Friday, May 21, 2010


There’s something odd about ABC’s fall television schedule. At a glance, it seems that very little is new. And, in terms of comedy, that is especially true. One sitcom. That’s it. Finally a show to fill the “Hank” slot used for the 2009-2010 to erode the freshness of ABC’s other comedies.

The new show is called Better Together (Wednesdays, 8:30-9:00), starring that mom from That ’70s Show and two daughters who seem indistinguishable. Lack of distinction is the major problem with the preview I watched. There’s the new beau who is sitcom-cliché dimwitted, the bantering parents and three characters (the sisters and the perennial other boyfriend) who share the straight role. Three normal roles? That kind of blandness leads to stunt guest star appearances in Wacko of the Week parts. There’s nothing wrong with this show. It appears that it would provide harmless background noise while I randomly fill in my Sudoku puzzle (15, 0, 137,…) or roll pennies for my New Laptop Fund. It may even stick around for the season à la Accidentally…On Purpose, but let’s hope ABC has learned from Hank and has a midseason sitcom in development (better than that Romantically Challenged). Of course, I think picking up The New Adventures of Old Christine would make Wednesdays seamlessly funny on ABC. It’s better than Better Together.

There are other new shows on ABC, hour long fare with bland titles like Body of Proof and No Ordinary Family and, yuck, Secret Millionaire.

Detroit 1-8-7 at least has an attention-getting name. Poor Detroit. The city may be The Motor City, the home of Motown and the 11-time Stanley Cup Champion Red Wings, but as the main star of this program, its TV glory comes as the Murder Capital. If I were in the mayor’s office, I would be in a (murderous) rage. Sure, you can have crime shows in Vegas and Miami and no one is going to change their travel itinerary. Not the same for Detroit (if it was on anyone’s travel list in the first place).

I can’t get a read for the show based on the preview. To be sure, the police investigators do not stand out. There are a couple points where a suspect and an officer seem to talk to the camera. Not sure if that’s a regular part of the show, but it would make it stand out from all the other cop dramas. The show’s success will depend on the writing and whether it can hook viewers early on with compelling cases. Its spot in the ABC lineup isn’t going to help. Grittier than Monday night’s Castle, I don’t see Dancing with the Stars fans automatically staying tuned Tuesdays at 10 for a look at the back alleys of Detroit.

The preview for Body of Proof (Fridays, 9-10) has what Detroit 1-8-7 appears to lack: a clear star. Dana Delany hasn’t had a great, chew-the-scenery role since she leapt off the screen as Colleen McMurphy in China Beach. The fact she’s getting this lead role twenty years later shows that others know that Delany can be more than a crazy, underutilized Desperate neighbor. As a coroner who gets involved in solving crime, she is a commanding presence. This is not my kind of show, but I might tune in. Delany is an actress who can convey so much inner turmoil through her eyes and here she plays a hard-nosed surgeon thrust in a career/life change. I’m rooting for her. Jeri Ryan in the supporting cast may also help draw viewers, but Ryan only has one line in the preview. This is deservedly the long overdue Dana Delany Show. Too bad it’s on Fridays. It would fit better in the post DWTS spot on Tuesday nights.

No Ordinary Family (Tuesdays, 8-9) fills the Heroes void, complete with Michael Chiklis going through a series of watch-the-cheerleader-not-die stunts. Been there. Still, the show has a waiting audience (just as Heroes did early on before plot twists lost its viewers). Chiklis looks like a live-action version of the dad in “The Incredibles”, not a draw for me. I won’t be watching, but there are a lot of Lost people looking for a place to go.

Playing against the feel good School Pride on NBC is Secret Millionaire (Fridays, 8-9), a show where rich people experience life on the poorer side of the tracks and give some of their money to those most deserving. Value judgments on people in poverty. Ick. But I’m supposed to feel warm and fuzzy over this “unforgettable” show. It’s very Extreme Makeover and a near clone of whatever that other show was this season—gee, forgettable—about the bosses who pretended to be peons in their own empires. I have a feeling that this show will draw more viewers than School Pride. Both are manipulative entertainment, but if I had to root for one, I’d go with the cheerleaders who need pompoms.

There’s nothing that screams Must-See and several clear passes among ABC’s new slate. If anything, I’m hoping Dana Delany’s Body of Proof finds whatever audience is out there on Fridays. But then again, I’ve seen other ABC shows like Ugly Betty and Men in Trees rot on that cursed evening. I’ve also seen how belated moves to a new night fail to pull in viewers once the opportunity for initial buzz is lost. Here’s to history not repeating itself…and Body of Proof being as good as its promise.

Monday, May 17, 2010


This is a favorite time of year for me. I have always been captivated by TV. As a youngster, I looked forward to the weekly Nielsen ratings; I studied how shows fared from week to week and against competing shows on other networks. For the struggling shows that I cared about, I considered other places on the network schedule where the program might have a better chance. I also brainstormed ways to promote these series and critiqued not only quality of the latest episodes but the effectiveness (and frequency) of the promotional trailers for the next airing.

Mid-May is when I feel a sense of freedom. Shows end their season (or their entire run). I have more time to step away from the television set during the long summer of reruns and substandard fare that the networks dump under the guise of a new “summer season” (as ABC is currently promoting it). This year I watched ten hours of TV per week, not counting the evening news. During summer, I’ll be down to about four. That means more evening beach walks with the dogs and more time to write.

This is also the time when the networks release their fall schedules and air previews for new series. I enjoy looking over how the timeslots are filled, eyeing what each show is up against. And based on what’s available in print and in the form of promos, it’s my chance to speculate before Nielsen provides the cold, hard evidence. I get to think like a television programmer and contemplate what shows have hit potential and which ones will be the first to be unceremoniously axed and quickly forgotten by all but the diehard TV trivia fanatics. (Supertrain, anyone?)

NBC has released its fall lineup and what follows is my take on its new sitcoms, dramedies and reality shows after watching extended previews online.

Ø Outsourced—30-minute sitcom, airing Thursdays at 9:30 after The Office. The main character is a twentysomething white guy looking to climb the corporate ladder. He seems likable in the same vein as John Krasinski on the lead-in show or Ryan Reynolds in “The Proposal”. He works for a company that sells novelty products (e.g., fake vomit; cheese head apparel) by phone and the phone center has been relocated to India. So here we have the makings for funny: guy as fish out of water, thrust in a foreign culture. Unfortunately, the jokes about Sikh turbans and the danger of diarrhea from eating daal are cringe inducing. Watching a chubby Indian become Westernized as he dances and sings to the Pussycat Dolls’ “Don’tcha” should have prompted someone from the network to exclaim, “Don’t!” Even if the writing frees itself from the initially offensive stereotypes and cultural mockery (one character’s name, Manmeet, is fodder for some desperate chuckles), I don’t think America is ready to watch a sitcom set in India on a weekly basis. I wonder if the creators and the network were partly inspired by the success of Little Mosque on the Prairie in Canada. “Slumdog Millionaire” no doubt also played a part in the conversation during the development stage. This is a small step forward in that a network is daring to give a show set in India a prime time spot. Putting the show on after The Office may help but the sitcom is still a huge gamble and, based on the preview, I predict the show will be one of the first to be cancelled.

Ø Love Bites—One-hour dramedy anthology, airing Thursdays at 10:00 after Outsourced. I want to like this show. It has a good pedigree, coming from the producers of “Love Actually” and Bridget Jones’s Diary” and Sex and the City writer Cindy Chupack. I am also excited that it stars Ugly Betty’s Becki Newton. Did I say I want to like this show? Really, I do. The vibe feels buzz worthy, but the material has been done before on shows like, ahem, Sex and the City. There’s the man who competes with a state-of-the-art vibrator. And the two good looking men at the bar aren’t checking out the two hot single women; they’re checking out each other. Add to that a plotline about the faux virgin and it feels like an onslaught of dating mishap retreads. I’m hoping this show finds its legs. It’s not going to have any help coming from its lead-in. Still, the quick demise of Outsourced may not come soon enough to enable this show to generate some heat.

Ø Perfect Couples—30-minute sitcom, saved as a midseason replacement. Hands down, the worst show of the lot. Three couples whom I couldn’t distinguish in the preview. The bromance between two of the male leads was promoted more than any other relationship. The women do not stand out at all. If there is a woman on the writing staff, her voice isn’t coming through. Strange since the show, by its very nature, will attract a larger female demographic. Watching the preview, it felt like the actors were trying too hard and coming off as grating instead of intriguing. This show is destined for a short life.

Ø Friends with Benefits—30-minute sitcom, slated for midseason. This is another show I want to like. The fact it comes from the makers of “(500) Days of Summer”gives me hope. The dating scenarios seem to come from the Seinfeld/Sex in the City vault, especially the goodnight kiss from the Face Licker—perhaps a welcome gesture from Fido, but not from your date. Still, the main couple (er, very friendly friends) come across as likable, and even more appealing is the male buddy who believes there has to be more than just sex. Yes, he’s a slightly altered version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in “(500) Days”, but it’s the type of male character we rarely see in a TV world of Barneys (How I Met Your Mother) and Charlies (Two and a Half Men). Not sure about the title, as I don’t know how long that initial premise will last. (Reminds me of the misnamed Cougar Town, named to generate initial media attention but failing to fit with any long-term story arc.) Programmers keep trying to come up with the next Friends or the next SITC. Maybe, just maybe, this will be it.

Ø The Paul Reiser Show—Presumably a 30-minute sitcom, slated for midseason.
I suspect Paul Reiser is an acquired taste. Lovable to some; an annoying schmuck to
others. I like Reiser. And I loved Mad about You. (Of course, much of that is attributable to the chemistry between Reiser and the remarkable Helen Hunt. Oh, Helen, where art thou?!) Paul Reiser and this show remind me of Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm. For me, that’s a good thing; for others…dunno. It’s the only preview that had a moment where I laughed out loud. I see potential for creating lovably off-center characters around Reiser. Still, it makes me wonder why NBC is holding off until midseason. Feels like the network is saying, “Meh.” Its timeslot will be critical. The show will be older skewing, not necessarily what the network wants as it tries to maximize ad revenue. I think the show will have a small, loyal following. Depending how NBC promotes it, the show could build momentum. I’d like it to stick around awhile, especially to see how the supporting cast develops.

Ø School Pride—One-hour reality show, airing Fridays at 8:00. This is my V8 moment. Bang on forehead,…I could’ve had a reality show! Ten years ago, I remember sitting on the sofa, watching Trading Spaces with a friend. “Why don’t they do this with classrooms?” I grumbled. “There is no money to make over schools. So many classes don’t look inviting. It all depends on how much money individual teachers invest.” Along comes School Pride, a grander show than I’d envisioned—more of an Extreme Makeover: Home Edition knockoff than a younger sibling of Trading Spaces. (Tangent: Is Trading Spaces on anymore?) When the show was announced last week as landing a spot on the fall schedule, I recall one of the first comments on an online message board bemoaning the latest lame reality as Law & Order got axed. Folks, I don’t think reality is going away. And this show is slated for the Friday night wasteland. Not sure what the ratings were for Jamie Oliver’s earnest diet makeover series on ABC, but I think School Pride will fare similarly, perhaps even a little better. (Viewers won’t be as cynical in asserting that a British celebrity-touting chef needs to return to the land of Yorkshire pudding.) There are worse things that could air. (Indeed, see Perfect Couples and Outsourced, supra.)

In all, NBC is particularly focused on playing relationship crises for laughs, with mixed results. Nothing stands out as a bona fide breakout show but there is hope for Reiser, Love Bites and Friends with Benefits. At the very least, it’s a step up from prime time Leno and The Marriage Ref.

Check out the trailers and post your comments below.

Friday, May 14, 2010


The cheque came in the mail a week ago and I still haven’t cashed it. It’s not going to make much of a difference to my bank balance.

Twice a year, I receive a royalty statement for my first published book, Fouling Out. I initially received three equal payments as advances on royalties, coming upon acceptance of the original manuscript, after final edits and on publication. I’ve read that some authors get six-, even seven-figure advances. Sounds like pure fantasy to me. My advance didn’t cover a month’s living expenses.

The latest royalty statement is my fourth. This was the first time it came with a cheque, as the earnings from my teensy percentage on sales finally exceeded the advance. $74.84. Won’t even cover the basic fee for the single-day writers’ conference I attended last weekend.

At that conference, almost every speaker mentioned (often repeatedly) how writers don’t do it to accrue wealth. They don’t even do it to eke out a modest existence. People politely nodded, some smiled and even laughed. Ha ha. How silly to think writers could make a living from their craft. Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or John Grisham or Danielle Steel, you don’t quit your day job.

Writing a novel or a screenplay is a huge undertaking, fuelled by a love of the writing process, subject matter that speaks to us and blind hope that someone with the power to greenlight the project will pull the manuscript out of the slush pile, give it a fair read and convince publishers or producers that the work will generate a profit for them. It has to be the right project at the right time in the right hands. And even when everything falls into place, it remains a speculative venture.

Yes, there is pride in publication. “You’re so lucky,” one conference goer told me, with unabashed envy. It is a good feeling, but it doesn’t do much to cushion the fact I’m cash poor.

It’s a wonky profession. Even magazine writing, which can be a quicker route to a paycheque (or rejection), offers shockingly small financial rewards. As I randomly flip through my copy of The Canadian Writer’s Market, I find magazines offering payment ranging from 1¢ to $1 per word. One cent?! That’s ten bucks for a thousand words! And I just read in The Vancouver Sun today that Canuck hockey player Mason Raymond deserves a bump up to $2.5 million next season, a more than 300% raise from this season’s bargain salary of just $760,000. I’m a huge Canuck fan and I do like Raymond’s speed, but something’s amiss here. Let’s take a literary publication as an example. Surely, a publication that celebrates the written word sets out to value writers and pay them accordingly. But no! A 350-word book review in Quill & Quire pays $90. To earn that, the writer must invest the time to read the book being critiqued, possibly conduct some background research on the book’s author and prior work, draft the review, submit it with a cover letter and go through at least one round of editing with an editor from the magazine. It’s entirely possible that the writer fails to recoup even minimum wage for his efforts.

The Globe and Mail, arguably Canada’s preeminent newspaper, runs an 800-1,000 word essay each day. Anyone can submit a piece for consideration. In the past, the paper paid a $100 honorarium to the writer upon publication. At least a year ago, the Globe did away with any payment. The newspaper gets a free essay to fill precious space on the page. What a coup!

Oh, I know the standard response. We don’t do this for the money. There is no type of work I enjoy more than writing. Yet fulfillment is compromised by the need to pay the hydro bill and cover my dog’s increasing meds. I’ve been otherwise frugal. I’ve rationed the same bottle of wine for two and a half months and I begin most every day with a bowl of generic oatmeal.

Perhaps what I lack in wine I make up for in whine. But I do think of writers as artists and I long for the day when “starving artist” becomes an odd expression that makes as much sense as how most citizens view the expression “honest politician”. I look forward to the day when a writer can expect to be reasonably compensated.

Until then, I shall continue to scrape up two bucks twice a week, cross my fingers and chant one of my grandfather’s goofy expressions (“Seven come eleven, der ma needs a new pair of shoes”) in hopes the same six numbers I’ve played for the past sixteen years will finally lead to a lottery windfall and the financial security to continue writing full-time.

Yes, I’ll be one of those winners who drives the public crazy as I continue to work as a writer. But no need to get too rattled if I should win. Apparently writing is more like volunteer work.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


The following entry was written April 19. With my series of recent technological challenges, I neglected to post it in a timely fashion.

As I began a new comedy screenplay, I decided to set the story in a charming small town in the United States. Mount Vernon, Washington caught my eye on New Year’s Day as I drove to SeaTac airport. To be specific, one building captured my interest from the freeway: a gorgeous brick granary building that had been converted into a bookstore. In fact, I’d forgotten the name of the town and had to Google Washington book establishments. While the store didn’t figure into my story, I had a gut feeling that a town with such a charming structure would be a perfect fit.

I told myself that spending a weekend at a planned setting for my new screenplay would help. I’d have a better visual. I’d be inspired. Gosh, the words would fall onto the page (laptop). In forty-eight hours, I’d have thirty, maybe forty pages—lively, authentic, maybe even magical.

I had such high hopes. When I went through the check at the border, the customs officer said, “Reason for your trip?” and I keenly answered, “A writing retreat.” She looked at me quizzically. A what?! “A personal writing retreat.” I could read her mind. In Mount Vernon?! I hastily added, “And maybe see the tulips.” I didn’t let her doubt deter me. She was probably near the end of a shift. Or, more likely, she was just beginning and needed to endure another eight hours of meeting Canadians bound for casino buffets and factory outlet malls. I was on my way. Cleared at the border, next stop the writing hub of Skagit County!

The only thing that could ruin the scenario was actually going. Yep, complete demolition of a dream. Pages of screenplay written: one. Sure I’ve got notes, some lovely tourist brochures, a few bad pics snapped on my digital. Oh, and of course there are those memories that will last a lifetime. My first Domino’s pizza (cheeseless!) in twenty years. Hanging out in Walmart to get a better feel for the locals. (Bonus: They stock these adorable mini Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s ice creams, comparable to the teensy liquor bottles on airplanes. Not that I bought one. Just a little freezer window shopping.)

As for the bookstore in the old brick building, it had gone out of business, a beautiful yet sad empty space. Yet another casualty to big box book businesses and online ordering sites.

Yes, I was disheartened, but that was not excuse for a single page of writing. Was it writer’s block? No. I don’t believe in such a thing. There is always something to write. But I was trying to take in the local atmosphere, looking for the perfect settings. Part of the problem was that my main character lives in a decrepit mobile home in a rural area. He frequents the kind of bars I wouldn’t dare go in. (Just imagine the hush as I asked for a glass of the house white!) I drove down enough country roads to have me humming John Denver songs. (And speaking of the ’70s singer, his look-alike was one of the highlights at the Downtown Mount Vernon Street Fair. I’m guessing the Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonators had bigger gigs in Spokane or Bellingham.)

Despite my field research, I couldn’t find any inspiration as to locations or people. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the expedition was a bust.

For my next writing project—assuming I ever get through the current one—I’m setting the story in Prague. Or Moscow. Or Paris. Or even Tallahassee. (I just like to say the name.) That way, if a research trip is unsuccessful, I’ll at least have something else to take away from the visit.

Sunday, May 9, 2010


My senses and my brain are in overdrive. It’s a Bucket List day and I have so much to process. I attended a one-day writing conference in Burnaby, sponsored by the regional branch of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators). While I’ve eagerly attended author readings, this was my first experience with the focus entirely on the writing. To get the most out of the day, I submitted a chapter of a middle grades manuscript ahead of time and booked two consultation sessions, one with an agent, one with an editor.

I’m sure every such consultation is unique, depending on the two people in the room, the particular day and the beverage at hand. While I tried to anticipate what my meetings would be like, neither was what I’d expected—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I first met with the agent. With only her purse at her side, she opened with “What have you got for me?” It threw me. What about the manuscript excerpt I’d sent in advance? She calmly explained that many things cross her desk. Bottom line: she hadn’t looked at my work. The session quickly turned from manuscript consultation to pitch session. And I couldn’t be happier!

I’d only thought about my pitch while taking the ferry over this morning. Just in case... And now I had to think on my feet. The booking was ten minutes. It seemed like I’d just sat down when another “pitcher” was clearing her throat to announce it was her turn.

I walked out with a single thought: What just happened? Couldn’t give a play-by-play, but the agent did ask for me to follow her agency’s submission guidelines, including a mention in the first sentence that she had requested my material. A good sign indeed. Of course, as the under-confident writer, I wondered how many other pitchers got the same spiel.

Best not to overanalyze things.

The session with the editor followed. She’d read my chapter, easily recalling character names. While my work wasn’t a fit for her publisher (which specializes in nonfiction), her feedback was helpful and positive. My writing was funny, my main character sardonic. (Is sardonic a good thing? I decided to pull out the dictionary to see if I was missing something—“characterized by bitter or scornful derision”. Yikes.) She gave me a helpful idea of something to add in the first chapter. Moreover, the fifteen-minute talk evolved into a two-way conversation, with a focus on hooking male readers and her endorsement that I was on the right track. By the time we wrapped, she offered to give my project more thought as to what publisher/editor would be interested in seeing the manuscript. This went beyond my expectations . (As an aside, she thought I looked much younger than my chronological age, joking that I must have started teaching when I was twelve. That alone would have made my day!)

At lunch, I failed to network with other writers as recommended in many articles I’d read about attending conferences. I am schmooze-challenged, but I have a legitimate excuse. My session with the editor ended after the conference broke for lunch. Thus, I navigated through the massive Metrotown mall in search of the food court. More overstimulation. So many people! And so diverse! Yes, this was a refreshing change from my life in sleepy Gibsons.

As the first afternoon session began, a person arriving late slipped in and took the empty seat beside me—empty, no doubt, because I hadn’t schmoozed. She was a featured speaker, last on the day’s program. Meg Tilly! Yes, she is a published writer, but in my mind, I still saw her as Chloe in “The Big Chill” and as an Oscar nominee for “Agnes of God”. Of course, having lived five years in L.A., I knew to keep my cool and let her have her space—as much as one can garner when seated next to me.

Her presentation was a perfect end to the day: a high-octane, stream of consciousness talk that was honest, modest and humorous, with a punch of star power that only a celebrity can project without even trying. I’ve added Porcupine to my reading list. Soon Meg Tilly will successfully make the transition from actress to author in my mind. (At least until I watch “The Big Chill” for the fifteenth time.)

All in all, a memorable day. Entertaining. Inspiring. Affirming.