Think TV writers here in the US of A have it bad? Thank your lucky stars and garters that you aren’t working in South Africa!
An open letter to SABC chief Hlaudi Motsoeneng
by Ben Trovato
Dear Comrade Oberstgruppenfuhrer Hlaudi Motsoeneng the First, Commander of the SABC in General and the Airwaves in Particular, Guardian of Local Content, Master of Invention, Supreme Defender of the Truth, I kneel before you in greeting.
Congratulations on taking the public broadcaster to new heights. There are those who say you have dragged it to new depths. Pay no heed to these counter-revolutionary quislings. Depths, as you know, are nothing more than heights in reverse. It all depends on how you look at things. And you, sir, are able to look at things in a way that beggars belief. Speaking of beggars, please issue a decree banning the depiction or mention of beggars on your television and radio stations. People exposed to beggars will want to become beggars themselves and soon there will be nobody left to pay your handsome salary.
Well done on forcing your radio stations to play 90% local music. However, I don’t understand why you never went for the full 100%. I hope you’re not going soft on us. Imagine if Stalin had let some of his critics live? He had to kill all 1.2 million or it wouldn’t be known as the Great Purge. It would’ve been something like the Mediocre Purge and everyone would have laughed at him.
You are Hlaudi the Magnificent and people do not laugh at you. Well, not openly. I saw someone in Woolworths the other day laughing for no apparent reason. Sure, there’s a good chance he was laughing at the prices, but I had to make sure. I pretended to be browsing, then rabbit-punched him in the kidneys and grabbed him in a chokehold. Not an air choke, mind. That’s for amateurs. I went for the blood choke, squeezing his carotid artery until his eyes rolled into the back of his head.
“Are you,” I hissed, “laughing at Comrade Hlaudi Motsoeneng…?”
*If you haven’t viewed this film yet be warned. This review may contain spoilers!*
With the U.S. Presidential election turning into a bad reality show I decided to take the time to watch the film All the Way. Produced by HBO, this film follows President Johnson after the assassination of Kennedy and the 1964 civil rights bill. It is great to be reminded of how far our country has come. Not to be too political by any means.
The performances of both Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson and Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr. are the best to date in their careers. They both bring depth and emotion to these historical figures from our past. I truly felt that I was watching these men that I had learned about in history class.
The writing by Robert Schenkkan is brilliant and brings a true life event to the screen that makes you feel as though you are in the room negotiating this legendary policy. Not only is it a serious film, but the writing also brings some humor to break up the drama. For instance, there is a scene where the press is interviewing Johnson and he is playing with his dog, the way any of us would. I found this to be a hilarious way to show us the humanity of the man. (Even though back when this actually happened, the press vilified Johnson as an animal abuser for “pulling” the pooch’s ears.)
Jay Roach, the director of this film and others such as Game Change and Recount, presents the subject matter of politics and the civil rights movement with great care and consideration. His work does more than merely do this script justice as he delivers a film that everyone will enjoy from start to finish even in an upsetting election year.
There is nothing bad about this film. I highly recommend it. Go to on-demand and order through HBO and be inspired, as I was, by what you see.
Happy Summer Movie Season!
Diana Vaccarelli is the TVWriter™ Critic-at-Large and, in case you haven’t noticed, a HUGE Outlander fan. Learn more about her HERE
Speaking of Rod Serling, here’s a bit of an intro to the legendary, erm, legend himself for those of you who still don’t know who it is you’re trying to be as you grow up:
he so-called Golden Age of Television, with its two and one-half channels of network programming, produced an astonishing number of great writers, directors and talent. To name but a very, very few: Barbara Bel Geddes, Paddy Chayefsky, George Roy Hill, Ron Howard, Ernest Kinoy, Jack Lemmon, Sidney Lumet, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Boris Sagal, Rod Serling, Rod Steiger, Gore Vidal, Joanne Woodward… my fingers won’t hold out long enough to type even a “best-of” list.
You’ll never guess which of the above pioneers is my favorite.
When Scottish engineer John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in January 1926 (six years before Philo Farnsworth demonstrated the first electronic television), Rod Serling was just a few days over one year old. Baby boomers think we grew up with television; Mr. Serling actually has that honor. And he did a lot more with the medium than we would.
His worldview was clearly progressive; his 1950s work was not the one for which the Conservative movement longed so desperately. His scripts reflected his philosophy and he was left-of-center, but somehow he avoided being blacklisted. To Serling, his great enemy was censorship. “I’ve found censorship always begins with the network. Then it spreads to the advertising agency. Then the sponsor. Among them, when they get through, there isn’t very much left.”
Rod Serling wrote about, and wrote to, the human condition. Most of us are familiar with his creation The Twilight Zone, a high-water mark in the history of the medium. But I urge you to seek out a few of his previous works, in particular Patterns and Requiem For A Heavyweight. Both were originally done on live television, and each was so successful that theatrical movies were produced later – and both movie versions were written – rewritten – by Serling. Patterns was so successful that the broadcast was restaged live with the original cast about a month later. Remember, Ampex didn’t start marketing video tape recorders until 1956, a year after Patternswas broadcast.
Both plays are about the human condition, sans science fiction and fantasy elements….
Some recent articles on TV, TV writing, and the TV biz that we regret not posting earlier. But here they are now.
Well, the opening paragraphs anyway:
Rod Serling’s First TV Drama Aired Here 65 Years Ago
Rod Serling’s first Cincinnati TV drama, “The Keeper of the Chair,” aired on WKRC-TV’s “The Storm” drama series 65 years ago, on July 10, 1951.
Serling was a staff writer at competitor WLW, where he wrote for TV and radio sitcoms, travel shows, documentaries, “Midwestern Hayride” and other lighter programs. So he started writing for “The Storm,” a live weekly drama produced by Taft Broadcasting’s WKRC-TV in the Taft family’s Cincinnati Times-Star newspaper building at 800 Broadway.
“I do a book called ‘Scarlet’ which is soon to be announced also in our universe of television,”Deadline reports Bendis as having announced today at the ATX Television Festival.“Not announced yet, but HBO.”
Creators of popular media are becoming increasingly wary of their fans
For the past couple of months, I’ve been up to my ears in death.
This spring saw a huge groundswell of fan outcry over queer women dying on television. In March, The CW’s apocalyptic drama The 100 killed off gay commander Lexa in a disappointingly clichéd way, setting off a chaotic onslaught of furious fans storming social media with passionate pleas for the show’s writers to do better.
‘The Nightly Show’s Robin Thede Calls for Writers’ Room Diversity: “We Must Do Better”
The Nightly Show writer and performer Robin Thede has an excellent Lenny Letteressay out this week called “On Making the TV Writers’ Rooms More Diverse,” and it should be required reading for anyone interested in writing for television, and even more importantly, the TV writers and producers currently in charge of hiring new talent. Thede wrote the essay in support of a New York tax credit proposed by the Writers Guild of America, which would incentivize shows to hire more women and minorities on their writing staffs
The modern detective procedural show features a group of suave actors playing Detectives. They solve crimes while driving around in hot sports cars, using the latest technology and keep the world safe from the bad guys. Very traditional and often very predictable.
Houdini and Doyle is an offbeat period piece procedural that takes place in Victorian England, circa the early Twentieth Century. Its main characters are Harry Houdini, the famed illusionist, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The two men were real life friends, who unite to fight unexplained supernatural phenomenon. It is not inconceivable that they would unite for such purposes. It is an offbeat and well executed concept.
In its first season, beginning in the spring of this year, each episode dealt with some impossible crime that appears to be supernatural in nature. Vampires, aliens, unexplained deaths etc. The trio uncover logical reasons for the crime at the end of each episode. Some critics have labeled the show, The “Victorian X-Files. That is fair description because it deals with supernatural crimes in Victorian England. It sounded like an even better idea especially since Fox’s other hit supernatural show Sleepy Hollow ran out of steam in its third season.
Shows rise or fall on the likeability and charisma of its stars. In Houdini & Doyle, the actors are uniformly excellent and well cast. Each of the cast members are relatively unknown in America , but they add a strong presence to their respective roles.
Michael Weston is appropriately unkempt and over the top as the famed illusionist Harry Houdini. He is quirky in manner and eye’s full of mischief. Even when his stock in trade was to pull off incredible illusions that appeared unearthly or even magical. On the show, he is often portrayed as the skeptical debunker of the supernatural.
Stephen Mangan is appropriately dapper as the buttoned down Arthur Conan Doyle. In real life, Doyle was a real life aficionado of the supernatural. As a real life medical doctor, he also brought knowledge of early twentieth century medicine to solve crimes.
Completing the trio is Rebecca Liddiard as Detective Adelaide Stratton, the first female police detective from Scotland Yard. It seems improbable back in the late 19th century that Scotland Yard would have allowed a woman to be a detective. However, for the purpose of the show’s premise, it works very well.
Liddiard presents the perfect foil and rational center for the Houdini and Doyle crime fighting team. Her personal story became the backstory for the series. Week by week, we learn more and more about her past. Stratton discovers that her first husband apparently died or committed suicide. This backstory played out for most of the remaining episodes of Season One. Eventually we learn that the husband was not the victim of an untimely death. Her husband appears first to be an undercover agent in a radical group, and then revealed to be the would be assassin of President McKinley.
Houdini appears to be infatuated by the lovely Stratton, and often a highlight of the show is the banter between the two characters about kindling some sort of romantic relationship. Each of the characters have interesting backstories. Houdini is at the height of his fame as an illusionist and seems to be plagued by death of mother. Doyle is grief stricken that his beloved wife is deep in a coma. He suffers writers block and cannot bring himself to write more Sherlock Holmes stories.
In the season finale, Houdini comes to grip with the death of his mother. Doyle breaks free of his writers block and began writing Hounds of the Baskervilles.
The show does take some liberties with the era. As mentioned, Stratton was an unlikely detective in that era. In another episode, a famed Faith Healer of the era was played by a black actor. Racism would still be a potent factor in Victorian England. However it’s just a light TV show and an indication of how far Hollywood has come in terms of diversity on television. The historical inaccuracies such as these are all over the place. However, they can be forgiven because it is enjoyable escapist entertainment with a supernatural twist.
Several Outstanding episodes:
After a terrifying encounter with otherworldly beings, a man awakes in a field claiming that the aliens have abducted his wife. Doyle and Houdini discover that the “aliens” are really a group of cast off East Europeans stuck at the bottom of a mine for over a dozen years. Lacking exposure to the sun, they appeared to be almost alien in their appearance.
When several people are scared to death, clues lead the team to the notorious Bedlam Mental Hospital. The episode deals with Doyle as an apparent captive of the mental hospital. Later, it is revealed that the abduction is all in the mind of Doyle as he wrestles with issues from his past dealing with his father.
Several other episodes incorporate real life characters from the era. They include Thomas Edison inventing a Necrophone to communicate with the dead. In another episode, a housemaid of Bram Stoker’ is found with a stake through her heart in Vampire style. Stoker was the creator of Dracula.
The season finale jammed two episodes together. The mystery of the show was exploring the mysterious deaths of some members of a mining town. This was resolved about halfway through the show, so that it could wrap up Adelaide Stratton’s backstory.
In the U.S., the show was well scheduled on Monday nights schedule following the spell binding Batman origins show Gotham. It was well written and moved at a fast pace. Its only crime was that it only lasted for a brief ten episodes. The era has many unexplored characters and situations worth exploring. It was a fun show and a nice change of pace that deserved to be renewed for a second season. Unfortunately, even Houdini’s skill as an escape artist couldn’t help Houdini and Doyle escape cancellation.
Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition