Friday, July 24, 2009

TALA Master Class - Day 3

In the evening of Day 2 we had a show & tell and pizza & beer party on Zelda’s back patio. We projected the movies on a large screen. It was really cool to see everyone else's work. We have a very talented group.Comedians. Serious filmmakers. TV guys. The works. Three of the Israelis have worked on the TV show "Screenz" which is being adapted for HBO right now. Many of the others have worked on everything from Sesame St. to their version of The Daily Show and it's making me feel pretty lame. Most everyone on the trip is still very much 'emerging'. They're really working. It's just a much smaller market perhaps.

But as the evening wore on, we all faded quickly. They don’t give us a moment’s rest. From the second we wake, we rush to breakfast. Rush to the classes. Rush to lunch, on and on. We need a moment to regroup. We’re not firing on all thrusters and we’ve started losing capacity to absorb as well as perform.


Jesus, they're running us ragged.Doesn't help that I just got another 4-1/2 hours of sleep last night. Spent too much time blogging.

Today is the first "open day. Ruth the TALA director is giving the introduction to the person in charge of "HOT" cable TV. (It's like their HBO. Similar in that the shows are better - different in that in the US cable pays worse) She's making a metaphor on hot and I can tell you with the heat outside and the walk over this morning it IS hot. (not to mention the Israeli ladies, BTW)

Now the VP at Hot is giving a little intro. And thank the heavens it was VERY short.

We're in a big auditorium today and there is construction going on the basement that sounds like Alberect and the Niebelungen smithing the Ring of Power. (Ah, yes, how many blogs have arcane Wagnerian references? That's why you read it isn't it?)

Darren is giving the first talk of the day.

Pithy quote: "Don't write a show because you think it'll become a hit. It just comes off as inauthentic"

He's talking about his shows that tap into the Zeitgeist - a la "Sex and The City". He's actually talking now about Beverly Hills 90210. Never watched it.

Sorry. To me it never felt very real. At the same time there was "The Breakfast Club" in features which I did actually love. It was an archetypal drama of the high school 80s experience, but it actually felt pretty honest despite the artifice of the concept. Context is everything. Darren just reminded us that at the time "Happy Days" was the most real TV high school show. So I suppose 90210 was an advancement - even though today when I watch that melodrama, it feels completely plastic. We watched the opening 10 minutes yesterday and people were

chuckling the whole way through. The giggles partially from the hair cuts and clothes, but also because it just looked and sounded phony. Again, this isn't a diss, it's just amazing how much things have changed.

"Network television is WAY behind the culture"

Standards and Practices makes it that way. Those are the guys that said Ricky and Lucy had to sleep in separate beds on "I Love Lucy". Yet, "Audiences accept this fake world."-DS

But why do they? That's a really good question. When there were only 3 networks it was clear - there no other options. That's just what TV was, but now that we have can people even watch a lesser version of reality?

On the other hand, as Darren also pointed out, the pendulum has swung too far. While HBO did amazing things from Sex & The City to Six Feet Under in terms of creating a level of reality for viewers, some people (other networks who were jealous) thought they were just pushing the envelope. To compete with that, Showtime and FX especially decided to push the envelope further to try to be all edgy like HBO. What we have now though is too many years of people trying to top each other, so you can tune in to Nip/Tuck and see a woman who was refused a mastectomy to protest the decision by slicing off her breast with a

freakin' electric turkey carving knife in the lobby of a plastic surgeon's office. This sick wom

an (and those writers) splatter the entire group of people in that waiting room with blood from the improv surgery, but we don't see a nipple, so it made it past the censors. Ah, the lovely ole puritanical US of A.

Point is, that stuff is no longer real. It's sensationalist and has become as unreal as Lucy and Ricky.

So where do we turn? Perhaps, the new smart basic cable channels like AMC who gave us Mad Men, but there isn't too much of that. Even TNT throws us a Jack

swigging, married man fucking (and it's GRAPHIC in that pilot) renegade detective in one Holly Hunter on "Saving Grace".

Back to 90210, Darren's telling us when he was asked to write it, he'd already written a few screenplays and he was still in his 20s. (Bastard!)Sabrina just read this over my shoulder and reminded me "It's a marathon, not a race." Then I replied that the metaphor is a false premise. It's not a race of any kind. There is no end point. Rather it's like flying. If I don't have an agent, manager, or anyone workin' for me, I can't get a gig. I'm grounded. If I get a gig - even sell a show - but get no respect from the network and get bulldozed by an antagonistic showrunner, what do I have? I have a single engine Cessna 172 - a tin can with a lawnmower for an engine, flying at 6,000 ft. with horrible turbulence. It's gonna be a lousy ride.Harrowing probably. I'll get there slowly. I can't perform the way I want to. It's just hard to get anything done when you're a nobody. I want to work. And do good work. I'd love to fly a Lear Jet. Or even a 737. And I want to keep flying untilI can't anymore. Because I love to fly. It gives me joy and fulfills a need for all my passengers. I don't want just arrive at some pot of gold at the end of the

marathon. The metaphor could go on, but it's not worth it at this hour.

Back to our story:

The point of his age (from Darren's perspective) is that at 27, he was still in touch with what it was to be in high school.

Apparently though, affiliates across the country were so offended at the realism RE: issues tackled that they wanted to drop 90210. The episode in question? Brenda has sex with her boyfriend at the prom. It was so bad a reaction that Darren was forced to write an episode in the second season where she had to regret the incident and repent. Thanks network TV!

...He just showed the sleepover, date rape/confession scene. It seems melodramatic today, and honestly I think I would have found it so back then. (Call me precocious.) I don't doubt it was groundbreaking in terms of subject matter, but that stuff has never been my thing and in my mind, Darren was still operating within the Aaron Spelling universe. Remember when 90201 came out, though Darren created the show, he was still only a co-producer on it the first year. He designed the plane, but he was only the 2nd asst. pilot. I'm surprised he was even allowed in the editing room.There were 4 levels of producer above him.

...We're about to start up Melrose Place. Another show I never watched. It was on in college and I didn't have a TV, but my old college girlfriend, Lucy, who I thought was way smarter than me, watched it religiously. She knew it was trashy TV, but it was a guilty pleasure which she LOVED and used as a relaxation technique. She could laugh and gossip about the absurd soap opera of it all. No men watched this one.

Darren's explanation as to why women loved it? Women were in the power positions in the show. That and no one was married and they had lots of sexual partners. And there was a big fantasy element to the show. Almost a little like what a romance novel provides perhaps. I never watched more than a few minutes of it. Hell I never watched TV in college and only had a TV for '94-'95 while I was in grad school. My dad made me take the TV (it was my grandma's and she'd just died. I think he just didn't want it in the house, so agreed to schlep it to Chicago).I used it as a coffee table the first 2 months 'til he came out

to visit and wanted to watch a football game. We turned it on and it didn't get any stations, so he ran out to the nearest Radio Shack and got me some rabbit ears so he could watch the game.After that, I got addicted to the Simpsons for the rest of the year. Like, I'd literally rush back to my apartment to watch reruns at 6pm. Not cool. OK the show was great then, but still, it WAS an addiction. On the other hand, I learned a lesson. You can make great stuff on TV. And all I knew of the Simpsons at that point was the stupid Bart "Cowabunga" T-Shirts. I had no idea it was brilliant and witty satire.

I think that was the first time I was really excited about TV since the MASH, Star Trek and The Muppet Show. (how's that for eccentric tastes, though somehow it makes perfect sense to me).

Next Darren talked about "We Need Girlfriends". This is a web show put together by 3 nobodies in Queens.(watch it here) They got almost half a million hits no a no budget thing the threw up on You tube. It was cute. A few real laughs. Some rough moments. Shot down and dirty.Uneven acting, but real in a certain way. Certainly unvarnished.

CBS liked it so much they bought it.And attached Darren as a showrunner. They fired the actors, and asked the writers to totally rewrite things so they fit the network model. But CBS didn't like the results.Darren's now trying to revamp it again this time in a multi-camera format at CBS' request.Sounds like such a bad idea.

Only halfway done with this blog, but I must go to sleep. Up past 3AM again.

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