In Praise of 10 Superbly Written TV Series

Found on the interwebs: The kind of article we don’t see often enough in what remains of the original Hollywood trade publications. In others words, critical praise for our favorite oft-forgot species – writers.

The Americans

by Tim Goodman
Chief TV Critic, The Hollywood Reporter

I had a week off, ostensibly to do something other than watch or think about TV — and yes, some of that actually happened — but there’s always peripheral brain creep when it comes to television, with everything from highbrow conceptual ideas to lower-brow (but probably more fun) list-making clanging around in my head. A recent random thought that popped up concerned great writing on television. Quickly — in about a nanosecond — four examples came to mind.

The result was oddly troubling. But at least in that flash of a moment, it was clear that I don’t have recency bias.

What’s that? Well, our brains are basically set up for recency bias. Whatever we’ve experienced memorably in the very recent past is what sticks. The best food we’ve eaten or wine we’ve discovered, even the sex we’ve had. If you’re older, nostalgia might be more upfront in the brain pan, or maybe thinking about things like “best vacation memories” takes you back to Paris because Paris is sublime and your last five holidays have been staycation; trip to in-laws in Boise, Idaho; staycation; ill-advised camping trip; much too nearby bed-and-breakfast (and no, thankfully, that’s not my itinerary). But often what’s newest is what comes back in our mental search results.

So why, when a fleeting idea about great writing on television flashed in my head, did I, without hesitation, reel off Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Wire and The Sopranos?

Probably because they are all Hall of Fame first-ballot series, yes.

But they are also, respectively, from 2007, 2008, 2002 and 1999. That’s not recency bias. (And hell, there’s not a comedy in there and I love comedies.) Rather than wonder about the why of it all, I wrote down a list of current, wonderfully written series.

That was harder than originally imagined. Because there are so many excellently written series that I was riffing faster than I could jot them down. The list grew, and grew, to ridiculous proportions. I guess that’s a fine sign for the state of the industry, or the writers in the industry, in 2018.

In the end, I kept it simple: a list of currently produced series, each with more than one season under its belt (otherwise, with the likes of The Deuce, Counterpart and so many others, this list would have no end), whose writing has lingered with me in some way. Not just funny jokes for the comedies or standout emotional scenes for the dramas, but something cumulative where story construction, dramatic tension, intelligence, relentlessly creative humor, poignancy, thoughtfulness and believability, among other fine traits, left a mark. In no particular order, here are the 10 series I chose…:

Read it all at hollywoodreporter.com

WGAW 2019 Officers and Board of Directors Election Results

via TVWriter™ Press Service

EDITOR’S NOTE: Current Writers Guild of America policy regarding agents, agencies, and TV series packaging were backed by a solid 77% of the voters in this year’s election. Solidarity! for the win.  Here’s the Guild’s official announcement.


The Writers Guild of America West today announced the results of its 2019 Officers and Board of Directors election.

The following members were elected to serve as Officers: President – David A. Goodman (inc.); Vice President – Marjorie David (inc.); Secretary-Treasurer – Michele Mulroney.

The following eight members were elected to the WGAW’s Board of Directors for two-year terms, effective immediately: Liz Alper, Angelina Burnett (inc.), Robb Chavis, Dante W. Harper, Zoe Marshall, Luvh Rakhe (inc.), Meredith Stiehm (inc.), Nicole Yorkin (inc.). *Note: (inc) denotes incumbent.

NUMERICAL VOTING RESULTS

President: David A. Goodman (4,395), Phyllis Nagy (1,282).

Vice President: Marjorie David (4,708).

Secretary-Treasurer: Michele Mulroney (4,164), Nick Jones, Jr. (1,256), Evette Vargas (203).

Board of Directors: Meredith Stiehm (4,115), Luvh Rakhe (4,000), Liz Alper (3,967), Angelina Burnett (3,960), Nicole Yorkin (3,874), Zoe Marshall (3,819), Robb Chavis (3,679), Dante W. Harper (3,628), Marc Guggenheim (1,488), Sarah Treem (1,476), Nicholas Kazan (1,462), Courtney A. Kemp (1,418), Jason Fuchs (1,270), Rasheed Newson (1,255), Ayelet Waldman (1,203), Ashley Edward Miller (1,160), Mike Mariano (715).

Write-in votes are not included in the totals and not every ballot contained votes for every office.

A total of 5,809 valid ballots were cast. Representing 58% of eligible voters (9,988), this turnout is the largest in Guild history and more than doubles the previous record turnout of 2,475 in the 2018 Board of Directors election.

The ballot count was supervised by Votenet Solutions, assisted by the WGAW Tellers Committee, which tabulated the mail-in ballots

Hollywood Ethics – The Skeletons in Television’s Closet

NOTE FROM LB: The following report about the 5 yearish long lawsuit between the stars and creators and and producer of Bones – profit participants all – has absolutely nothing to do with the ongoing dispute between Hollywood writers and agents.

I repeat: They have nothing to do with each other.

On the other hand, the Bones fight and last week’s settlement do shed a great deal of light on a way of thinking that I think explains much about the history of the WGA-ATA rift.

Read on, my friends, and keep your eyes peeled between the lines.


Fox Settles ‘Bones’ Suit, Ending Profits Case That Stunned Hollywood
by Eriq Gardner

After nearly half a decade battling the creative team behind one of TV’s biggest hits, Fox has finally reached a settlement that will end the huge lawsuits over profit sharing for Bones. On Wednesday, the parties filed dismissal papers in Los Angeles Superior Court. The dispute draws to its conclusion, but amid continued consolidation in the media sphere and new streaming platforms being launched by studio giants the brawl over Bones is not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.

Back in 2015, actors Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz, Kathy Reichs (a forensic anthropologist who authored the Temperance Brennan novels that formed the basis for the series) and executive vp Barry Josephson went to court with the allegation that they had been defrauded by Fox of their rightful profit participation in a show that ultimately lasted 12 seasons. The profits, or lack thereof, became heavily dependent on what Fox’s studio division (a production arm now owned by Disney) charged Fox’s distribution affiliates — a broadcast network, foreign stations and, especially, the part-owned Hulu — for rights to air and stream the show. The main issue in the case was whether Fox undercharged license fees to its sister companies to derive much of the spoils of the series to the detriment of those expecting honest accounting.

In February, arbitrator Peter Lichtman released an eye-popping decision.

Awarding $179 million in damages, Lichtman rejected Fox’s proposition that Bones was just a middling show with middling ratings that would have been canceled but for higher license fees. The arbitrator saw evidence of multiple frauds on Fox’s part, including the underhanded way the production company attempted to limit its liability over the years by having creative talent sign releases. Additionally, Lichtman found it nearly inexplicable that the Fox studio producing Bones permitted its parent company to exploit streaming rights and license those rights to Hulu without much of anything in return.

But the truly shocking part of Lichtman’s decision was his attack on Fox’s top television executives (many of whom now work for Disney). The arbitrator said these individuals “appear to have given false testimony in an attempt to conceal their wrongful acts” and that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox at large has taken a “cavalier attitude toward its wrongdoing” while exhibiting a “company-wide culture and an accepted climate that enveloped an aversion for the truth.”

Lichtman believed in the necessity of punitive damages given Fox’s “reprehensible” fraud.

The parties then went back to open court, and an L.A. judge in May trimmed the award down to $51 million on the basis that Deschanel, Boreanaz and Reichs were entitled to actual damages and legal fees under their Bones agreements, but not any punitive damages….

Read it all at hollywoodreporter.com

Yo, Writers, Be Honest. Do You REALLY Have A Story?

Harsh but true words all writers need to heed.

by Lucy V Hay

Gotta Be Honest

Bang2write is known for being honest in its feedback. Note that doesn’t mean brutal, vitriolic or cavalier. Writing is tough and writers have to make all kinds of sacrifices to get words on the page. Nothing winds me up more than readers and feedback-givers who don’t exercise due care. Every piece of work is an expression of someone’s hopes and dreams. I take this very seriously.

But I do have to be honest. I would be failing in my remit as a script editor if I do not put honest notes at the very heart of what I do. So, realise what I say next is said with honesty, but also love …

The majority of stories I read are not really stories at all.

What This Means

But what do I mean by this? Well, when I read speculative drafts or short pitches aka loglines, they are often what I call ‘non-stories’. These can be broken down like this …

  • We don’t know who we are rooting for in terms of characters, or why
  • The conflict (ie. problem or issue) is not clear
  • We don’t know what the story is in terms of genre, tone or type
  • It might be too ‘writerly’ – interesting to the writer, but no one else
  • It might be too samey – we’ve seen this type of story, this way ‘too many times’
  • The writer has placed too much on an *issue*, so it seems too educational
  • A combo or all of the above

In other words, the concept just doesn’t sell itself ‘off the page’ to me. As I’ve said multiple times on this blog, if you don’t have a great concept, you’ve got nothing. What’s more, knowing your concept from the offset can help you write, since it creates a powerful baseline to work from.

Concept is really important and one of the key elements writers underestimate … Not only in terms of writing screenplays and books, but in terms of getting agents’, producers’ and publishers’ interest.

What Is Concept?

By concept, I mean what happens in your story at grass roots level. The premise, the controlling idea, the seed of the story if you like. So when someone says, ‘What is your story about?’ you can tell them.

I know this sounds obvious (and it is). Yet lots of writers start writing without working out what their story is *really about* this out in advance. Then they get stuck writing the draft … Or they can’t get anyone’s interest like agents, filmmakers and publishers because it feels too unclear/muddled.

Read it all at bang2write.com

‘A Party Room and a Prison Cell. Inside the Friends writers’ room.’

In this excerpt from his book, Generation Friends, Saul Austerlitz meets the past of successful TV writing and discovers that it’s the present and future as well.

by Saul Austerlitz

Generation Friends, by Saul Austerlitz, to be published on September 17 by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

Every writer knew the sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach. David Crane would enter the room, toting a script full of notes scribbled in the margins. He would sit down in his chair and begin drumming his fingers on the table before announcing, “All right, we’ve got a lot of really good stuff here.” The assembled writers would silently groan, knowing that this was Crane-ian code for a full script rewrite. Everything was out, and it was time to start again.

“Good enough” was not a concept Crane, or Marta Kauffman, understood or accepted. One day during the first season, writer Jeff Astrof approached Crane with a proposal. “Look,” he told Crane, “right now we work one hundred percent of the allotted time and we have a show that’s one hundred. I believe that if we worked fifty percent of the time we’d have a show that’s seventy-five, so maybe we work seventy-five percent of the time and have a show that’s like a ninety.” Crane instantly rejected the proposal: “Absolutely not. The show has to be one hundred.” There might have been a faster way to get the work done. But this was Marta Kauffman and David Crane’s show, and their room.

After hiring their staff for the first season, Crane and Kauffman gathered the writers to deliver a pep talk, and a challenge. “Comedy is king,” Crane told the assembled writers. “This is a show where we want everything to be as funny as it can be.” For writers in their mid-twenties, many of whom were on their first or second jobs in the industry, this was a thrilling proclamation. Writers like the team of Astrof and Mike Sikowitz had always felt deeply competitive about crafting the best possible joke and getting it into the script — Astrof’s concerns about the punishing schedule notwithstanding — and Crane was seemingly opening the doors wide to all competitors….

Read this whole article at vulture.com

Pre-order the book at Amazon.Com