The Switch to Online Viewing

TV_m1309438This is an interesting article from the Los Angeles Times on the pace at which audiences are migrating from cable and broadcast to online viewing.  The future is arriving faster than we think.

Jazz musician Bill Cunliffe loves television — but he doesn’t watch it on a TV set.

“I can watch anything I want, any time I want,” he said, “on my bottom-of-the-line Mac PowerBook.”

Cunliffe, 53, is one of a growing number of TV viewers who get all their programs via the Internet.

For reasons that include saving money, convenience, personal choice and a hatred of commercials, these viewers are cutting the cord from cable, satellite and telephone suppliers of TV service, and even throwing away the rabbit ears and other antennas that brought in over-the-air broadcasts.

“The idea that you come home and your entertainment choices are dictated on what some entertainment channel decides is not for me,” said video game producer Chris Codding, whose Venice apartment has a 52-inch Sony television that’s used only for video games and viewing DVDs.

“I really like the concept of having something in your mind that you want to watch,” Codding said, “and then going to the computer and watching it.”

There have been no mainstream studies on just how many people have cut the cord to established TV program suppliers, and the percentage of viewers who have done it is probably small. But there’s plenty of evidence that the number of people who are watching TV shows online is growing.

Read the whole article here:  http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-notv26-2009oct26,0,3559474.story

Writer Access Project

WRITER ACCESS PROJECT
Dear WGAW members –
I am delighted to let you know that the Writer Access Project is returning. Inaugurated last season, this project is designed to identify excellent diverse writers with television experience and to bring these writers’ scripts to the attention of showrunners, creative executives and agents for consideration during staffing season. Writers with previous television writing experience are invited to submit a spec script and spec pilot in one of five categories: minority writers; writers with disabilities; women writers; writers over age 55; and gay and lesbian writers.
Last year twenty-eight writers or writing teams were selected as Writer Access Project “winners” and their work was made available to showrunners, network and production company executives, and agents. In addition the group was offered a fascinating talk from an experienced showrunner about how best to promote oneself in a meeting. We received 160 submissions and 150 producer-level writers served as judges in two rounds of judging. The overall response to the project, based on surveys of participants and judges, was extremely encouraging.  We intend to continue to build the program with increased publicity and promotion to the entertainment community when this year’s winners are selected.
We have made some improvements to the program based on input from last year’s participants:
The deadline for submission will be November 30, allowing greater time for preparation of the required materials.
2.  Current active and Post-current active members are eligible to submit (see more
details in the Guidelines).
3.  We intend to announce the winners of this year’s project earlier (by mid-March) to
allow more time for showrunners to read the work of WAP winners.
There are some additional changes in the Guidelines and requirements for submission, so please review them carefully.  The Guidelines and Application can be found at:  http://www.wga.org/content/default.aspx?id=3436
Please contact the WGAW Diversity Department if you have any questions: diversity@wga.org or 323-782-4589.
We hope many of you will submit your material for consideration as part of this program and that you will benefit from the experience.
Best,
Kimberly Myers
Director of Diversity
Writers Guild of America, West
7000 West Third Street
Los Angeles, CA 90048

For all those who are having a hard time being heard above the fray–

Dear WGAW members –

I am delighted to let you know that the Writer Access Project is returning. Inaugurated last season, this project is designed to identify excellent diverse writers with television experience and to bring these writers’ scripts to the attention of showrunners, creative executives and agents for consideration during staffing season. Writers with previous television writing experience are invited to submit a spec script and spec pilot in one of five categories: minority writers; writers with disabilities; women writers; writers over age 55; and gay and lesbian writers.

Last year twenty-eight writers or writing teams were selected as Writer Access Project “winners” and their work was made available to showrunners, network and production company executives, and agents. In addition the group was offered a fascinating talk from an experienced showrunner about how best to promote oneself in a meeting. We received 160 submissions and 150 producer-level writers served as judges in two rounds of judging. The overall response to the project, based on surveys of participants and judges, was extremely encouraging.  We intend to continue to build the program with increased publicity and promotion to the entertainment community when this year’s winners are selected.

We have made some improvements to the program based on input from last year’s participants:

1. The deadline for submission will be November 30, allowing greater time for preparation of the required materials.

2.  Current active and Post-current active members are eligible to submit (see more details in the Guidelines).

3.  We intend to announce the winners of this year’s project earlier (by mid-March) to allow more time for showrunners to read the work of WAP winners.

There are some additional changes in the Guidelines and requirements for submission, so please review them carefully.  The Guidelines and Application can be found at:  http://www.wga.org/content/default.aspx?id=3436

Please contact the WGAW Diversity Department if you have any questions: diversity@wga.org or 323-782-4589.

We hope many of you will submit your material for consideration as part of this program and that you will benefit from the experience.

Best,

Kimberly Myers

Director of Diversity

Writers Guild of America, West

7000 West Third Street

Los Angeles, CA 90048

Bill Mechanic’s Speech on Indie Film

Bill-Mechanic-etbscreenwritingThis is a really interesting speech about the business of the business.  I found it on Nikki Finke‘s excellent blog Deadline Hollywood.  Bill Mechanic was the chairman/CEO of Fox Films from 1994 to 2000 and is now an indie producer and owner of Pandemonium who recently produced CORALINE.  The speech was made at the end of September at the Independent Film & Television Production Conference.

“I was asked to address you this morning with my observations on the present as well as the future state of Independent Production.

But before I begin, I have to relate the story of a close friend of mine, who’s a leading heart surgeon.

He said he’d recently been involved in a very trying and emotional six hour piece of open heart surgery where he and a team of people fought valiantly but unsuccessfully to save a patient.

Afterwards, my friend entered the Doctor’s locker room where one of his colleagues was staring absently into the void, clearly spent from the ordeal. He tried to cheer him up but the colleague turned to him and asked why he was not more distraught.

My friend answered with a smile:

At least we weren’t asked to save Independent Production.

Well, the truth be told, we may not be heart patients but we aren’t that far away. We have too many insignificant movies clogging our distribution channels. Tightening economic conditions are sending sharp pains through our systems. Our blood supply from heretofore vibrant markets such as DVD and TV seemingly have evaporated in front of our eyes.

The question we must ask is if the condition is fatal. Read the full story »

Cougar Town – When a Character Doesn’t Ring True

cougar-town-etbscreenwritingI caught up with the Cougar Town premiere online and thought it was absolutely terrible.  The best words I have to describe this raunchy and demeaning show are desperate, pathetic and insulting.  Courtney Cox’s character asks her son why he doesn’t laugh at her sex-obsessed jokes and he says:  “Because they make me sad.”  Bingo!

I have nothing against sex-obsessed women who fret about aging and the difficulty of finding love.  I am a big fan of Sex and the City. But that show has something that Cougar Town lacks– authentic characters who feel real. Carrie and her crew each has a distinct and very specific take on sex and romance that defines who she is, how she sees the world and what love means to her.

Carrie Bradshaw is a well-defined Power of Idealism character.  Throughout the series, she is obsessed with the emotionally unavailable Mr. Big.  These characters believe that what is perfect but unavailable or unattainable is infinitely more desirable than what is flawed but possible or achievable. They are always reaching for the unreachable star.

Charlotte York is a Power of Conscience character and the most conservative and uptight member of the ensemble. While the show focuses on sexual liberation, Charlotte is the voice of more traditional values.  Perfection to her is what is proper and socially correct.

Samantha Jones is a Power of Will character and views sex as power.  She is always the one in control of the sexual power in her relationships.  She decides when, where, how much and what kind of sex she will have.  She is loud, lusty and unashamed of her passions.  She is unapologetic when she decides to move on to new conquests.

Miranda Hobbes is a Power of Ambition character.  She is extremely career-minded and has her sights firmly fixed on a prestigious law partnership.  She often views sex as a distraction to her work.  In one episode she and her lover fight over the fact she wants to schedule sex and refuses to let passion distract her from important work-related obligations.

Each of these women is thoroughly believable and acts consistently with specific attitudes about life and love.  I recognize women I know in the characters in Sex and the City.

Cortney Cox’s character is is poorly defined, cartoonish  and utterly inauthentic.  She acts like a thirty-year old Judd Apatow guy trapped in a one-note joke about being desperate but clumsy in the attempt to get laid.  I have no idea what her cardboard cut-out character believes about life or love or why she is doing what she is doing.  To you tell you the truth I don’t really care.  Someone please put this excruciatingly pathetic show out of its misery.

Here are some additional reviews that hit the nail on the head.

WALL STREET JOURNAL   (T)his is the 21st century, where pole dancing passes for a statement of female liberation. So it should come as no surprise that Jules will search for self-esteem in frequent sex and the proof that she is still “hot.”  Such a quest could be made funny, but here it mostly isn’t. Ms. Cox is struggling with some ugly material and often seems desperate.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE  Cougar Town is one of those shows with a trendy topic at its core, but it’s hard to see how the show will work long-term, and the screechy and semi-frenetic tone set by the pilot doesn’t help.

VARIETY  (T)he execution here is consistently about as subtle as a kick to the groin — and represents the least appealing component in ABC’s quartet of new Wednesday-night comedies.

HOLLYWOOD REPORTER  Cougar Town is a mess of a place no one would want to visit, even for a half-hour. With a little luck, though, it’ll have a short shelf life.

Project Runway and the Power of Love

tim_gunn ETBScreenwritingI am a BIG fan of Project Runway.  One of my favorite characters is Tim Gunn.  He plays the role of the classic Power of Love character in the series.

Although typically seen on TV as a female character (Betty Suarez in Ugly Betty or Marge in The Simpsons for example), a Power of Love character can also be a compelling male character.

Their function in a story, as is Tim Gunn’s function, is as a caretaker or a mentor: to cajole others into doing what is “best for them;” encourage others to take advantage of possible opportunities for advancement or improvement; soothe the hurt feelings of others; encourage others to do their best; to be patient and giving toward others; and to anticipate others’ needs.  Gunn does this par excellence with his “designers.”

His catch phrases always express his care and concern:  “Talk to me”, “Make it work”, “This worries me”, “Don’t bore Nina”, “That’s a lot of look”, “Designers, gather around” and “Carry on”.

Power of Love characters— often soft and gentle on the outside— are made of strong, even steely, stuff on the inside.  There is an iron fist in their velvet glove. These characters can be interfering, domineering, dictatorial and obsessive when they believe they know what is best for others.

Tim Gunn never goes to that extreme but he also doesn’t ever hesitate to deliver the harsh truth needed to improve a contestant’s work.  (And some of his charges DO experience his advice as domineering and/or dictatorial). Notably, those are usually the ones who lose out on a challenge.  The man has a good eye and sincerely wants to bring out the best in everyone under his strong and capable wing.

Anyone looking to develop a compelling male Power of Love character would do well to take a look at Tim Gunn in action on Project Runway.

Burn Notice and The Mentalist – Power of Truth

The-Mentalist-Patrick-Jane-etbscreenwritingThe season three finale of Burn Notice ( August 6 at 9pm) on USA Network, averaged 7.6 million total viewers, making it the most-watched series telecast in the network’s history.

Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) in Burn Notice joins the very popular Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) in CBS’ The Mentalist as a Power of Truth character who brings wit and a wry sense of humor to solving their cases.

The two also share another Important story device very common to Power of Truth characters. While chasing the bad guys or solving the “mystery of the week” each character has a personal mystery at the center of the emotional conflict in the episode.

Michael-Weston-burn-notice-etbscreenwritingMichael Westen is a spy who was “burned.” The agency dumped him and disavows any knowledge of his existence. The questions driving Michael through each episode are: Who “burned” him and why?’ No matter what Michael is doing or whom he is chasing that question is what really propels him forward through the story.

Patrick Jane is a police consultant who uses his background as a stage show “mind reader” to discover the tiny clues or “tells” in plain sight that reveal people’s real motivations. The questions driving Patrick through his episodes are: “Who is Red John and why did he kill my family?” The pursuit of Red John is the real motivation behind all of Patrick’s detective work.

In whatever role they play, Power of Truth characters are driven to look beneath the surface of things to discover what lies below or is obscured from view. In the best Power of Truth films or television programs the protagonist has some of the answers he or she seeks hidden deep inside. For some emotionally fraught reason the character blocks that information or cannot look into the dark internal places where those answers can be found. The most satisfying emotional journey results when this character is forced to uncover an internal secret to solve the larger external mystery.

Film examples of the Power of Truth Character Type include Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, Captain Benjamin L. Willard in Apocalypse Now, Jake Gittes in Chinatown and Leonard Shelby in Memento. Each of those characters hides or denies some secret or mystery at the heart of his or her being.

Hank Hill – Power of Conscience

hank-hill-etbscreenwritingKing of the Hill will have its series finale on September 13 at 8pm. The animated show features the Hills, a small-town Methodist family living in Arlen, Texas. The series grounds its humor in the mundane aspects of everyday life, finding big laughs in small moments and ordinary situations. In 2007 Time magazine named King of the Hill one of the 100 greatest television shows of all time. A one-hour episode will mark the end of the series, a primetime fixture on FOX for 13 seasons.

Animated series offer an interesting view into character development. The best of these kinds of shows use the humor of exaggeration and present clearly articulated examples of character. King of the Hill is no exception. Here’s a look at Hank Hill, family patriarch.

Hank Hill is a Power of Conscience character. He was a conscientious Eagle Scout as a kid. He is a decent, hard-working, traditionally-minded American as an adult. Hank strives to be a good a father and a good husband. He is very conservative and old-fashioned. Hank can’t get his head around new fangled notions like yoga, tofu and meditation.

He played football in high school. He was a good player who had promising prospects until an ankle injury sidelined him during a championship game. In typical Power of Conscience fashion, Hank believed the accident was “punishment” for his passionate over-enthusiasm for the game. He’s been uptight, controlled and rather stiff emotionally ever since.

Hank sells propane and propane accessories at Strickland Propane, a family run business. He believes that success comes through honesty and hard work. Hank sometimes naively believes that everyone shares his innate sense of right and wrong. As a result he can be too trusting. For example, for the past twenty-five years, he has bought cars at sticker price from Tom Hammond’s used cars. It never occurred to him that Tom wouldn’t give him the best price as a good neighbor.

Power of Conscience ETB ScreenwritingIn true Power of Conscience fashion Hank has wrestled with the question “What is the higher duty?” When, for example, it comes to Strickland Propane his personal devotion to his work and boss wins over complete honesty. In one episode, Hank covers up Strickland’s illegal price fixing agreement to prevent his boss going to jail. He considers Strickland to be family and family is where Hank’s highest duty lies.

Despite his bias toward traditional male activities, and his frequent worries about his son, Bobby (“That boy ain’t right”) Hank, wanting to be a good father, pretends to be interested in Bobby’s passions— cooking, dancing and theater. As a result, his son is well-adjusted, confident and happy despite being over-weight and terrible at sports. Hank, in fact, is Bobby’s hero.  He will be missed! RIP Hank Hill!

Shelley Long – Power of Conscience

shelley-long-etbscreenwritingFormer Cheers star, Shelley Long is returning to television comedy. She plays the ex-wife to Ed O’Neill’s character on the new ABC sitcom Modern Family. Long is fondly remembered for her portrayal of Diane Chambers, a repressed uptight Power of Conscience character.

Power of Conscience characters fear not living up to their own internal standards or sense of propriety and decency. These characters need to relax, have more fun and become less dogmatic. They need to less concerned about “getting it right” or being proper or perfect and just enjoy life.  They need to be more spontaneous and less concerned about correctness or doing thing the prescribed way.

Power of Conscience ETB ScreenwritingThis entry from Wikipedia illustrates Diane’s problem in Cheers exactly:

After having a number of sexual affairs throughout Europe, Diane tries to atone for her behavior by working at a Boston area convent. She returns to Cheers again after a visit from Sam in the Season 4 opener. Sexual tension ensues and Sam eventually proposes to Diane over the phone in the season finale.

Diane wants to be proposed to in a more romantic fashion, and so she dosen’t give him an answer. Sam proposes again on a moonlit boat ride during the premiere of Season 5– only to have Diane say no because she thought that Sam was “on the rebound” from his break-up with a Boston city councilwoman.

Diane later changes her mind, but finds that Sam is not willing to propose again. After she begins to cry, Sam does propose, but Diane says no again, fearing that he was only reacting to emotional blackmail. Sam chases her out of Cheers and she falls and she sues him. Sam proposes in court only to have her reject him for yet another reason why it’s not “right.”

How The Emmy Got Its Name

Emmy-statue-etbscreenwritingEmmy® Fun Fact: The image orthicon tube which was often found in early television cameras was nicknamed Immy. The word Emmy® was the feminine derivative from Immy. Complimenting the femininity surrounding this prestigious award, a statuette of the winged female figure holding an atom has become the longtime symbol of the TV Academy. The wings represent the muse of art, the atom the electron of science. Prior to Emmy®, originally “Ike” was going to be the official name of the award, however because of the name being so closely associated with Dwight D. Eisenhower the group decided on “Emmy®.”

This is from Cynopsis a great newsletter on the Television business.

2009 Emmy Nominee Analysis

Emmy-statue-etbscreenwritingNominees in major categories for the 61st annual Primetime Emmy Awards were recently announced by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the protagonists’ Character Types in the nominated dramas. The list includes: Big Love, HBO; Breaking Bad, AMC; Damages, FX Networks; Dexter, Showtime; House, Fox; Lost, ABC; Mad Men, AMC.

The reason each of these shows is successful is the clarity and consistency of the major characters. Each protagonist is written with authenticity and “feels real.” The storylines track the characters’ major life questions and the audience is compelled to watch how the drama unfolds.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the Emmy nominated shows and protagonist Character Type.

Big Love is the story of Bill Henrickson (Bill Paxton), the head of a polygamist family of three very different wives (and three sets of children). Bill is a decent God-fearing man who tries to be a good husband and father. He is a quintessential Power of Conscience character. Bill’s stoylines and the dramatic throughlines of the show revolve around questions of “what is the higher duty,” “what is right, just and moral” and “how much wrong-doing is permissible in pursuing what is right.” Bill is caught in circumstances where he must continually decide who and what to put first in a long list of conflicting demands and duties. His nemesis has been Roman Grant (Harry Dean Stanton), a Power of Will character who will stop at nothing to expand his territory and control of the Juniper Creek “family.” Bill is challenged to uphold his own moral standards and personal integrity while fighting Roman.

Breaking Bad follows protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston), a chemistry teacher diagnosed with Stage III lung cancer. He is given two years to live. Walter “has a brain the size of Wisconsin” and uses his scientific expertise to cook and sell crystal meth. He is a Power of Reason character. Like the title characters in Dexter and House he is alienated from his career, his family and his life. He is filled with a sense of his own superiority and a bitter contempt for others. Even after an improvement in his diagnosis he still seeks the release and intensity of feeling that comes from his criminal activity.

Damages tracks the relationship of a young lawyer, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), with her brilliant but ruthless boss and professional mentor, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). The setting is the law firm Hewes runs in New York City and various cases the firm handles involving double-dealing, duplicity and conspiracy. Ellen is a Power of Truth character and the series is about “who can you trust,” “what is really going on” and “who is betraying whom.” Nothing is what it seems and it is folly for Ellen to fully trust anyone.

Dexter revolves around the life of Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall), a serial killer who is also a crime scene forensic expert specializing in blood spatter patterns. Dexter is brilliant but alienated from his feelings and doesn’t even feel completely “human.” He is a Power of Reason character and continually wonders if he is a “man or a monster.”

House chronicles a brilliant, superior and very alienated Doctor House (Hugh Laurie). He is an unparalleled expert medical diagnostician. House is a Power of Reason character like Dexter and Walter White. He is contemptuous of humanity in general and dismissive of any sentimentality or warm human feelings toward others. Others on the show quite frequently wonders if House is a “man or a monster.”

Lost is about a group of people marooned on an island after an airline crash. The survivors, led by Dr. Jack Sheppard (Matthew Fox), try to make sense of their predicament. The island is filled with mysterious forces that can’t be explained and which erupt at unpredictable moments. It is chaos. Jack is a Power of Reason character, a man of science. The survivors defer to his expertise. Jack starts the show alienated from his wife, his father and the patients in his practice. His stoylines and the dramatic throughlines of the show revolve around questions of “How can I make sense from a world gone mad?” “Do I have enough information to understand the situation?” “How can order be restored from chaos?” “Will I be overwhelmed (emotionally or otherwise)?”

Mad Men follows protagonist Don Draper (Jon Hamm), a man with a shadowy past who stole another soldier’s identity at the end of World War II. Don is a Power of Truth Character. He is an ad man, a master illusionist, twisting words and images to suit clients’ sales pitches. He has trouble discerning the truth about himself, his wife and his target marketing audience: (“What if women want something else? Inside. Some mystery wish that we’re ignoring?”) He works in a cutthroat environment where duplicity, betrayal and infidelities are everywhere. He doesn’t fully trust anyone including himself.

That’s a quick line up of the Emmy Nominees. Each show has a clear, sharply defined protagonist at the heart of its story. That’s the key to success in any series or feature film. Each character in the nominated shows is a complex fully formed human being. Each character “feels real.” Each character is true to his or her type. Defining Character Type is a first step in creating great characters.