LB: If I Hadn’t Made It in Television, I Would’ve Been a Comic Book Writer

…Like my buddies Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. (Although Gerry did a fine job of escaping that ghetto, didn’t he, by rising to Co-Executive Producer of LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, among other TV shows?).

I’ve always thought that those working in the two media had a lot in common, and recently two writers still working in comic books have cemented that theory – John Ostrander and Martha Thomases. Here’s Martha’s take on soap opera, which coincidentally happens to be right in line with, yeah, you guessed it – mine.

Thomases Art 130111 Martha Thomases SoapSoap by Martha Thomases (ComicMix.Com)

Oh, Pine Valley! I have missed you so!

But my prayers have been answered, and All My Children will soon be back, if only on the Internet. And while it won’t feel real to me unless they get backErica Kane or Zach, I think this is a real win for those of us who like our entertainment niche.

Soap operas are not new. They were a staple of radio drama and easily made the transition to television. Usually, the focus would be on one or two families, and the drama that resulted when love, greed, hate and intrigue enmeshed them with each other and their neighbors.

Conventional wisdom maintained that this kind of entertainment was for women, especially housewives. They would watch “their stories” as they did the ironing or dusted. Every day, for 30 to 60 minutes (including commercials), they could vicariously experience the lives of beautiful people, with a cliffhanger at the end, ensuring a date with tomorrow’s show. When (white, middle-class) women went into the workforce in large numbers in the 1970s, it was assumed the genre would die.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, the soap opera mutated. It invaded primetime, where shows like Dallasand Dynasty were monster hits. Soap elements – relationship dramas among the characters that couldn’t be solved with a laugh, a gunfight, or magic – invaded cop shows, doctor shows and more. Do you think you’d have The Sopranoswithout General Hospital? If so, you think wrong.

(My point is not that David Chase is a soap opera fan – although he may be – but that network executives wouldn’t have gone for the pilot without a profitable precedent.)

What ultimately drove the soaps off network television was the cost, and the continued segmentation of the audience. It’s expensive to have daily shows with big casts, big sets, and lots of writers. The talk shows that replaced the soaps are way cheaper, and product placement is much easier (although I will always remember with fondness the month that AMC had Campbell’s Soup as a sponsor, and therefore soup solved everything). They don’t get the same audience as the soaps, but they don’t need to.

The solution? The Internet. It’s taken a while for the producers to get it together with finances, and unions, but now it looks like they have.

It’s an interesting parallel to comics. Hollywood is making a ton of money from superheroes, but sales of floppies appeal to a much, much smaller audience. And, again, the Internet provides a way not only to grow the readership, but to level the playing field for those creators (and readers) who don’t want to limit themselves to one genre, or one business model.

The folks trying to resuscitate All My Children have already signed up Angie. Get Tad, and I’m there.

Did I mention that several of my friends have been writing soaps for umpteen million years too? Wonder if they can speak about comic books so wisely.

munchman Sees 1600 PENN

1600 Penn

…And I can honestly say that it’s every bit as bad as the picture above indicates.

THE GOOD:

  • Nada.

THE BAD:

  • Todo.

OVERALL COMMENTS:

No way in hell can I believe that professionals were involved in this on any level. Writing, production, direction, acting, tech credits, it’s all mierdas, as in shit. 

Creators-writers-producers Jason Winer, Josh Gad, and Jon Lovett should be dismembered and their spirits banished to the lowest circle of hell, to watch the pilot of this atrocity continuously for all eternity. As for everybody else involved – get out while you can! Get new gigs! Any new gigs!

munchman rating: pukepukepukepukepuke 5 pukies – yech

HAWAII FIVE-0 Pulls Another Ratings Stunt

Hawaii_FiveO-20110721-69
Yeah, this sure looks like a group of Jimi fans. Right.

In yet another desperate attempt to make up for the fact that the show sucks, HAWAII FIVE-0’s unsung marketing geniuses once again prove that they’re better at their jobs than the writers by coming up with a truly fascinating gimmick.

They’re giving us not one, or two, or even three, but seven – count ’em seven – “unreleased” songs by Jimi Hendrix as the sound track for the January 20th episode.

As major Hendrix fans, we’re thrilled, even though:

  • We’ve already heard all seven tracks as mp3s in various places that – so help us, God – we thought were legal
  • The tracks will be released as part of an album called People, Hell and Angels in early March

We assume that the songs will be in their entirety and certainly in the foreground of the mix, on the album but will be chopped up and/or relegated to background bullshit on HAWAII FIVE-0, so we’re not recommending that everybody drop what you’re doing and watch.

But we do recommend that CBS find a better writing staff for this series, one that can give us stories and characters that entertain us and make us want to watch, so that they don’t have to resort to this cynical exploitation of a dead guitar hero. Make that of The Dead Guitar Hero.

Speaking of the new album:

A Simple Way to Create Suspense

Do you know who Jack Reacher is? We mean the real, hulking, shit-kicking giant of a hero of 17 novels, not the miniature wimp played last year by Tom Cruise.

Lee Child, author of the following article, is the creator of the real Jack Reacher. And now that we’ve read this we’re going to forgive him for the film and pop over to Amazon.Com for at least one of the books.

Gotta love that ticking clock!
Gotta love that ticking clock!

by Lee Child

How do you create suspense? I’m asked that question often, and it seems that every writers’ symposium has a class with that title. It’s an important technical issue, and not just for so-called suspense novels. Every novel needs a narrative engine, a reason for people to keep reading to the end, whatever the subject, style, genre or approach.

But it’s a bad question. Its very form misleads writers and pushes them onto an unhelpful and overcomplicated track.

Because “How do you create suspense?” has the same interrogatory shape as “How do you bake a cake?” And we all know — in theory or practice — how to bake a cake. We need ingredients, and we infer that the better quality those ingredients are, the better quality the cake will be. We know that we have to mix and stir those ingredients, and we’re led to believe that the more thoroughly and conscientiously we combine them, the better the cake will taste. We know we have to cook the cake in an oven, and we figure that the more exact the temperature and timing, the better the cake will look.

So writers are taught to focus on ingredients and their combination. They’re told they should create attractive, sympathetic characters, so that readers will care about them deeply, and then to plunge those characters into situations of continuing peril, the descent into which is the mixing and stirring, and the duration and horrors of which are the timing and temperature.

But it’s really much simpler than that. “How do you bake a cake?” has the wrong structure. It’s too indirect. The right structure and the right question is: “How do you make your family hungry?”

And the answer is: You make them wait four hours for dinner.

As novelists, we should ask or imply a question at the beginning of the story, and then we should delay the answer. (Which is what I did here, and you’re still reading, right?)

Readers are human, and humans seem programmed to wait for answers to questions they witness being asked. I learned that fact in my first job. I worked in television production from 1977 until 1995, and the business changed radically during that time, mainly because of one particular invention. It was something that almost no one had in 1980, and that almost everyone had in 1990, and it changed the game forever. We had to cope with it. We had to invent a solution to the serious problem it posed.

(You notice I haven’t told you what the invention was yet? I implied a question, and didn’t answer it. You’re waiting. You’re wondering, what did almost no one have in 1980 that almost everyone had in 1990? You’re definitely going to read the next paragraph, aren’t you? Thus the principle works in a micro sense, as well as in a macro one. Page to page, paragraph to paragraph, line to line — even within single sentences — imply a question first, and then answer it second. The reader learns to chase, and the momentum becomes unstoppable.)

Read it all (because you can’t help yourselves, right?)

 

AXE COP Animated Series Coming to Fox in July

Fox-Axe-Cop-Animated-Series

One of the joys of working here at TVWriter™ has been bopping around the web discovering things like AXE COP, a web comic created by Malachai Nicolle, who at the time was a 5 year old boy living in Washington state, and illustrated by his almost-a-quarter-century-older brother Ethan.

AXE COP is a delightful celebration of well-intended mayhem, and it’s also become very, very popular. So popular, in fact, that Fox Network bought the rights, did the usual development thing, and, voila! at the riope old age of7, Malachai Nicolle is now the creator of a TV series. AXE COP, the TV series debuts July 27, featuring the voices of Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally (aha!), Patton Oswalt, and even COMMUNITY creator Dan Harmon.

Will it work? We smell a cult classic here at the very least. Stay tuned, doods. And, while you’re waiting, watch the damn clip:

Oh, and don’t forget: This could’ve been an article about you. Still could be if you get off your duff and write/draw/shoot that project you’ve been daydreaming about for years!