Saturday, September 30, 2006

Something worth sharing

He only has one cartoon up so far, but I wanted to share Studio Reader Stan with everybody. He's been running a damn funny Myspace blog and he's branching out. Enjoy.

Friday, September 29, 2006

I've found myself a purpose.

One thing I've had difficulty with in writing this blog is figuring out what to focus on. Some days I feel like a teacher. Most days I feel like a writer, so you never know what you're going to get when you come here because I tend to write about both. Most of you are writers so I've been trying to focus on that. But there's like eighty million other blogs, so what do I have to offer? I've been having trouble finding my identity, I suppose.

The idea behind the title of my page comes from the fact that given only a white board and some markers I can entertain and teach for two hours. But I also want to write for television, and many writers rooms use the white board to organize episodes, so I figured it had dual meaning for my dual personality.

But there is one thing I have to offer that most screenwriting blogs don't and I realized it this morning when I contributed to Scott the Reader's weekend box office discussion. I spend all day around teenagers and they're a huge part of the film and TV market. I am in a unique position to know what interests them. I think it's time I shared.

I'm not a professional writer yet. But I do write teenagers well because part of me spends all day as one, so I'll try to post some tips on writing for the teen market on a regular basis from now on. And maybe one day I'll have the credit to back myself up.

I used to teach redneck kids in the middle of nowhere North Carolina. Now I teach Latino kids in South Central Los Angeles. They have more in common than you think, but they differ greatly in their experiences, as you may imagine. So with that in mind,

Teenage tip #1: Stop writing precocious teens.
Everywhere you turn in film or TV, you see the precocious kid, the one who is so wise even though he's only ten. He knows things and says logical and clever comments just when they're parents are out of ideas. The teenage daughter on Shark chooses to stay with her father even though he's less stable than her mother because she wants to learn all about him and occasionally pass along her great wisdom she's learned in all sixteen of her years.

That makes no sense. A kid will always pick stability. I don't care how smart she is, she will choose what's best for her. She may be smart, but she is still unsure about what the right answer is and she'll want someone to tell her.

My smartest kids are of two kinds: Shy or loudmouth. This kid who knows just when to say the right thing? I haven't met him yet in my six years in education. That's not to say there aren't smart kids out there, but they don't speak with the kind of authority and wisdom of so many kids on TV these days.

So give you teenager some doubt. They don't know everything and no matter what they act like they don't think they know everything either. If they act like it, it's because they're covering for their own misgivings. And that in itself makes for interesting character quirks.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is it okay to be this obsessed with superheroes?

Do you ever wonder about your taste? Everything I've liked lately has gotten bad reviews from people I respect. I like Studio 60, but several respected, experienced TV writers find it distasteful. I loved The Last Kiss, but Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 46%. I admit I said I liked Standoff when I first saw it, but I don't think I actually did because the very next day I declared it as my first pick for cancellation over on Ken Levine's site. Everybody else hated it right away.

I thought Brothers and Sisters was just okay. I fell asleep watching it and had to finish it the next day, so I don't think that's a good sign.

I was completely entranced by Heroes. The surprise cliff-hanger ending got me in a big way until the "next week on Heroes" thing rolled by two seconds after the end of the pilot and ruined the cliff-hanger. Good job, NBC. Still, I'm holding my breath for Greg Grumberg to show up next week. He's so damn adorable. And this show has an extremely diverse cast. I love the little Japanese guy and really became aware of what a dork I am when I knew every single nerdy Star Trek and X-Men reference that came up in his conversations. Good dialogue, good action, gross cheerleader shredded body parts repairing themselves. And mystery connections akin to those on the Lost Island that will undoubtedly unfold as the series goes on. Plus, my spec pilot will be in a perfect position to get some attention if this show does well, so I'm definitely rooting for it.

But what do I know? I say this and then people I respect come along and tell me I'm full of crap. So you be the judge. Here's what I have in my DVD collection. Does it legitimize me to critique what I see?

-Buffy. All of it.
-Angel, seasons 1,2 and 5.
-Firefly. Of course.
-Lost, season one.
-Veronica Mars, season one.
-Alias, season 2.
-Family Guy, season 3.
-Aqua Teen Hunger Force, seasons 1 and 2.
-Farscape, two Starburst Editions away from all of it.
-Samurai Jack, seasons 1 and 2.
-Star Wars Clone Wars, part 1.

That's just my TV collection, obviously. Clearly I'm consistent. When you list it all like that it seems pretty clear what I like. The Family Guy and Aqua Teens were gifts, but appreciated ones. But that's why they don't exactly fit the pattern.

So I guess it's no surprise I like Heroes.

What does your TV on DVD collection say about your taste?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Last Kiss

I've been talking about seeing The Last Kiss since the day I saw the first poster at the bus stop. And if you live in LA you know those suckers have been everywhere. They're very simple. Zach Braff and Paul Haggis. Do you need to know more? That will either interest you or it won't, so there's no need to go nuts with the dramatic poster art. I love Garden State. I love Crash. And the previews made me feel like this was a movie I needed to see.

So when my brother and sister team of Neighbors invited me to go with them to see it we were all very excited. They're both actors so we all had our own stake in the film from a creative standpoint, but we're also in our mid- to late- twenties and none of us are currently in relationships. This film was written for us.

I was mesmerized by this film. Paul Haggis has an amazing ability to see into the uncomfortable truth about people, and Zach Braff has the uncanny ability to combine a moment of heartbreak with a genuine laugh. I looked over at Boy Neighbor at one point and he had his sweater covering up his whole face except his eyes. We were watching a character make a horrible mistake at that moment.

The film is about relationships, but it didn't have the usual safe message such films cling to most of the time. The film never established that marriage and kids are the way. You don't have to do what society tells you. Marriage works for some people but it's not for everybody. I needed to see that. Thanks, Paul Haggis. I feel better about my life thanks to you.

Neighbors and I spent the whole drive home discussing love and marriage and kids and everything. And that's what films are supposed to do.

I only hope to be a fraction of that good at writing when I grow up. How come Walker, Texas Ranger wasn't a better show?

I got home, thinking I had to tell the world how great this movie was. Then I got an email from a married friend of mine saying, "Don't see Last Kiss. It sucked."

Go figure.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Teaching rant #2

*I do plan to turn this in. That is why I feel comfortable posting it here. My boss will see it soon enough.


I am not a new teacher. Before I lived in LA I taught for four years in rural North Carolina. I made it through the dreaded fifth year last year here at _________ High School and stayed on when almost a third of the teachers moved somewhere else to escape the violence and disorganization we experienced last year. I love my kids and I show up on time and prepared and with enough energy to carry through the day. I'm proud to say that my students stand out because they can write essays like nobody else's kids. They learn from me. I do my job.

But this year I find myself caring less and less. I was not happy to switch tracks and give up my summer, but I did it. Then I agreed to take on a class during what was left of my vacation, partially as a favor to the school so that you wouldn't have to use a string of subsitutes. We all know what that does to a class. Now I'm a travelling teacher. No problem. Better me than someone new.

Then we started signing in every morning in the office. If we're a couple of minutes late we get our pay docked. I didn't realize we were paid by the hour. If we are, shouldn't I get extra pay for staying late to grade papers? Or all the hours I work from home? I don't say this because I plan to be late. I'm almost never late for anything, but I do resent the feeling of Big Brother looking over my shoulder and expecting me to screw up.

Then we were told we couldn't go into the office. Fine, I rarely need to anyway. But when a teacher does need something from the office staff at this school they receive an extremely rude reception. Every time I have to ask one of the secretaries anything I am treaed as a burden, getting in the way of whatever it is they had to do to run the school. The last time I called the school to inform ________ I would be out sick and needed a sub since I'm not in the Subfinder system, she acted irritated by my existence and hung up on me. My crime? Asking her to do her job, and I did it very politely.

I can deal with this. I'm a teacher; I've been through worse. Being treated like a child is sort of expected. But I and at least 20 other teachers didn't get paid properly last month. You never need to doubt my commmitment to the kids, that's for certain. But I do not show up to school every day just for them. I am a professional and I do expect to be paid for my time, particularly since I gave up my vacation. Instead of giving thanks for the job I do and a promise to find out the source of the problem so that it can be corrected, you yelled at me in front of other teachers for having the audacity to want the money I already earned. I was not actually discussing the matter with you at the time. You overheard half a conversation and assumed you knew the rest.

I have never had a boss insult me that way and I did nothing to deserve it. I have been nothing but loyal, defending your methods to others when the subject comes up at lunch or around the building, even when I got no support or supplies or a budget for the yearbook.

Speaking of yearbook, I have requested many times and from many different sources that we get some equipment. I can make a yearbook on a shoestring budget, but I cannot make a yearbook on no budget. I have received absolutely nothing from you in the way of help. Every single piece of equipment I have I've had to beg, borrow or steal. I don't even have money to buy batteries for the camera that I had to beg from Jostens. On top of that students keep getting added to my class daily, thrown into a class they don't want to be in. Yearbook is not English. If the kids don't want to be there, there is nothing I can do with them.

I know the disrict has mandated that we keep taking kids, but it's destroying the control teachers have in their classrooms. I spent the last three weeks building up the rapport in my third period, working with a large group of gang members to get them to read and respect the rules of my class. Then last week the counselors threw in a student who is possibly one of the most obnoxious people I've ever met. He has no loyalty to me and has completely thrown off the rhythm of my class. I'm exhausted from dealing with him, and since I know I won't have a vacation until March I don't really feel like the exhaustion is ever going to end because all I see is more problems like this one.

Each of these problems is manageable. All of them together make this place almost intolerable. We are not respected here. Words mean nothing to us if nobody backs them up. In five years of teaching I have never thought of leaving the profession. This morning I started looking for jobs in other industries.

I'm writing this because I hope it doesn't come to that. I hope you will see what the attitude at this school has done to the teaching population here. This school does not run without us, yet we are slowly being driven away. It's difficult enough for new teachers to survive in a school where they are treated with respect. Why would they ever come back here?

I'm asking you to really explore the policies you have implimented this year. We are just like the kids in some respects. If you respect us we'll do anything for you. Right now we are not respected. Just like in the classroom, that will only lead to chaos and anger. And right now we are not happy.

Thank you for your time. I hope this hasn't fallen on deaf ears.


Emily Blake
B-Track English

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The good and the blowey

I admit, I thought I was going to like Jericho (CBS Wednesdays at 8) before I started watching it. I like the permise, nice and dark. A nuclear attack on the US leaves a small Kansas town isolated from the rest of the world. The plan is to never leave the town over the course of the series. It's got a great cast - Skeet Ulrich who I still think of as having Johnny Depp's face after David Spade pointed that out on SNL that one time, Beth Grant, Gerald McRaney, Ashley Scott.

I was engaged from minute one. These people all have individual problems on top of the big disaster they've got to learn to face together. There's a little adventure, a possiblity of romance, a giant mystery of just what the hell happened, and a good deal of general unrest and political underhandedness to wade through. The bad things about it were the fact that there's only one black resident and one Hispanic resident in the entire town, and the melodramatic rallying speech the mayor gave at the end of the pilot. I kept expecting Bill Pullman to show up. But overall I liked it, just as I thought I would. It's part of my new DVR lineup.

Shark (CBS Thursdays at 10), on the other hand, is not worth watching. It was the definition of mediocre. It's basicaly an hour-long James Woods showcase. His character is the ultimate lawyer stereotype until the client he got out of trouble murdered his wife. Then he continued to be the lawyer stereotype, but now he works for the prosecution. The only evidence to suggest the event actually effected him came in the form of sweatpants he wore around the house to seem like he was all broken up. He doesn't seem to wrestle with anything and his team is completely devoid of personality because he's sucking up all the acting energy in the room.

I was so bored I counted how many cliches I heard in one minute-long stretch of dialogue. Eight. This show blows.

Friday, September 22, 2006

This ain't no Evil Dead

Last night I went to the world premiere of Night Feeders. By world premiere, I actually mean I went with some friends to the apartment of the guy who got third billing in the movie and we all watched the video he rented from Blockbuster.

The guy in the movie isn't dumb enough to think it's his big break or that it's quality film. We made a lot of MST3K style jokes as we watched the film.

But as I watched it I found myself angry at the mistakes the script made. It's a film about four guys who go hunting together and get attacked by aliens who landed in a meteor and for some reason are afraid of light. If you can keep the light going they'll leave you alone until they decided not to and attack you regardless of the light. That made me think of Pitch Black, which is an amazing film done with a very low budget and the same premise. This movie did not even come close to being that clever.

The first half of the film couldn't decide who its protagonist is. Each of the four guys had some face time but none of them had any real back story. At one point the guy we think is the protagonist tells the guy who actually turns out to be the protagonist, "You couldn't hurt a fly. That's why I like you so much." Why not show the guy refusing to shoot a deer? That would be far more effective and make much more emotional impact and would make a lot of sense later when he has to shoot something, which, by the way, he didn't wrestle with at all. So I guess he can hurt a fly.

In act one we meet a girl and then she disappears until act three. Everybody in the room forgot she existed until she showed up again as an integral part of the story. I kept thinking how much better this would all be if they had added her back into the mix sooner and put her in real peril back when people were dropping right and left. Then we could have had more interaction between the protag and the girl instead of just forcing it into the end of the story. Protag, who's afraid to hurt things, would have had to wrestle with his humanity to save the girl he's falling in love with, reinforcing or questioning what it is that makes us human as he fights things that are most definitely not human. That's a damn horror movie.

This film did take one interesting chance. The guy who survives and gets the girl is not your usual plucky hero. But since they didn't set him up as the protag initially I wasn't really rooting for him.

Then again, maybe a lot of that was in the script. Third-billing guy had half his lines cut. Maybe the back story was in those missing lines. But I doubt it.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Paging Mr. Smith

Last night I watched Smith (CBS Tuesdays at 10). Ray Liota leads a team of expert thieves to commit various heists as they juggle daily events in their complicated lives while a pair of detectives tries to track them down. Virginia Madsen plays his wife. Valerie Rae Miller and Shohreh Aghdashloo both play important supporting roles. But the surprise came when I realized that hot British dude was Johnny Lee Miller. Where the hell has he been?

God I hope this show doesn't get cancelled.

The blond surfer guy slept with a bridesmaid and wore her girlie bathrobe around the apartment after she went to work while he watched a yoga tape. In a separate scene he cooly put together a rifle and sniped two guys on a beach for trying to intimidate him. The leader of the crew has a wife and kids and a boring day job. The bitchy, seemingly coldhearted chick lets go a woman who could identify her at the scene of a crime. All characters with surprising quirks, not cliches.

Although it will probably have the heist-of-the-week format to keep it on par with the CBS mantra, the show focuses much more on the personal lives of the thieves. Bad guys as protagonists? Unexpected character quirks? Lots of action and sex fit for network standrds and practices? I'm there.

My only reservation is the death in the pilot. The guy who died was the least developed, least interesting, least convenient person in the crew. There would have been more conflict with him in the mix. Of course, these are still people in a heist crew who have to hold down day jobs and real lives, so there should be enough conflict left to go around.

This is the exact kind of show I want to write. I'm sure John Wells reads my blog, right? Hire me, dude.

Seriously people. Check this show out. It's gonna be good. If it doesn't get cancelled.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Good TV about good TV

So much has already been said about Studio 60 that I'll keep my own impressions simple. I like it. The dialogue flows naturally and the characters all feel real. I've never been a big fan of Amanda Peet, but she downright sparkled in that pilot. The cast in general is fantastic, and it's good to see Sarah Paulson rising through the ranks of TV roles. And I have never loved Matthew Perry more.

You can always tell a Sorkin/Schlamme show. I felt like I was watching Sports Night if the sportscasters moved into The West Wing. But it still had its own point of view:TV needs to take more risks. Let's hope Studio 60 keeps that implied promise.

Alex Epstein pointed out that they never actually show the sketch that started the whole controversy, but I'm not sure I need to see it. After all the hype, anything they do would be a let down.

I added it to my DVR schedule right after the teaser. Good stuff. But if you've been reading anything lately, you already knew that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Get ready for some scathing

This week NBC is rolling out its new stuff. I went to bed early last night in an effort to fully recover from this weekend so I'll have to catch Studio 60 tonight, but I did watch The Class. At least, part of it. It made me so unhappy that I turned it off fifteen minutes in, which was fourteen minutes longer than it should have been on my television. I wanted to projectile vomit onto the screen and kick my foot through my television. It was that bad.

There was one mildly amusing joke about the fact that The Eagles is both a sports team and a rock band. Nothing else anybody said the entire episode was even remotely funny.

But what really bothered me about this show was the complete lack of realism. I do not believe any person in America would behave the way these people do. Who goes to a third grade reunion in the first place? The premise is just bad. And when the main guy's adored fiance broke up with him in earshot of everybody at the lamest party ever, he waited patiently for her to finish yelling at him, then for a girl at the party to give a big speech about herself before he even opened his mouth to defend himself. That just doesn't make sense. And the professional photographer was developing film in a room with shining florescent lights. What's her photo collection called? "Rhapsody in white, streaky lights?" Bitch, please.

My brain rejected everything about this show because there is no realism here. It's also filled with cliches like the school heartthrob turning out to be gay and his girlfriend finding out by discovering him with another dude on prom night. By the time that finally came out I'd realized it for two miutes. So the show is filled with cliches but is in no way believable. That's a horrible combination.

Don't watch this show unless you want to get in touch with your sense of rage. How did this even make it to air? Fuck these people and their stupid, unrealistic problems.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why work when you can play?

When I first got to LA a little over a year ago I only knew one person who lived here. I had no social life so I wrote all the time and finished projects or abandoned them halfway through completion, but I was working all the time.

Flash forward a year and I'm a busy little socialite. I woke up Saturday morning thinking I'd go to the gym then come home and write before going out dancing with girlfriends. I was already dressed in my best breathable spandexy type fabric when my neighbor knocked on my door to see if I wanted to go to the beach. I hemmed and hawed and succumbed. I live twenty minutes from the beach and I've only been there three times since I moved to LA. That's not right.

We stayed at the beach a while chatting and gawking at the hot lifeguard with the skinny legs, then joined her brother for lunch at Chili's. Then we decided to see The Last Kiss, but couldn't find a theater showing it within the hour despite driving past three or four on the way home. I really want to see that movie. I feel like I need to see that movie. Maybe some night this week.

I got home just in time to get ready to go out. My girlfriends and I went out to a club on Hollywood where we met people my girl invited back to her place where we danced around and went nuts until 8 a.m. at which point I collapsed in a heap. I woke up at 2 to go home with a complete plan of going to the gym and writing at least five pages. Instead I stared into space for an hour, screwed around on Myspace and washed some dishes. And believe me, the dish thing was important. I'm kind of disgusting and the food particles in my kitchen were forming a plot to seek apartment domination. But cleaning still didn't get me any pages written.

I was going to try to write at least a page or two before going to bed, but a friend called and we stayed on the phone for two hours. That's some damn good conversation. But it means I have to stop being lazy at work and get some pages done while I'm supposed to be teaching, or maybe cut back on my TV watching in the evenings. I'm sure as hell not giving up social time.

I used to lament the fact that nobody was around to go out with me on the weekends. Now my social life has begun to dominate my existence. I love LA.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Emily the potential stalker

Those of you who read my blog regulary - all four of you - know how much I love Joss Whedon. Screw my parents - he's my hero. Just kidding, Mom. But not really. No, I am. Or not.

Seriously. If I had to choose between life-altering sex with Jensen Ackles or lunch at Pink's Hot Dogs with Joss, I'd probably go with the sex, but I'd have to really think about it.

That's not true. I'd go to Pink's. I think. Hell, it's my dream. I get both.

A friend of mine walks rich people's dogs and cleans up their poop. The dogs' poop, not the rich people's. (That's right, dude, I'm calling you out.) So yesterday he's walking a certain starlett's pooch when my hero jogs by, stops and chats for a second about the damn dog. Did my friend mention me? Did he bust out a sharpie and a season of Buffy and get an autograph? No. He didn't have those things on him, but that's irrelevant. He could have found a way.

Instead, he mentioned how much he liked the X-Men comic and waited for the dog to finish crapping. And Joss went on with his run.

The X-Men comic? I mean, I love the comic too, but seriously. After all the episodes of Buffy and Angel and Firefly I made that guy sit through? I'm wearing a Serenity hat at this very moment.

So another friend of mine said that now that I know where and when Joss jogs I should stand around on the corner and wait for him with my script in my hand until he comes by. Yeah. Because that would win him over.

I'm pretty sure she was kidding. At least, I hope she was. But I can see some people in this town doing that. Desperation over years of no success could lead anyone to go crazy, and according to her it doesn't actually count as stalking since I wouldn't actually be standing outside his house.

I can see it in my head. Crazy blonde girl stands screaming on the street corner. "I love you, Joss Whedon! Here's a script! Read it! It's my proposal for the Spike movie! Spike and Illyria hire the crew of Serenity to go to some crazy planet ruled by Roseanne where they fight through Andy's toys to find an ancient relic that will destroy the new Alien/Ripley hybrid monster!" As the men in white shove me into a big truck.

Come to think of it, that would be a freaking awesome movie.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

When it's too late

Have you seen The Wire? I hadn't seen it until this weekend, but considering that everybody said it was so freaking awesome, I decided to give it a shot. And it's freaking awesome.

It's largely about the crappy state of the public schools in Baltimore and how it breeds kids destined for a violent end. It's about my kids, too.

We're getting ready to read The Pearl in my sophomore class, so I hosted a discussion today about the definition of Evil. The kids had to define it in groups and then we talked about what they came up with. Most of them agreed that Evil exists when you know what you're doing is wrong.

Then I asked them about the difference between right and wrong and here is what I learned:

One of my students, "Fernando," once held a gun to the head of one of my other students, "Michael," just for fun. He said it was funny, watching Michael freak out and plead for his life. When I asked him why, he couldn't answer. Just that he enjoyed it. Finally one of my college-bound students piped up with the word "power." Fernando reluctantly nodded. I asked Michael how he liked the gun to his head and he said he was afraid, but that he knew Fernando wouldn't pull the trigger.

Fernando said it's okay to kill somebody if they talk shit about you and don't have the gonads to back it up. He also said he'd kill a stranger for a million dollars. Seven students in the room agreed with him, and they couldn't see how that was wrong. Yet not one of them said they'd do the same if the person was someone they knew. That would be immoral.

"Why don't you kill somebody right now?" I asked. Because nobody's pissing me off, Fernando told me. He's frequently beaten people to bloody pulps in the name of his gang. I didn't ask which one he was in. I don't want to know.

Another student described how much fun it was to watch someone squirming on the ground in a puddle of their own blood.

Then they called each other "gay" and made jokes about each other's moms. They got excited about an assignment I gave them and got to work when I nagged them. They took notes when I defined literary terms. They laughed at my stupid jokes and asked with hopeful smiles if I was coming to the football game Friday.

Then they go out on the weekend and play with hand cannons.

The funny thing is, I'm not afraid of them in the least. I'd honestly feel completely safe walking through the neighborhood where my kids live because I know they'd protect me. I just wish I could protect them from themselves.


I'm sleepy. Is anybody else sleepy? Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper is starting lose its effect. I'm sleepy because my Neighbor bought Lost season two on DVD and last night I stayed too long to watch the finale. Damn, that show is good.

The best part was watching my adorable Neighbor get excited about the plot twists. He hadn't seen the season at all, so I've been able to watch him as he learns about each new development, his eyes flying wide open to match his mouth as he looks over at me for confirmation of the emotions he's feeling. I just smile, because I knew it was coming.

He went from thinking Mr. Eko was the baddest ass in all of badass land to a feeling of utter despair to discover Eko's actually kind of looney. From rooting for Michael to wanting to kick Michael's ass. From loving Charlie to hating Charlie back to loving Charlie again. And I learned that Neighbor is a hopeless romantic as Desmond's story unfolded. All this took me months to go through. Neighbor rode the emotional roller coaster over a few nights.

He doesn't have TV at all, but I have the whole setup: DVR, HBO, the works. When October 4 hits and Lost comes back on he'll be over every Wednesday, beers and burritos in hand, waiting in anticipation for the hour to start. We might even watch commericals. And this time we'll enjoy the shocking twists together.

And to think, a month ago I barely spoke to Neighbor. I love how good stories bring people together. I want to be responsible for that.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Pilot Season at Fox

I try to watch all the pilots. With the zillion channels out there these days it's impossible to catch every single one, but I at least record the major networks when they pull out their new material so that I can get a head-start on anything specworthy. It's a lot easier to write a spec if you've seen every episode. So as a public service to the casual TV watchers out there, I thought I'd share my valuable opinion of the new shows that have aired in the past week or so. You can thank me for my great wisdom later.

First up: Fox

Standoff (Tuesdays at 8): I adore Ron Livingston and I love Gina Torres so maybe I'm biased, but I enjoyed the show. Two hostage negotiators try to juggle the danger of their job with the affair the whole department knows they're having. There were some kinks in the first episode - a little contrived dialogue here and there and an eerily self-aware hostage taker - but overall the show's got room to grow. They're definitely taking a risk in getting their two leads together at the beginning, but maybe they're banking on the drama of a work relationship mixed with hostage crises to balance out the boring situation that is TV coupledom. It's not great, but it's got promise as long as the writers can come up with new ways for people to take hostages every week.

Vanished (Mondays at 9): A politician's schoolteacher wife is kidnapped from some awards ceremony to honor her awesomeness. It's a conspiracy that will unfold one episode at a time as the really generic white male cop helps the really generic politician with the exact same haircut find out what happened to his wife, despite the nosy agressive reporter who will stop at nothing to get the story no matter who she hurts. Oh yeah, they went there. Just once can we have a reporter who isn't a bloodthirsty, slutty bitch? The mystery isn't really that interesting and the characters are all so predictable. I was calling out plot points minutes before they happened. Boring, contrived crap.

Justice (Wednesdays at 9): Good thing In Justice got cancelled or this could have been messy. Victor Garber plays Jack Bristow as a lawyer. He uses the media and a vast awareness of public opinion to try his cases with the help of his morally questionable team of top-notch attorneys who are all very pretty and much more friendly than he is. Lots of potential here to explore human perception of right and wrong as the lawyers justify more and more their ethically objectionable behavior. Expect good themes to develop here. At the end of every episode they show you how the crime actually unfolded so you can see who was telling the truth, but I'm not so sure I like that, especially since so far they only give you two options. I hope they get a little more creative in the future, but overall I'm pleased. It's Tivo worthy.

'Till Death (Thursdays at 8): Maybe I'd find this show funnier if I were married and hated it.
It's all about how marriage is great in the beginning but will inevitably turn you into a bitter, fat, more boring copy of the Barones. These guys' protrayal of teachers is completely unrealistic, but that's a personal issue for me. I'm not a comedy writer by any means, but I saw several opportunities to be a little less predictable and get a better joke just bypassed for the predictable sitcom relationships we've seen done better somewhere else. Everybody just acted like they were reading from a script. I didn't believe one word that came out of anybody's mouth. And if marriage turns Eddie Kaye Thomas into Brad Garrett, I'm not interested.

Happy Hour (Thursday at 8:30): A good idea poorly executed. A guy's girlfriend breaks up with him, so he moves upstairs to live with the asshat bachelor guy who just lost his roomate to an overbearing girlfriend. Every day at 4 asshat gets drunk with friends, hence the title. The asshat and his female pal Amanda are well-written and the chick, played by Beth Lacke, is dynamite with her lines, but the protagonist is not working for me and some of the jokes don't make sense. They must have been hilarious on paper, but it's like nobody noticed they don't work on screen. I did genuinely chuckle at a few jokes, but they all came from Amanda. I'm not going to record it, but if I catch it I might not change the channel.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Premature Paniculation

I sent out my House script to three people who will pass them onto representation this week. I'm proud of the script, despite all my insecurities, and I'm optimistic that it will get me a nibble.

Or at least I was, until I watched Tuesday night's season premiere.

My script opens with a guy in a wheelchair looking for his pills. It turns out it's his wife who gets sick and might end up paralyzed. I researched the crap out of that puppy for a week before I even started writing and I'm banking a lot of my future on it.

The description of Tuesday night's episode read "Woman finds herself paralyzed after doing yoga". The episode opened with a guy looking around at people talking to him while he fails to respond. So I'm watching and I'm watching and not really thinking too much until he pulls forward in his wheelchair. Then I think about the episode description and realize that this is a misdirection and the wife is the one who'll get sick, and oh god, she gets paralyzed from doing yoga in a minute and... Oh god.

I hit pause and let fly a string of cusswords my neighbors will never forget. In fact, you might have heard my various "fucks" lilting down the street if you were anywhere near K-Town. I ran outside my apartment onto the porch and slammed the door. Then I jumped up and down and cussed a few more times and stomped my feet. Then I went back inside, poured myself a beer and sighed and hit play.

Then the guy dropped himself in the pool. The yoga lady was not his wife. This episode was not like mine at all except for the wheelchair which is not even that big a piece of the plot.

I'm pretty sure I learned something from that.

Zen and power

The school had another power outage yesterday. That ended up being kind of cool, actually, because I turned it into a lesson about power. What is power? Who has it? How do you take it? I put them in groups and asked each group to come up with a definition. One group simply drew a Swastika. Smart. That's power on a whole lot of levels.

We're going to read some related stories today and turn it into a discussion about Nazis and the power the people gave Hitler, eventually leading us to Elie Weisel's Night. Sometimes the most unexpected events lead to the best lesson plans as long as you don't freak out.

I kind of like that my school is an adventure every day. You never know when something exciting is going to happen, so you have to be able to go with the flow. Teachers who can't handle surprises don't last long. Still, I am a little more zen than most teachers. Most teachers do a lot of bitching about stuff that just doesn't matter in the long run. I'm big on picking my battles. In the end I have more power that way because I'm so well respected that I get what I want when I do put my foot down. Maybe power is knowing when to keep your mouth shut.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The great fragile ego

One of my Actor friends just got an agent and a manager, largely based on his incredibly awesome headshots. I wish we could do that. Hottest writer gets the job.

Dear god, could you imagine the poor sap who'd have to look through those pictures?

Anyway, Actor wants to pass one of my scripts to his Manager to see if he's interested in representing me. Manager has a reputation for being a little slow to return calls, but has great contacts and does get his clients work on a regular basis. He's a definite step up from the nonexistent manager I currently have. I'm gonna give him my script for an episode of House, then follow it up with Supernatural if he wants to see more.

So here comes the insecurity. Up to now I've just shown my work to writer friends who've all said it's good and offered a minor suggestion here and there. I passed a feature script to a Reader friend of mine and it got pretty universally panned, but this is different. This is TV and I'm good at TV. I think. And it's not like there won't be other opportunities, it's just that this is a pretty good one.

But then the scientist in my throat pipes up and says, "But what if you're not? What if you really suck and all those people are just being nice to you?"

I think about American Idol.
Think of all those people who are completely convinced they can sing. They come in and they give it their all, completely convinced that they are going to blow the judges away and get a standing ovation from the camera crew just for pumping out a note or two. They all have the same look on their faces when Simon tells them how much they deserve to die for putting him through all that caterwauling.

I'm terrified that I'm one of those people. Obviously there's enough of me that doesn't believe that or I'd never have moved to LA, but I've been here a year now and I've had a few chances to push my scripts and I've chickened out because I was afraid I'd have to face the Simon Cowells of the writing world. As long as nobody reads the script, you can't find out how bad it is, right?

Then I say, screw off, tiny voice.
I'm awesome. I mean, just the other day like a whole 60 people read my blog. They must think I have something to say. Either that or they're checking to see if I've posted naked pictures. Keep checking; they're currently in development hell.

The actors I know all say you have to have confidence. You have to walk in the room and own it and never doubt your ability. That's why they're actors I guess. That's also probably why I like actors so much - they have egos of titanium.

But then I wonder if a little humility isn't a good thing. I knew this guy once - we'll call him "Elton" because that was his name. Elton was in a writer's workshop class with me and the first day we were asked to write down our favorite writer (J.D. Salinger, thank you very much) and Elton put down himself. HIMSELF. And let me tell you people, he was terrible. He refused to take any criticism at all to the point where the prof eventually refused to let us critique any more of his work.

I definitely don't wanna be that dude. He was really fat.

I guess I just have to give this guy my script and deal with the consequences. I could be the Clay Aiken of TV writing, except loved a little less by old ladies. And it's not the end of the world if he doesn't like it. I mean, he's not Simon Cowell or anything.

Saturday, September 02, 2006