My TV Review Part One

by Robin Reed

I was asked recently if I want to review TV shows for this site. I thought about it for a while and got a crazy idea. I want to review TV. Not shows, but all of television. At least my experience of it. At this point, many of you have already gone on to read other posts, thinking I am nuts. If you are still with me, I promise not to take up too much of your time.

My first TV memory is of my brothers and I trying to get my parents to let us watch “The Flintstones.” It was a prime time show, not a Saturday morning cartoon. It was hot. Celebrities did guest voices. It was “The Simpsons” of its day. But it was shown on a school night, and the absolute rule in my house was that there was no TV on school nights.

My second TV memory (which may have taken place before the first, the timeline is a little fuzzy in my mind) was a weekend in November, 1963. I was really mad because there were no cartoons on. Instead of cartoons every channel was showing what I called “some dumb funeral.” The funeral was for President Kennedy. Hey, I was six.

Third, I was watching the Mickey Mouse Show some afternoon, and it was showing kids visiting a submarine. I can’t verify that that ever happened but that is my memory. The TV went dark and never worked again. This is an important memory because my father, who always thought TV was a bad influence on children, refused to get a new one. We didn’t own another TV after that day in the early sixties until we lived in another city and I was a freshman in high school, which was 1974.

My father was born in 1911. His entire childhood went by before commercial radio existed. I never heard any stories about sitting around the Philco and listening to The Shadow or Fred Allen. His stories were about working on his father’s apple orchard and going to college during the depression with no money to live on. I suspect he was as doubtful about radio as he later would be about TV.

In the gap, we sometimes rented a TV on special occasions. Thanksgiving was one such occasion, and we usually watched “The Wizard of Oz.” We rented black and white TVs so I never saw the transition to color when Dorothy arrives in Munchkinland until I saw the film in a movie theater when I was in college.

On another occasion I enjoyed an evening of TV while my parents were out. When they got home they asked what I thought of the educational show about Queen Elizabeth I on public TV. They got mad when I said I didn’t watch it. I swear to this day that no one told me I was supposed to watch the Queen Liz show.

Because we didn’t have a TV in those years, I missed a lot of shows that other people of my generation consider treasured memories. I still haven’t seen all the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. I know they show them again every year but it seems silly to watch them now. 

I was a voracious book reader in those years. I suspect I would have read fewer books if there was a TV in the house. If my father thought I would expand my education with books, as he did in the apple orchard, allowing him to get a degree and become a professor of anthropology, he was disappointed. I read a lot, but almost all science fiction and fantasy.

Our first TV after the gap was banished to the basement. My father wouldn’t have it in the living room. It is cold in the basement in winter in Chicago, but that didn’t stop us kids from watching. That’s when I started seriously catching up. Reruns of “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” after school. Whatever Quinn Martin was producing at the time. “Happy Days,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Rhoda,” and on and on.

Cartoons. I have always been able to watch cartoons, even ones that are aimed at little kids. (Though the Japanese shows that are on now, based on card games, where the characters endlessly explain the rules of the game, are instant remote-clicks.)

So much TV has passed in front of my eyes that I should get an Emmy for Best Audience Member. I remember watching “The Match Game” almost every day for a while. Gotta love Gene Rayburn.

One day I read that the Public TV station in Chicago, WTTW, was going to play an odd English comedy show called “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” I had to stay up late to see it. I didn’t think much of the first episode, but after a few shows I was hooked. WTTW also had “Doctor Who” with Tom Baker, and then they went back to the beginning, grumpy old Doctor and all the others. That started at 11:00 p.m. on Sunday nights, and they played an entire adventure edited together, not the original half-hour episodes. So I was up until 1:00 a.m. or later.

I went to a college in Boston, and saw the first “Saturday Night” episode in the hallway outside my room, my little TV sitting on a stool, because my roommate didn’t want the noise in the room. (No, it was not called “Saturday Night Live.” No one remembers that Howard Cosell, of all people, was host of a variety show that debuted the very same night and was named Saturday Night Live. I assume it was on CBS because it was shot at the same theater as the Ed Sullivan Show, now home of David Letterman.) The late night show didn’t reclaim the word “Live” until years later.)

Okay, so what’s the point of all this? Anyone can recite his or her history of TV watching. Well, I haven’t gotten to the review part. I have some things to say about TV, but I will give you a chance to tell me “Dear God, STOP!!” If you don’t, I will post Part Two in a few days.

Writing for Children’s Shows

Writing for Kids’ TV
by Danny Stack

It’s odd that the genre of kids’ TV is often overlooked by screenwriting events, seminars and the so-called gurus. It’s also rare to meet a writer who aspires to write for kids’ TV.

Why is this the case? Perhaps it’s because kids’ TV is for, well, kids. And maybe there’s a misplaced notion that writing for kids must be simple compared to primetime drama or feature films. Or that there’s not much kudos involved in writing for the genre.

If this is the case, then it’s an erroneous point-of-view. Writing for kids’ TV is challenging, fun, and profitable. It also requires the same amount of screenwriting skill and craft as writing any other drama. In some instances, it’s actually much harder because you’ll often be expected to write a funny script. No post-modern cultural references, intellectual quips or self-reflective wit, just make the script funny through the characters and story. No pressure.

Writing for kids is the purest form of storytelling because it’s free of ego and cynicism. Kids don’t care if you’re Russell T Davies. They only care if Russell T Davies tells them a good story. An idea that grabs. A story with a sense of urgency. Characters who we really care about. A plot with unpredictable twists and turns. Think kids aren’t sophisticated and can’t see a twist from a mile away? Think again.

Read it all

Not only are we glad to have found this, we’re happy to have made the acquaintance of Mr. Stack’s most excellent blog!

A Great Writing Lesson…

…from Ken Levine’s blog, …by Ken Levine:

Ken Levine? Not Ken Levine? Damned if we know

“New Choice!”
by Ken Levine

There was another great exercise for comedy writers in Andy Goldberg’s improv class last Wednesday. This one was called “New Choice!” Two people would do a scene and periodically someone would say something and Andy would interrupt with “New Choice!” The performer then had to devise an alternate line. If Andy wasn’t satisfied he’d again bark “New Choice!” Sometimes it would take two or three lines before the scene was allowed to proceed.

Example:

Me and Fred are in a Costco.

Fred: What are you here to buy?
Me: Cheerios.
Andy: New choice!
Me: 300 rolls of toilet paper.
Andy: New choice!
Me: A case of Trojans and a dozen oysters.

Read it all

All you have to do is read the full article and you’ll see that KL is a master of comic construction.

 

More About BULLET IN THE FACE

by Larry Brody

Actually, I should’ve said “More From BULLET IN THE FACE” because this is directly from my fiercely comedic genius buddy, Alan Spencer, creator-writer-producer of this viciously funny comedy, as the big push to airdate begins.

Of course, I’m thinking that this might draw a few viewers too:

 More info available on the show’s Facebook page

Whatie Looks at Amazon Studios (PART 3)

by Whatie

Amazon Studios offers television writers a different approach to selling their original series ideas. In parts 1 and 2, I looked at what Amazon Studios is. Here in part 3, I am looking at the practical aspects of working with Amazon Studios: namely, how to submit and what they pay.

Amazon Studios wants what any other studio would want: a pilot script and a concise description of the show. For the pilot script, they ask for standard television script format, just the same as you would prepare for any other purpose. For the description of the show, they essentially want a short document that they call a mini-bible, which is nearly identical to the document we in Tvwriterland call the leavebehind. They want a concise description of the premise and characters, a logline, and a list of possible episodes, just like a leavebehind. In effect, submitting to Amazon Studios is a lot like submitting to the People’s Pilot contest.

Of course, there’s the question of money. How much does Amazon Studios pay? We all want to know whether we’ll get a good deal or be screwed if they accept our work! So, here’s the deal: If Amazon Studios likes your series, the first step is promoting it to the Development Slate. That means they have decided to actively pursue your series as a possibility, and their story department gets involved. (This is where you’ll get story notes and the like from the people at the top.) You get $10,000 when they promote you to the Development Slate. Once the story department has done its thing and Amazon Studios has definitely decided to shoot your pilot, you get $55,000 for the series idea and the pilot script. This is in addition to your earlier payment, so your running total is now $65,000.

At this point, Amazon Studios is buying the rights from you and the project becomes theirs. In addition, for every episode they produce other than your pilot, you will receive a one-time creator royalty of either $3,500 if your show is initially distributed via broadcast or cable television channels, or $2,500 if your show is initially distributed as webisodes or goes direct to DVD. You will receive one payment per episode that anyone creates and airs, and no further royalties after that. Of course, if you personally write additional episodes, serve on the staff, or otherwise contribute to the making of the show beyond your initial project submission, you will get paid for your work, but that’s a separate contract negotiation.

You are also entitled to a percentage of any merchandise sold. This percentage starts at 5%, but they reserve the right to reduce your percentage to as low as 2.5% if they should choose to grant any third party a percentage of the merchandise, in effect giving away your percentage without asking so that they can keep their own profit margins intact.

All in all, the money isn’t a bad deal. Sure, the traditional big studios typically do much better. However, Amazon Studios may well give your project life that no other studio will ever offer. Whether you suffer from un-agented obscurity or you just have a special script that regular networks don’t want but which the people may like, the new paradigm here may well be the answer.