How Apple TV+ Drama ‘Truth Be Told’ Got from Pitch to Screen

A mighty fine case history if ever there was one. For anybody who dreams of selling a TV series:

by Tambay Obenson

In Apple TV+’s “Truth Be Told,” Octavia Spencer plays Poppy Parnell, a true-crime podcaster who is compelled to reopen the murder case that made her a national sensation and comes face to face with the man she may have mistakenly helped to put behind bars. Relitigating the murder case via her podcast, Parnell contends with nearly 20 years of family secrets, deceit, and the San Francisco Bay Area’s powerful in order to get to the truth.

The series, which is created by Nichelle Tramble Spellman (“The Good Wife”) and premieres today, came about after general conversations on the value of true crime between executive producers Jenno Topping, Reese Witherspoon and Lauren Neustadter. Witherspoon recommended that Topping and Neustadter consider Kathleen Barber’s 2017 novel, “Are You Sleeping.”

“We read it and loved it, and especially loved its potential in terms of an adaptation,” Topping said. “Lauren then got involved as well. We had just done ‘Hidden Figures’ with Octavia, and together we found Nichelle and it just became a happy party.”

Besides the novel, Bay Area native Spellman’s attraction to the project started with the opportunity to explore the phenomena of podcasting and revisiting criminal cases. She also relished the idea of setting a series in the city where she was born and raised. The original story was set in Illinois, a state unfamiliar to Spellman.

“I’m a Bay Area girl, and I really wanted to show the diversity that I remembered,” she said. “Much of what I was fond of has kind of disappeared, or been altered after all the money that came in from Silicon Valley spread through San Francisco and then into the East Bay. So the series is a little bit of a love letter to how things used to be.”

The setting was just one of several key changes that were made in adapting the novel. Another was a shift in the main point-of-view; unlike the novel, in which Poppy Parnell is a peripheral character, Spellman envisioned her as the heartbeat of the story.

“Nichelle unlocked the world of the show for us in a tremendous way,” said Neustadter. “I remember when she first presented her ideas to us. She always really felt a strong connection to Poppy, and to the complexity, originality and authenticity of this character. She had such a clear vision of who she was. And all of us immediately pictured Octavia as Poppy.”

Their first meeting with Spencer was a lovefest. The actress, an avid reader of mystery novels and a true crime fanatic, immediately connected with the character and the material, and would soon join the project as both star and executive producer….

Read it all at

WGAW December 2019 Calendar

Here’s what going on, socially and professionally,  at the Writers Guild of America West this month:

December 2019

Events listed are current at time of publication. Dates and details are subject to change during the month.

Committee activities and events are open to WGAW Current, Post Current, Associate, and Associate Caucus members in Active status. If you have questions about your member status, please contact the Membership Department or call (323) 782-4532

To see the live calendar, click here. (Member Login required for that, sorry.)


Have a Very “Gary” Christmas: Writing TV and Feature Holiday Films
7:30-9:30 p.m. – WGAW 2nd Floor, Multi-purpose Room.
Category: Inclusion and Equity
Info/RSVP: (323) 782-4589 or Yuletide. Every holiday season the airwaves and Internet overflow with heart-warming yuletide romances, fantasies and comedies. And who better than prolific secret elf, screenwriter Gary Goldstein (Mr. 365) to unpack Santa’s sleigh of techniques, themes, and tropes for these popular family-friendly stories? And before you say, “Bah, humbug,” consider that this is one of the fastest ways for new writers to score important TV and feature credits. Plus if you aren’t too naughty, there’ll be cider and cookies for all at the post-panel reception. (But be sure and leave some for Santa.) Panelists include: Michael Healy (Executive, Lifetime), Matt Lieberman (The Christmas Chronicles), Megan Metzger (The Princess Switch), Nina Weinman Swift (Homegrown Christmas), and others TBA. WGAW members with one guest.


Genre Committee Meeting
7:30-9:30 p.m. – WGAW Second Floor, Room 2A.
Category: Inclusion and Equity Committee Meetings
Info: (323) 782-4589. The Genre Committee was formed with the sole purpose of attracting writers interested in a certain genre, to meet, discuss and exchange information in a peer-to-peer setting. Our mission is to push education, diversity and camaraderie amongst all writers no matter their background. The Committee welcomes all writers because writers work in all genres.


WGF: War of the Words: Holiday Edition Trivia Night
7-9 p.m. – WGAW 2nd Floor, Multi-purpose Room.
Category: Writers Guild Foundation
Info/Tickets: WGFoundation. War of the Words is WGF’s audiovisual film and television Trivia Night that features eight rounds of challenging film and TV trivia and prizes for our top teams. We’ll provide the drinks, you bring your A-game. Register as a team of six or come and make new friends! With an individual ticket, we will randomly assign you to a team.


WGF: Seasons Givings Holiday Party
4:30-6:30 p.m. – NeueHouse Hollywood.
Category: Writers Guild Foundation
Info/Tickets: WGFoundation. Join WGF for holiday cocktails and conversation with a purpose. We’re raising money and introducing two new initiatives: one that will offer college stipends to the children of WGAW members, and the other to pay off one lucky new WGAW member’s student debt through a lottery drawn that evening. Enter lottery and buy tickets to the party at the link.


Committee of Women Writers Meeting
7-9:30 p.m. – WGAW 2nd Floor, Multi-purpose Room.
Category: Inclusion and Equity Committee Meetings
Info: (323) 782-4589. 7 p.m. “Happy Half Hour” (networking, snacks, and beverages); 7:30 p.m. meeting. This committee represents the interests of female WGAW writers who are seeking WGA-covered work. We sponsor events designed to increase our knowledge of the craft and the marketplace, discuss the role of women as storytellers and foster networking and collaboration between women in all Guilds, as well as increase opportunities for education, employment opportunities and creative expression. Our goal is to empower all writers and improve the profile and perception of Women writers in the industry.


WGF: Writers on Writing with Damon Lindelof
7:30-9 p.m. – WGAW 2nd Floor, Multi-purpose Room.
Category: Writers Guild Foundation
SOLD OUT. Info/Tickets: WGFoundation. On this special evening, we sit down with renowned writer and executive producer Damon Lindelof to find out his process for adapting the latest HBO hit, Watchmen, how he approaches world building in his series, which have included The Leftovers and Lost, and how he tackles writing for features vs. television. Moderated by Marc Bernardin (Castle Rock).


Committee of Black Writers Meeting
7-9 p.m. – WGAW 1st Floor, Room 1A.
Category: Inclusion and Equity Committee Meetings
Info: (323) 782-4589. The Committee of Black Writers is dedicated to empowering and increasing industry visibility of African-American writers and generating more career and networking opportunities.


Seasoned Readings: Jesusland by David Folwell
7:30-9 p.m. – WGAW 2nd Floor, Multi-purpose Room.
Category: Inclusion and Equity
Info/RSVP: (323) 782-4589 or Jesusland. The Career Longevity Committee invites you to a reading of the teleplay Jesusland by David Folwell. Jesusland follows David Kirkwood, pastor of one of the largest mega churches in the country, whose life and faith are rocked after a violent attack. David must find a new truth, one that will more than likely be at odds with his former faith, as he continues to lead a huge congregation who still believe in him. Directed by Melanie Armer. Cast: Patrick Fabian (Better Call Saul), Jessalyn Gilsig (Vikings), and O-Lan Jones (Edward Scissorhands). The WGAW Career Longevity Committee’s Seasoned Readings series promotes and celebrates the work of writers age 50 and over. A light reception will follow the reading. WGAW members plus one guest.


WGF: The Scriptnotes Holiday Live Show
8-9:30 p.m. – Los Angeles Film School Main Theater.
Category: Writers Guild Foundation
Info/Tickets: WGFoundation. Join screenwriters and Friends of the Foundation John August and Craig Mazin for a special live holiday edition of their weekly podcast, Scriptnotes. Special guests include: Kevin Feige (Chief Creative Officer, Marvel Entertainment), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), and Shoshannah Stern & Josh Feldman (This Close).


1917: Guild Screenings Q&A with Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns
After 7:30 p.m. screening – Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Dr., Beverly Hills.
Category: Guild Screenings
Q&A with 1917 writers Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns begins immediately after the screening (TRT: 110 minutes). WGAW members only with two guests. Guild membership card required for entry.


Asian American Writers Committee Meeting
7-9:30 p.m. – WGAW 4th Floor, Boardroom.
Category: Inclusion and Equity Committee Meetings
Info: (323) 782-4589. 7 p.m. “Happy Half Hour” (networking, snacks, and beverages); 7:30 p.m. meeting. The Asian American Writers Committee represents the professional and creative interests of Asian American Guild members. Its mandate is to be dedicated to the encouragement, empowerment and employment of writers of Asian heritage. Join us for an informative and fun evening in a relaxed environment. Snacks will be provided. All members welcome.


Uncut Gems: Guild Screenings Q&A with Ronald Bronstein & Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie
After 7:30 p.m. screening – Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Dr., Beverly Hills.
Category: Guild Screenings
Q&A with Uncut Gems writers Ronald Bronstein & Josh Safdie & Benny Safdie begins immediately after the screening (TRT: 135 minutes). WGAW members only with two guests. Guild membership card required for entry.

9 shows that should have been canceled this year

It’s that time of year again, when various critics, reviewers, fans, et al come up with zillions of different lists about subjects of interest over the past twelve months.

This particular list, from Insider.Com, caught our attention because if there’s one thing past, present, and future TV writers need to know it’s creative negativity. And, yeppers, we know this through sadly glad experience.


There really can be too much of a good thing.

While some shows get off on the wrong foot, others explode in popularity just to fizzle out in subsequent seasons.

2019 marked the end of some beloved series, including “The Big Bang Theory” on CBS and HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

It also marked the end of some not-so-beloved series, like CBS’s “The Code,” which was canceled just one day after the first season’s finale, and Netflix’s “Chambers,” which one reviewer described as a “bloated Netflix dud.”

However, some shows, including “13 Reasons Why” and “Riverdale,” were allowed to continue when really they’d run their course.

Here are nine shows that should have been canceled in 2019, based on critic reviews, viewership, and editorial opinion, along with the season that aired this year.

Warning: Some minor spoilers below.

“13 Reasons Why” (Netflix) — season three

A new “13 Reasons Why” character was panned by viewers in season three. 
Phil Bray / Netflix

Season three of Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” was narrated by a new character, Ani Achola, played by Grace Saif.

Fans of the show didn’t fail to notice that despite being a new kid at the school, Ani seemed to know everything about each of the characters.

So bad was the abuse that Saif got on social media from fans who accused her of ruining the show that she deleted all images from her Instagram and made her Twitter account private.

Despite retroactively editing Hannah Baker’s controversial suicide scene, “13 Reasons Why” has struggled to shake off its questionable morals.

It’s been renewed for a fourth and final season….

Read it all at Insider.Com

Last Week’s Most Important Cord Cutting Developments 11/20/19

Cord Cutters News’ Luke Bouma gives us the latest on the cord cutting front, from Disney+’s debut to the startling announcement that Hulu is now the largest live TV streaming service with 2.7 users.


Oh, and you can even buy a nifty coffee mug so you can settle back and sip while you watch

LB: Latest News from the Writers Guild of America-Talent Agency Battlefront

by Larry Brody

Last night, members of the WGA received the following email about a situation with ramifications everywhere. (P.S. This seems to me to be a Good Thing and, I hope, a harbinger of even Better Things to come:)

November 18, 2019
Dear Members,

Today the WGA signed a negotiated franchise agreement with the Rothman Brecher Ehrich Livingston Agency. This comes on the heels of last week’s agreement with Abrams Artists Agency, which means both agencies can now represent WGA members again for covered writing services.

Under the Rothman Brecher agreement, packaging fees are banned after a sunset period ending January 22, 2021. In order to induce more agencies to sign, the sunset can, under certain circumstances, be extended.

The agency also agreed to information-sharing with the Guild, including contracts and invoices, which will aid the Guild in enforcing late pay, free work, and other MBA violations.

The agreement includes other modifications to the most-recent franchise agreement, including allowing the agency to have up to a 5% ownership interest in an entity engaged in production or distribution. This limitation protects writers from the egregious conflicts of agency-owned production companies outlined in our recent video, while allowing a minimal ownership share.

You can read the agreement here. Redlines reflect changes made to the Buchwald Franchise Agreement. The most-favored-nations clause means any franchised agency may choose to adopt this agreement if it chooses.

Our goal remains to move the negotiation process forward with the remaining unsigned agencies. We will keep you updated as progress is made.

In Solidarity,

WGA Agency Negotiating Committee

Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
David Shore, Co-Chair
Meredith Stiehm, Co-Chair
Lucy Alibar
John August
Angelina Burnett
Zoanne Clack
Kate Erickson
Jonathan Fernandez
Travon Free
Ashley Gable
Deric A. Hughes
Chip Johannessen
Michael Schur
Tracey Scott Wilson
Betsy Thomas
Patric M. Verrone
Nicole Yorkin
David A. Goodman, President WGAW, ex-officio
Marjorie David, Vice President WGAW, ex-officio
Michele Mulroney, Secretary-Treasurer WGAW, ex-officio
Beau Willimon, President WGAE, ex-officio
Kathy McGee, Vice President WGAE, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, Secretary-Treasurer WGAE, ex-officio

WGA Statement of Purpose: Why Agencies Must Change

Our agents work for us. Every dollar they make must be generated as a percentage of the money we make. That is what it means to be our representatives and our fiduciaries. Agency-based studios and packaging fees make a mockery of that and are in violation of the agencies’ ethical and legal obligations to writers. We have taken too long to demand that these practices end. But the persistence of a corrupt system does not make it right. And putting things right does not blow up the business. We do not owe our agents their wealth; they owe us their loyalty. That is what we pay for. In a complex, changing, yet immensely profitable time in our industry, writers need true allies, not deeply conflicted ones. It is for this idea—simple, old-fashioned and un-revolutionary—that we stand—and for which we come together as a Guild again today.

In solidarity,