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  • The Network TV BloodBath Analysis (Part 1 of 3)

    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?

    NBC –

    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

    The Breakdown:

    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….

  • The Network TV BloodBath Analysis (Part 2 of 3)

    May 21st, 2014

    By Danny Manus (TV Whore)

    CBS –

    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)

    The Breakdown:

    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!

  • Why Her ?

    January 4th, 2014

    By Danny Manus

    2013 was an excellent year for movies – perhaps the best in quite a few years. And there are many films that I would be very content with winning the Oscar. But for me, the best movie of the year is Her. And no one is more shocked about that than I am.

    I went in doubting the hype. I’m not a huge Joaquin Phoenix fan and Spike Jonze is the kind of manic eccentric genius that sometimes doesn’t translate to a relatable cohesive story. And considering his writing credits include the Jackass movies and Where the Wild Things Are and his directing credits include Adaptation, Being John Malkovich and dozens of music videos, who could guess that he’d write the next great American love story.

    The best compliment I could give Her is that it makes me never want to write again because I don’t think I could ever write something as good that works on so many levels. It is a touching, amazingly relevant, powerful and complete love story that engrosses you more than most love stories where there are TWO people present on screen. It is beautifully crafted, beautifully acted and thematically impactful. It’s a love story for the ages, and the age that hasn’t come yet.

    And I realized there are some specific reasons why this movie works so well.

    1.    It creates an interesting, expansive world but only explores one tiny piece of it. There are so many lovely nuances to this futuristic Los Angeles setting. The green screen backgrounds shows how much LA has changed in the near future, with its endless glittering lights and cell towers pinging like shooting stars. Every single person is engaged in a schizophrenic-like experience talking to their own ear pieces and personal OS systems as they walk down the street completely oblivious that anyone else exists. The sharp, ultra-functional, ultra-modern, color-infused world of the apartments and offices underline the isolation that seems to exist between its residents. There are friendships and dates and social interaction, but the closest relationship people seem to have in this world is with their tech gadgets.

    Other nuances like how email is read and categorized, how fast technology works and is able to absorb and grow and adapt, how people get around, etc. only further help flesh out the world.  Jonze clearly knew every little aspect of his near-future landscape before he wrote this script and was able to pick and choose which ones would highlight his theme and story and characters in genius ways.  There are probably tons of other aspects of this world that could have been explored, but limiting it to what is directly connected to the love story makes it all the more intriguing. When writers know how to create a truly intriguing world that is special yet relatable, different yet plausible, and that world matches the story that is occurring within it, it’s a winning combination.

    Many of the scripts I’ve read lately have these expansive futuristic/dystopian/post-apocalyptic worlds, but they aren’t really necessary to the story – the writers are just hoping that their “awesome” worlds will mask what’s lacking in the narrative. Jonze chose a time and world that complimented the story in perfect fashion and made it feel MORE believable and viable instead of just distracting us from it. Jonze created a big world but made it feel small, while creating a small story and making it feel big. That’s one of the keys to successful world building.

    2.   Timing. Is there a more relevant love story right now than that between man and technology? It’s the right story at the right time. The themes and societal questions raised and explored of what makes for a genuine relationship, what defines a happy couple, what makes for true love, and what constitutes an acceptable love dynamic in society is done so in beautiful ways. At a time when gay marriage is a hot button issue, Jonze takes the concept two steps further and makes relationships with OS’s (Operating Systems) the next issue to be tackled. It’s talked about and accepted by many in this story – but it’s still not the thing everyone is comfortable with. It’s still somewhat taboo and embarrassing for Phoenix’s character. There’s still that unsure “Ohhh…umm…okay” reaction when people hear about this relationship.

    When a writer can tap into the zeitgeist – and what could be NEXT in the zeitgeist – in a way that examines an issue in a brilliant way without ever mentioning the issue, that shows true talent. The concept of the OS/Human relationship is discussed, but it’s more about the doubt the Human and the OS have in their own feelings than their worries about what the outside world thinks. It’s about being comfortable in your own love and your own mind and letting everything else go. And if that’s not an important and relevant message and theme to explore today, I don’t know what is.

    The beauty of the way Jonze explores this theme, however, is how he has elevated the genre and the discussion. Which brings us to…

    3.    It defines elevated storytelling. And that’s not easy to do with romance or romantic dramas. If you’ve ever seen a Nicholas Sparks novel brought to life on screen, they all have strong emotional hooks. They all have an internal dilemma and external conflict that rips the lovers apart only so they can find a way to come back together. But almost none of them feel realistic or relatable. His books explore life-threatening illnesses and death. They are female fantasies underlining the power of true love. None of them are overly intelligent or complex. They connect on an emotional level but that’s about it. The beauty of Her is that it connects on an emotional level AND a cerebral one. It makes you feel, it makes you cry, and it makes you think at the same time.

    Hollywood always says it wants ELEVATED material. This is a romantic drama on an elevated level. Elevated means there is something smarter and deeper about the story than the normal, down-the-middle boy meets girl story. And Her delivers on that in spades.

    4.    It tells a complete love story. It’s boy meets girl (ish), but in a whole new way. But the beauty of the structure of the story is that we really get to experience their whole relationship. I don’t want to give anything away about how the film ends, but every time you think the story can end, Spike Jonze finds a believable and relatable way to throw another plot twist into the mix that progress the arcs of both characters and raises the stakes. And they all feel like REAL twists that would plague any real-world human relationship which is what makes it feel so genuine.

    It doesn’t take much to believe that a person can fall in love with a voice on a computer. So once you swallow that premise, the rest is a rollercoaster ride of emotion from beginning to end that probably feels like a love story you’ve experienced.  Or maybe that’s just me. It uses all the tropes of romantic drama – loss, death, cheating, conflict, temptation, realization, growth, change, love and sex – but there’s only one physical person involved. It’s a focused story, but a complete story. And that’s what you should be trying to do with your scripts.

    5.     It gives its actors immense room to play, react, feel and emote. Movies don’t get made without stars these days, and to get stars you need characters that stand out and give them something to do.  A new situation or mindset for them to explore emotionally. And too many writers focus on the action of what the characters do in the scene and not enough on the REACTION the actors get to portray in their quiet or reflective moments. And all of the actors in this film have those moments and play them perfectly.

    Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams (who looks more like Cameron Diaz in Being John Malkovich than the glam roles she usually plays), Olivia Wilde, Rooney Mara, Chris Pratt and especially Scarlett Johansson are all pitch perfect (and listen for the greatest voice over cameo ever by Kristen Wiig).

    The fact that Scarlett Johansson can’t be nominated for an Academy Award is a damn shame. Personally, I’ve never been a big Joaquin Phoenix fan. I find him intense and creepy to watch but not in a fun way (like Daniel Day Lewis). But the man knows how to genuinely emote on screen like very few others can. He’s so open and able to commit to the words, it’s powerful to watch. And I’m not sure if Scarlett was in the room or speaking to him through the ear piece or if it was all done in post, but you’d never know he was the only person in the room.

    Phoenix’s character has a simple enough backstory – a nasty divorce from the love of his life has left him somewhat of a recluse and emotionally crippled. It’s not a hugely original backstory. But when combined with the world created, it’s all you need. The OS Samantha, played by Johansson, has just as much (if not more) or a character arc than the human characters. It’s her character that grows and changes the most. As I said, it’s a complete love story told from both perspectives, even though we are only SEEING one on screen. Give huge credit to Scarlett for bringing a character to life that isn’t even alive and that we never see. If you can write characters like that, you will get a major actor attached to your script.

    6.    The dialogue will affect you. I don’t want to ruin anything, but I will leave you with two quotes that stand out.  “Love is a form of socially acceptable insanity.” This line is brilliant not just because it’s accurate, but because the whole story is about a guy talking to an ear piece, which makes him look even crazier yet in this world it’s socially acceptable. And “The past is just a story we tell ourselves.” It’s one of those lines that stay with you, that become part of the way you think. The script is full of these, and that kind of dialogue is what powerful films are made of.

    Hopefully I’ve convinced you to go see Her, but also to read the script and learn how to craft a story that deserves Oscar gold.

     

  • 2011 Emmy Noms & Reaction from the TV Whore

    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!

  • The Emmys 2010: Winners, Losers, Upsets and Analysis

    August 31st, 2010

    By Danny Manus

     

    As I said before, the Emmys are like my Christmas…if I wasn’t Jewish. And they are even better now that they are LIVE on the West Coast, which wasn’t the case until 2 years ago. This year, since the show aired on NBC, Jimmy Fallon was the host. And the network was counting on big ratings this year with new popular shows Glee, Modern Family and True Blood up for big awards.

     

    But alas, even the Gleeks couldn’t save the Emmys, which posted basically the same ratings as last year, and even went DOWN 2% in the young demo. After watching the telecast I honestly don’t know what more the show could do to get people to tune in besides fill it with musical numbers – oh wait, they did that. Well perhaps they could get big stars like George Clooney to – oh wait, they did that too.  Hmm…maybe they should have just built a boxing ring and let Conan and Jay go at it. Eh, maybe not. Hey, maybe we can just make Justin Bieber the star of every fucking show on Earth…and then watch me kill myself. Or maybe they should just take out some of the miniseries and TV Movie awards which are so utterly boring – and no one in the targeted demo watches them anyway. And instead, put in more comedy.

     

    The first 90 minutes of the show were possibly the best Emmys I have seen in years. I know some people didn’t like the graphics flashing in the background, and maybe purple wasn’t the BEST color palette choice, but I think it was better than the Oscars bland white design. Besides, this was a big year for gays on TV, and the biggest demo to watch awards shows like the Emmys are the gays, so perhaps purple was the perfect choice.

     

    Speaking of which, I loved Neil Patrick Harris last year and would love to see him again, but Jimmy Fallon did his thing and his musical interludes and opening were fantastic. His ode to the shows that have passed on – 24, Law & Order and Lost – was great. If the second half of the show gave him more to do, perhaps the fun could have lasted. But alas, as soon as HBO started winning things, the air was sucked out of the show like a hoover was attached to the roof. 

     

    But let’s rewind. First up was comedy and Modern Family ruled the night with wins for Best Comedy and Eric Stonestreet (I called it!) for best supporting. While he wasn’t the favorite to win (and personally I would have voted for Ty Burrell), he is a straight man playing lovably flamingly homosexual and he does it so hysterically that he deserved the win. Sorry, Chris Colfer, you’re just as gay but slightly less huggable. But if 3 years from now, you’re still on Glee, I think you’ll win. I say that because next year, it’s Ty Burrell’s to win and the year after it will be Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Much like West Wing, they will award a different star every year til they all have one!

     

    Voters went for Modern Family rather than fellow newcomer and odds-on favorite Glee because, well, Glee isn’t a straight comedy. The only 60 minute dramedy to ever win the award is Ally McBeal, but something tells me Glee will see gold in the next two years.  Jane Lynch did win for her role in Glee (also called it!), and she deserved it! I know Kristin Wiig IS SNL these days and Julie Bowen is fantastic on Modern Fam, but Jane Lynch is just pure comic gold on Glee. Kudos! It was obviously the end of the line for 30 Rock. Partially because voters didn’t want to award NBC anything (they only won ONE for their shows this year), but also because it’s time to bring in the new blood.

     

    Jim Parsons picked up his first trophy for Big Bang (I was right again!). All I can say is thank God Tony Shaloub didn’t win. Sorry, Alec but there’s a new kid in town. Bazinga! And Edie Falco (an upset which I predicted!) picked up an awkward statue for Nurse Jackie, which is even less of a comedy than Glee. Voters just like her and perhaps this will give the show some much-due notoriety and press. But I don’t think she’ll win again.

     

    Then came the reality portion. WOOHOO TOP CHEF! In what was the best season in years (100 times better than the current DC season), Top Chef FINALLY de-throned Amazing Race. The upset was that if a show was going to beat Race, people thought it would be American Idol, but the last 2 seasons of Idol have clearly gone downhill and were the weakest musically and in overall entertainment since Cowell mentally checked out and Paula physically checked out. And I am thrilled that Top Chef took the gold. Can we all agree now that Amazing Race is no longer as interesting or casted as well as it used to be? They just take OTHER reality stars and send them on an all expenses paid trip around the world. BORING.

     

    But the real acting surprises were saved for the Drama category, where I have to say…I was wrong. I was SURE that Julianna Margulies would win for The Good Wife and she had all the momentum, but in her 5th year as star and producer, Kyra Sedgwick got the gold. Now, I LOVE The Closer and she was great last season on it, so I’m actually very happy with this upset. Don’t worry, Julianna, you’ll win it next year!  And I’m pretty sure January Jones’ dress this year will stop her from being nominated again. Same for Lauren Graham – what the hell was she thinking?

     

    But I digress…Bryan Cranston won (3 times in a row now) for his leading role in Breaking Bad, beating out heavy favorite Michael C Hall, who had an incredible season and beat cancer in his spare time. And for me, Hugh Laurie is the biggest continual snub in all of TV other than Bill Maher, who after 12 nominations is still coming up goose eggs. Hugh had an emotionally powerful year, even though the show itself was not up to snuff. And hello – he’s BRITISH and does a pitch perfect accent! At least next year, because of the scheduling of his show, Bryan Cranston won’t be eligible, so it will be up for grabs.

     

    The supporting awards went to 2 first timers – Aaron Paul for Breaking Bad and Archie Panjabi for Good Wife. I am thrilled about Archie’s win – she’s a revelation on that show. And while I don’t watch Breaking Bad, I know Aaron is good. But seriously…how do you not give the award to Terry O’Quinn for playing TWO very different and difficult characters at ONCE on the last season of Lost? Come on, voters! That was disappointing. And perhaps if Martin Short’s wife had died 2 months earlier, he would have gotten the sympathy vote. What, too soon?

     

    And of course Mad Men won the big award…whoopee. Look, I’m sure it’s a great show, and no, I don’t watch it. But I already want to punch Matthew Weiner in the face and his “assistant writer” whom he put up for the Emmy and WON (that lucky bitch isn’t even 30!). I was really disappointed that Lost (in its final season), Good Wife, Dexter and True Blood all lost to an overrated show that no one watches.  Look, I’m a TV whore, but I never said I was a TV snob. Please, let this be the last year it wins.

     

    In other news, Conan didn’t win. But on the upside, neither did NBC. This year’s voting really shined the light on two things – what wonderful shows there are on cable and what hatred the industry has for NBC and those that run it. And after seeing the comedies they have coming up in their new season, I don’t think they will be garnering any more love anytime soon. I’ll cover TV Premiere Week in a couple weeks…stay tuned!

     

    For mini-series and TV Movies…eh…who cares? I didn’t see any of them except “You Don’t Know Jack,” which was OK. The Pacific won, as predicted. Though I could have thought of a better way to spend $200M! In a slight surprise, Temple of Grandine won all the MOW categories. I’m happy for Claire Danes, who deserved it, but could someone tell that retarded lesbian cowboy to please sit down?

     

    Okay, so those were the Emmys. I laughed, I cried, I screamed in frustration. This year, I was 6/7 for comedy (I guessed Glee would win), but the TV Movies and Drama category screwed me. Damn you, AMC! Damn you!!!

     

    Until next time, keep watching! It’s good for you!

  • What Elements Make for a Good Dramatic Screenplay?

    January 8th, 2010

    Some say comedy is hard. And they’re right. But in my opinion it’s not as hard as crafting a good, successful, engrossing drama. Why? Well, even the dumbest of comedic gags or basest of jokes, will inevitably make someone laugh and be entertained. But a good drama has to do so much more than that. There’s a reason why almost 50% of the Oscar Winning Best Pictures in the last 80 years have been dramas.

     

    There is something powerful about a story that just wraps around you and sucks you in, making you forget your own problems and forces you to care about those of an often fictional character or at least someone to whom you have no personal connection. There’s something powerful about a story that can reduce your father to tears – or an audience of fathers. There’s something timeless about a good story that can make you think, reflect, feel, and react emotionally. And this is what a good dramatic screenplay should do.

     

    So how do you achieve that type of reaction? Well, it’s not easy.  But there are some keys to crafting a good dramatic screenplay. Let’s look at some examples of Oscar Nominated (or winning) dramas and see if there are any trends you notice. Schindler’s List, Forrest Gump, Titanic, American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind, Saving Private Ryan, Mystic River, A Few Good Men, Crash, Shawshank Redemption, The Queen, Apollo 13, Dead Man Walking, The Insider, Traffic, Slumdog Millionaire, etc.

     

    What do these movies have in common? There are three different trends and categories I’ve found.  First, there are true stories. Often the most dramatic stories are the ones that have actually happened or are based on actual events/people. The world is full of drama. However, the stories that movies are made about have something extra. They have broad appeal and national recognition, perhaps even historical significance. There’s something commercial about them, something that connects instead of detracts. The writer will take an event (or person or story or societal issue) and find an interesting and commercial hook they can explore to create a new angle on the story and those involved.  Some true stories expose something about people or an event or society as a whole that is unexpected, intriguing or brings something to light that has never been seen in that visual way before. From the above list, Titanic, Schindler’s List, The Queen, Apollo 13, Traffic and The Insider would all qualify under this trend.

     

    The second trend is epics. Oscar loves the epic and executives love big projects that feel like a whole new world is being created. Having a sweeping feeling means you are swept away by the story to a different place. Titanic, Saving Private Ryan, The English Patient, Braveheart, Elizabeth, Cold Mountain, etc. These are all sweeping epics. To be an epic, a script must have that sweeping feel to it, it almost always takes place in a different time period, it must be big budget, have action, romance, drama, numerous or at least large locations, a good number of characters (though only 2 or three strong leads), etc. Now, if you’re a first time writer, do yourself a favor and don’t write an epic. It will not sell and it will not do you any good as a first and only writing sample. Save it for after you’ve made your first sale.

     

    The third and final trend is that great dramatic stories start with great characters. Forrest Gump, American Beauty, A Beautiful Mind, Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River, A Few Good Men, Crash, Dead Man Walking, Milk, The Wrestler, etc. It was the character – and the portrayal of that character through brilliant acting – that brings out the true power of the story and makes it connect to an audience. The story of Slumdog Millionaire was a universal, tried and true, rags to riches love story but without the setting (which was the most important character) and those little kids that the audience just fell for, that story wouldn’t have won anything.

     

    If your drama doesn’t have a juicy, complex, emotional, heart-wrenching, personal, intelligent, connectable role for an actor – it’s dead in the water.  A good dramatic screenplay has characters people can relate to and ones that come off as genuine – like you can understand exactly why they are doing what they are doing or feeling what they are feeling, etc. Same with dialogue – in a good drama, the dialogue is slightly heightened but it feels authentic – like it’s exactly what we would say in that same situation (though perhaps more verbose and intelligent – it is a movie after all). And as a side note, don’t be afraid to inject some comedy into your dramatic scenes. Except for Schindlers List, every single drama listed above has more than one moment of levity.

     

    However, there is one thing that every good drama needs no matter what the story is. It’s more than a trend – it’s the mandatory ingredient – CONFLICT. Drama is based on conflict. And not just any conflict, but one that is powerful, relatable, and complex enough to propel a story forward and help develop characters. The story has to be constantly progressing and increasingly more involved as dramas are the most likely genre to get stale or boring. So many ideas for dramas just aren’t BIG enough, so they feel slight on the page. If there is no tension, no conflict, no build to something powerful, then your script is BORING. I can’t tell you how many scripts I read where the writer thinks there is conflict, but alas, there isn’t nearly enough for a feature. There needs to be an immediate tangible conflict, a personal aka internal conflict, an inter-personal conflict AND an overarching conflict. And your story should bring all of these together in interesting and commercial ways. If you only have ONE of these, you don’t have a good dramatic screenplay.

     

    Now, recently dramas have been on the decline. Why? Because everyone has drama in their real life, so it’s not what they want to see on the screen. However, movies like “Precious” will do well because it actually makes most people’s drama seem not so bad. Audiences either want to be completely entertained or made to think their life doesn’t suck as badly as other people’s. And if there was only ONE drama produced per year, you could bet it would still be nominated. So, search for the conflict, the story or the character that inspires you, grabs you and affects you – and if you can’t find one, make one up. And keep writing!

     

    (Article was originally published on Storylink and can also be found at http://www.storylink.com/article/333)

     

     

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