Thursday, January 31, 2008

I wouldn't want to see a script for this...

Stephen Worth suggested I write a script based on the "Bugs/Porky" section of "Corny Concerto"

I'll be the first to point out... I don't think you COULD do a script for the Bugs and Porky section of this cartoon.

Something WAS written before this cartoon was boarded... and it was the music. So if anything, the music is the script to service the cartoon, which is whimsy and romp.
About 2:40 seconds worth of cartoon with a wafer thin thru-line that is there to go from gag to gag to gag. (If you're just looking for the "Bugs" part, start watching at about the one minute mark.)

So... while it's a good suggestion, it feels like a bit of a trap. :)

I don't think you can script out a cartoon like this in a way that services what this cartoon wants to do. Nor would I try.

Keep the discussion going tho. Somebody suggested "Tail of Two Kitties." but i'll take a few more before I throw something out for a vote.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Updated: An idea is brewing. And maybe it's time to put my money where my mouth is.

But I'll probably need the group to make it work.

If you could pick one cartoon - ONE - to work backwards from... To go from Animated Cartoon backwards to script... to either prove that it's possible or prove that it's not... what would it be?

One of the classics - a cartoon that would make the "purists" (the quotes are sarcastic, by the way) want to stab themselves in the eyes before reading as text - what would it be?

Pick a cartoon you think is so perfect, so flawless, that words could NEVER do it justice...

Which one would you choose?

A few extra caveats:

* Give me a classic cartoon with words and actions that holds up today.
* If it's wordless, give me something in the Road Runner / Tom and Jerry world where there's conflict AND cartoon comedy.

I'm looking for that "played in the mornings when we were kids, they don't make cartoons like that anymore" cartoon that everybody holds up as the standard.

And then, I'll let ya know what I'm up to.

- Steve

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Why did it take no TV to make me stop watching shit TV?

I can't speak for everyone on the planet, but... I am not in the sole control of my TV, or my TIVO.

On any given day, there's movies on there I don't like, Oprah's I'd rather get eye cancer than watch... and then Cashmere Mafia, which makes feel very serial killer-y. I really need an hour of women telling me that they have a place in the workplace? Really? What is this, 1955?

I like it better on Madmen when it's done in context and nobody's trying to convince you it's a comedy.

But in the dry spell that has been the wrtier's strike, I have discovered Weeds, Battlestar Galactica, The Sarah Conner Chronicles (Nerd!), Breaking Bad, Mad Men, and I absorb Grey's Anatomy like a sponge.

All of them: Scripted.

Don't get me wrong. There are some reality shows I like: I like the end of American Idol, I enjoy Celebrity Apprentice, and I can find myself absorbed in Amazing Race, provided the people in it aren't all complete tools.

But the shows that get my loyalty... are the ones that are written. With stories. And characters. And plot lines.

Everybody talks about this strike sending people screaming to the internet. But I think there's something else happening too: It's sending them screaming to DVD box sets and netflix.

I think you're going to find that people are seeking out good TV. And for all we know, that's good news for shows like 30 Rock, shows that are on the bubble that people are finding for the first time...

...and will return to when they're back on the air, brand new.

Foolishly optimistic, I know. But a boy can hope.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Network attitude: Sell to me, don't try to change me.

Okay, so... Bob Harris makes a good point. And, before the waterfall of people who say I don't respect how hard it is to do a storyboard begin to anonymously flame, I'll start a new discussion.

I am not saying that Board artists waste their time and do a board, only to have it retrofitted into a script when they are in the midst of a production. That's dumb.

I'm giving you my opinion on how someone who writes on storyboard could sell a show to someone who wants a script.

Because it boils down to this: If you want to sell a show, and then you want it to be a board-driven show... YOU have to be in charge. If I'm in charge, or someone like me is, it's gonna be script-driven. That's how I think, that's how I work, that's what I like.

Whether I'm a good executive running a script-driven show in the eyes of the board artists who work on it... is another discussion.

But lets say you - the artist who writes on storyboard - has the greatest idea for a cartoon ever. And you, the artist who writes on storyboard - sells it... but the network wants to see a script before a board. But you, the artist who writes on storyboard... DOESN'T WANT TO WRITE LIKE THAT.

Then don't.

When it comes to scripts, you write, you rewrite, you rewrite again, you get notes, you get more notes, and then eventually... in a pilot, you get to go to board.

My suggestion to you, to beat this system, is play it to your strengths.

Thumbnail your pilot.
Write the way you know how to write.
Then, retrofit it back into script, to give it to the network in a way they understand it. Go and talk to a writer friend of yours who will help you turn it into a script, if you don't feel that's your strength. It entails making a writer friend, but you can do it. I believe in you.

This is no different than pitching your thumbs, getting notes, and then having to revise and clean up. It takes more effort to redraw than it does to rewrite... I get that. But do you want to sell a show to an executive that only gets scripts?

Give them a script.

Give them the script version of your thumbnail board pitch. Include your board if you want. Don't if you don't. In success, they tell you to "go to board" with notes. Then you'll get paid for that step. And guess what? You're half way done, ideally.

In an ideal world, I - as a script writer - would like to be able to sell a show without a board to back it up. But in cartoons, I can't. Boards are the second step in any of my pilot processes, finding a director who I can work with... who likes the show I've created or produce and wants to either work on it or add to it... is integral to its success.

But in the real world, a board artist can cheat the system... sell the show, do the board, hide the board, transcribe the script, get the notes and then sell the series.

And then, in success, you can fight to have the show "written" anyway you want.

Unless it's a network that only takes board pitches for shows. In which case, I have no place there. At best, I work on someone else's vision.

No writer - board or script - gets paid for their time, compared to the effort it takes to sell a show. The success is in series.

So I pose this as a possibility. If you could play to your strengths, and sell to what the buyer wants and understands... where is the harm?

Technorati Tags:
, , , Tags:
, , ,

Thursday, January 24, 2008

To the 80 hour a week guy - you get what you negotiate for, and you put up with what you choose to put up with

What the hell, lets make this it's own thread:

Anonymous guy:

"Since when do studios NOT respect animation writers? studios kiss your inept asses and make you producers. you writers are just lucky studio executives have no idea how animation works or they would realize that MOST of you bog down your stories with crap slow down the pipeline and make shows twice as expensive to produce. instead you get promoted to producers and showrunners and sometimes they even call you directors. "

Uh... that's not entirely true. There's a whole strike going on because of how writers are respected, but... you have your opinion and I have mine. (I appreciate you highlighting "MOST," I'm not taking anything personally here.)

On a script driven show, do I think writers have more contact with executives and creators than other people on the production? Yes. And a producer/story editor needs that access, because they're the interface between the production and the network executive. Notes are delivered to the first person in the chain that can then manage the notes down to a production and have them addressed... whether it's story notes from an EP, network notes from the Channel, or S&P notes from the fine folks in Standards and Practices.
But that doesn't mean we're getting our asses kissed. It means we get the unfiltered negatives.

If you want to be an animation writer and stand out from the crowd then be the opposite of what most of them are right now. study more than writing. study film and art and design. artists only hate writers who are crap at scriptwriting so if your actually good at it you will be loved.

Well, everybody wants to be loved, but that's the last thing on my mind when I'm writing. All I care about is writing a script and producing a cartoon that I'm proud of.
I'm going to try to do it in a way that doesn't kill a crew, and try to do it in a way that's smart about the medium, but regardless of your background, that's all you can do: Try. In the end, every production is going to have it's own complications and constraints... and you do the best you in the time you have with the money you've been budgeted.

As for the pay dont worry about not getting residuals because when you are made a producer it will make up for it. until then just accept everything else as "part of the job" the way this blog constantly tells storyboard artists that fixing shitty scripts and working 80 hours a week is just "part of the job".

Being made a producer and getting residuals are two different things. Producer is a title, with a pay raise probably, but it doesn't mean back end, residuals, or monies in success.

But here's the part that I really wanted to debate with you.

Are you getting paid for 80 hours a week? And if not, why not?

If you're working 80 hours a week and you are getting paid for it, you need to stop complaining about that because you're being paid for 80 hours a week. But since I doubt that's the case, I'll say that if you're working 80 hours a week and you're not getting paid for it, then you need to stand up for yourself and get paid.

That's YOUR job. Or your supervisor's job. Or your union's job. Nobody's going to tell you to NOT work if there's work to be done. You're the only one that can ask to be compensated fairly for work done.

Continuing that thought: If somebody else can do your job in half the time (or less time, I suppose), in a way that makes the Production work or the producers happy, then you need to figure out how to do what you do differently and stop complaining about what the writers are doing.

Every production has a schedule and a budget. They are either reasonable, or not. But if I can't produce something on a schedule, I push the schedule. If I can't produce something on a budget, I say something. And if those two issues are immovable objects, then something has to give.

For me, on my current production, maybe that's a retake. Or the inability to get a joke in a show. Or I have to live with a background I hate, in a color palate that makes me think I'm looking at Salmon. Or facial expressions and character acting that's not what I was hoping for.

If I don't have the time or budget to fix those things, I can't wave a magic wand and create either. And I understand your frustration, if people above you want you to. But you need to figure out how you can say "I don't have a wand to do that."

There's three circles in any production: Shit you can control, shit you can influence, and shit that's out of your hands. Fix the stuff you can control and accept the stuff you can't. Otherwise you end up very bitter, very quickly.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Who then, speaks for the animation writer?

It's been the topic of a lot of commentary:

"In order to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations, we have decided to withdraw our proposals on reality and animation. Our organizing efforts to achieve Guild representation in these genres for writers will continue. You will hear more about this in the next two weeks."

Me? I'm disappointed, not surprised. Forgive me if I don't clutch my heart over this.

So who represents animation writers?

Well, at least, for now, it's not the WGA. We're off the table again.

And as an animation script writer, I can say... I don't really think it'll ever be IATSE. We are a small voice in a gigantic union.

The IATSE contract is up in 18 months. Lets see how that all shakes out. Will IATSE use the WGA as a template in the same way IATSE wanted the WGA to use the DGA agreement?

Hell if I know.

If you're an animation person, and you want good representation, you're gonna have to find it, pick it, and pay for it.

For a lawyer to read your fine print and protect you.

For an agent to fight for you and you alone.

For an accountant, or a business manager, to help you save money and build your own pension.

And most importantly, for your own talent to shine bright enough that it can secure a future above minimums.

Because apparently, as of right now, I don't see a better option.

Is this what it's like for animators to watch "Bottom Biting Bug?"

Or any other cartoon that takes the medium and uses it for something else?

Lets start with the fact that this is on Youtube, under the poorly thought out linkline of "Are you funnier than Jay Mohr." Holy God, is that a set up for a waterfall of negative comments.

I've always gotten along with Jay. So, I'm not critiquing the comedy. Truth to tell, I haven't watched the clip. I'm commenting on the marketing of it all. Nothing else.

As a comic, there's nothing more infuriating than watching an actor get up on stage and do five minutes of horrid material, as a way to showcase themselves in front of a talent scouts who happen to be at comedy clubs.

It was a BIG thing in the '80s, when people were tossing out sitcom deals the way most people toss out aluminum cans. Yeah, you get five cents back, but who cares?

So here's this clip, produced by Turbotax, and "Tax Laugh.Com." Here's this clip that uses stand up comedy - the art form - but (I'm guessing) has green screened Jay and dropped him in front of a brick wall with the word "LAUGH" spraypainted behind him, as though the Joker's hunchmen were there.

So here's this clip, for a contest that didn't even have the courage to show Jay on a stage at, say, an Improv Comedy Club, doing this material in front of a live audience.

Ignoring the fact that I don't want my taxes to be funny, I want them to be accurate - this is a campaign that takes something I hold to be sacred and uses it in a way that's not so kind to the art form.

I see parallels there.

The flipside is this: The best comics came from somewhere else, as well. I know Lawyer comedians. Rodney Dangerfield sold vacuum cleaners. I was an editorial columnist for several papers before I moved into comedy. They were all people who came from some place else and then found their love of it later.

Maybe they studied the greats. Or, maybe they just became really, really good.

The combination of art and commerce - the melding of promoting creativity and pissing on the genre - Somewhere between Eddy Izzard and or between The Incredible World of DIC and PIXAR, who doesn't need an adjective in front of it to promote it's inredible-ness... there's an answer there somewhere.

Monday, January 21, 2008

You'll notice, the guild didn't react.

A lot of people are reacting FOR the guild.

But the guild is running numbers. And the guild is rightly trying to figure out what this means for its members, not how it affects directors or what they look like in the media.

The very fact that CBS has to advertise "Big Brother 10 (or whatever)" as "Now that's good television" should say something. Maybe it is: If you're grading on a curve.

With awards shows coming and an actor's strike brewing, this is the perfect time for the WGA to make a decision as to whether this is a good deal, and negotiate from it... or to stand strong, and keep up the fight.

I don't have an opinion. I don't know the numbers.

I also don' t have an opinion, because I have a weekly paycheck. I am vested, and I am affected... but I am not suffering as others are, for this cause.

Everybody wants this over quickly. But for it to be over without meaning would mean it shouldn't have happened in the first place.

The WGA can take heart in the fact that any big gains given to the DGA were a direct result of the pressure the WGA put on the AMPTP in the first place. The gains given to the DGA, that they made that deal in six days, is proof that there was merit to the WGA argument... and the AMPTP gave in on some things but gave them to the DGA as a face saving measure.

The question now becomes... is it enough for the DGA? Would it be enough for SAG?

Interesting days.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I'm thinking it's time we get together again.

Personally, I don't think this strike is going to wind down as quickly as everybody else would like it to, because right now... the writers have all the fiscal leverage.

They might not have the PR leverage, since the DGA took a deal that is still being analyzed...

...but with the Oscars coming, TV viewing down and Wall Street starting to realize that greed is the driving force for locking the writers out of their fair share, not smart business decisions...

...pressure is mounting.

At the same time, I think we - animation writers - script writers and board writers - have a unique and singular opportunity to discuss what WE want, and how this strike and the sacrifices that were made for the gains that are coming (regardless of size) - can be used to change our situations for the better.

Regardless of how.

In the next few weeks I'll be figuring out the where's and the whens of the next get together. It'll probably be Burbank - that's the center of existence for all three studios. But aside from drinking and commiserating, I'd like to put a little bit of a "think tank" on it as well...

Anybody got a better suggestion for a place to get together besides Gordon Biersch?

I'm thinking:
The Outside Area at French 75 Bistro
The Blue Room (but they don't take credit cards. Bleh)

I'm open to suggestions about where, and what this one should be about.

But I'm also about to start watching football, and the Packers are one game away from a Superbowl trip, so my Sunday priorities are my Sunday priorities.

Stay linked. :)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Barguments over the strike

So, I live up in the Valencia/Stevenson Ranch area.

This is, I think it's safe to say, where successful but not mega-rich people in the entertainment industry live.  The below the line folks who are doing well on a week to week basis, or, for the sake of arguments, animation show runners who have been doing animation show running for nearly a decade.

I like it here.  I could use a few more decent restaurants, but the "Claim Jumper Buffalo Chicken Tenders" are pretty good.

But... I am outnumbered here - more above the line than below, more IATSE than WGA, more people affected by the strike than people striking.

There are a couple of places I hang out, and invariably, when somebody hears I am a writer, the discussion goes one of two ways:

Sometimes it's: "How are you handling the strike?"  And I have to be honest, that aside from the time I put in striking with, or working with, the WGA... it's not hitting me.  I work in animation, and animation writers are not on strike... at least the ones who aren't covered by the WGA.    Our shows continue, if we're not prime time.

But mostly it's: We don't like you.  You're killing us."  And this is the reaction I get more than not.  And I always - ALWAYS - engage those people in a discussion.  Because yes - to the hair stylist and the production person that I talked to over the past week - I get it.  You're jobs are either on the bubble or drying up, and your life is on the line.  And I don't think there's a single writer on the face of the Earth that isn't sorry for that.
     But also invariably, when I talk to them, I point out that for every penny the WGA negotiates for, the other unions also get.  IATSE, for example, will make 4.5 cents for every penny the WGA manages to get.  It's pattern bargaining.  For the WGA's sacrifices, despite IATSE's lousy support, they win.  As does every other union.  We were the first union to have to fight the digital download battle.  If it wasn't the WGA, it would have been SAG.  
   And if it wasn't the WGA, the DGA deal would have been a big, steaming pile of ass, as opposed to what seems to be a pretty good starting point for a renewing of talks.
   And I get that writers are paid more than most.  But that' s because - in prime time and in animation sometime - they created it.  They created the show, or created the episode.  It started with them.
   When a person creates a new drug, or invents something like the artificial heart, nobody begrudges them getting a big cut of the profits.  But because writing is considered a "fun" job, the fact that writers are fighting for what they believe is their fair share is considered greedy.
   Nobody gets mad at the person who invented the cell phone because not anybody can invent a cell phone.  But everybody - on some level - can write.  Either a letter.  Or a blog.  Or a note.  Consequently, it doesn't feel important.

   As a writer - as somebody who tries to create things that become television shows - I get that I have a blessed life.  I get that I'm one of a small group of people who will ever come up with an idea, get the chance to develop an idea, and then get it on the air.  It's fun, but it's not easy.
  But that idea - IF IT SELLS - employs people.  It creates jobs.  From producers, to writers, to actors, to caterers, to make up people, to electricians, and more.   That is a fortunate byproduct to the fact that I'm trying to create something I'm passionate about.  
  Any writer that tells you they write to create jobs is a liar.  But any writer that doesn't understand that their work is putting food on people's tables is a dick.  This strike falls in the middle of those two concepts.

   The pyramid STARTS with the creation of the idea, and it widens out to include hundreds of people.   But then, the people making the most money off the show - the studios or networks - seemingly want to marginalize and be greedbags to the very people who started that employment train in the first place.

   I explain that - and I take the time to point out that writers aren't looking for pity.  All I'm saying is, they do not deserve scorn.

Friday, January 18, 2008

DGA deal - not horrible, but not great. Thoughts

Fact Sheet
DGA Tentative Agreement — January 17, 2008

Wage Increases

* Compensation for all categories except directors of network prime time dramatic programs and daytime serials increases by 3.5%, each year of the contract.

* Compensation for directors of network prime time dramatic programs and daytime serials increases by 3%, each year of the contract.

* Outsized increase in director’s compensation on high budget basic cable dramatic programs for series in the second and subsequent seasons:

o For ½ hour programs: 12% increase in daily rate and increase in guaranteed number of days to 7 days.

This feels good.  It's a substantial raise.  If it transfers to scripts, it will mean some sort of pay increase for writers who make "salary PLUS script"

+ Results in show rate increasing from $9,009 to $11,760.

o For 1-hour programs: 12% increase in daily rate and increase in guaranteed number of days to 14 days.

+ Results in show rate increasing from $18,010 to $23,520.

Residual Increases

* Residual bases increase by 3.5%, each year of the contract, except for reruns in network prime time.

* Residuals for reruns in network prime time increase by 3%, each year of the contract.

Also not bad, if you ask me.  This actually helps non-prime time (IE basic cable WGA writers) more than prime time writers.


* Employers continue to make health care contributions at specially negotiated rate of 8.5%, secured in the 2005 Basic Agreement to address the impact of the growing cost of health care on the DGA Plan. Provisions permitting decrease in contribution rate by employers removed.

Other Provisions

* Second Assistant Directors to manage locations in New York and Chicago.

* Establishes a wrap supervision allowance of $50/day for the Second Assistant Director who supervises wrap on local and distant locations.

* Increases incidental fees and dinner allowances for Unit Production Managers and Assistant Directors.

I dont think this helps that much.

New Media

Jurisdiction over:

* All new media content that is derivative of product already covered under current contracts.

This feels important.  For example, if somebody does an animated something based on a live action something, it would be guild-covered.  That PROBABLY covers animation, or at least, it should.  I'm sure if it does, IATSE will have a cow, but perhaps it can be grandfathered in.

Moreso - this is good news for "off shoots" of TV shows.  For example, if you have a live action show on TV and then start doing web based "extended viewing content," it's covered... if I'm reading this right.

* Original content:

o All original content above $15,000/minute or $300,000/program or $500,000/series, whichever is lowest.

I'm not sure what this means.  The $15,000 per minute is insane.  NOTHING costs $15,000 per minute on the internet.  That being said, $500,000 per series is not bad.

There is a legit concern that low level projects / pilots will be created for online to see if they take, then aired on TV.  But... I can't even imagine a half hour anything being created for 299K.

o Original content below the threshold will be covered when a DGA member is employed in the production.

If this works for WGA members as well, it feels like a win.  For example, I'm a WGA member.   If I am hired for something on the web, then all of a sudden, anything I do becomes a WGA production under those auspices.  It's vague... but it could be cool.

Electronic Sell-Through (Paid Downloads)

* More than doubles the rate currently paid by the employers on television programming to .70% above 100,000 units downloaded.

In success, this is better.  But it's still kinda low.

o Below 100,000 breakpoint: rate will be paid at the current rates of .30% until worldwide gross receipts reach $1 million and .36% thereafter.

I feel like this sucks.

* Increases rate paid on feature films by 80% to .65% above 50,000 units downloaded

So if a movie sells 50K on Itunes (or anything else for that matter) the rate on movie doubles?  And what does that mean for writers of the WGA?  Not sure.

o Below 50,000 breakpoint: rate will be paid at the current rates of .30% until worldwide gross receipts reach $1 million and .36% thereafter.


Distributor’s Gross

* Payments for EST will be based on distributor’s gross instead of producer’s gross, a key point in our negotiations. Distributor’s gross is the amount received by the entity responsible for distributing the film or television program on the Internet. We would not have entered the agreement on any other basis.

This is good.  Producer's gross blows.

* Companies will be contractually obligated to give us access to their deals and data, enabling us to monitor this provision and prepare for our next negotiation. This access is new and unprecedented.

This is good.  Because buckle up - the next negotiation is less than three years away.

* If the exhibitor or retailer is part \ of the producer’s corporate family, we have improved provisions for challenging any suspect transactions.

Ad-Supported Streaming:

* 17-day window (24-day window for series in their first season).

A little weak.  The majority of streaming would happen in the first three weeks.

* Pays 3% of the residual base, approximately $600 (for network prime time 1-hour dramas), for each 26-week period following 17-day window, within first year after initial broadcast.

This is low.  WGA members made another 50% (I think) the next time a show aired.  So... on a 20K check, they made 10K more.  This is an offer of 10% of that.  Of course, in top 10 shows, it's gonna air again.

The good news for basic cable / kids is... this is the only place where they still rerun the shit out of stuff on TV too.   Weird.  The deal feels like it takes care of non-prime time people better.

* Pays 2% of distributor’s gross for streaming that occurs more than one year after initial broadcast.

Again, good for our non-prime time friends.  Imagine, if you will, a rerun of Hanna Montana.


* Provides the companies with limited windows where they can distribute clips of feature films and television programs in new media to promote a program. Provides for payment for all other uses in New Media.  

Baffling.  Thoughts?

Sunset Provision

* Allows both sides to revisit new media when the agreement expires.

Um... isn't this what happens when a contract expires anyway?

So... in conclusion:

Lets be honest about what it means to us. All of these raises are awesome, but if IATSE doesn't do something to compensate us - script and story writers - for the gains that they'll probably receive from the DGA bargaining... it doesn't mean dick to us.

If this sticks, and it doesn't stick to us, it will be incumbent upon all animation writers to fight to see a cut of the monies that their shows create. Because if you think about how much a Spongebob or Fairly oddparent streams - if you think about how much they're downloaded... we won't see ANY of that if it's not covered.

We will be forced to go deal to deal, and negotiate this stuff ourselves.  The stronger, more established, more powerful show runners will be able to fight for a piece of their successes... first timers or people with lousy reps will be forced to take what they can get, and what they will get is TAG/IATSE minimums.

In my opinion.

The floor is open.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Today's Daily Show

Was REALLY good. Especially "Bush's Bucket List"

But that bit in particular makes me wonder... who is writing this?

Is it John Oliver doing all the writing duties? John and Jon together?

This is a show that, quite frankly, is missing ONLY it's correspondents. Everything else seems to be clicking.

If that's the case... Jon Stewart has proven himself to be the smartest, sharpest, most prolific host on television.

And sadly, since American Idol started today? Nobody saw it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Writers strike, ratings and uh... whining and snark.

Viewers aren't doing striking writers any favors, turning out en masse for NBC's new unscripted shows American Gladiators (14th place, 12.1 million) and The Celebrity Apprentice (19th place, 11.1 million).

Crap. I mean, this should could actually be used as torture against the Iraqis, it's so abjectly terrible. Plus, you know, that nobody is going to die. At least with the Anna Nicole Smith reality show you knew there was a good chance that somebody was going to croak. I would have prefered it to be her BEFORE she killed her kid, but still...

More not-good news for scribes: Celebrity Apprentice averaged 44 percent more viewers on Thursday than the Office-Scrubs comedy hour.

Well, the fact of the matter is... Celebrity Apprentice is awesome. It's as good as the first one was - where you cared about the characters and wanted to watch them compete. I know this sounds like bullshit coming from me, but Celebrity Apprentice is appointment television for me... and would be, quite frankly, even if there wasn't a strike.

Gene Smimmons. Holy God, he's awesome to watch.

Even more not-good news for scribes: In Chuck's old time slot on Monday, American Gladiators averaged an estimated 10.9 million viewers, or 2.2 million more than the comedy-spy series.

Meh. Not a fan of Chuck.

And the hits just keep on coming...A brand-new (scripted) Cold Case (20th place, 11 million) on CBS lost 1 million viewers from its unscripted Amazing Race lead-in (15th place, 12 million).

Cold Case? That show's still on?

A new (scripted) episode of ABC's Desperate Housewives (fifth place, 19.8 million) was treated like the rare find it was; the debut of ABC's new (and scripted) Cashmere Mafia (21st place, 10.6 million) was jettisoned by nearly half the Housewives audience.

Thank God for that, and thank God for the second half. Cashmere Mafia? Eat me. It's so desperately trying to be Sex In The City... the only thing it's missing are the previous show's haggardly stars, but good news! The movie is on it's way! Here's the thing - people aren't going to tune into shit just because it's ON. (Okay, Gladiators not withstanding, but I believe there to be a curiousity factor involved in that. Lets see how that turd floats up this week.

Good (and more bad) news for scribes: The CBS game show Power of Ten (49th place, 6.5 million) tanked in its prime-time return, sunk by the (unscripted) NBC game show Deal or No Deal (12th place, 12.3 million) and the (unscripted) ABC reality show Wife Swap (30th place, 8.4 million).

This entire paragraph might as well be in Latin. I have no idea of any of that stuff.

Sort of good news for scribes: Viewers seem very tired of Grey's Anatomy (54th place, 6.1 million) and Ugly Betty reruns (65th place, 5.1 million).

To be honest, and I love Grey's, I'm pretty tired of it this season. Could Meredith be more unlikable? And unwatchable in HD?

On the other hand, they're pretty okay with previously viewed CSIs (ninth place, 13.3 million) and pretty apathetic about all-new episodes of Women's Murder Club (37th place, 7.8 million) and Las Vegas (42nd place, 7.1 million).

Las Vegas never kicked ass, and the formula of "four women who get together and (fill in the blank) while talking about being women" seems to be dying a hackneyed and deserved death.

Perhaps Fred Thompson should have kept his prime-time job. The 18th season premiere of NBC's Law & Order (seventh place, 13.5 million) won Wednesday night, while the Saturday night Republican presidential debate on ABC (40th place, 7.4 million) got its teeth kicked in by the Democratic one (26th place, 9.4 million).

Fred Thompson should have kept the gig where he could have slept in and nobody called him lazy. And kept his Hollywood job where being A LITTLE smart in politics made you REALLY SMART.

Roger Clemens was a performance-enhancing interview subject for CBS' 60 Minutes (sixth place, 18.2 million), which posted its best numbers in two months.

Another example of steroids making things better.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Oh, shit. Here we go.

Nothing like a little "Hey the directors are going to negotiate" for the axes to start falling.

Force majeure ax falls at ABC Studios
Nearly two dozen writer deals terminated

The force majeure ax has swung at ABC Studios, which today notified nearly two dozen writers that it was terminating their overall deals as a result of the strike.

While all the major studios had previously suspended deals for their scribes, the ABC Studios move reps the biggest move yet by a major to cut ties to talent.

Among the scribes cut off: Bill Callahan ("Scrubs"), Larry Charles ("Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Sean Bailey ("Gone Baby Gone") and the team of Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia ("That 70s Show," "Surviving Christmas"). Thesp Taye Diggs, who had a production deal at ABC Studios, has also had his pact terminated.

Other studios are said to be considering taking similar action.

"The ongoing strike has had a significant detrimental impact on development and production so we are forced to make the difficult decision to release a number of talented, respected individuals from their development deals," ABC Studios said in a statement late Friday.

Anybody who thinks the timing of this has nothing to do with the DGA (Director's Guild) announcing they were coming to the table is high.  A bad high.  Not a good high.

This is the beginning of the bad, for writers.  A combination of the DGA negotiating, the studios axing people, and a hurry up offense (My guess) to nip this thing before the writers and actors can strike together.

How will the show runners react now that some of them are on the line? 

Gonna be an interesting week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

John Oliver on the Daily Show

Why is he the only correspondent?

Is it because he's British? Is he a part of a different union?

Just wondering.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Is the Simpsons Trying To Be Family Guy Now?

The above clip is pretty funny.

The below clip will be offline soon, I'm sure, but still:

So in this episode, you can see:

Jon Stewart and Krusty.
Dan Rather doing backflips, like Adam West might.
There's a parody of political ad.
A shot at Dennis Kucinich.
A Mayor McCheese joke.
Regan and FDR fighting in a crossfire parody.
A Duran Duran video.
An act break that ends with a weird non-sequitor that we know will end in murder.

I dunno.

The Simpsons doesn't flow like that to me. Which is not to say it can't be funny. The old media is dead clip IS funny. But... it's a slower funny than family guy. Homer is slower than Peter, Lois is faster than marge.

The FG jokes are meaner, much meaner, which I like.

It was a new episode, and I watched it... mostly because there isn't a lot of new scripted television these days. But... I wasn't very fond of this.

I like my Simpsons to be Simpsonsy... (Early first decade, to be fair, but still) and my Family Guy to be Family Guyish... and never should the 'twain meet.

- Steve

Should be interesting: Daily Show and Colbert Return Today

Stewart and Colbert return Monday night
By FRAZIER MOORE, AP Television Writer

Not a moment too soon to help make sense of things, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert will be back on duty Monday, ready to mock everything in sight.

The New Hampshire presidential primary scheduled for the next day? A likely topic!

The woes of Jamie Lynn and Britney Spears? Why the heck not?

And they'll surely make hay of the writers strike that has kept them off the air, and kept their viewers satire-starved, since Nov. 5.

But how will they carry out their mission without writers?

Boy, is that ever an excellent question. 

The fact is, both of these guys pretend to be something they're not. Jon Stewart, a fake news anchor - Stephen Colbert, a fake Conservative blowhard.

How do they do these characters without WRITING them? 

Stewart has it easier: He has correspondents that go out on the street and interview people... I think that's his easiest answer. Improving interviewing Rob Riggle at the New Hampshire debate, that's not writing.

But Rob Riggle sitting down and writing his answers to prepared questions is.

Trickier for Colbert. I don't believe for a moment he can carry a half hour a day of fake Conservatism without a team of snarky liberals behind him making that work. Unless he comes on today and says "Today's show doesn't star Stephen Colbert, it stars Stephen Colbert..." He HAS to be breaking guild rules.

Gonna be an interesting day.

- Steve

P.S. No Golden Globes? Oh no! As much as I'd like to see the rest of the world felch Nicole Kidman for another year, I think I'll be okay.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Here's a question for you

How many characters is too many characters in a story?

Nerd backstory: I was reading Green Lantern 26 yesterday, which was an epilogue to "The Sinestro Corps War" (I know, I know) but... here's what got me going.

The Corps has 7200 members.
Their enemies had the same amount.

Obviously, they didn't focus on that.

But in the book they have four green lanterns, nine guardians, and they introduce "The Alpha Lanterns," which are 12 new characters. It made my head hurt.

And then it made me think of writing for animation. I'll use my current show as a question.

Yin, Yang, Yo has three leads, but honestly, you usually see two of them, with the Panda being a running gag, and one villain. There may be the occasional angry mob, or marching army... but it's a buddy comedy with fighting. The ones that lean toward action tend to have more characters.

The same with Fairly Odd - When the three are acting on their own, and complications arise, the tighter dynamic seems to lend itself to better comedy. But when we needed to blow it out - make it bigger with action (like the TV movies or the Jimmy/Timmy crossovers) I think the comedy ratio changed.

So to me - Comedy=smaller cast, Action=Larger cast.

But there's too large, I think, even for action. For example, I really enjoyed the first few seasons of Justice League and Teen Titans but when it became a gigantic cast - "Titans around the world" and "Justice League Unlimited," I felt like I lost a lot of characterization.

Not to say it wasn't good, not to say I didn't watch and enjoy. But to me, there was a difference.

They had a hell of a lot more action figures to sell, but to the detriment, at points, of story.

Just a non-strike related, non-ASIFA archive related thought on this Saturday morning.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Writerless Leno / Writerlaiden Dave

So... this has been weird to watch.

1) Letterman's back, and the show makes me laugh, but I swear to God if Paul Schaeffer doesn't stop killing actual laughter with a musical sting at the end of every punchline, I'm going to fly to New York and kick him in the dick.

It is weird, tho, that even though Letterman is in second place in the ratings, he's not the underdog here. His standards are higher - and should be - he's got his staff. He's got the ability to get better guests.

And yet...

2) Leno has never been looser. It's been interesting to watch, actually. Without his writers, Jay has had to rely on his chops more than ever - chops which we haven't really seen in a while. It's easier to pick safer material when you have a dozen people writing for you. (By the way, this isn't to say that his writers only write safe stuff... but in the end, the stuff that's picked is the stuff that's picked.)

There have been jokes with edge, a surprising amount of sexual material, an obvious reach into the "bag of jokes from three months ago before the strike" but... it's weird. It's like he's enjoying himself.

This doesn't absolve the whole "writing a monologue" debate, which is a WHOLE 'nother debate. But as I watch this all unfold, I think Leno is finding his inner comedian again. Not the host, which he's honed over the years, but the "guy with a beef" that used to sit on Letterman's couch, and has a couch of his own now.

Just thinking.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

From Brad Bird: Respect.

Bird wants respect for toon scribes
'Ratatouille' writer chafes at misconceptions

Since Brad Bird is writer-director of three of the best animated films of the past decade, "The Iron Giant," "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," it's no surprise to hear him extol the virtues of both Warner Bros. toon legend Michael Maltese and "Lawrence of Arabia" scribe Robert Bolt.

Bird, whose own name appears on that shortest of shortlists, that of writers who were Oscar-nominated for their screenwriting on animated features (for "Incredibles"), combines the whimsical genius of Maltese and lofty ambition of Bolt in this year's awards contender "Ratatouille." He chafes, however, at any discussion of the greats of animation writing that doesn't make clear his belief that "good writing is good writing."

"The whole question of writing for animation is skewed" says Bird, whose next project will be his live-action debut. "There isn't a giant difference between animation and live action. You need characters, stories, themes. It's called good storytelling."

Bird feels misconceptions about the writing of animated features emanate from both sides of the fence -- from those who can't imagine "serious" work from the makers of "cartoons" and from those inside the animated field who can't imagine that any writer who doesn't begin as an animator can ever fully embrace the medium.

Bird explains that although he did begin his career in animation, "I write scripts first, before the work gets to the storyboarding stage. But I write with the knowledge of what animation can do."
Once Bird has made clear that in his view there are no lines separating genres, he expands on the artists he admires in both the animation and live-action camps.

From the Disney canon, Bird cites "Lady and the Tramp" and "Pinocchio" as examples of storytelling with "strong story beats and well-delineated characters." He also admires Nick Park of "Wallace and Grommit" fame as "an artist with a singular point of view" and "Spirited Away's" Hayao Miyazaki as "a master of great storytelling."

And then there are his fellow artists at Pixar, which he calls "the home team." " 'Toy Story's' power comes from its talking about death under several layers of action," says Bird, who sees the film's "real message (as) 'Do you use your life or do you prolong it and become entombed?' "
And then there's Maltese. Bird calls him "the King of the Warner Bros. shorts" and says that "95% of the finest days in the Chuck Jones career had Maltese attached."

On the live-action writing front, Bird rhapsodizes about Bolt's "Lawrence of Arabia," which he recalls seeing as a youth and, "Though I didn't understand it, it overwhelmed me. It told me the world was a much more complex place than I ever imagined." He also cites Steve Zaillian, Alvin Sargent, Robert Towne and Billy Wilder as "heroes."

It's no surprise, however, given Bird's directorial accomplishments, that he reserves a special place in his pantheon of film talents for one of the directing greats.

"Alfred Hitchcock is the one who taught me that there are people making these movies. I kept seeing these movies that gave me chills, from 'Shadow of a Doubt' on through his more famous films, and I kept seeing his names. I thought, 'Aha, it's the same guy giving me these chills. And his name is Alfred Hitchcock.' "


And, probably because I agree with it (and enjoy the shit out of his work), I will take THAT opinion over the "if you didn't start in animation, you can't be a part of it" clique that is the vocal, evangelical, there's only one way to do it, version of animation zealots.

G'night, everybody.

Pilot Night On Adult Swim

So, last night in Colorado before I head on back to LA.

Night ends early here. Up in the mountains... not a lot to do but since DirecTV gives me east coast feed, theres adult swim early.

Some thoughts.

Fat Guy Stuck In The Internet - Baffling. But I couldn't take my eyes off it. Would not watch again, tho.

The Drinky Crow Show - Completely dada-istic nonsence, but I really liked the way it looked. Drinky crow makes me laugh. (Tony Millionairre - is that his real name?) Curious. Might give a second look.

Superjail - Okay, I hated this the first time I saw it. Hated it with a passion that burned like a thousand suns. Then, somebody smarter than me pointed out it's like "If Willy Wonka ran a prison." So I watched it again, and I'm sorta hooked.

That's as far as I got,. actually, although Tivo (or the DVR equivalent) will save me.