December 18th, 2015
By Danny Manus
I’m sure you’ve heard it said that screenwriting is a marathon, not a sprint. But in truth…it’s both. And sometimes it’s not the first step OR the last step that’s most important, but those treacherous steps in the middle as you make the run from aspiring screenwriter to professional.
As a script consultant and writing coach, many of my clients are at a sensitive juncture in their writing career. They’ve written their first scripts – and perhaps their second, third or fourth as well. They’ve gotten feedback, they’ve rewritten, they’ve polished, they’ve submitted to prestigious contests and they finally get the email they’ve been waiting for… They’re a contest finalist or maybe even the big winner!
They have beaten out thousands of other aspiring writers and have won the grand prize of whatever prestigious contest it might be.
This is the question that so many writers don’t know how to answer and because of that, either they don’t know how to capitalize on it OR they try to capitalize when they’re not actually ready and end up screwing their chance.
First things first. If you were lucky enough to win a major contest with your first script, that’s amazing. But you need to go write your second one before you start contacting agents. Yes, you can start querying and calling production companies with your contest-winning script but while you’re doing that, ride that wave of motivation to write and finish your next script!
Next, look at the contest you won. You should be entering contests that afford you opportunities to get read and make in-roads to industry connections. So, if those contests promise to send your script to X companies, then that’s your next step.
You want to capitalize on whatever buzz or momentum you can muster in this business. So, if there are social media announcements about how you’re the big winner – use that! But don’t just rely on the contest to do the work for you. Start making phone calls and your first sentence is “Hi, I just found out I beat out 4,500 other writers to be this year’s grand prize winner of Script Pipeline (for example), and I am currently looking for representation. I’d love to talk to you about my script.”
But before you start calling every manager, agent and production company out there about that first contest win, you need to know a few things that no one else will tell you…
1. If you won (or were a finalist in) a TV contest with a spec of an existing show, managers and producers don’t care as much because they can’t sell that script. And every single rep you call will say, “Great, do you have an original pilot you can send?” They may want to read your spec ALSO, but they will definitely ask for an original. If your answer is no, then your win doesn’t really mean anything except it should give you a big vote of confidence to start writing your original pilots!
If you won with a spec for an existing series, and you DO have other original pilots that are completed, polished and ready to go, then use your existing spec win as leverage to get reps or producers to read your original pilot. Call about the win, but have the pitch for your original series ready for that call. You should absolutely mention the contest win in your query letter, but your query should be for your original pilot. Leverage the spec win to get the read of your original. It will mean much more.
2. If you won (or were a finalist in) a TV contest with an original pilot, and you have an additional writing sample already completed, polished and ready to go – then start querying, calling, emailing, and try to use any executives who read your script as part of the prize to see if they would recommend you to any of their rep friends. Create a buzz about your win even if the contest doesn’t.
3. If you won a contest or film festival with a SHORT film or Web Series, you need to know what you’re calling places for. Are you calling places to help distribute your short? Are you querying because you shot the first episode of a web series and are looking for funding for the rest? Do you have a vision (or a script) for the full feature based on your short and you’re hoping someone wants to develop that with you? Are you calling because you’re a writer/director and want to find representation as a multi-hyphenate? You need to know why you’re calling and how to pitch yourself and your project, as each of the aforementioned goals would require a different type of pitch or query.
If you’re promoting a short or web series, create a strong social media platform and following to prove that your contest or film festival win isn’t just a lark, but that there is real support brewing for this idea. Use that platform to your advantage as proof of concept. If you were ONLY the writer on the short (as opposed to also directing or producing), chances are that’s not enough to get anyone to read you unless it’s a script for the feature version of the short that won.
4. If you won one of those top contests with a feature script, strike while the iron is hot. Know where you are in your career and what that next goal is for you. If you only have the 1 script and 1 idea, then your best bet is going to be contacting producers because they don’t care (as much) about how many other scripts you have. If they love that one, that’s all you need. If you have more than 1 finished script or at least 1 finished (winning) script and a bunch of other fleshed out ideas, then try querying and contacting managers.
If you have at least 2-3 finished, polished and semi-commercial scripts, then you can also contact agents. Go to pitchfests and use online pitch services if you can’t get to execs or reps any other way.
But again – know where YOU are in the process. And don’t get discouraged if your contest win doesn’t lead to fame and fortune – most don’t. It’s the writers who know how to capitalize on the win and follow-up on a win with their NEXT great script, that usually break out.
Winning a prestigious contest is a great step in your career – but it’s basically step 20 out of the 100 steps you need to take. The upside is that you’re now one giant step ahead of all the other writers who are still trying to win. Be excited and proud for your accomplishment! But then focus on your 21st step. You need to be aggressive, but realistic. Productive, and entrepreneurial. And above all…keep writing!
Because that next step is a doozy.
November 11th, 2015
By Danny Manus
There’s always a sharp adjustment period after I return from Austin Film Fest every year. And not just for my liver. It’s a constant whirlwind event for 5 days – and not just because of the Tornado that almost hit this year! There’s so much to take in – it’s wall to wall panels, parties and people! If you have never been, I highly recommend it!
This year, I was back teaching the Pitch Prep seminar alongside Pixar executive Emily Zulauf, as well as judging the early rounds. And I got to moderate a great panel on pitching as well.
While extreme weather and falling on Halloween certainly affected this year’s events, there was still a huge amount of learning and networking to experience.
My favorite panels that I saw were Phil Rosenthal’s interview with the legendary Norman Lear, who at 93 is every bit as sharp, hilarious and inspirational as he ever has been; the conversation between action heroes Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Long Kiss Goodnight) and Jeb Stuart (Die Hard, The Fugitive); Michael Arndt’s (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) course on Endings; the TV/Film Crossover convo between Justin Marks (Jungle Book) and Amy Berg (DaVinci’s Demons); and my own panel on the art of pitching with Chad and Carey Hayes (The Conjuring, San Andreas).
From all the panels I heard, as well as the pitching competition this year, there were some clear lessons, tips and quotes I want to share with all of you who couldn’t make it that will hopefully help you on your writing journey.
1. The greatest writers in the world all think Structure and Formatting is important. There are a few consultants and writers out there spouting about how structure is killing creativity and how having a beat sheet or using three-act structure isn’t necessary. And maybe it isn’t. But, when I hear writers like Michael Arndt, Brian Helgeland, Jeb Stuart and Terry Rossio touting the importance of specific structure, it’s clear those who don’t believe are in a vast minority. Even those who hate structure – still love structure. They just call it something else. You can look at structure from your character’s POV or thru visual beats or emotional beats – but it’s all structure. And it’s all important.
2. “At the moment of (true) commitment, the universe conspires to ensure your success.” – Norman Lear on becoming successful and what it takes. “We all walk in on the shoulders of others.” – Norman Lear.
3. “The big difference between action and suspense – suspense is cheaper.” (Jeb Stuart) He also said (and I’m paraphrasing): Action is when something exciting happens that the character and audience both experience. Suspense is when the audience knows something the character doesn’t and we’re not sure when or how they will discover it. For example, action is a bomb exploding. Suspense is seeing there’s a ticking bomb under the table and the character doesn’t know. Then finding ways to build the tension of that moment.
4. Humanizing your characters is about laying foundation with those small clues and moments early on that give us insight into them and connect us in some way. (Angela Kang, writer/Exec Producer, The Walking Dead)
5. When Die Hard was being developed, Joel Silver told Shane Black, “You have to blow up the top of the building!” Because if you don’t, you’re teasing the audience too much and audiences don’t want to be teased at the end of an action movie.
6. Insanely great endings are positive, surprising, and most of all – meaningful. There’s an emotional release, a new look on the world, and meaningful emotion… Always ask yourself – what’s at stake? And look at the External, the Internal, and the Philosophical (paraphrasing Michael Arndt in his Endings class).
7. “The connectors kill your script. They are what cause the lulls,” Shane Black said. He is referring to the exposition-filled PLANNING scenes where it’s just characters talking about what they are going to do or how they’re going to do it.
8. Good action scenes advance the plot. Never hit pause on your story to include action – it should be part of the story. (Angela Kang) And if you imbed the story in the action, then it can’t be cut for budgetary reasons later on. (Jeb Stuart)
9. In terms of pitching, TV was king this year. Two years ago, the pitch competition was about 60/40 in favor of film. Last year, it was 50/50. This year, it was about 70% TV pitches! And to that end, the WINNERS the last two years were TV series pitches.
10. When you pitch producers, pitch the External. When you pitch actors, pitch the Internal.
11. Have your pitch down. The winner this year had her pitch down so perfectly, she did not get ONE note in her preliminary judging session OR the finale. Her TV Comedy series pitch had everything one should have; a funny concept, likable characters and a strong entrée into the world, clear conflict, it wasn’t just a great pilot but a strong series, and she had great one-liners with perfect word choice, rhythm and cadence to the pitch. And she was unshakable. She knew her story and pitch so well a room full of drunken peers and three A-List writers judging her couldn’t shake her. That’s how you pitch!
12. “It took every moment of your life to get right here. And every second of mine.” – Norman Lear.
June 22nd, 2015
By Danny Manus @Dannymanus
Last week, a reviewer on Thrillist ranked all 54 HBO shows from worst to greatest. Upon reading this list, quite a number of things rushed into my mind. First – wow, HBO has had that many shows? Second – wow, I watch a lot of TV. Like, way too much TV. Though to be fair there were a few I had not seen and perhaps 2 I hadn’t even heard of. And third – wow, this guy who ranked these shows is kinda wrong on a bunch of ‘em. In my opinion.
Here’s a link to the original post – http://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/best-hbo-show-greatest-hbo-show-of-all-time
So, I did what any self-respecting TV Whore with an extra 4 hours would do… I’ve made my own rebuttal list of the Top 51 HBO Shows of All Time. There were three shows – Generation Kill, The Pacific and John Adams – that the original poster included that I have discounted because they were mini-series and shouldn’t really count because that opens up a whole other can of worms. But other than that…here’s my list…
51. The High Life – Yeah, I never heard of it either.
50. Angry Boys – Didn’t remember this one either but it only lasted one season in 2011 apparently.
49. Family Tree – Not even Chris O’Dowd could save this boring comedy with uninteresting low stakes.
48. Doll and Em – Apparently Emily Mortimer did an HBO series before The Newsroom and this was it. For 8 episodes.
47. Summer Heights High – Chris Lilley as a girl in a private school. Mockingly humorous at times, but I’d rather watch Amy Sedaris.
46. John From Cincinnati – Ed O’Neill, Luke Perry, Rebecca De Mornay in an existential show with surfing. It lasted a season. I lasted the pilot.
45. Tell Me You Love Me – Great cast, but the three couples were so whiny it quickly became the whitest show on HBO at a time when they were ALL white. It was In Treatment without the actual issues.
44. Mind of the Married Man – Mike Binder doing his best Paul Reiser/Brian BenBen impression. Was amusing and introduced us to the ridiculously gorgeous Ivana Milicevic and likable Sonya Walger, but it turns out we already know what’s in the mind of married men…tits and sadness.
43. How to Make It in America – 20 somethings in NY. Hmmm…where have I heard this before? I feel bad that Lake Bell has to keep this on her resume.
42. Life’s Too Short – A mockumentary with Ricky Gervais and Warwick Davis, the original Leprechaun. Had some memorable, virally funny scenes but not enough for the show to rank higher.
41. Hello Ladies – There’s something wonderfully, painfully awkward watching Stephen Merchant do anything – especially try to get laid in LA. Again, some great stand out scenes but a limited concept that went nowhere.
40. In Treatment – I remember liking the first season or two, and then it all going to shit. Was perhaps the first drama to keep the concept and just trade its cast in every season save Gabriel Byrne, but it got too melodramatic. And made me hate my own therapist.
39. Looking – Despite the last 4 episodes of Season 2 finally getting good, this show was boring, unsexy, and confused from the start with characters I never cared about. It was Queer as Folk if the whole cast had just been that one unsexy, white, boring, hipster dude who didn’t have a storyline or arc. When the straight woman is the BEST character…there’s some problems with your gay guy show.
38. Enlightened – I get that Mike White is a genius, and created a great role for Laura Dern, but I couldn’t even make it to the end of Season 1. As the original post stated – I never felt compelled to watch the next episode.
37. K Street – Political junkies like me and people who enjoy watching Carville and Matalin fight, loved it. But it wasn’t enough to save this slightly fictionalized show about real politics.
36. Dream On – It was a trailblazer in many ways. So much so that I forgot it was on HBO. It was also one of the first shows I saw that had nudity, which was big for me at the time. Brian BenBen and that yappy blonde chick were a nice combo and it was a visually interesting show that did cutaways before they were popular.
35. Flight of the Conchords – I realize my placement of this show is one that will anger many, but I truly just disliked it. I appreciate a couple of the songs, but I just didn’t enjoy the style of comedy or its cast.
34. Luck – It’s a shame what happened to this show because it had great potential. But hey, ya kill a few horses and your luck runs out.
33. Lucky Louie – A show ahead of its time, but it was my first experience with Louis CK, Pamela Adlon and Jim Norton and I loved every low-budget, white trash, overly sexualized, awkward moment.
32. No 1. Ladies Detective Agency – Honestly, I watched the pilot and didn’t get much further because it wasn’t a show for my demographic (read: white male under 30 at the time), but it was original and had some much needed diversity and solid performances from people you didn’t think were actors.
31. Bored to Death – It takes a certain type to truly “get” Jason Schwartzman and what this show tried to do, and I think there were a couple brilliant episodes but the show gets lost in the mix.
30. Rome – It wasn’t my type of show, but it was grand and as the original article poster described it – X-Rated Masterpiece Theater. I’m not gonna try to do better.
29. Carnivale – Much like the original article writer, I appreciate this show for its production design, deep messages and originality, but I never made it to the end of the first season. It gets placement at #29 because I know many other people really liked it and it was a cult hit.
28. Getting On – This show took a while to find its groove and to find the funny in old people dying and the purposeful unlikableness of the characters, but Laurie Metcalf, Alex Borstein and the cast were so good and as it built to its conclusion, much like Grandma, I wanted it to stay around a bit longer.
27. Hung – A one-note show about a one-note character. I like Thomas Jane and Jane Adams, who stole most of the show, and it had its funny moments with the pimps. But it just never hung in there. See what I did there?
26. Eastbound and Down – This is the OTHER show whose placement I know people will argue. I like Danny McBride. I just never enjoyed Kenny Powers. I will say there are some hilarious episodes and lines in this show, and it had about one season of brilliance but the story went too over the top for me.
25. The Leftovers – This show has room to grow still, and the powerful performances by Justin Theroux, the wonderful Carrie Coon and the powerhouse Ann Dowd highlighted a magnificent and compelling CONCEPT, but the backstory episode which came about 10 Episodes in should have been episode 2 and then the series would’ve made much more sense. Its dark nature wasn’t the problem – the problem was that every time we thought it was finally getting somewhere, it didn’t. It got way better in the last 3 episodes, but man it was a chore getting there. But those 3 actor’s performances made it easier. And I’m curious about Season 2.
24. Arli$$ – Another show just slightly before its time which probably paved the way for Entourage, plus it gave us a young Sandra Oh. Sure, it probably wouldn’t hold up now and I haven’t seen it in 15+ years, but I remember it fondly. Arliss was the original Ari.
23. Togetherness – I love this show. But it’s so new I couldn’t really rank it any higher. I’ll watch anything the Duplass Brothers do, and Melanie Lynskey and Amanda Peet are pretty fearless. Steve Zissis redefines the shlubby best friend role and almost feels like the lead at times as his love story with Peet’s character was far more interesting than the married couple. If you didn’t see season 1, go watch it.
22. The Newsroom – My love/hate relationship with this show runs deep. I bow at the altar of Aaron Sorkin, but found myself tweeting all the regurgitated lines from West Wing, Sports Night, and Studio 60 after each episode of the first season. The pilot was brilliant…then it wasn’t. It was flawed structurally, and in its timeline of real news events. The second season got better, sort of. Watching Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda fight was fun, though Olivia Munn might have been my favorite character on the show. There were episodes I loved but I guess my expectations were too high because of his previous shows and this one just fell short of them. I still love you, Aaron…
21. Big Love – No one does psycho Mormons like HBO. Except for Utah. I loved this show for the first few seasons, but it just went off the rails in a crazy way. I never saw the last 2 seasons (I cancelled my HBO for about 2 years), but this was a groundbreaking show in many ways and it made Ginnifer Goodwin a bigger star and somehow made Chloe Sevigny less insane, which is hard to do.
20. Girls – The only HBO show that I look forward to hate-watching. It’s not really groundbreaking, it’s not really interesting, it’s not really sexy. It has moments of insightful brilliance in the writing, it is somewhat relatable for middle class, artistic, lost, white, Generation Y-ers in New York City, and Adam Driver is the biggest TV revelation of the decade in my opinion. But this show would be way more interesting if it was called BOYS and if someone lit the female supporting cast on fire. Yet, I still watch.
19. The Comeback – I don’t think I fully appreciated the intelligence and comedy of the first run of this show, and it took a few episodes of the rebooted season for me to care, but it got there. Kudrow does seem stuck playing the same type of character with the same nasal annoying voice over and over, but Valerie Cherish’s arc this season was something so enjoyable and satisfying to watch.
18. Treme – Brilliant look at a city that’s sometimes hard to watch. Great performances, inspired music, a great feel and setting, though it always seemed too preachy for me and is not in the top 2 of David Simon’s best shows.
17. True Detective – This is a show that might be in some people’s Top 5. It was for the Thrillist writer. But I didn’t get what was so great about it. Yes, it had wonderful performances by two top notch actors. Yes, it had sharp and powerful writing from a new voice (despite the plagiarism scandal). And it introduced us to Alexandra Daddario’s unexpectedly perfect body for which I’ll always be thankful. But, the story was pretty boring and anti-climactic. It was well-shot, well-produced, well-written and well-performed. And yet, it didn’t seem as interesting as it should have been. I hope the new season is good.
16. Silicon Valley – To be fair, I’m still in the first season of this show and I think it’s great, but it’s not the funniest show that HBO has ever had, which the original article stated. It’s smart, it’s timely, it’s well-acted, and I look forward to seeing more. But there have been funnier shows on the network.
15. Band of Brothers – I know I discounted the other 2 war mini-series, but this was the one that started it all and it’s still the best. It deserved to be mentioned. It’s a masterpiece.
14. Extras – Ricky Gervais. Movie Stars. British hilarity. The episode with Kate Winslet was everything.
13. Entourage – Was it the best show on HBO? No. But it was iconic. Plus, it gave us the line “APA? Who the fuck invited you?” which was used for at least 2 weeks at every desk in Hollywood. Through its “star” Adrian Grenier, it ironically proved that good looks IS all you need in Hollywood to get work. And it gave those in the business a chance to look at themselves in a comedic and exaggerated way. And gave those outside the business even more reason to hate us. It was never a Middle America show, but it wasn’t supposed to be. However, it was entertaining, had memorable cameos, and I’ll be damned if Ari didn’t always make me laugh.
12. True Blood – When it was good, it was f’ing great. It was Twilight before Jacob and Edward ever existed. But when it was bad…it was unwatchable. And I’d say the show balanced out at about 60/40. The faerie world lost me, and I’m still pissed about what happened to Tara. But this show was one of the first that reached new demographics for HBO, and made people excited for each season. It was sexy, gory and totally fucked up, but it launched a ton of careers and at least one marriage. And while it was definitely time for it to go, I still miss Eric and Pam just a little…
11. Boardwalk Empire – Strangely, this has the same placement on my list as the original list. Coincidence. It’s not my type of show to be honest, and I haven’t watch the whole series, but I can appreciate what it was. Plus… Buscemi.
10. Larry Sanders Show – Again, a match with the original article. This show was so before its time and so hilarious. I want to go watch it again right now. If there is ever an HBO show that needs to be rebooted – it’s this one. Plus, what would people say when they called Howard Stern without HEY NOW!
9. Deadwood – This was the #1 show in the original article. And I feel like if I watched this again now, it might rank slightly higher – but never #1. Or even Top 5. David Milch has a specific, stylistic, powerful approach to words that either goes horribly wrong (like Rick Schroeder’s first season of NYPD Blue), or horribly perfect. And this show was one expletive-laden c*nt-fest of a script. In the best way. The gritty look and feel was so Western and yet not. If this show were on now, they would never let it end after 3 seasons, but the upside is it’s perfect for binge-watching.
8. Sex and the City – It is the cornerstone comedy for HBO. It made them a household name network and made execs realize women watched cable too. It’s still used in everyday vernacular. Are YOU a Samantha or a Charlotte? Oh, and its first movie made $415 MILLION! It tackled superficial comedy, and also cancer. It made us – and I include men in this – actually give a shit if a barely employed, barely attractive shoe-fetishist wound up with Aiden or Mr. Big. AND DAMMIT WHY WASN’T IT AIDEN!!?? My point being, this show is too important to the TV landscape and the HBO landscape to rank less than 10.
7. Curb Your Enthusiasm – Much like many HBO shows, when it’s at its best it IS the best. And when it’s not so good…well, Susie Essman is still pretty fucking funny. Larry David is a genius. I connect with him personally for many reasons. Mostly for his general hatred of small talk, bullshit, and people. I could have lived without much of the JB Smoove storyline but the fact this show is improvised and is still this funny is something I have to admire.
6. VEEP – This show is easily one of the funniest on TV. There has never been an episode that didn’t make me LOL. And hard. Its cast and writing is second to none. You can argue that Silicon Valley is smarter, but it is not easy to keep the Jonah and Dan insults and the precisely perfect Gary moments that hilarious and fresh. And this season, watching Tony Hale finally fight with Julia Louis-Dreyfus was pure gold. Not to mention the molestation of Jonah. That’s why this is my highest ranked comedy.
5. Oz – Again, before its time and utterly engrossing with rich characters you love, hate, root for and root against in the same breath. It was HBO’s first dramatic series, it launched many careers including JK Simmons, Eamonn Walker and Edie Falco. It was the first series of its kind and went where no other would go. It didn’t glorify anything, didn’t condescend, and didn’t pull punches. If you’ve never seen it…it’s worth a trip to Oz.
4. Six Feet Under – A simple concept with a well-balanced tone of darkness and light, clever episode structure and a family most couldn’t really relate to but always connected with. Even in its most morbid moments, the levity made us love it. And let’s face it – the series finale is still one of the best episodes of television ever and will make you sob like a baby.
3. Game of Thrones – This series just keeps upping the ante in every way. This season made the Red Wedding episode look tame, and while it may have lost some of its female viewership this season for various reasons, I think the last few episodes of this season were some of the strongest episodes of the whole show. The scale and scope of this show is so hard to comprehend that often I don’t even try to follow it, I just simply enjoy it. It makes me want a dragon. And if I can’t have one, I’ll gladly take a Dinklage instead!
2. The Sopranos – Yep, it’s #2. I had a personal connection to this show early on, but that wasn’t what kept me watching. Sure, it had its failed storylines. And sure, that whole fade to black in the last episode is STILL being fought over in some Jersey strip clubs. But this show changed the landscape of TV – and the quality of it. Watching James Gandolfini and Edie Falco was a masterclass. Watching Pauly and Big Pussy, Silvio and Bobby, and of course poor Adriana…it was appointment TV every week, every season. It changed the language of water-cooler talk from “Did you catch last night’s episode” to “Fuggedaboudit”.
1. The Wire – I got to re-watch the whole series from the start this past December, since I had only watched the first 2 seasons when it was actually on. And I’m so happy I did. Masterfully crafted, powerfully written and acted, heart-breakingly executed. It is the ultimate lesson for writers in crafting an arc for a whole series. Omar, McNulty, Bunk, Daniels, Barksdale, Stringer Bell, and the kids. They’re unforgettable. David Simon wrote what he knew, and translated it beautifully. The fact that this show never won an Emmy is one of the Top 3 most shameful Emmy facts in history. But I’m making up for that now by making it my #1 show on HBO.
Whew…made it! Did you agree? Disagree? I challenge you to make your own list!
May 21st, 2014
by Danny Manus (TV Whore)
The last two weeks have made the network TV landscape ironically resemble an episode of Game of Thrones. The blood and guts of writer’s hard work spewed everywhere as we say quite a few shocking goodbyes while a little person bangs a hooker in the corner. Okay, well maybe not that last part.
As the networks plan for the upcoming 2014-2015 season, hard choices and painful decisions must be made. There’s only so much time and so much money, and so much attention span viewers have. Because of that, over 40 shows were cancelled from the big four networks with 22 cancellations coming in the last two weeks. Some deservedly so, some somewhat expected, and some utterly unfortunate and disappointing.
I will address the network’s new offerings in a different article. But as someone who wastes far too much time getting hooked to network shows just to see them disappear 3, 8, 13 or 22 episodes later, the least I could do is tell the networks why they are wrong and how they could have saved the shows they seemed so high on a year ago. Or why they never should have been on in the first place. Or what should’ve been cancelled instead. As always, I don’t write about the CW because I don’t watch anything on the network and, well, who gives a shit?
Total Cancelled Shows: 12
Community, Revolution, Dracula, Crisis, Believe, Ironside, Camp, Growing Up Fisher, Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves the World, Michael J. Fox Show, Million Dollar Quiz
Perhaps their fates were written on the wall, but there were a few winners in this pile that could have been saved…ya know, if I were running the world. Then again, I didn’t want them to cancel Smash.
Community – I get the reasons for and against, and yes it’s a cult show. But basically everything on networks these days survive with smaller but rabid cult followings. And this past season, for the most part, was pretty brilliant and back to its glory days. If you didn’t see their GI Joe episode, you’re missing one of the best 30 minutes of comedy all year. We will miss you, Greendale. I would’ve given it another 13 episode season to go along with Parks & Rec.
Revolution – I DVR this show and find myself begrudgingly binge-watching it and fast-forwarding through half of it. The concept got too tedious and it felt like even the writers weren’t sure what it was about anymore. But it was the time slot change that killed it.
Crisis – This show could’ve worked. Should have worked. The problem? They made Gillian Anderson play 4th banana behind TV Show Killer Rachael Taylor. This is her 4th show and 4th cancellation in 4 seasons. Why do people keep casting her? If Gillian Anderson had been the lead, people would have cared. And if Dermot Mulroney wasn’t billed as the lead yet so awkward to watch as a bad guy, the show could’ve connected more. A great cast wasted; a decent concept that didn’t have enough legs.
Believe – It just wasn’t as good or interesting as Resurrection and they went head to head with similar themes. I never made it past the pilot.
Welcome to the Family – Of the THREE shows about stupid teenagers who get pregnant, this was the most schmaltzy. I loved Mike O’Malley and Mary McCormick, but a Latina teenager getting pregnant and keeping it is hardly earth-shattering original TV.
Sean Saves the World – I like Sean Hayes. I really do. But as the sidekick. And I love Megan Hilty. I really do. But I love her more when she sings and gets to be sexy instead of playing off someone who is clearly not going to find her sexy. It was painful to watch. Glad it’s gone.
Michael J. Fox Show – This should have been given more of a chance. A funny show with an obvious hook, it didn’t know exactly what it wanted to be about. It tried to make it less about MJF’s disability, but those were the jokes that were the funniest. NBC paid a hefty price for cancelling it. Literally I am surprised this didn’t last longer. So was Michael.
Growing Up Fisher – There was only ONE problem with this show and her name is Jenna Elfman. This show was cute and funny at times, but the promos were vague, the posters told us nothing about the hook, and Jenna Elfman being married to a blind J.K. Simmons is about as believable as… Jenna Elfman being married to a blind J.K. Simmons. Plus the little Asian kid had the worst teeth on TV and was really hard to watch. If they had cast it better, this could have been a hit. But seriously – give J.K. Simmons something else, cause I’ll watch it.
Should’ve Been Cancelled Instead: Is there anything left? Parks and Rec and Parenthood each have one more 13-episode season and then they’re gone. How many hours of Hollywood Game Night can you possibly show?
New Hits: The Blacklist, About A Boy, Chicago PD. Big fan of all these shows. Glad they’re giving About A Boy another shot. It’s not a hit at all, but it’s good enough to try again.
Summary: With a little help from The Voice, Blacklist, Sunday Night Football and the Olympics, NBC landed at the #1 spot again. Amazing, considering they cancelled more shows this year than any other network. But they have strong branded, tested shows like SVU and Chicago Fire still burning strong and a nice crossover companion show with Chicago PD. Basically, after 25 years, NBC traded in NY for Chi-town and it seems to be working. Going 1/10 in the hit department isn’t something to be proud of. But at the end of the day, the only show cancelled that will be missed for more than 10 minutes is Community.
Next, in Part 2, I cover CBS….
May 21st, 2014
By Danny Manus (TV Whore)
Total Cancelled Shows: 7
The Crazy Ones, Hostages, Intelligence, Friends with Better Lives, We Are Men, Bad Teacher, and How I Met Your Mother (ended run)
CBS knows its audience, and while they attempt to try new things, it rarely works for them. I’ll be honest – the only CBS shows I watch are The Good Wife, Amazing Race, Survivor (though I skipped this season), Blue Bloods, Mom (which I’ll discuss in a moment), and the now defunct HIMYM. But with the success of Elementary and their CSI/NCIS world, they don’t need to change much. And they’re not going to.
There’s only one show that was cancelled that I really take issue with –
The Crazy Ones – Robin Williams led a pitch-perfect (no pun intended) cast that had one of the best chemistries in comedy. Their gag reels at the end of the episode were worth watching the whole show for. And they truly seemed like they were having fun, which translated onto the screen into each episode. I think it was far too heavy on the promotional tie-ins and obvious corporate sponsorship, but the writing was really strong and the improv was even stronger. I will miss this show and hope its cast find new comedies quickly, especially James Wolk and Hamish Linklater.
As for the others…
Hostages – Wonderful pilot, strong second episode. But man did it go down the shitter from there. If it was any longer than 15 episodes, I would have hurt someone. This was an 8 episode show stretched to 15 that wishes it could have been like 24, but really wasn’t. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!
Friends With Better Lives – After James Van Der Beek’s HILARIOUS turn on Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, he proved his comedic chops. But this show wasted every single one of them. Kevin Connolly looked uncomfortable, Zoe Lister-Jones is quickly becoming the Rachael Taylor of sitcoms, and Brooklyn Decker…well, who cares? She’s Brooklyn friggin’ Decker and I’ll watch her do anything. But these friends didn’t seem to actually have better lives. Hope to find the Beek on a better sitcom very soon!
How I Met Your Mother – I want to stroke its head and tell it, “You weren’t cancelled, little baby, you just ended. And we’ll always love you. Even if some nasty people hated your last episode.” This is a show that will be missed by viewers, by the network, and by its producers especially now that their spinoff has not been picked up (possibly the biggest CBS shocker of the year). So long, Robin Sparkles. So long, Barney!
Should’ve Been Cancelled Instead – Nothing jumps out, but I could do with one less NCIS.
New Hits – One of my favorite new comedies – MOM. It’s not full-on comedy – it has a lot of drama and heart mixed in with raunchy fun and inappropriateness. But man, I love the way they do it. I will watch anything with Allison Janney, and I love that they are bringing this show back. I also love that the daughter actually gave away the baby. We’re The Millers has also become a hit, though I stopped watching a few episodes in. Lucky for them, they are owned by CBS. It’s not bad, it’s just very….CBS. It’s the same reason I don’t watch any of their other comedies anymore. Under the Dome is a big summer hit, though I didn’t think it was as strong in the end as it was in the beginning.
Summary – Unlike the other networks, CBS has strong 10pm shows that anchor their nights better than any other. Hawaii 5-0, Elementary, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, Blue Bloods, NCIS, CSI, etc. They know their audience. None of these shows are Emmy-worthy (though The Good Wife deserves one for this season’s shocker), but they get the job done. The execs have it pretty easy over at CBS, where their biggest change is going to be losing Letterman. Though I’m sure next year will be the end for Mike & Molly since Melissa McCarthy has grown too big for her britches. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Stay tuned for Part 3 – FOX AND ABC!
May 21st, 2014
Total Cancelled Shows – 7
Almost Human, Surviving Jack, Rake, Enlisted, Raising Hope, Dads, X-Factor
The Breakdown –
Some were happily put out of their misery, but there are 2 that could have been saved and salvaged…
Surviving Jack – Fox never gave this show its proper chance. Chris Meloni and Rachel Harris were hilarious. This show had some of the nostalgia factor of The Goldbergs, some of the harshness of Married with Children, and some of the hilarity of…watching Christopher Meloni be a dad. I wasn’t convinced by the first episode, but I stuck with it and ended up really enjoying it. If it had a better lead-in and time slot, this show could’ve connected. Meloni deserved better after the courtship Fox and the producers went through to get him on the show. Jack, I hardly knew ye. Chris Meloni and J.K. Simmons should be in a comedy together.
Almost Human – Loved the first 2 episodes, but it quickly got stale for me. I didn’t care enough to keep watching, though I know it had a loyal fan base. It wasn’t as big a hit as Sleepy Hollow so they cancelled it, but they could’ve given it another shot – probably would’ve worked better on Friday nights than Mondays.
Rake – Great pilot if you live in LA. Totally lost me (and about 4 million other people) in episode 2.
Raising Hope – Consistently one of the funniest shows on TV, but after a while I guess it was time to go. They should be proud of their run and I was happy to watch most of it.
X-Factor – I based my company on Simon Cowell but I am SO happy to see this go away. They never had more than 2 talented acts in 3 seasons, Simon Cowell wasn’t mean enough and seemed truly bored, and Britney, LA Reid, Kelly Rowland and whoever that Shakira-wannabe was were all painful to watch. Not to mention the awful hosts. I’m sorry, but Mario Lopez is no Seacrest. The only saving grace to this show for me was Demi Lovato. Good riddance to bad talent.
Should’ve Been Cancelled Instead – Glee, The Following, The Mindy Project.
Glee – This season should have been the end. Once Cory died, the heart of the show died too. Ryan Murphy brought in this whole new cast of wannabe stars, one more awful than the next – and the audience HATED them. So then he changed the show back to the original cast and mixed it up. Now, it’s like the newbies never existed (a waste of 13 awful episodes) and it’s no longer about a glee club – it’s about making it NY. Hello, why don’t you just call it FAME! This show doesn’t HAVE another 22 episodes in it, it’s painful these days and if the rumors are true and Naya Rivera was fired, I’m officially Gleeked Out. Done. This series could have had a GREAT wrap-up and send-off this season. Instead, it’s staying past its welcome.
The Mindy Project – This show never knew what it wanted to be. I like Mindy Kaling, but I honestly don’t like watching her in a lead role. I find her funny, but annoying. She’s not pretty, but she’s not ugly. The supporting cast has changed more times than the host of the Oscars. And even though some say it’s gotten better, I just don’t see what the network sees in this show.
The Following – I don’t know how or why I got through this season, but it wasn’t even close to the first season. It was awful. There’s not really anywhere else to go with it, and if you counted the body count of the first two seasons, it would easily be the most murderous show in the history of network TV. Hundreds killed. The first season was really good, the second season was ridiculous, the third season – it shouldn’t happen.
New Hits – Sleepy Hollow, Brooklyn Nine Nine. Sleepy Hollow isn’t my type of show, so I’ve never seen it but I LOVE Brooklyn Nine Nine. What a great new comedy – consistently hilarious and a great ensemble. I love that this show connected, though with its new move to Sunday nights next season, I worry about it a little bit. Fox, please PLEASE don’t fuck it up.
Summary – Fox needs some MAJOR new hits and quick. With X-Factor gone, American Idol more of a utility player than star attraction, and The New Girl taking a huge (and painful) hit both creatively and in its ratings, Fox needs a win. They only have 7 live-action shows left (plus 3 animated, plus Idol) and Glee is already set to end next season. Plus Bones, The Following, and Mindy Project probably won’t make it past one more season. But they have some huge new shows and “events” coming next season. So, I’m crossing my fingers for them.
Total Cancelled Shows – 12
Trophy Wife, Suburgatory, Mixology, Super Fun Night, Once Upon A Time in Wonderland, Mind Games, Lucky 7, Killer Women, Betrayal, Back in the Game, The Assets, The Neighbors
The Breakdown –
I’m not sure if you can call them cancelled if they only lasted 2 episodes. They barely qualify as “aired,” which is the case with 4 of these shows. There are some wonderful comedies in the above list that should have been kept and given more of a shot. There were some awful time slot choices and some awful promotions involved. But also some awful shows. But if any network made me mad this season, it’s ABC! Now feel my vengeance.
I’ll be honest – at least 9 of these shows deserved what they got.
Super Fun Night – If I wanted to watch an obnoxious fat girl try to get laid, I’d go back on JDate. I don’t get Rebel Wilson’s appeal. She’s mildly funny but she’s a cheap Melissa McCarthy knock-off. There, I said it. Not because there can’t be two funny fat chicks on TV, but because Rebel’s slapstick shtick gets stale after 2 episodes. In this case, it was old after 10 minutes. I feel bad for Liza Lapira who is also on her 4th cancelled sitcom in 4 years.
Suburgatory – This show was great, then less great, then good again, then not so much. Perhaps it is its inconsistency that was its downfall. It had a strong voice at first, but that faded into weekly wacky sitcom situations. It had a decent run, but The Goldbergs needs its time slot and there is nowhere else to put it.
Mixology – I really enjoyed this show. Maybe I’m alone, but I thought it was different, it had potential, I laughed out loud every episode and the cast was really interesting and funny. The casting directors did a great job finding NEW talent! Were there a couple lamer episodes? Maybe. But I really liked the structure of the show. Of course, I’m not sure where the second season would take it, but this show deserved a better shot and another chance. I hope to see the cast in other shows very soon. The writers were the original writers of The Hangover – the ones who actually SOLD the script – and don’t get nearly as much credit as they deserve.
Trophy Wife – I may miss you most of all, scarecrow. I thought I’d hate this show. And at first, I didn’t love it. But it really grew on me. Malin Ackerman was actually funny, Bradley Whitford is always wonderful, and even the horribly annoying Michaela Watkins started to warm my heart. But the funniest members of the cast were the two kids, Warren and Bert. As the season went on, they got better and better. This show SHOULD have aired after Modern Family – it was the perfect fit. But for some ungodly reason, they never put it there. This show was on the bubble in the truest sense, and looking at some of ABC’s new comedic offerings next season, they are going to regret cancelling this show. Fare thee well, Bert.
Should’ve Been Cancelled – All of ABCs remaining shows are pretty strong, and I’m really glad they gave Nashville another shot. I’m not sure why it’s not connecting as well as it should.
New Hits – Marvel Agents of Shield, The Goldbergs, Resurrection and Scandal. ABC landed in 4th place, but had the most successful new shows. Scandal isn’t a NEW hit, but man has it taken off even more – and I love it. The Goldbergs is hilarious nostalgic fun and it really hits home. I’m so glad it’s coming back. Agents of Shield lost me. I watched the first 6 or 7, then kinda realized I was watching it for the wrong reasons and not because I liked it. Resurrection had one of the best pilots of the year and it’s still interesting enough to keep my attention. If you’re writing a show with religious elements, that’s the pilot to watch to learn how to do it right. And all of ABCs other shows are solid – Grey’s (yes, I still watch it!), Revenge, Castle, and Modern Family, though the latter two have not been nearly as strong as previous seasons. But to have 3 breakout hits and the #1 social media-obsessed show on the air is a pretty solid distinction ABC can take to the bank.
Summary – The problem with ABC is either they launch massive hits or truly awful bombs. There is no middle with ABC. Their shows either last many years or 3 episodes. ABC is going through a new regime and they are swinging big next season, but they’ve done pretty well despite being #4. Their shows are well-liked, they just get watched more in DVR+7 than live. Let’s be honest, if the NFL didn’t exist, ABC would not be #4.
March 27th, 2014
By Danny Manus
I’ll admit it. I love Grey’s Anatomy. Have from the first episode. I even stuck in there for those couple of crappy seasons (much like I did with ER). And sometimes, since I have a home office, I watch the repeats of Grey’s on Lifetime at 1pm. Yup, I said it. Don’t judge.
And you know what thought constantly reverberates while watching the older episodes?
Poor Katherine Heigl.
Katherine Heigl was Jennifer Lawrence before there was a Jennifer Lawrence. She was womanly, curvy, bubbly and beautiful, doe-eyed, quirky and smart, a strong actress who put craft before looks, and she was imminently likable. She was poised to be the next big thing. America’s Sweetheart with a slight edge – just how we like ‘em.
The next big TV breakout star that would cross over into film much like predecessors Jennifer Anniston, George Clooney, Will Smith, Michelle Williams, Will Ferrell, Steve Carrell, etc.
And at first, she played her cards perfectly. Her agents knew how to make her a star. She stayed quiet for a couple years, focusing on her TV work and building her sweet but sexy public persona. She won the Emmy in 2007 for Best Supporting Actress. And then while still on Grey’s, she filmed her breakout film role in Knocked Up, an R-rated comedy that connected with her target demographic but also made her seem cooler than her Grey’s character. And it was a huge hit.
She followed that up with 27 Dresses, a more down the middle but funny and relatable romcom hit which grossed over $100M. She proved she could open a movie and was now the next big thing. She was on top of the world…right?
Funny thing happens when you’re on top of the world. There’s only one way left to go.
It all started with some public rants criticizing her co-stars and the writing staff of the show that won her an Emmy and made her a star. She angered her bosses and the people who put words in her mouth every week and so they turned on her, made her character an unlikable psychotic shrew with brain cancer who broke up marriages and then they wrote her off the show. She started being labeled as “difficult,” which is the only label in Hollywood you can’t shake.
You can be a drug addict, a whore, a mental case or a talentless hack…but the one thing you can’t be is DIFFICULT. Diva behavior only works until your first failure. And then you’re just a bitch no one wants to work with. And guess what happened?
Killers, Life as We Know It, One for the Money, and The Big Wedding. Each film a bigger flop than the last. And suddenly, not only was sweet Katie Heigl difficult, but she was box office Kryptonite.
She tried playing it tough, she tried playing it sweet, she tried making up with Shonda Rhimes in the press. She even adopted an Asian baby. But none of it worked. Now, she’s starring in a TV movie and a commercial for a sleep aid.
And you know who is responsible for this? Her mother. Or should I say, “Momager.”
Notoriously known throughout Hollywood as being not only a horrible person (and business person) to deal with, but also an awful arbiter of taste, Katherine’s mother Nancy Heigl is the worst kind of parent. The kind who wants all the credit and thinks she knows best in every situation. And instead of listening to her agents or the rest of her team, Katherine fired them all, stuck by her mom, and made her a producing partner. In short, she Heigl’d herself.
And it’s unfortunate because if you go back to the first 4 seasons of Grey’s, you will see a woman who deserved to be a big star and by all accounts should still be one.
This doesn’t JUST go for actors, but here are some tips on how to make sure you never Heigl yourself:
- You are your own brand. First impressions matter big time. But you’re only as good (and as liked) as your last impression.
- Never bite the hand that feeds you even if you see a bigger hand waiting with food.
- Never burn a bridge you don’t know for sure you can rebuild – or that can be rebuilt without you.
- Your mother should be your MOTHER. Ask her questions, take her suggestions, and then tell her to Fuck Off and listen to the professionals who do this for a living. The only successful Momager is Kris Jenner…and do you really wanna be a Kardashian?
- Build buzz for your career in positive ways. Be endearing, quirky, and funny. It’s okay to stick your foot in your mouth, as long as you do it in an adorable way.
- Strike when the iron is hot, but don’t go too outside your comfort zone/demographic on your first project. Whatever your first hit movie role is, you’re going to have to play in that genre for a couple of years so get used to it and don’t badmouth it. But each role should expand your demographic slightly.
- After you’ve had 2 or 3 modest to major successes, it’s time to branch out and do something against type to show just how much range you have. A dark indie, an action franchise, host SNL, etc.
- Keep your fucking mouth shut in the press about any topics not related to whatever you’re promoting. Unless you’re Sean Penn or George Clooney, no one gives a shit what you think about foreign politics.
- Your PR person is the most important asset you have. If she disagrees with your mother, fire your mother.
- Surround yourself with people who have better taste than you do.
- Be nice. Be cordial. Be self-deprecating without seeming too self-conscious. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Learn the crew’s names. Respect the writer.
- Make it seem like you actually enjoy it and are grateful. We can tell if you’re not.
- Never get bored. Always be learning. Always be improving.
March 30th, 2013
By Danny Manus
I realize I’m in the minority (vast minority according to Nielsen numbers), but I’m a big fan of Smash. Critically loved in its first 2 or 3 episodes, it’s been painful to watch what the network, the creators, and the producers have done to this once-promising show. If ever there was a case of a show that needed a total upheaval but deserved another chance, Smash is it.
Why do I care? Well, besides being a total TV Whore and producer, I’m a born and raised New Yorker, brought up on musical theater. I sang in choir all through high school and even worked at the local performing arts theater (a theater that launched Hollywood and Broadway stars like Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Dan Domenech). And I love seeing this world brought to the small screen.
I also absolutely hate watching good (or potentially great) shows go down without a fight or without the right support, and it seems to be NBC’s M.O. to cut the cord without giving things a real shot (Prime Suspect, Boomtown, Studio 60, Southland, Awake, etc.).
I was hooked to Smash before the first note was sung. The advertising, the wonderful cast, the promises made of an adult, less sappy version of Glee – I was in! It was exactly what should have worked on NBC at exactly the right time, especially premiering after The Voice.
And when the pilot of Smash aired, and Katharine McPhee and Megan Hilty belted out that big number “Let Me Be Your Star,” I was hooked. And so were millions of others. It was a hit!
CUT TO: 8 weeks later…it was a flop. Now, I’ve read all the articles are reports of what went wrong. Everyone had a different vision for this show from Spielberg to Creator/Executive Producer/Psycho Bitch Theresa Rebeck to NBC Execs to the cast. No one was on the same page about anything – the tone, look, casting, music, storylines. It was a mess. It became a cheesy drinking-game inducing soap opera.
But there are plenty of insanely cheesy shows on the air, especially on NBC, and they were doing OK. So it had to be something else. Yes, the character of Ellis was absolutely unwatchably bad as was the actor portraying him (who better hope a soap opera hires him or else he’ll never work again). The “actor” playing Messing’s son was painfully unable to act or emote and you could feel Debra Messing begging for her scenes with him to be over. And the show just didn’t GO anywhere past episode 6. It was stuck.
And in its second season, despite a cast shakeup, it’s done even WORSE. Unfortunately, a third season is nearly impossible now. Though it hasn’t officially been cancelled, many in the cast (including Messing) have already signed on to other pilots.
But IF—IF!—NBC was inclined to save one of its potentially more impressive and fun shows (which could make them tons of Glee-style money on the original music it produces), there are 7 things that would need to change to revamp the show and make it a hit.
1. The basic concept of the show needs to change. Instead of it being a behind the scenes look at a show as it tries to make it to Broadway, it needs to be about a behind the scenes look at a show that’s ON Broadway! The biggest issue with the series currently is that each episode is horrible repetitive and stale. How many times can ONE show (that isn’t Spiderman) come back from the dead and keep plugging away. It’s gone through 3 directors, 3 lead actresses, 2 lead actors, 2 producers, 2 writers, etc. There is nothing more you do to the show except PUT IT ON BROADWAY and see what happens!
Plus, with it still in eternal rehearsals of the same 4 boring musical numbers, there’s nothing on the line. There are no stakes. No one has anything except sweat equity and passion invested in the project, except for Anjelica Huston’s ex-husband, whom we don’t care about. If it was playing ON Broadway and there was huge drama behind the scenes, there would always be the ticking clock until they had to go on every night and perform, and those performances would portray the drama going on off stage. There is so much more drama, hi-jinx and fun to be had with a show that’s playing on Broadway rather than a show that just wants to. The difference between Smash and Glee is that the characters on Smash are supposed to be professionals – so let them be!
The alternative to putting ‘Bombshell’ on Broadway immediately? Kill Marilyn. Marilyn was a great set up to the show when it started, but she’s over now. She was over the second Michelle Williams didn’t win the Oscar for My Life With Marilyn. No one gives a shit about Marilyn Monroe except old queens. You’re supposed to be targeting a younger demographic, but they’d rather watch a musical about the life of Minaj than Monroe.
2. For the love of God, stop regurgitating the same four ‘Bombshell’ songs in every damn episode. I love “Let Me Be Your Star,” but if I ever hear it again, I’m going to bleed from my ears. Because it’s not just sung in every other episode, it’s also in every single commercial and advertisement – there’s nothing left to love about the song! You’ve killed it. Dead. And the other handful of Marilyn songs we’ve also heard 100 times. I like that producers have created a second show this season to play off of so we get some new music, but now we’re just going to hear those same 3 songs for each of the next 6 episodes. They need to use more popular music like Glee does if you want people to be able to sing along. And if they REALLY wanted to set themselves apart, do what they did in Les Miserables and let the talented actors who are used to singing live, actually sing LIVE! There’s nothing worse than bad lip synching, and Megan Hilty is the only one who seems to have mastered the task. Glee works because every week we get 5-6 new songs. If they kept singing that one damn Journey song every episode, no one would watch that either.
3. The Producers need to go watch Noises Off! The show or the movie. Either one will do. And then they need to work much more comedy into the show. I’m not saying make this a sitcom, but Debra Messing and Christian Borle are fantastic comedy actors and their roles feel SO stifling to their talent. Messing has barely broken a smile since episode 4 and Borle ONLY looks happy when he’s given the chance to sing and dance. In case you forgot, Messing won an Emmy for Best COMEDIC Actress. Let the woman play to her strengths. Which brings up the next point – LET DEBRA MESSING AND CHRISTIAN BORLE SING! Messing has barely done ONE number since the pilot by herself and the woman can sing. Borle has only done a handful – and the man won a Tony! Debra Messing is the star of the show – give her something to sing. And if Anjelica can hold a note, give her a song too.
4. No more Stunt Casting unless it’s permanent. It’s wonderful to put names like Jennifer Hudson, Uma Thurman, Jesse L Martin, Sean Hayes, Bernadette Peters, Daniel Sunjata and Joe Jonas in your commercials, but the problem is – putting stars like that in the show make us wish they were the stars of the show. Not only that, but only Uma Thurman and Bernadette Peters had natural entrées and exits to the storylines. The rest were basically forgotten plotlines that went nowhere. Some had nice storylines within the episode (like Sunjata), but then disappeared for no reason other than the show clearly couldn’t pay their salaries for more episodes.
NBC put Jennifer Hudson on every poster, in every commercial, and featured her song and voice in every Season 2 promo there was. But she had no place in the story or series. She was just there, she sang her songs, and then she was gone. Her character in no way affected any of the others. And the problem was, she was better than everyone else. I love Hilty with a passion, and McPhee is incredibly talented and sexy, but no one sings like Jennifer Hudson. So either you have stars that outshine your cast coming in for no reason, or you have stars come in that the audience is waiting to hear sing but they never do, like Jesse L. Martin and Joe Jonas. Trust the talents of your cast, or recast.
5. Speaking of which, Jeremy Jordan needs to go. Look, I like Jeremy Jordan a lot. In fact, he went to my alma mater Ithaca College and he is a SUPREME singing and dancing talent. He is a Broadway star if I’ve ever heard one and I could listen to him sing all day long and be very happy. But he’s painful to watch on TV. And I’m not sure if it’s because he’s just not ready for the small screen yet (Lea Michele is still figuring out how not to play to the balcony after 4 seasons of Glee), or if it’s because the character the writers have created is so flawed in the worst and most obvious of ways, that it’s incredibly hard to care or connect to him. Not only don’t we want Karen to fall for him, but we don’t even understand how she could. Despite his talent and brief glimmers of feelings, he’s an asshole that bites the hand that feeds him every time it’s offered. And for viewers who watch the show because they dream of being on Broadway, they can’t connect with a character that is being given the shot and decides to piss it away every week. If he doesn’t want it badly enough, then we won’t want it for him. He needs to learn the lesson I teach all my screenwriting students – this ain’t an artist colony, it’s the entertainment business.
6. The writers need to create empowered and strong female characters instead of the whiny, overpowered, overwhelmed, lovelorn, confused, slutty, low self-esteemed diva wannabes that currently inhabit the show. I think it’s pretty clear that the original series creator Theresa Rebeck created insecure characters she could relate to. Problem is, everyone hated her – and now they hate her characters. This is a show geared towards women and gay men – yet the female characters are some of the weakest on TV. Messing’s character is an adulterer-turned-basket case who has no direction, no confidence and no self-worth unless her husband, her male writing partner, her male director, or the male script doctor brought in to save her, tells her she’s good. Anjelica Huston’s character is supposed to be this powerful producer type, but she’s really an emotional former gold-digger who can’t make a decision unless she gets the head nod from her ex-husband, whom she hates yet constantly relies on. And her romance with the mobster bartender was so implausible, it was laughable. Is she high society or just high maintenance? McPhee’s Karen was supposed to be the star-struck ingénue we root for but suddenly, after going through some rehearsals and a quick Boston run in Bombshell, is now the toast of the town and a celebrity who can get a new show going just by snapping her fingers. Plus, she finally gets out of her bad relationship with a cheater, and she jumps into bed with not only her Director (after being so strong to resist him in the first season) but also her new co-star, a drug addict with an anger problem and a chip on his shoulder. If ALL the women in the show have horrible taste in men, they won’t be characters women can look up to.
7. Bring back the competition aspect and make this show more like A Chorus Line. The show worked best when Megan Hilty and Katharine McPhee’s characters were battling each other, and now they are barely in one scene together per episode. Make us FEEL something as our characters FIGHT for something. Right now, the fight is over. They’re just waiting for things to happen, and that is boring for the audience. Hilty’s back as Marilyn, McPhee’s banging every guy connected to her new show, Huston’s got the show back from her ex-husband, Borle is directing Bombshell and Messing is….there too. But none of them have anything to fight for anymore. Give them something new to fight for and keep the competition aspect going.
TV shows with truly new concepts that stand out amongst the crowd don’t come around too often, and they certainly don’t come around on NBC too much. This show had everything going for it, but bad producing and lazy writing has destroyed what could have been a solid 4-5 season run. It may be too late now, but if the NBC execs and show producers could wake up, acknowledge they screwed up, and follow the aforementioned steps, they might have one more chance to make Smash live up to its name.
July 18th, 2011
By Danny Manus
I’m a Gleek. There, I said it. I was in my high school’s choir (which got redubbed choir cult our senior year) and I worked at the local community theater. I was a NY kid, so I was raised seeing (and loving) Broadway shows. And I’m a child of the 80s. So, I get Glee. But there’s an evil force surrounding Glee that must be stopped immediately…and his name is Ryan Murphy.
When Ryan Murphy creates something, he’s a visionary. He has this twisted yet relatable commercial sensibility to him that connects to pop culture beautifully – most likely because he’s such a fan of pop culture himself. He has this ability to create a WORLD that most of us are aware of already, but take it to this whole other wonderful place…
But then he seems to lose sight of his vision and get wrapped up in his own self-importance and self-aggrandizing bullshit (or maybe just the gobs of money rolling in), and like the Godzilla of Showrunners attacking his own Japanese City, he ruins the world he creates for the rest of us.
I’m not saying Ryan Murphy is a bad guy per se…he’s just a really bad multi-tasker and it seems he doesn’t have the heart to truly care about whom he hurts as long as it promotes his own agenda. As soon as Ryan Murphy finds success with one of his projects, he immediately looks for the next big thing to put his name on – and that’s fine – that’s how Hollywood works. But unlike many, when Murphy multi-tasks, he falls incredibly short.
Case in point. I was a HUGE Nip/Tuck fan. And right before the last season of the show, I got to work as an executive on a movie with Nip/Tuck star Dylan Walsh. We all went out to dinner one night after shooting and I nonchalantly asked him about the show. As any fan will tell you, the first 2 seasons of that show were pure fucking brilliance. The third season was GOOD but started going off the rails, and by season 5 it was almost painfully unwatchable.
Julian McMahon, the Aussie star of the show, had completely forgotten he was supposed to be affecting an American accent. Joely Richardson had started banging the kid playing her son and likewise forgot that she was supposed to do an American accent and so she disappeared for a whole season (her pronunciation of Chris-chee-ann instead of Christian still haunts my thoughts), and poor Dylan Walsh looked so pissed that he had to read the inane melodramatic drivel given to him that it was pretty hard to watch.
So, I asked Dylan what happened to Season 5 (the penultimate season) and he basically said that everyone was unhappy and wanted off the show and hated the material, but they couldn’t leave, and that came across on screen. Even Ryan Murphy himself has said that the last two seasons of Nip/Tuck were awful because he hated the actors and the actors hated him and the writers fucked it up.
And why? Because once Nip/Tuck took off, and Murphy got some acclaim, he used his stardom to write and direct the feature “Running with Scissors” in 2006 (which he began prepping for in 2004 – after the second season of Nip/Tuck). He took his eye off the ball.
Jump to 2009 as Glee becomes a ridiculous smash hit and despite a bit of unnecessary soapyness in the writing of the first season, it was FUN and original and smart. And the money, press, fame and accolades came rollin’ in. And once again Murphy used this to transition to a big film with a big star – “Eat Pray Love” with Julia Roberts.
And what happened? The second season of Glee jumped the shark, got silly and melodramatic and had more disjointed over-the-top storylines (like what happened on Nip/Tuck) and unnecessary tribute episodes that became more Murphy Masturbation than cohesive brilliant storytelling.
And now this Glee Machine – which could have run for 7 seasons, will now be cancelled after 4 or 5 (mark my words). Why? Because instead of doing the smart thing and stretching the timeline of high school to keep the show and its stars intact (having each season being HALF a school year instead of a full year for instance or switching it up and fudging the timelines), he’s decided to get rid of most of the main characters of the show after season 3. Chord Overstreet was let go and Lea Michele, Chris Colfer and Cory Monteith (so far) have already been given their walking papers a full season before their departure – which should make shooting this 3rd season NOT awkward at all. Dead Actors Walking…
But he’s not done. I promise, many other actors are going to get cut from the show and they just don’t know it yet. There’s no way to keep the rest of them and NOT these 3 as they are ALL pretty much the same age. And his idea to keep Matthew Morrison (the weak link of the show) and make him the focal point instead of the kids is a big mistake. And then – just to show his polished and performed actors currently on the show that ANYONE can do their jobs so shut the fuck up and stop complaining – he launches the Glee Project Reality Show to find the show’s new star.
If I was a star on Glee, this would make me furious. And by the way, if you’ve been watching, half the contestants on the reality show are pretty bad or at least annoying, and it’s pretty clear that they aren’t casting new stars to ADD to the cast – they are casting stars to REPLACE the cast – because they fill the same roles. I get that Glee is about acceptance and becoming who you are – but do we really need a “little person” or ANOTHER bad boy or gay diva or moderately talented big fat chick on the show?
The reality show has just become a vanity project that lets Murphy get on camera and pronounce in his best gay baritone voice that “kids need to be themselves.” Unless, of course, they disagree with Murphy – then they better get in line and change.
And now, after the second season of Glee, Eat Pray Love and the Glee Project, Murphy has taken on another show – a new series for FX titled “An American Haunting,” starring Connie Britton, Dermot Mulroney and Jessica Lange. Now, it sounds like a cool project and yes, I will watch. But someone needs to mind the store. And someone needs to stop Murphy from doing promotions because every time he opens his mouth, he RUINS something we love and makes his actors feel 6 inches tall – which is what he did on Nip/Tuck and it backfired horribly.
Murphy seems to have the showrunner version of A.D.D. He gets bored with his shows, he gets bored with his actors and he thinks HE is the center of the world and everyone must amuse him at all times. Here’s the thing – I get not caring if you’re known as a dick. Hell, I’ve based a business around it. But you don’t want to be known as The Guy Who Killed a Phenomenon and Ruined Children’s Lives Just Because He’s A Dick. There’s a difference.
So, in the name of all those Gleeks out there, for all the Nip/Tuck fans out there, and for all the fans of good TV out there – please, someone stop Ryan Murphy before he strikes again.
July 14th, 2011
By Danny Manus (the TV Whore)
Emmy nominations were announced this morning and holy crap is it a mixed bag of awesome and shitty! Cant’ decide if I’m happy or pissed because there’s an equal number of really glaring snubs and deserved nominations! So let’s bitch about it shall we?
Best Drama Series –
The Good Wife – The only network show to get nom’d and deservedly so. I think the final episodes of this season were fantastic and really let its actors shine. I actually hope it wins (which it won’t) only because network dramas need a win!
Game of Thrones – Just watched this whole season a few weeks ago and it did win me over. Glad to see it noticed.
Friday Night Lights – Final season goodbye nom, should have happened years ago.
Boardwalk Empire – I don’t get it. I know people WANT me to watch this, but I don’t think it’s very good. I give shows 3 episodes to win me over – and this didn’t. If Scorcese wasn’t involved in this, no one would like it.
Mad Men – Again, I know I should watch it and like it…but I don’t really. I think the best days of this show are behind it.
Dexter – I love Dexter, and despite sometimes poor, repetitive writing, the show keeps you going. It’s getting long in the tooth though…and won’t win.
Biggest Snubs – There were some HUGE snubs here, most notably Justified, Shameless, and The Walking Dead. I LOVE all of these shows and any of them could have replaced Boardwalk for me. I know critics like Treme – but it’s boring to me. The two series I love that I knew wouldn’t be nom’d but maybe one day in another world – Rizzoli & Isles and Castle. They are good fun, engaging, well-acted TV series.
Comedy Series –
Modern Family – Had some fantastic moments this season, and some bad episodes. Will probably win unless Parks and Rec takes it…
Parks and Recreation – I JUST started watching and liking this show (again, I hated the first 4 episodes so stopped watching but now it’s great). It deserves its nomination and could actually win.
Big Bang Theory – Eh, um…ok…
Glee – It’s jumped the shark and I’m so pissed at Ryan Murphy right now, I hope it loses.
The Office – This is the only season I actually watched all the way through. It’s got a good shot at winning for its final “Michael” episode.
30 Rock – Love the show, but this season was OFF.
Biggest Snubs – Hands down the biggest snubs were 2 of my favorite comedies – Community (which is so original and brilliant and should have been nom’d over ANY of the shows that were), and Raising Hope, which I think is just as original and funny as any of the shows nom’d. Thankfully Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Tara, and Big C were not nom’d in this category – cause they’re not comedies! Poor Family Guy….
Drama Actor – Kyle Chandler, Steve Buscemi, Hugh Laurie (for the love of god give him an Emmy), Jon Hamm (will probably win since Cranston’s out), Michael C Hall (was really good this season), and Timothy Olyphant (fantastic, but this was his first season).
Snubs – He only had one shot, so I was hoping Sean Bean would get one for Game of Thrones or Holt McCallany for the cancelled FX show, Lights Out.
Drama Actress – Julianna Margulies (she deserves to win this year), Connie Britton (love her), Mariska Hargitay (over it), Mareille Enos (on The Killing – I’ve never seen it), Elisabeth Moss (she’ll always be Zooey Bartlett to me! She could win and I’ll be happy), and new nominee Kathy Bates for Harry’s Law (Seriously?? This is a joke, right?) I think it’s Margulies vs. Moss!
Snubs – HUGE snub category for me. How about instead of Mariska and fucking Kathy Bates, you give deserved noms to Emmy Rossum on Shameless (who truly, truly deserved it!), Katey Sagal, who won the fucking golden globe and is a powerhouse on Sons of Anarchy, Kyra Sedgwick – who fucking WON last year, and Angie Harmon for Rizzoli & Isles. Love her hardcore. Bad choices this year, voters!
Comedy Actor – Steve Carrell (should win this year), Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki (his first nom), Alec Baldwin, Matt LeBlanc (back from the dead and deservedly so), and Louis CK (Fucking awesome, but he’s not an actor). Give it to Carrell – he deserves it.
Snubs – JOEL FUCKING MCHALE! I’m okay with Matthew Morrison being snubbed on Glee cause I think he’s an awful actor.
Comedy Actress – Tina Fey (love you, read your book, but you don’t deserve this one), Laura Linney (deserved and voters love her), Amy Poehler (will probably win this year), Edie Falco (ugh, NOT funny), Martha Plimpton (awesome!), and Melissa McCarthy (so hot right now, so happy for her, but won’t win this year). It’s Linney vs Poehler.
Snubbed – Lea Michele on Glee. Again, I love her, but she’s not the best actress on the show and not even close to the funniest.
Supporting Actor, Drama – A great category with a lot of strong actors and every one of them feels rightly deserved! I didn’t think there were any snubs in this category really. Josh Charles, Alan Cumming, Walton Goggins on Justified (AWESOME!), Andre Braugher, John Slattery, and Peter Dinklage on Game of Thrones (YAY!!!). I’m picking Peter Dinklage or Walton Goggins.
Supporting Actress, Drama – This was a very competitive category this year and there were THREE huge snubs in my opinion! SARA RAMIREZ for her awesome and powerful musical episode on Grey’s and the fantastic KADEE STRICKLAND, who was so amazing in her rape storyline on Private Practice (and the only good thing about the show) – it’s sad she wasn’t recognized. And KHANDI ALEXANDER, the only really good thing about Treme for me, and who also had a rape storyline.
The noms were Archie Panjabi (love her), Christine Baranski, Christina Hendricks (I don’t get her), Michelle Forbes for The Killing (been a huge fan of hers since “Homicide”), Kelly MacDonald (hate Boardwalk), and the FANTASTIC Margo Martindale for Justified – I hope she wins! I think it’s Archie vs. Margo – and I give it to Margo this year!
Supporting Actor, Comedy – All the Modern Family Men (YAY Ed O’Neill and Ty Burrell who both really deserve to win), plus Jon Cryer (ugh), and Chris Colfer again.
Snubbed from this category – and horribly so – is Nick Offerman from Parks & Rec, Danny Pudi from Community, and Neil Patrick Harris on HIMYM.
Supporting Actress, Comedy – The Modern Family gals (please give it to Julie Bowen and not that annoying bag of tits Sofia Vergara), Jane Lynch (who will probably win again and is hosting the Emmy’s), Betty White, Kristen Wiig for SNL (who I love, but wasn’t very active this season), and Jane Krakowski.
Snubbed –Alison Brie for Community? Yes, please. Or Pamela Adlon on Californication. Or Heather Morrison or Naya Rivera on Glee, who make the show for me!
Reality Series – Amazing Race, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Project Runway, Top Chef, and newcomer (YAY!) So You Think You Can Dance. It’s about time this show got noticed! Gordon Ramsay has 6 shows on TV and none of them were noticed.
Reality Hosts – It’s all the same noms as usual except for MY GIRL, Cat Deeley. I don’t know why my friends don’t like her – I find her delightful and I think she’s a fantastic and caring host! Very happy for her! But I think it may be Tom Bergeron’s year.
Variety/Music Show – Daily Show, Colbert, Conan, SNL, Bill Maher (27 noms, no wins – fucking give him one already!), and newcomer Jimmy Fallon! All well-deserved.
I want to make some happy shout outs to Guest Actor nominees Gwenyth Paltrow, Kristin Chenoweth, Dot-Marie Jones (all from Glee) and Elizabeth Banks (30 Rock) for comedy – expect Gwenyth to win. And Julia Stiles (Dexter), Mary McDonnell (Closer), Loretta Devine (Grey’s), and the fantastic Joan Cusack (Shameless). I think it’s between Stiles and Cusack – rough call!
All in all, a very interesting year with some brand new entrants and some shows put out to pasture. Eventually, the Academy is going to have to wake up and notice ALL of TV and not just the political choices (like Boardwalk, Mad Men and Glee) and realize that it’s OK to NOT notice a great show (like 30 Rock) when it has a bad season but bring it back when it has another great one. I hate that once you’re not nominated ONE year, you never get nom’d again – why? You can be good one year, bad the next, and good again after that – let’s recognize that. Thanks all and enjoy the Emmy’s September 18th – I’ll blog again about the winners afterwards!