the Total Film website. 100-51 IS HERE; 50-1 HERE.
The entire list is a nice stroll down film school memory lane -- some bang on (Coppola in the top 5) and some big huh's? (Alan J Pakula way down at 93?!), with the top three being Spielberg, Scorcese, and of course Hitchcock takes the number one spot.
See if you can match the quote to the director:
a) “Growing up, I saw power exercised in two ways: the power of the church and the power of the street.”
b) "Some films are slices of life, mine are slices of cake.”
c) “I always like to think of the audience while I’m directing. Because I am the audience.”
Okay. Enough tomfoolery. Back to work.
Friday, August 24, 2007
1) rock docs that look back at an era or movement or artist and provide an overview with perspective (a la Scorcese's No Direction Home about early Bob Dylan, or this magnificent 10 part UK rock doc series entitled The Punk Years (watch it HERE));
2) and then those rock docs that were immediate and fresh off them happening (a la Decline of Western Civilization or The Rolling Stones C*cksucker Blues)...a slap to the face and punch to the gut visceral sort of experience.
My vote goes to Dig! (watch the trailer) - the fascinating story of two west coast American retro bands, the Dandy Warhols and Brian Jonestown Massacre, told over seven years through the late '9o's and early 2000's. The film deftly chronicles each bands subsequent rise and/or fall framed around the friendship/rivalry between the two lead singers...the Dandy's Courtney Taylor and Massacre's Anton Newcombe (with his tambourinist 'Joel' making a memorable turn).
Best rock n' roll documentary ever. I'm still not sure why this flick struck such a chord with me, but it did. Perhaps because it so effectively portrays the constant struggle between art and commerce in the recording industry (or any creative endeavour for that matter) while being sad, funny, and entertaining all at the same time. And it contains some of the coolest music you'll ever hear by people you've never heard of. Furthermore, the two disc DVD has nearly eight hours of extras that prove to be as interesting and entertaining as the movie itself.
Because it makes me smile...
Thursday, August 23, 2007
The rivalry between Blu-ray and HD DVD harks back to that 30 years ago between the VHS and Betamax formats for home video recording. Which high-definition technology is better has been the subject of intense debate in Hollywood for years. HD DVD players are about $200 cheaper than Blu-ray machines, but Blu-ray discs have more storage space and more advanced protections against piracy. Both versions deliver sharp resolution.
And a big shot went across the bow this week when two studios, Paramount and Dreamworks Animation, announced they would no longer be releasing their films in...wait for it...Blu-Ray!
More in this NY Times article.
Interesting. And it probably explains why Sony is announcing that their PlayStation 3's can now be configured (with an add-on) into a PVR.
The company will release a TV tuner called PlayTV early next year, which will plug into the back of the PS3 and allow consumers to watch, record and pause live digital terrestrial programming. PlayTV will initially go on sale in the UK, France, Germany and Spain and will also mean programmes from the PS3 can be streamed wirelessly to the PSP or transferred permanently via a USB cable.
More on that HERE from C21. You see, PS3's haven't been selling that well since their release..and one of their initial big selling points? Yes, they can play Blu-Ray discs.
Not that Blu-Ray was suffering...Disney and Twentieth Century Fox were already alligned behind Blu-Ray and only Blu-Ray. But as much as some people might be kicking themselves, this announcement by the other studios is probably a good thing. It'll start pushing us toward a winner. Right now, consumers are being asked to choose between two rather expensive and near-identical items. Pick one guys.
I've always resisted jumping onto the next hot new thang bandwagon, like when cd's began to challenge vinyl...or LaserDisc's took on VHS tape. Bragging rights never meant much to me. And there was always some annoyance with having to restart one's movie collection all over again. And for what? A few more features? A bit more clarity? Nicer sound? You're watching a movie in your basement for crying out loud!
Nevertheless, this Blu-Ray announcement did have a small impact on my consumer life. You see, one of the big selling points of the new Dell XPS laptop is that it's equipped with a Blu-Ray player. After the above announcement, I found myself rethinking the Dell purchase...or at least of that particular model.
Why pay for Betamax when VHS may be all that's out there in a year or so, ya know?
Blu-Ray vs. HD DVD. Anyone out there tried either format? Is there a clear frontrunner?
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
For the uninitiated, here's an overview clip:
But as Alex shuns and Denis mulls, there are more things bugging me about the show than loving about it right now.
Like Duchovny's character name, Hank Moody. He's a sarcastic, self-loathing, mid-life crisis case...oh, I get it now.
The opening title sequence felt wrong. Jittery home-movies (a la Wonder Years) of Duchovny and his ex-wife and his kid in what appear to be happier times set to a rockin' upbeat diddy just didn't jive with the show I was watching. Too bad The Red Hot Chili Pepper's tune wasn't available (I read somewhere it had already been bought by Disney for a theme park ride).
Moody smokes, but Duchovny's not a smoker. Sorry, but non-smoking actors trying to pull off smoking always comes off unconvincing...major buggage.
Duchovny's ex, played by the lovely and talented Natascha McElhone, smiles too much...at him and his little quips especially. He's been nothing but clingy and annoying while clearly living in the past and yet she won't just tell him to F*** off. If this is to set up the two of them getting back together, I won't buy it.
The blogging gig Duchovny takes to try to break his writers block clearly points the series in the direction of being a male variation of Sex In The City (with some of Entourage's west coast attitude thrown in). I don't know why that bugs me but it does.
And speaking of sex...all that sex, I now seen it's being depicted like Sex In The City sex...or more specifically, Kim Cattrall SITC sex - as in: Smash cut to the bedroom for effect or shock or laughs, as opposed to sexy sex. That wouldn't bug me per say, but the series has been sold so far as 'ground-breakingly' sexual. Misleading.
And the biggest bugaboo...believing that 21 year old actress Madeline Zima (Mia) is supposed to be sixteen. The big shocking twist of the pilot hung on that fact, and a lot of the complication of the second episode hinged on it as well. She looks and acts too old. Never. Bought. It. For. A. Second.
Californication feels like it's still trying to figure out what it is or what it wants to be. A single man in his 40's tries to find sex, love, happiness, and more sex in LA? Or a writer distraught by the breakup of his family tries to get back together with the mother of his child?
The XXX Files? Or The Ex Files?
We shall see.
Monday, August 20, 2007
There is no bible...I am the bible. Why give them something they can use to produce the show with after they fire you? You want to make them NOT able to fire you.Damn.
Oh, to have the power...
TV series bibles are the writing guidelines for a show. Generally, they're a 6-10 page document that provides an overview of the series proper. They will explain the premise and define the arena, outline the series philosophy, clarify the tone, describe the lead and secondary characters, list the 'rules' and plot 'do's and don't's', detail what should happen each week, and give synopsis for existing or possible future episodes.
All the ingredients you need to write the series.
But as God says above, why give the network or studio something they can use to make the show without you?
Series bibles are generally created (by the shows creator) for two reasons: 1) to pitch or sell the studio or network, and 2) for freelance writers to prep themselves before coming in to pitch an episode.
If you can get away without writing one up, more power to you. But most of us don't have that kind of clout or leverage, especially up here in Canada. It will be part of the deliverables for any development agreement you might enter into, along with a pilot script and perhaps outlines for a couple more episodes.
I don't really know if shows like Grey's Anatomy or Brothers And Sisters or House or Criminal Minds have a series bible floating about. If I'm to take my source at his word, maybe they aren't out there as much as they used to be. And bibles are usually only any good for the first season or so. As Alex Epstein states: a series bible is more of a battle plan or prospectus, not a blueprint. Once a show is up and running there's little reason to update or revise the bible because all the current info is in the showrunner and staff writer's heads.
Most of the ones I've come across have been for genre shows. You know, your paranormal, sci-fi, supernatural, fantasy series that need a bible because there are so many rules to keep track of...not to mention lists of unique weapons, terminology, jargon, etc. that are show specific. Some of these can be the size of short novels (see Stargate:SG1; Star Trek NG; or any series with the word Star in the title) if kept up to date, but to come out of the gate with 'everything' is generally a bad move. TV series is a collaboration, and an evolution. Give people a taste, but don't overwhelm or alienate them.
Nevertheless, regardless of your show, it's still a valuable and most often necessary exercise one should go through when creating a new TV series. Even if just to keep your story straight when making the pitch. Speaking of the pitch, Lisa Klink posted today about that nasty bit of nastiness. She drops a lot of helpful hints, but raises something I always find a little irksome.
For a process that is ultimately about getting it 'on the page', why is there so much importance put on the verbal?
We're supposed to be writers, not salesmen or performers. And I've been burned quite a few times by the sparkling song and dance when the pitcher ultimately couldn't write. And I've seen a lot of good series ideas die a quick death because the writer wasn't a natural born performer. It never made a lot of sense to me, but the reality seems to be you have to be a writer AND a salesman.
Anyway, back to series bibles. Klink says:
Should you leave pages behind? That’s a topic of debate among writers. Some think that leaving a synopsis is the best way to ensure that your idea will get passed along properly to the higher-ups. (There are always higher-ups - you won’t be pitching to the decision makers themselves.) After all, we’re writers - isn’t a written document the best way to show off our skills? Personally, I don’t leave a document. I want the execs who heard my pitch to verbally pitch it to their boss, not just drop pages on his/her desk. I’m hoping that the execs will focus on what excited them about my idea, and maybe tailor it to the boss’ taste. I want them to feel personally invested in the idea, not just as a messenger.Interesting. I get what she's saying, but to not leave even a mini-bible behind seems like something I personally couldn't do. Your mileage may vary.
Others like Alex and Alex and Denis and Denis and Rogers have spoken about or around this topic of bibles much better than I. But there's always a concern that I'm out of the loop.
With freelance writers getting fewer and fewer scripts now, and more and more eps being written in house, does anybody know how prevalent series bibles are today?
Or are they Old Testament as it were, a thing of days gone by?
God seems to concur.
No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means. --- George Bernard Shaw
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Couple of good articles from Media Post. First, TV Board's Jack Myers (via Media Village's Ed Martin) gives a preview of Fall TV shows making buzz, including: NBC's Chuck and Bionic Woman, CW's Reaper, ABC's Pushing Daisies, and CBS's Viva Laughlin.
But one thing he says that's interesting is this:
Coming off a summer with stand-out series on Lifetime, TNT, ESPN, Showtime, HBO, FX, and AMC, viewer expectations for the broadcast network fall season are high. But most critics have been especially cautious in forecasting new season successes. The competition for viewers is more intense than ever; last year, the five broadcast networks lost nearly 10% of their audiences compared to the prior year’s season. This year, unless the networks are able to launch several new hits, there will almost inevitably be further erosion.
A lot of the summer drama shows have been really swell: Mad Men, Burn Notice, Saving Grace, Damages, even John From Cincinnati had its moments and Californication shows promise. And a lot of major network shows won't be premiering until after Christmas.
So if you factor all that in, I think we can officially extend the TV 'season' to all year round, as opposed to just starting in the fall. And with cable and pay channels stepping up to the plate and delivering quality entertaining drama, the major networks will continue to lose viewers and wield a smaller bat. Not that the upfronts this year reflected that (advertisers paid and paid big), but as ratings grow smaller for what's generally defined as a hit, the 'hit' needs to be redefined.
Which dovetails nicely into this article by Wayne Friedman at TVWatch. I couldn't link so here it be:
TELEVISION BUSINESS writing has reached a new direction in terms of ratings -- true south. Imagine a lead paragraph in a TV trade talking about the highest ratings for a particular show -- and that those numbers are a Nielsen Media Research 0.6 household number.
That's right, less than a 1 rating. And, mind you, it's the highest ratings for the show. This is how Broadcasting & Cable described Oxygen's reality series, 'Tori and Dean: Inn Love', about the lives of actress Tori Spelling and her husband Dean McDermott and their adventures in opening up a bed-and-breakfast in southern California.
Of course, you can't blame Oxygen. Being a mid-size cable network in some 73 million homes, it can't, as yet, offer up big number of the more established cable networks. What the 0.6 number really shows is the direction viewership numbers will take in the future, especially when it comes to video that runs on super-niche digital platforms.
No doubt three or four years from now we'll be talking about the NBC-News Corp. Internet site and how its original online show, starring say Mary-Kate Olsen, earns a big-time 0.0006 rating among 18-49 viewers.
How do you spell success? Numbers don't lie, but maybe viewership numbers don't tell the whole story. There are other measures -- engagement and the like. Can we get used to those numbers when in the future, every marketer, it seems, will have its own individual measure of involvement and attentiveness in response to a video? With that in mind, the best way to look at video is advertising price. Say the Olsen show earns $90 cost per thousands among 18-49 viewers -- which would be about three times the rate on traditional TV right now. That's some pretty good press, right there.
Who cares if 1,145 viewers watched the hit Olsen comedy -- especially when the next show is getting 847 viewers? The question is how much advertisers paid
up for it. Given the increasingly importance of Sarbanes-Oxley financial accounting rules, networks should be obligated to reveal such pricing information.
Otherwise, you are dealing in viewership fractions -- within a fractionalized entertainment universe. That's too small for the naked eye. Better save your sight for those three-and-half-inch mobile phone diagonal video players screens.
Ratings too small for the naked eye? Yikes. Sounds like a lot of Canadian shows. But I guess what this writer is saying is that the numbers will matter less and less. That it's now more about the demographics the show is appealing to, how deeply its penetrating, and how much people might download/'pay' for it.
I can dig it. Especially in this sort of in between time where it's tricky to determine how popular a show really is and how many are really watching when you factor in the Internet and PVR's and the like.
I had a conversation with a Canuck producer today. He's working on a TV movie based on a series that ran up here for a few seasons (and was cancelled), and he described the origin series as one of the most popular on one of Canada's smaller cable networks.
I asked for the numbers. Cuz you know, I was curious.
He said the network didn't actually subscribe to a ratings service because "the numbers are so low that 'they don't even register' most of the time." I asked how they knew it was popular then. He said it was based on some selective surveys and the amount of cards, letters, and emails the network received lauding the series. I again asked how many. He said 'a lot'...in relation to the fan mail the network received for other original programming.
Am I just being a dick here, or does that seem like cheating? Sort of like creative accounting. Isn't a hit a hit anymore? Or is it okay today to be a hit as you choose to define a hit.
I know every show can't be everything to everybody all of the time, but has the definition of 'a hit' become so specific to the circumstances surrounding a show that the definition has lost its original meaning?
I think so.
And I think it's only going to get worse (or more creative, depending how you look at it). Is there a new word we can come up with to describe a successful show? I know it's all in the spin, but if ratings as we are familiar with continue to drop, it seems like there needs to be a whole lotta redefining going on.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
CRIME SCENE UPDATE:
So before resigning myself to having to get another laptop after last night's 'grab and dash', I spent this morning wheeling around town to some of the closest Pawn shops just to see if it might have shown up.
Think like a criminal, I thought. Lucky me, it'd been taken to number 3.
And the owner (who was most pleasant and let me turn it on --- all data still there) let me identify it without even asking me for serial numbers or anything. I must have looked that desperate, or honest, or both. Police were contacted and now I'm just having to wait for an officer or someone from Crime division to come down and take a statement and then it can be released to me.
Other bit of good fortune was fact that Dell laptop's have two numbers on the bottom - the Tag Number and the Express Service Code. I had the Tag number from the original receipt, and had given that to the police, but not the Express Code. It was the Express Code the pawn shop owner had entered into his database (which is linked to the police database). So it might not have surfaced via that check.
Pawn shop owner also gave me waaaaay too much info about the perp...how disappointed he was in her since she thought she was starting to get her life together, but speculated she'd been forced to pawn it by someone else.
I didn't really care...my baby's back. Phew.
Ah, Beck. I'm singing your tune.
The short version is I left my laptop behind the drivers seat of my car as I dashed into the grocery for hamburger buns, juice, and soy milk. I was...maybe 5 minutes max. No, I didn't lock the doors. Yes, I'm a twit. No, I didn't think twice about leaving my 'life' in an unopened car.
Yes, it was gone when I returned.
The long version included driving around frantically looking for someone suspicious running with a black leather computer bag, hungry kids waiting patiently for supper, searching nearby dumpsters with false hope someone might've tossed it, phoning Dell for the serial number, filling out police reports, making insurance queries, and getting a pounding headache.
Yes that's all I want to say about the long version.
No I didn't find it.
Yes I'm pissed. At myself mostly, but I'm still pissed at all the rest of it.
What differentiates people that steal from people that don't? What makes some people tough it out trying to support themselves and earn what they want, while others feel they can just take it? How big a balls does one have to have to nick a computer from a car in a crowded parking lot at five in the afternoon? How little does one have to care whether they get caught?
And I'm not just talking about petty crimes, because that mentality must extend up to those who steal from clients or investors...or steal children...or steal lives.
I know I've been pretty lucky. This is only the second time I've reported anything stolen (that was a whack of cd's from another car...and then there was a bike, but I didn't report it), but I find it pretty ironic that I've lived in Toronto, Vancouver, and L.A. and yet have only ever had anything stolen here in little ol' Buttkick.
And other than all my emails and some work done over the past couple weeks, I was lucky enough to have been given a USB Data Traveler Storage device a month or so ago and had transferred everything important over onto it.
Friday, August 17, 2007
This was totally me and another guy at Starbucks yesterday...well, actually it was Johnny Bean's...and we were actually mocking some other 'writers'. But this Friday Fun Family Guy clip still hit pretty close to home...
Because it makes me smile.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Why is it, old people, that so much of what we remember from youth as comforting is now, in hindsight, somewhat disturbing?
"RUN! RUN! FOR THE LOVE OF HUMANITY, RUN!"
Via Stubbleblogger and friend of the blog, Ron Petrie.
I'm going to add:
"Okay kids, go find your parent's hand saw and we'll..."
Some excerpts from the piece:
(Spelling Productions) Ted Gold recalls that ABC wanted its survivor drama to be a hyperrealistic portrayal of life on a deserted island: “Thom [Sherman] (at ABC) said to me, ‘We want to do Cast Away—the Series.’ That’s the only line that was ever pitched.”
Lieber imagined something like Lord of the Flies—a “realistic show about a society putting itself back together after a catastrophe.” In roughly a week’s time, he concocted a general story line centered on what happens to a few dozen plane-crash survivors when they are stuck on a far-off Pacific island. The show, as Lieber saw it, would focus heavily on eight to ten main characters—in particular, two half brothers, avowed rivals, competing for leadership of their fellow castaways, who include a doctor, a con man, a fugitive, a pregnant woman, a drug-addicted man, a military officer, and a spoiled rich girl. (Sound familiar, Lost fans?)
In September 2003, Lieber pitched his premise for the show, then titled Nowhere, to Sherman and his lieutenants. Afterward, continues Gold, “Thom called me and he told me, quote-unquote, ‘The best project of the year.’ He greenlights it enthusiastically.”
Lieber then spent weeks writing an elaborate outline, fleshing out the characters and story lines. Next came six weeks writing the pilot. Just after Thanksgiving, Lieber met with ABC executives for a session at which they made suggestions for changes. He recalls only minor quibbles—things like refining a couple of characters and tweaking some dialogue. “We’re really happy,” he says Sherman told him after the meeting. “If you don’t hand in blank pages on the rewrite, we’re shooting this thing.” Lieber was ecstatic. “Nobody tells you they’re shooting anything—ever. That’s the best news you can get.”
“I thought it was a done deal,” Gold says. The last step was to get (ABC head hauncho) Lloyd Braun to sign off. Over the Christmas holidays, Braun took Lieber’s script with him to the La Quinta resort near Palm Springs.
“It was not received well,” Jonathan Levin, then the president of Spelling, told Lieber a few days after Christmas. So the writer went back to work, but he had little time to revise the script and little to go on. Lieber was “rewriting like hell,” he says, but he “didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t being told really what the problem was—all I was being told was that Lloyd didn’t like it.”
He handed in a new draft a week later, just after the new year, and then waited nervously. A few days later, Sherman called. “He says, ‘Great job on the rewrite,’” Lieber recalls. “‘I really like it.’” Sherman told him that he had some more notes and would call again in an hour. Lieber was hugely relieved. But hours passed with no word from Sherman or anyone else at ABC.
What happened next to Lost has become industry lore. Braun decided to give the project to a young hot shot named J. J. Abrams, who had helped create the ABC cult favorite Alias, among other things. But Abrams was tied up writing another pilot and he was skeptical that the show’s premise could be extended to a whole season of episodes. Braun told him to take the weekend to think about it. Abrams did, and came back with a far-out idea to get around the show’s limitations: What if the island were a character—a supernatural place where strange things happened? Braun loved it.
By this time, it was extremely late to be starting over from scratch. “But Lloyd was so passionate about it, he wanted to take an eleventh-hour stab at saving it,” Sherman says. So Abrams teamed up with a promising writer named Damon Lindelof, and together they came up with another ingenious idea: a flashback device that focuses on one character each episode and allows the show to get off the island.
ABC picked up the pilot without a script, based solely on the outline by Abrams and Lindelof—an almost unheard-of move; less than three months later the pair were making a two-hour-long, $12-million pilot, one of the most expensive pilots in TV history. “I don’t know if there’s another story like this in the annals of television,” says Sherman.
It's worth reading in its entirety, and there's sort of a bittersweet happy ending for Lieber. The project went to arbitration (after numerous attempts by companies involved to exclude Lieber from the package) and he was awarded a shared 'created by' credit with Abrams and Lindelof which will appear when Lost returns to air end of this year.
But the process seems oh so familiar. Sherman says he doesn't know if there's another story like this in the annals of television, but having been on both sides of the fence --- as in the secret writer quietly called in to try to to put a spin on a show to convince higher ups to go forward AND as the writer/creator who's being spun in circles trying to appease higher ups before being dismissed for someone else who'd been clearly working in the wings...I'd say it's more the norm than not.
It's all business, yes. But a harsh business.
Swimming with sharks indeed...
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
We talked a lot about how at its core "JFC" has a hopeful message of salvation and even redemption. It may have seemed gritty on the surface -- you can just smell the fetid-ness of Butchie's motel room, a credit to the show's set designers/decorators -- but it's a tale of the power of community, faith and the ability of even the most seemingly hopeful characters to find something to hang on to as they claw their way back.
Milch set out to challenge the conventions of TV storytelling with "JFC," even more so than he did on his last HBO series, "Deadwood," and in so doing he knew it would not be an easy sell in the climate of the smallscreen today. For sure, there was linear storytelling in "JFC" -- the saga of the Yost clan and their supporting troupe had a beginning, middle and climax in last night's finale, episode 10 -- but within each scene and within each character, there was no convention of having beat A lead neatly to beat B and then beat C and then the next act. Oh no, no, no. This is the hand of Milch, a guy who's thought a lot about the "tactics of fictive argument, generally." To wit, he explained, sounding very much like the Yale university lit lecturer that he once was in a previous life:
"My understanding of the way the mechanism of storytelling works is ...whether or not the audience is conscious of the process, apart from the audience awareness that there is a process, any story is constantly appending specific values to the meanings of words, and of the actions of characters. And the fact that story uses as its building blocks words or characters that the audience believes it has some prior recognition or understanding of, is really simply the beginning of the story, but not its end.
For example, to take a less controversial instance of stuff that I've worked on before: ("NYPD Blue" protagonist Andy) Sipowicz. We know him in the first episode (of "Blue") to be a racist, alcoholic. A slob and a fat bastard. Over the course of time, we come to attach different associations to him, based on our experiences....I think that's the case at every level of storytelling. Not just in terms of character but literally with every word, every sound that's made in a story."
He goes on and on...I'm still trying to find an interpreter.
JFC's done I think. And although I enjoyed the experience, that's all that it was...an experience.
UPDATE: Hollywood Reporter makes it official. JFC dunso.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Via Greg, this excerpt from a forthcoming U.K. book 'What I Really Want to Do Is Produce' by Helen de Winter which begins by posing this question to several experienced feature film producers:
So you're a producer... what exactly do you do?
Some highlights from the answers:
Alan Greenspan (Donnie Brasco, High Fidelity): "I ask myself the same question."
Barbara Broccoli (Goldeneye, Die Another Day) "Most people have absolutely no concept of what producers do, even people in the film business."
Jennifer Todd (Austin Powers, Memento) "I always say I'm the head firefighter."
Eric Fellner (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary) "Ultimately a producer is the instigator... the cheerleader."
Stephen Evans (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Madness of King George) "Frankly the more you explain what you do, the more pathetic you sound: 'I did this and that and you don't realise what I've been through...' You just sound like a fully paid-up member of the Sad Fuckers Club."
Jason Hoffs (The Terminal) "A producer once said to me that a movie project is like a very sick patient who is dying in the emergency room, and you are the doctor who needs to keep the patient alive - except that the patient wants to die. It's not like he's fighting for his life. Even if your project is on the fast track, the amount of care, energy, ideas and passion you need to keep pumping into these things to get them made is staggering. Along the way there are going to be thousands of roadblocks. But you have to keep going. So that's what a producer does. Everything possible."
James Schamus (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain) "Producing is simply having the will to get something done, and figuring out a way to make sure thousands of people help you."
One of Greg's colleagues also commented:
"I tend to make a list of things to do and figure out how to get other people to do them. Using as little money as possible."
That defines it about as well as I've ever heard it. All good stuff. My hat always goes off to producers (and I mean the actual producer, not those garnishing credits via a pay-off or their affiliation to companies or the financing)...it's such a difficult thankless job because although in some ways you are doing everything, it can appear like you're doing nothing. Tough gig.
I also recently read a book by TV writer/producer Jeffery Stepakoff (Wonder Years, Sisters, Beauty & the Beast, Dawson's Creek) entitled 'The Billion Dollar Kiss'. It's a fascinating memoir with lots of insightful, behind-the-scenes peeks at how television is really made, Stepakoff describes how quality script-driven programming ruled the airwaves in the eighties and nineties, why we're watching so much reality TV now, and what the future of television holds for viewers and writers alike.
It's a good read, not only for anyone starting out and wanting to write/produce television, but for more experienced scribes as well. The chapters where Stepakoff reflects on his stint on 'Dawson's Creek' is pretty great insider stuff (how the heck did James Van Der Beek get to wield such a big bat?).
Here's a taste:
When you write one-hour TV—feeding the massive apparatus that produces a $2.5 million mini-movie every six days, day in and day out—you are certainly accustomed to round-the-clock doses of heart-thumping, stomach-churning, no-way-in-hell-will-we-make-the-deadline anxiety. But the panic that gripped the writing staff on Dawson's Creek this particular day was a special kind—an unforgettable kind.
To say that the show was starting to sink would be polite; at this point at the beginning of Season Three, we were already deep, deep, underwater. When I was hired onto the writing staff a few weeks earlier, Dawson's Creek was the hottest show on television. Oh, word was out around town that "The Creek was a crazy place to work" and "Dawson's was a nightmare, beware!" But every writer heard those decrees about every show in town. I mean, unless you were lucky enough to work for Phil Rosenthal on Everybody Loves Raymond, nicknamed by writers as "Everybody Loves Everybody," you knew you'd inevitably put up with a certain amount of insanity if you took a staff gig. That was a given. But the truth is, I had no idea what I was signing up for. I don't think any of the writers really did.
We had been called into the Room to break story, as was our habit; but on this particular day, we had been called much earlier than was our habit. The mind-numbing sound of smashing metal at the body shop on Olympic and Barrington, which our story room overlooked, hadn't even started yet. Like small animals able to sense an oncoming natural disaster, we knew from the position of the sun, the ubiquitous Venti-sized cups, and the alarming quiet, we were officially entering Crisis Mode.
The anxiety was escalating in the Dawson's Creek story room. Tammy Ader stood at one of the five large dry-erase boards mounted on the walls and wrote all sorts of words in a wide variety of cheerful colors. "Pretty in Pink Story!" "Risky Business Part 2!" "Pacey Gets Motorcycle, à la Rebel w/o a Cause." Whenever the story process hits a speed bump, TV writers will often pitch classic paradigms—also known as movies we might be able to rip off. Paul's cheerleading efforts for the possible story lines just made Alex even more disheartened. It's not that he was above stealing from movies. TV writers on deadline will shamelessly pilfer just about anything for inspiration. Current events, bible stories, the sex lives of interns are all fair game for next week's show. Alex hated the tone of Tammy's stories. He championed mysteries, crime stories, and characters that weren't quite like what you'd find on the network that aired Felicity and 7th Heaven. "I sold out," was the explanation Alex oft offered the writing staff as to why he took the Dawson's job. "Sony backed the Brink's truck up to my front door and started dumping money until I just couldn't say no anymore."
As the day progressed and the story process did not, moving from constructive dialectic into something less collegial, twenty-seven-year-old Greg Berlanti, a former movie producer's assistant who had just started writing TV the year before, said something that changed all our lives: "Pacey kisses Joey."
What? I remember thinking. "You can't do that. Joey is Dawson's girl. Remember, they are soul mates, and that is the closest thing we have to a franchise around here."
But Greg was so impassioned, as was his usual state, that he jumped up, grabbed a cheerful color marker from Tammy, and drew a triangle on one of the boards, writing "Pacey" at one point, "Joey" at another, "Dawson" at another. "No, I'm serious," he said. "Pacey kisses Joey. Think about it!"
And that's when it hit me. Of course! A love triangle. Heresy is exactly what the show needed. Not only did we have a story, we had a story engine, a dramatic problem that would create many other stories. There had been a love triangle on the show before, between Dawson, Jen, and Joey. There had once even been a kiss between Joey and Pacey. But these stories never went anywhere. As one person closely affiliated with the series put it, "Those ideas were floating around in the ether; Greg pulled them out and focused on them." For the first time, we had a series. The Katie Holmes–Josh Jackson Kiss, the love triangle it created, and the stories that it bore drove the show to 128 episodes, six seasons, and international acclaim.
I'd also recommend it to Canadian readers just because his Creek experience sounds oh sooooo familiar...as in, they filmed in North Carolina but were constantly on the phone with the network and studio back in LA.
The distant location. Much like how things can go down up here in Canada.
So there you go, each time you think there's no books under the sun that can teach you anything new...another couple come along.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
It was a Canadian music flashback weekend...concert choices included folkie Bruce Cockburn (who I first saw live in the early 80's), Blue Rodeo (who I first saw live in the late 80's) and rock n' roller Kim Mitchell.
I went for Kim (as opposed to for a soda).
Because although my love for music extends to most all types and styles, I will admit, as Karen Walton recently stated, I'm a rocker at heart.
"This is rockland wonderland..."
I don't go out that often anymore. My hearing ain't what it was...my patience for the crowds and the drunks and the noise ain't what it was...my ability for staying up really late isn't what it was ---yeah, I'm getting old.
Sort of like Kim.
Mr. Mitchell just turned 55. Where do rock n' rollers go to die (if they aren't the Stones or Aerosmith or the Who or any of the other handful of superstars who've managed to survive long past their prime)? In Kim Mitchell's case, he kinda retired (at least from writing and recording), toured occasionally, and ultimately ended up taking a gig as Q107 Toronto radio's drive home dee-jay.
But when it's in your blood it's in your blood. Last year Kim began writing and recording again and this summer released 'Ain't Life Amazing', his first cd in over eight years.
And it's pretty damn good. A solid B+. If you're familiar with this classic Canadian rocker's tunes, listen to the title track. It's vintage Kim Mitchell and could be a show closer if his fans would allow it.
He also began touring again with more frequency, playing a lot of smaller venues across Canada over the past year. The stripped down band consists of Mitchell on guitar/vocals, Peter Fredette on bass and backing vocals, and a drummer. And this weekend they were in Buttkick.
"I am a wild party
Oi Oi Olé!"
So I ventured out to a club I'd never been before. The Drink. I'd describe it as sort of like the El Macambo but servicing a slightly lower class (if that's possible)...and the bar is in the middle instead of the back. A near brawl broke out at the entrance mere seconds after our arrival...you get the picture.
Anyway, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly...
First, the Bad. The sound sucked. One of the best things about the Kim Mitchell band is the harmonies and interplay between Mitchell and his longtime compadre Fredette. Not this night. Drums much too loud, vocals way too low, and little to no separation between the bass and guitar. It was like it was mixed for a much larger venue because the further back you went (like, to where you couldn't actually see the stage), it started to sound not bad. But up close? Like listening to a big ol' wall of Mud.
The Ugly. In general, the clientele reinforced why I don't go out that often anymore. Yes, the Drink is something of a 'rocker bar', but that doesn't mean unattractive and fall-down drunk is the only way to be. Between the long-haired dopeheads stumbling into walls to the 17-year-old wannabe groupie chicks dancing on the bar a la Coyote Ugly to the plethora of forty-something 'cougars' stalking anything male...let's just say I kept my eyes forward and on the stage at all times. Make no eye contact...stay outta trouble.
Finally, the Good. Mitchell's guitar wizardry managed to shine through the shitty sound mix. The old guy can still play. And he seemed like he was having a ball. Smiling, chatting a lot between songs, jumping and twirling around the stage (especially during some of his tunes like 'Million Vacations' and 'Paradise Skies' from his days with Max Webster, a 70's Canadian band that still holds a fond place in the heart of a lot of us old folks), This and the advantage of a smallish club that allowed one to be less than fifteen feet from the stage (the last time I saw him was in the early 90's at a large outdoor grandstand venue) were some of the bonuses.
So some good, though his new look took some adjustment. You see, today he looks like this...
Whereas he used to look like this...
That's how he be when I met him back in the early 90's. We sat down for about an hour at the offices of his management to discuss Kim appearing in my movie Guitarman. He was always my first choice to play the pivotal role, and months and months of pestering finally led to a sit down in Toronto. I was determined to have a real guitarist, even though everyone else wanted to take an actor and 'transform' him.
But I wanted to believe this character could really play a wicked guitar, plus I thought if we got a known axe grinder, we could use that artist's stage persona to our advantage. And we contacted Sting's people and Angus Young's people and Slash's people and Johnny Winter's people. Some phone conversations took place but there was next to no interest. Plus we didn't have a lot of money to offer. But Kim seemed genuinely interested and so I pitched and sold and he listened and nodded.
I thought we had him...
But the next day he called and said that as much as he liked the story and wanted to do it, he just wasn't an actor...he seemed really hung up about possibly making a fool of himself. It was a pass (I still used Mitchell's look at the time as a model for the musician we ultimately cast: Jack Semple).
But he was gracious and polite and funny...much like the persona he projects onstage. A regular guy...the people's rocker...a self-proclaimed Canuck 'hoser' who still reacts almost with surprise at the adoration he continues to receive.
Like he did last night.
I'll leave you with a song, and though it feels like it should be 'Rock N' Roll Duty' or 'Go For Soda', I gotta go with the sentimental favourite 'Patio Lanterns'...
As soon as he strummed the opening chords, the crowd in all its aged ugly drunken glory seemed to become 16 again. Lighters were held aloft as they swayed and sang along to lyrics of teenage summer nights and first love. The music washed over us, and for a brief moment, those patio lanterns were the stars in our skies once more, lighting up our lives.
Keep on struttin' your stuff, Kim. You're still the original guitarman in my book (screenplay/movie).
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Whether it was the heat or loading all those TV title sequences or hard drive gremlins but the number of times my computers (yes, that's plural) froze up or crashed or lost material trying to finish it almost put me off blogging for good.
So to clarify (if anyone cares)...I'm not really advocating a return to Voiceover intros - I was trying to be a little sarcastic while letting a little nostalgia for days gone by wash over me. Plus was so happy to hit publish and walk away that I didn't really take the time to revise or refine. But I'll still stand by the notion that a good title and title sequence (whatever form it takes) are a crucial factor in drawing in a viewer and keeping them hooked. A friend reminded me of the excitement that was attached to 'hearing' the opening theme to a fav show and running for the living room to plop down and watch it. Those days seem behind us for sure. Most sequences today are shorter, snappier, or even non-existent...it's cut to the chase time. Plus next to none appear right at the beginning of the show anymore.
As for demise of Voiceover title sequences, I thought Good Dog made a very valid point in stating that intros needed to be more 'on the nose' and explanatory way back when because there wasn't the plethora of 'entertainment' news and magazines we have now that constantly remind us of shows and who's in them and what they are about. And Cunningham makes a nice catch in defining the preamble that introduces most genre shows as 'the Saga sell'.
At any rate, for the record I thought I should state my top one hour drama title sequences - The Sopranos, Miami Vice, Northern Exposure, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Quincy MD, Six Feet Under, and of course, Rockford Files.
Now you know. Moving on.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Lee Goldberg at A Writers Life has been posting an assortment of main titles for the past year or so. He gives a short assessment of what a title sequence should do, and distills it down to this...
Main titles are created to introduce the audience to the show they are about to see. But for the writer, there is much more information to be gleaned. It is a chance to read the mind of the executive producer. How does he perceive the show? How does he perceive the characters? How does he perceives the tone? What kinds of stories does he want to tell?
Most main title sequences will answer all those questions and more.
There are basically three different kinds of main title sequences: Format sequences, that actually tell you in narration and in writing what the show is about; Mood sequences that convey the type of feeling and tone they are going for; and Character sequences, which delineate who the characters are and how they interact.
Many main titles are combinations of these three sequences.
Interesting. Though lately the movement has been toward short and sweet, a la Heroes, Lost, and Studio 60.
Those aren't title sequences where I come from, they're bumpers. But I will generally take them over some of the lonnng intros of days gone by...see Highway To Heaven or Knots Landing or BJ and the Bear or Baywatch (over 2:00!!) if you want to be reminded.
So how do shows get you to enjoy their 'sequences', whichever model they choose?
Some shows hooked you with some memorable theme music, like Hawaii Five-O, Mission Impossible, Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice, St Elsewhere, Magnum P.I., and The Rockford Files...
And others used a familiar or catchy song, like Dawson's Creek, CSI: Miami, Fame, Gilmore Girls, Ally McBeal, Smallville, Charmed, or Greatest American Hero...
Most of the intros listed above seem to be either Mood Sequences or Character sequences. But the title sequence using narration or voiceover (or Format sequence apparently) seems pretty old school. In fact, I could find hardly any current shows that utilize it (Life On Mars being the exception). But I kept digging and kept finding some old golden nuggets and it got me thinking....
Were they really so bad?
I mean, at first I cringed...but the more I thought about it, I felt myself coming around. Seriously. At the end of the day the title sequence should establish genre/style, and introduce stars/characters, but most importantly it needs to set you as the viewer up for what kind of show you'll be watching (or clicking away from).
That's where the VO title sequence excels. Sexy images and cool music may create a mood and help determine genre...and if you've got some stars the network's gonna want the viewers to see them, but take all the above and place some narration over top to clearly set up the show and even establish intent and objective of the episodes and the characters, and I say you've hit a home run.
Now, I can already hear many of you whining --- but that's soooo uncool.
It's not about being cool, my friends...it's about taking advantage of the 30 seconds to a minute you have to set up and clearly define your show. And I might be setting the bar a little low, but I sometimes think TV series today spend waaaayy too much time and money and energy 'designing' an opening titles sequence (blame the movie Se7en).
But I'm sure some are wondering how one couldn't be mesmerized by the artistic majesty of the opening titles for such contemporary tv series as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Big Love, and Dexter! I mean, how can we even compare?
I'm sure some are also thinking even regular network shows excel these days...the cool cold feel of Nip/Tuck, the sombre subtlety of House, the bombastic energy of CSI: Vegas, and the juicy juxtaposition of Greys Anatomy.
But let's face it, some of today's popular show intros, albeit shorter, feel waaayyy too artsy for their own good...not to mention not really informing the viewer about the series. Try watching the opening titles for Desperate Housewives or Medium or The 4400 and tell me you have any idea what the show is actually about? Not too mention there seems to be some smug 'look at us, aren't we cool and clever' going on.
Nope, if I had my druthers, I'd make that first pass at a title sequence be a voiceover one...get that one right, then make it more complicated from there if so desired.
But that's just me.
So, for your viewing/debating pleasure, I present my 10 Best (Worst?) TV Title Sequences With Voiceover:
Beauty And The Beast - is it a love story? Wasn't sure before, now I am.
The Incredible Hulk - confused about what's going to happen? Not after watching this...
Early Edition - simple, clean, perfect.
The Six Million Dollar Man - okay, it's not exactly a voiceover narration, but it's close enough for rock n'roll in my book. Classic.
Star Trek - the 'original' Format sequence
The A-Team - it's so all there, you can't miss it.
Sliders - almost too much information, if such a thing was even possible.
Hart To Hart - I was befuddled by this title, but not anymore.
The first season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer actually had this little pre-intro to help set up the show before evolving into one of the best title sequences ever...
And finally, the piece de resistance...Charlie's Angels - the all-time tell-all title sequence
Okay, seriously for a moment...that's all I got, and these are just the ones I came across at TV Intros and Retro Junk. I'm sure there are plenty more that I missed or aren't posted online yet.
But I leave you with this question: can we love a show but hate the title sequence? Or will we always enjoy the title sequence from a show that we love?
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
First there was Sanctuary, now there's Afterworld...a new animated (sort of) post-apocalypse science fiction show heralded as the first television series to be made available on mobile phones and the web simultaneously.
I'm not even sure what that means exactly....aren't most programs put out that way when they are released online?
It's the brainchild of Stan Rogow, well-known in tween TV circles as the producer behind such Disney Channel staples as Lizzie McGuire, Darcy's Wild Life, and Flight 29 Down. He says he got the notion from watching how much his teenage son was online watching 'clips' of TV shows, but NOT actually watching any television.
This article in the Sydney Morning Herald explains:
Rogow said the next generation of TV viewers were losing interest in half and one-hour dramas, which is why he repeatedly passed on the opportunity to develop Afterworld into a live-action TV show and a full-length motion picture.
"I saw my son watching a chunk of CSI today on YouTube ... but I must tell you if I said to him what day of the week is CSI on, he couldn't tell me," Rogow said. "I think that's a statement in and of itself because I think it's about people wanting to have control over when they watch and what they watch."
"I think this is where it [the TV industry] is heading, and I also think that at the end of the day it will not necessarily be the end of network television, but I think it's going to be a different form of network television that will offer the experience on multiple platforms," said Rogow.
The article goes on to say:
But unlike most of the short clips on YouTube, millions of dollars have been spent on creating Afterworld. Rogow said it was a major challenge crafting a cohesive narrative for each episode while keeping their length below three minutes. "These episodes are very very dense and there's a lot of information in them, and so it's not just three minutes of 'name your favourite television show'," he said.
Okay. Interesting. And also interesting that the SciFi/Fantasy crowd seems to be primary targets for these online series TV experiments. And also worth noting that both Sanctuary and now Afterworld have a gaming component in their master plan.
So each Afterworld episode is around two minutes long, and there are 130 episodes. One thing that was confusing was that it reads like a web/mobile phone series only, but it also premiered last night on SciFi on Foxtel in Australia, and will continue to air every weeknight at 7:30pm for the next 26 weeks. Okay, so THAT seems to be it's primary market.
But two minute segments? One every weeknight?
That's like tuning in for a long commercial. Will viewers (or at least, 'the kids' as I call them) go for this? I can buy the kids seeking it out (maybe) online if it's really good, but that's because the show is designed to appeal to the online/Youtube crowd.
But two minute episodes on network TV? I don't know. It sounds more like filler. Dropped in between 'regular' programming like the music videos and 'behind the scenes' segments Disney...er, I mean Family Channel here in Canada does all the time. My kids watch them because they are waiting for the next program, but they aren't tuning in for the in-between stuff.
So who knows if it will help/hurt get Afterworld noticed. Worth trying I suppose. You can watch the first couple segments HERE.
Cunningham, you digging this?
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
...it's big and huge with lots of stick man figures...
The ninth of ten episodes aired this past Sunday --- and I say the end is imminent because I don't see John From Cincinnati getting renewed. It's not that kind of 'series' --- more of a long movie or miniseries. It's intriguing and entertaining viewing to be sure, but I am now of the opin that JFC's not very good TV (though one could argue 'It's not TV, it's HBO').
TV and TV series are built on formula, convention, consistency, coherency, meeting expectations and providing resolutions. That's not to say there can't be exceptions to the rule, but we generally want our shows clearly explained, and neatly tied up. John From Cincinnati does none of those things...which is okay, if in a limited format.
Problem is, JFC wasn't designed to be a limited series. If it does get cancelled after this weekend, will we get some closure? Or just be left hanging. No idea.
Nevertheless, JFC still reminds me of Twin Peaks (shortish run, quirky characters, unique 'place', spirographing mystery), but the more I mull it also reminds me a little bit of the six part limited series Angels in America...a show that was about AIDS but wasn't about AIDS at all.
JFC is about a mysterious stranger (alien? angel? schizophrenic?) arrives to a small surfing community and through a series of small 'miracles' seems to be a catalyst for change in the local characters. On one site it was described as a sci-surfamedy. Another called it a sci-fi drama. At any rate, there's a underlying sense of something quietly supernatural or otherworldly at work.
But Surf Whisperer or Medium Wave it's not.
While there is the ongoing conundrum of 'John' (and that's part of the appeal...trying to decipher the scenes and the dialogue in order to unravel that mystery), at it's core JFC seems to be about the importance of community while acknowledging the necessity for individuals to change when most would prefer things stay as they are.
Furthermore, like from whence 'Angels' came, JFC also feels like theatre...the way it's written, staged, performed...a metaphorical morality play driven by concepts and themes that almost seems more suited for the stage and the safety of the Proscenium Arch. There it can be observed from one angle, not from all sides --- and interpreted as well as enjoyed, because of audience expectations in the theatre. JFC's on television, however...where audience expectations are different, and the lens can show everything. But while creator David Milch might let the camera roam, he refuses to let you see everything.
Who is John? Where is Shaun? Who or what is John's father? What does it all mean??!!
So while we viewers search for answers, one person appears with an unusual message; a different way of thinking, like nothing that any of us viewers are used to. No, I don't mean John...but Milch. He's conducting a little experiment in story-telling, and we're the guinea pigs.
Will we get answers to all of our questions this Sunday evening? Will I get the 'ending' or closure I'm looking for?
Well, if we are to take the creator at his word...
"The important point that I'm trying to make is that storytelling has nothing, whatsoever, to do with logic. Logic is a limping stepchild of the true processes of the spirit. It's an illusion. It's a defective little parlor trick. Associations are the way that we perceive. Electrical connections caused by the juxtapositions of experience. That's the way we are really built, and storytelling takes into account that truth." - David Milch
...I highly doubt it.
P.S. Lots of good discussion about the show HERE, but nobody has any answers. Just lots more theories and questions. Go. Melt your brain.