Secrets of TV Series Negotiating

Ken Levine explains (even though he still can’t explain, erm, us):

The MODERN FAMILY cast holdout – by Ken Levine

This is a Friday Question I’ve received so often this week that I want to devote the entire post to it…

“It sounds like the cast (at least the adults) on Modern Family are working together (well, actually NOT working together) in an effort to renegotiate their contracts (and did I use enough parentheses in this sentence?).

 “What are your thoughts? As a showrunner, what effect does this have on planning? Do they get support from the writers?”

First off, I have no dog in this race. I feel bad for the producers and writers because of the inconvenience. Under the best of conditions, when things are going swimmingly, it’s still a bitch to knock out a good product every week, much less Emmy-winning quality. If this holdout stretches, then showrunners will have to scramble.   There’s the possibility of missing air-dates.  Some scripts might have to be rewritten.  It sucks.

But in this case, that’s not going to happen.  This will be settled soon, maybe even by the time you read this.

Some backstory: When an actor signs on for a pilot he agrees to a seven-year contract. There are salary increases built in but they’re usually 4-6%. In a previous post I explained just how hard it is to evenget hired in a pilot. (You can find that post here.) And if you are the lucky one, you have to sign your life away.

Two questions you might be asking:

“Why seven years?” So actors can’t do what the MODERN FAMILY cast is doing.
“Isn’t signing a seven year contract a good thing because it means security?” No because it’s not a guaranteed seven years. If the show gets cancelled that’s it. If the studio, producers, or network wants to replace you, or kill you (a favorite of TV dramas) they can. You however, can’t just say after year three you want a big raise because the show is making billions or you’re tired of being a Klingon.

Not so fair, is it? And this is on top of committing seven years to producers you don’t know in most cases. They could be assholes. They could be insane. Or they could be great guys but they’re replaced in two years and the new producers are assholes.

There’s also the danger that playing one role for seven years could typecast you and ten years from now your career consists of appearing at the Nostalgia Show at the Burbank Marriott signing pictures of yourself next to the table where the robot from LOST IN SPACE is signing way more photos than you are.

So I’m torn…

Read it all

We like this post – especially the rest of it – because it goes on to reveal one of the more ruthless sides of showbiz, which might in fact make some writing hopefuls rethink their career choice. Not that we want you to quit. But this can be such a tough haul that we do want you to be sure.

EDITED TO ADD: Ken was right on the money (and we mean $$$) about the outcome of the MODERN FAMILY Feud. Variety (which is a pay site so we aren’t linking because why should you, our beloved visitors, have to pay?) announced just a few hours ago that the dispute had been resolved and the show is continuing as scheduled. We doff our baseball caps to you, dood.

Nikita Season 2 Episode 1 – Recap and Review


**This episode originally aired in September 2011. If you are unfamiliar with the series, be aware this review contains spoilers.**

“Remember this, I did this because I care.”  Nikita

Season two of Nikita dives back into the game one month after last season’s explosive finale and all the players are back for more. But the lines have been blurred and the aptly titled “Game Change” sets off to pin our heroes against each other in a flurry of pretty people and kung-fu awesomeness.

We open on our new crime fighting duo Michael (Shane West) and Nikita (Maggie Q.) securing some funds for their continuing campaign of destruction against Division. And the key to taking them down, is the Blackbox, which contains all the naughty secrets of the rogue government agency.

However, hot on their trail is Nikita’s former partner Alex (Lyndsy Fonseca), who has switched sides and is now helping Division track her down. Alex has made a deal with Division’s new leader, the ice queen herself, Amanda (Melinda Clarke). They will offer all their resources to Alex as she pursues the men who ordered her father’s death and in exchange she will use her unique insight into Nikita to help them recover the Blackbox.

Adding an extra layer of prettyboy to the equation is Sean Pierce (Dillon Casey), an Oversight representative assigned to Division to keep them in line. After all they don’t want a repeat of Percy’s (Xander Berkeley) attempted coup d’etat.

When Alex finally tracks down Nikita, Pierce sends in the troops and our heroes are pinned down with no hope of escape…

After they escape, with the help off Birkhoff’s (Aaron Stanford) remote control next level fighter drones, they enlist the help of their old friend and continue their crusade of justice.

Magneto Percy makes an appearance and we learn that he is now being held in a plastic prison in the basement of Division. From the ever present smirk on his face as he speaks to both Amanda and Alex, it’s clear he has his own plans in motion and won’t be a prisoner for long.

As the episode concludes we get a final showdown between Alex and Nikita. The two sexy spies go at it in a bare-knuckle brawl and Nikita takes the young blood to school, leaving her with a broken arm and a bullet hole in her leg. Nikita ain’t nothing to f**k with.

A great start to season two. It’s going to be interesting watching these characters in their new roles. And from the looks of it so far, season two should be filled with much of the same creative storytelling and intense action that season one brought to the table.

Thinking Man Rating: 16 Thumbs Up

**Be aware the Thinking Man rating system is based on awesomeness and should be disregarded if you are not now, or have never been, awesome.**

Top TVWriter™ Posts for the Week Ending 7/27

Here they are, the most viewed TVWriter™ posts for the week ending Friday, July 27th:

Sorkin to Newsroom Staff: “Buh-bye, Baby”

Joss Whedon’s Guide to Avenging Screenwriting

Particle Physics and Reality TV

You Don’t Need to be Rich to Develop Your Own Series

Put Your Money on This Future Star of Tomorrow

And our most viewed resource page was:


Each of this week’s most-viewed had double the views of last week so we’re still on the rise. Why, if this keeps up, we may even be able to monetize this site! Thanks, thanks, and more thanks, and don’t forget to read what you missed, re-read what you loved, and most importantly, come back soon!

You Don’t Have to Go to Film School to Produce a TV Pilot

by Corinna Mendis

As a new independent TV writer and producer, I’ve learned a lot about the process, without even taking a film class. The irony is that as an undergrad I went to NYU, which is known for its film school…but I went for psychology, not film.

Growing up, I always wanted to be an actress. I would get all the neighborhood kids together, write one-act plays (mostly about my dog), then get everyone together in my basement and put on a show for my stuffed animals. As I got older, my passion for acting grew, as I took acting classes at the community theatre, played the lead in the high school plays, sang my way through Guys and Dolls, and drove into Manhattan for head shots.

It was then that my parents told me that if I was going to be an actress, they would completely cut me off. Now, two bachelor’s degrees, and two Master’s degrees later, I am thankful that I did not become an actress. Why? Well, because now I can write about all of the experiences that I have had: the people I used to massage (no happy endings, although there were many unsuccessful attempts made by many clients), the experiences working in medicine (which is the basis for my next pilot), and the trials and tribulations of working with the homeless population at a homeless center out here in Long Island, New York.

When I first began working at the shelter, I immediately thought it would make a great television series, almost like a combination of M*A*S*H and SCRUBS. So, I bought some screenwriting books, and LB’s Television Writing from the Inside Out, then bought screenwriting software, and started writing. The result was a dozen + drafts of a half-hour television pilot called:



Pilot Synopsis

When SADIE METZ, a cockeyed optimist who wants to save the world, begins her internship at HOPE HOSPITALITY CENTER, a men’s homeless shelter, she realizes that she is in for more than she ever expected. Sadie is a fish out of water who unwittingly makes every mistake possible as she struggles to help the homeless.

Among those she meets in this episode are:

  • BART, a suicidal alcoholic (well, he certainly keeps trying his best at the suicide thing) who finally asks for help
  • SIFU FRANK (“See Foo, not Sea Food!”), using his best kung fu to keep himself centered while running the place
  • BEN, the burned-out counselor, spiraling down his own inner staircase
  • MARK and BETH, Sadie’s fellow interns, who together can’t manage to get even half a clue

Series Synopsis

As a counseling intern at HOPE HOSPITALITY CENTER, an emergency men’s homeless shelter the wealthy New York City suburb of Jefferson’s Point, SADIE METZ finds herself caught between her ideals and her parents’ and community’s outrage about the shelter “ruining” their town. This dark, half-hour dark comedy emphasizes the clash of two cultures every week, while focusing on the trials and tribulations that the homeless, counselors, and interns face.

In NOT IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD’s neighborhood, the good life is as elusive as a phantom but its dream is still very much alive for Sadie and those she works with. What prevents the dream from coming true is a combination of factors – civic intolerance, substance abuse, economic chaos – and the very obvious fact that the world is, for all practical purposes, totally nutsy-cuckoo. As are most of the people, whether we’re talking about those who have everything, those who have nothing, or those who have found themselves with (or is it without?) both.

NOT IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD is often shocking, sometimes sad, and, like loving, well-intentioned Sadie, always funny.

About the Production

It was not my intention to produce my own pilot, but you could say that “nutsy-cuckoo” prevailed. Like Sadie, I started my career as a Mental Health Counselor by interning. I worked my way up to counselor at Pax Christi Hospitality Center in Port Jefferson, New York, and created a drop-in center for homeless men and women who would come in for food, clothing, and a much-needed shower.

Right now, I’m a Physician’s Assistant at a hospital in Long Island, but I’ve never been able to shake my showbiz bug. After finishing the script for NOT IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD (at last!) it just seemed natural to shepherd it to onscreen life. That meant rounding up the right group of experts and taking the plunge.

We shot at Pax Christi. At first it seemed like the perfect place, but after the first ten minutes, regrets hit, big time. Our first scene was in the parking lot, with irate picketers carrying some very “irate” signs protesting our fictional shelter, and Pax Christi’s “guests” thought the picketing was real. Anger and resentment spread, causing a ruckus, which was all too public: The shelter is located beside the Long Island Railroad, and you can imagine the looks from passengers waiting to board their commuter train.

We managed to survive that encounter, but the next day I found myself having to fall back on my counseling techniques to keep the the shelter’s real guests calm, while also dealing with the usual unyielding production chores. Everything came to a head when the our director’s sneakers disappeared, and when the counselors working at the shelter couldn’t help, we ended up having to call the police to keep things from getting out of hand.

As it turned out, one of the homeless guests had taken them, and, luckily, he came back an hour later with the sneakers still on his feet. We ended up watching an impromptu foot fashion show, and the tension eased. By the third day, tensions had eased so much that instead of doing all they could to make us leave, those living at the shelter were begging everyone to stay.

The shoot was an emotional experience for everyone, with the cast and crew starting to understand a side of life they hadn’t known existed, a side of life we all worked so hard to bring to our show. All of us have demons to conquer, and we experienced the power of comedy in the most direct manner possible because it was laughter that got us through everything, bonding everyone involved together and, I hope, making NOT IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD a truly wonderful and unique entertainment experience.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the trailer coming very soon.


Storytelling the Pixar Way

…With a little help from Lego:

See all 12 writing rules!

As far as we’re concerned, the word for these pics is GENIUS.

But guess what. The Pixar version is just as brilliant, maybe more so because it came first and there are 10 more – that’s 22, count ’em – rules. Plus, it’s way more writerly because – yep – no pictures, just WORDS.