Philosophy, Psychology, Nerdisms, Writing from the Trenches

TV Nonsense

Everything Wrong with The Walking Dead (And What You Can Learn From It)

The Walking Dead is a good show. It’s gritty, dark, often times raw, and has that gore factor that you just can’t find on broadcast television. It gets people talking.

But, as all stories, there are imperfections. I’m not here to ask why they have a 2013 Hyundai when the apocalypse happened in 2010 (something has to pay for all that gore and apparently it’s the South Korean car makers).The Walking Dead

I also don’t care about certain characters unlocking infinite ammo mode. Let’s just assume they reloaded off camera.

“But, there was no time…”

LET’S JUST ASSUME!

Here, I want to talk about some weird storytelling flaws that you should avoid. (Probably spoilers, but, dude. Netflix.)

1. Almost every episode’s plot is launched by someone doing something stupid.

You didn’t have to be a super genius to survive the apocalypse. The law of averages says that isn’t the case. When The Walking Dead starts, Rick comes out of a coma and is thrust into a world he doesn’t recognize. It’s okay if he makes some mistakes, especially if he’s just going through routine.

“Hark, a monster! I shall shoot it!”

Gunshot brings hordes of zombies. Okay. He didn’t know any better. He learns that shooting them is maybe not the best course of action (if he survives).

In the second season, Sofia, a little girl, goes missing. She was supposed to stay somewhere and wait for Rick. He went back and she was gone. The rest of the season is spent with them living on a farm, sending out search parties. Now, when I was a kid and Mom told me to stay somewhere and wait for her, you better believe I did. When I was separated from her in the grocery store, I knew to not wander around because she would retrace her steps.

Realize I was not surrounded by zombies at the time.

Again, I can forgive an 8 year old for getting scared and running like Hell, but she didn’t even go back to the car. And she wasn’t attacked by a zombie at that point, either. See, when they do find her, she’s a zombie. And, she still looks pretty normal. Which means she was bitten and got away or she died of natural causes and the infection took her. Rick wasn’t gone for very long, so she wasn’t attacked where he left her. He would have heard a scream and the zombies would have lingered.

The real stupid thing that got me, though, was after the massacre of the zombie pets in Herschel’s barn (that’s right, I’m not addressing the stupidity of the zombie pets).

Herschel is in town, drinking away his feelings. Glen and Rick go to find him. They tell everyone before they leave:

“We think Herschel went into town. We’re going to go get him. We’ll be back later.”

Ten minutes later, Lori, Rick’s wife, is running around going “they’ve been gone too long.” Jesus, lady, it hasn’t even been an hour. So, she decides to go into town and find them. She doesn’t tell anyone she’s leaving. On the way into town, she’s looking at a map and crashes into a zombie (flipping the car because…physics?), and she’s lying unconscious as zombies start to close in around her.

Meanwhile, no one at camp has even realized she’s missing. They don’t realize it until nightfall. While I’m sure some people think, “High Drama!” I say, “No. Let the bitch die. If she’s dumb enough to A) go looking for someone before they said they’d be back B) not tell anyone where she’s going in a world populated by zombies and C) not watch the goddamn road, let the zombies eat her.”

When anyone says they like The Walking Dead because of “the characters” I’m forced to ask why. They are TDTL, too dumb to live. You like the show because people are running from zombies and there’s high tension with climatic payoff. Call a spade a spade.

It’s not drama. It’s stupidity. People don’t like dumb characters. If you’re going to get your characters in stupid predicaments, try to give them a smart/unavoidable reason to be there, otherwise, it’s dumb. (more…)

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Notes on Television: Part 1 of 3 – The Case Studies

It’s an exciting time for storytelling. As the publishing industry scrambles to figure out what to do with itself, television seems to be embracing change as fast as it can. If you look at recent developments, you’ll agree.

Case study 1: Veronica Mars or How You Can Buy Your Own Happy EndingVeronica Mars

Veronica Mars never experienced the ratings that it needed to be considered a hit, but it had then what every TV show wants now: a cult following. In today’s terms, look at Community. Community doesn’t get the ratings. What it does get is trends on Twitter. Community fans are rabidly supportive. They not only watch, but they talk about the show. The watercooler has gone to the Internet and you can see exactly the impact your stories are having.

Veronica Mars shows you what happens when a rabid fan base is monetized. If you haven’t heard about the Veronica Mars Kickstarter project, check it out here. The show raised $2 million for a Veronica Mars movie in 24 hours. Their campaign is still going as of this posting at $4,332,000. The fans will get their movie.

The Veronica Mars project is still an ongoing experiment. Will the movie be successful? A Kickstarter campaign is just the beginning. The project still requires studio backing and production costs outside the purview of crowdfunding. We’ll see how it goes.

The downside of the Veronica Mars project is the possibility that everyone and their brother will call for the return of the television they think was unjustly ended.

Where’s my Pushing Daisies movie? Why can’t we have one more season of Chuck?

Some things are meant to die. Veronica Mars may be a fluke. Or it may launch us dwelling in the stagnant waters of a culture that refuses to move on. Or it could be the best thing that ever happened.

Case study 2: Breaking Bad/Walking Dead/Mad Men/cable shows

There’s an old trope about British television and how short their series are. This isn’t wrong. If a Brit show runs 13 episodes, it’s consider an overwhelming success. Fawlty Towers, considered one of the best sitcoms ever made (by the people who decide those things) only had 12 episodes from 2 seasons made over the course of 4 years.

That’s right. If you crunch the numbers, they made 3 episodes a year.

Walking DeadWhy are British TV series so short? Because they aren’t full of crap. British television is liked distilled TV syrup. There’s no fizz added.

Breaking Bad‘s first season ran 7 episodes. The subsequent seasons ran 13 episodes.

Mad Men‘s seasons are 13 episodes each.

The Walking Dead‘s first season: 6 episodes. After, 13.

Why is this a good thing? Like British television, the writers/producers/creators of these shows are trimming the fat and giving us delicious, meaty chunks of storytelling. The miniseries isn’t dead, it just bred with series television and created a new species.

Why is American television full of 22-24 episode series? Because it’s a race to 100. I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Case Study 3: Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu

Arrested Development is getting it’s happy ending and it isn’t crowdfunded. Netflix will release 14 episodes in May (that’s one month away! Be still, excitement). While Netflix is trying to temper everyone’s expectations by telling us lightning won’t strike twice, it would be interesting to know how many people signed up for Netflix because of their acquisition.Arrested Development coming in May

While the Arrested Development fan base is just as rabid as Veronica Mars’, there is a key difference. Unlike Veronica Mars, most people came to Arrested Development AFTER the show was cancelled. Key aspects of the show’s humor were in subtle jokes that were only noticed upon multiple or marathon viewings. This makes it a great show for Netflix. All 14 episodes will be available at once. How many of you will watch start to finish without a week in between?

That’s not all. House of Cards, staring Kevin Spacey (KEVIN SPACEY!) had a 13 episode run on Netflix. Just Netflix. It was made, produced, distributed by Netflix. Netflix has become it’s own TV studio, network, and station all rolled into one. It’s opening up a whole new avenue for storytellers. And, it’s gives viewers something TV networks can’t: the chance to watch your show whenever or wherever you want (as long as there’s an Internet connection {you can argue that the DVR did this, too, but you still have to wait a week [and my DVR is filled to capacity with my roommates’ shows]}).

Amazon Prime will produce a show based on the hit movie Zombieland.

Hulu is bound to get into the game soon, too (so far, their original material has been mostly shortform). They’re already working with SNL former and current cast members on development.

What’s next for online content creators? Who knows? Perhaps viewing parties will launch their shows to trending topics on Twitter. But, don’t worry. When Arrested Development hits, it will be huge.

Things I didn’t have time to talk about: Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Girls, Veep

The Golden Age of Television isn’t over. It’s going platinum.

What do you want to know about the television business? Share your thoughts below and stay tuned for the next posts.


Writing to Completion

I finished writing a pilot.

It’s the first sitcom pilot I’ve written. My other scripts have all been either sci fi drama pilots or sitcom spec scripts. For those of you outside the TV writing sphere, a spec script is a script for a show that already exists.

It’s sort of weird to talk to writers about writing television shows. Some say it’s easier to write the spec, some say it’s easier to write original material. I don’t really see either as being particularly easier than the other. The hardest thing about writing a spec script (in my personal experience) is writing it for a show that will be relevant in two years. The shows I love (Up All Night, Community, Happy Endings) are all on the brink of death (don’t get me started). Or, they are overwhelming spec’d (everyone’s got their Modern Family script).  Second City Hollywood

So, with this sitcom pilot out of the way, I find myself ready for a new project. More than ready. Chomping at the bit.

Since most of my experience is novel writing, that isn’t always the case. What normally happens is I start querying agents, then I sit around and wait for my rejection letters. But, that’s not really what happens in the screenwriting world. I mean, I could query agents, but that’s not the norm.

The norm is you make friends. Your friends introduce you to producers and agents or friends of producers and agents. Most people (though not all) sell something before they get an agent. So, basically, the answer is, save the file and move on. When you meet someone who can do something with it, whip it out.

It’s a body of work.

The next thing, though. It’s a sci fi drama. And it’s gonna be huge.

 

The pilot I completed was part of the Completing and Presenting Your Sitcom Pilot class at Second City. There will be an onstage reading of it on April 17th at 6:30pm at Second City Hollywood (there will be two shows read on that night).

The Pitch:

What if JK Rowling got writer’s block after Harry Potter 4?

When Arthur Watkins, the main character from a wildly popular young adult series, appears to his author, M.L. Reeves, she has to figure out how to deal with her errant work of fiction while deadlines loom.


As our contract states, you owe me some tongue

This isn’t my usual gig, but stick around anyway for this.

I watch a lot of television, most of it streaming, so commercials are few and far between. I’m fairly good at tuning them out, too. Unless they’re funny, I find them less than useful. I buy my Apple products because I was brainwashed by my peers. The commercials had nothing to do with it.

But, recently, I heard a commercial that caught my attention FROM A DIFFERENT ROOM.

Yes, I was minding my own business while my roommate was watching TV and I heard a commercial that sounded sort of…strange. I walked in to watch the rest of it and thought, “Well, that’s Pavlovian.”

If you don’t know who Pavlov is, he’s this psychologist who taught dogs to slobber at the chime of a bell. Sound stupid? You’re wrong. What he did was ring the bell, feed the dogs, ring the bell, feed the dogs, ring the bell, feed the dogs, ring the bell…and the dogs started slobbering because they were expecting to be fed.

If you think that’s common sense (my dog eats on a schedule and gets antsy around 6; I don’t think he can tell time), Pavlov was able to prove it in a lab {and on one! ba dum chish} and as we all know, if you can’t replicate it in the lab, it didn’t happen. (Ok, psychology nerds; what I’m talking about is technically operant conditioning, but more people are familiar with Pavlov than Skinner, I would have had to explain more when they can just Google it, and I wouldn’t have been able to make the “lab” joke)

Back to the commercial.

It was a Kay Jewelers commercial. I’ve embedded it here. If you don’t see it, CLICK HERE. You see, it’s a Super Bowl ad. Millions of Americans are supposed to see this commercial. Take a look.

Maybe you think it looks sweet, but the man is working on conditioning his wife.

Pretty much every jewelery commercial is like this.

Give lady shiny rock for good thing, she do good thing again.

It even says it in their slogan. Every kiss begins with Kay.

Agreed upon contract or hidden misogynistic agenda?

I don’t know why I suddenly went on this feminist rant. I suppose it’s just been building for years, with every jewelry or Colon Blow™ yogurt ad where women are the target market. I’ve been calling the Open Hearts Collection the Tits and Ass Collection ever since I saw the first commercial four years ago because that’s what it looks like. I’m sorry, Jane Seymour. I’m sure you’re a wonderful person, but, seriously.

Am I taking it too personally? Sure. Why not? I don’t really care about jewelry. I would rather have something functional, something meaningful. For example, a wedding ring is a symbol that you are married. It can also function as a bottle opener.

If someone wanted to condition me, they would say, “Thank you. Here’s a subscription to Mental Floss,” or “Thank you. Here are the new tennis shoes you need.” Or, better yet, “Thank you. This is a gift that no one would understand except the two of us and I knew it would make you laugh and you would love it because you love me and it symbolizes our mutual trust and happiness with each other.”

Put that on a Boobs and Butt locket, Kay.

(You can argue the flip side that the commercial is conditioning the men to buy the jewelry. Commercials are all within the realm, trying to show you the rewards of a lifestyle you would achieve with their product. It doesn’t change the fact that ultimately, women are being demeaned in these ads. And it bugs me.)


This is not what I’m supposed to be doing

I’m supposed to be writing my pilot episode right now. I mean, this is the time I’ve carved out of working Job A, working Job B, writing for Sketch Show, contributing to Monologue Jokes, and Job Hunting. I started a Footloose Radio on Spotify, not because that’s the tone of the screenplay, but because Footloose and the music of Footloose’s era get me pumped up.

I’m at the coffeeshop. I have a writing buddy in hopes of keeping me honest. I have my beat sheet, my outline, my notes.

So, why am I not writing?

Well, I’m four pages into my sitcom and it’s not funny. Don’t try to get fancy with me. I know I shouldn’t be worrying about that right now, because I can always go back and revise (and I plan on doing just that.) It’s also possible that it’s funnier than what I give it credit for. You know. Possibly. I have a deadline for myself and I will meet it.

Tell me again how hilarious your sitcom is.

But, it’s gotten me thinking on what is it about this that’s going to be funny. I mean, it’s funny when I talk about it. It’s funny in my head. To be honest, I started writing this blog post hoping that I would get in touch with my funny. I mean, guys…we all know how hilarious I am.

Maybe it’s like Girls. It’s too close to reality for me to consider it funny. Maybe I’ve just had a bad week and “allocated time” isn’t what I’m looking for. Oh, and Vitamin C’s Graduation just came on, which is not helpful AT ALL.

I’ve been writing specs and editing things so long, it’s starting to feel like I’m better at helping other people find what they’re trying to say.

Do you ever feel like you can’t feel your funny? What do you do to get in touch with your inner self? Where is my writing Obi Wan-Kenobi telling me to let the hilarity flow through me?

I need a dance break. Catch you guys in five.


The End of Fringe

Well, Fringe is over. So goes another sci-fi show on Fox.

I figured with the news about J.J. Abrams inheriting the new Star Wars, I should talk about this. Who am I kidding? It’s Fringe. I would talk about it anyway.

The 5th and final season of Fringe wasn’t so great. There. I said it. Compared to the rest of the series, the 5th season left something to be desired. This is a little ironic. I remember when Letters of Transit aired, the original Observer-controlled future episode in season 4, I wanted there to be a whole spinoff series based in that world. That’s exactly where they put season 5, but here’s the problem: I didn’t want Olivia and Peter and Walter involved.

Imagine SHIELD, the upcoming Joss Whedon show. It’s not going to be about the Avengers, it’s going to be about SHIELD, which means we have the opportunity of investing in new characters in a familiar world. It’s exciting and new, but tried in true. We get to take our existing frame of reference and apply it to new situations. Human brain function relies on pattern recognition, and this feeds that function. We know the patterns. Now, we bump up to a new pattern hierarchy.

Fringe put the Avengers in SHIELD. I wanted to see resistance fighters using Fringe events to strike back against the Observers. This didn’t really happen in season 5 until the last few episodes. And while it was wholly satisfying, it would have been more entertaining to see them using the knowledge established in the first four seasons on the next level.

I wanted to see Henry Ian Cusick as the lead rebel leader. He died.

I wanted to see an army of cortexiphan super humans, the normals who responded to treatment. Wasn’t this what the series was setting up? The closest we get to this payout is the second to last episode, where Olivia is dosed with cortexiphan again in order to jump universes. Shouldn’t they have thought of that sooner? Appealing to the other universe for help? Ah well. Why dwell on it?

Really, the best way to deal with the Observer invasion was a spinoff series, but that probably wasn’t possible. Maybe he did the best with what he had.

Abrams had a time limit, with a truncated episode order. But, the ending amounted to hitting the reset button. And this is why I don’t think Abrams should have Star Wars.

Abrams doesn’t do endings.

He’s amazing at beginnings, great at middles…not so much endings. And, if he (and the royal We) can’t let go of Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Princess Leia, we’re not going to be satisfied with a new Star Wars movie.

He’s a fan of hitting reset buttons. This boils down to two things: don’t ask questions you never intend on answering, and don’t forget to deliver your promise of the premise.

In a perfect world, Abrams would have done the prequels, Lucas would have done the middle trilogy, and…who would I cast as the ending leader?

Joss Whedon. He knows how to write an ending. Look at Buffy. Look at Avengers. Man knows how to write an ending. Of course, Whedon would kill Chewie. Or some other beloved character. But you take the style with the style.

That’s my feelings on Fringe. Didn’t end so great. So, if you’re going to watch, stop with season 4 and you’ll be all right.