Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Everyone starts somewhere - even "Undressed" has distinguished alumni

Continuing with this week's "Everyone starts somewhere" theme, I'm going to pay tribute to a series that was a major guilty pleasure back when I was in college. Cast your mind back to 2000-ish. We'd survived the Y2K scare and were blissfully ignorant that in a matter of mere months we'd endure a horrible terrorist attack on America soil, which would in turn lead to probably the worst presidential administration since Warren G. Harding.

It was a more innocent era. Sure, O.J. was still a killer and even if he wasn't a molester there clearly wasn't something right with Michael Jackson. Britney was a tease rather than a sleaze, and pop music snobs scoffed that Christina would never lower herself to the depths of Britney's trashy look.

How little we knew.

For those of you too young - or too old - to be aware of this, it was the time when MTV was in transition. Sure, music videos were an ever-shrinking aspect of their programming but it was the Golden Age of TRL. The Real World was on a hot streak too, as we watch Hawaii's Ruthie clearly have issues with alcohol, while fame whore Teck Money attempted to bed half the island. Later still, the New Orleans cast dealt with race issues and featured the future wife of V's Scott Wolf. (Seriously, look it up.)

Look, you're in college, it's late at night and broadcast TV is running either reruns of Becker or reruns of last week's Leno. You've got only about 50 channels to choose from and A&E doesn't get to the next Law & Order rerun until 3am. What do you flip to? MTV, so you can catch their nightly marathons of Undressed.

What? You don't remember Undressed? It was the very definition of a guilty pleasure - a half-hour soap opera/anthology series that mostly focused on the sexual and romantic relationships of teens and college-age characters. Each episode usually had three storylines with different characters and those stories continued across several shows.

It wasn't great writing by any means. In fact, most of the stories were little more than excuses to get attractive young people to strip down to their underwear or bathing suits. There was never any nudity, so it didn't quite qualify for soft-core porn. Think of it as soft-core if it had been produced by the WB.

All you younger readers who just asked "What's the WB?" just get the hell out now.

Bottom line, it was a show you'd watch, but you'd never admit to your friends that you watched.... until, say, one of you makes mention of it in a conversation at the dining hall and all of a sudden not only is your whole table discussing the show, but people passing by from other tables are chiming in to the effect of "You've seen that too! Awesome!"

This is a quote from a writer who worked on the series, "We did 150 half-hours. It was an insane process. It really taught me how to write fast under pressure. In that job, you were always writing... After the first season, it became a lot easier because I lost all artistic sense or anything resembling caring about what I was doing. There are only so many ways you can have people strip down to their underwear. Honest to God, towards the end if I had to write, 'She strips down to her bra and panties' one more goddamn time, I was going to go nuts! It was killing my soul."

Okay, so clearly this guy's a hack, right? Not only did he write sanitized soft-core, but he flat out admitted he took no pride in the work. I'll bet this guy never worked again.

Wrong. That's a quote from Steven S. DeKnight. About a year later, he was writing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and quickly earned a spot on staff. After that, he went over to Angel, then Smallville. Now he's the showrunner of Spartacus. Frankly, if you're going to snark about those credits, you clearly don't get TV.

You can't always judge a writer by his resume. Sure, tar the work on its own merits, but never forget that a writer is always going to have to pay their dues, and that might often involve less prestigious work.

And as for actors, here's a quick look at some of the actors who appeared on Undressed:

Christina Hendricks (Mad Men)
Sarah Lancaster (Chuck, Everwood)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica)
Brandon Routh (Superman Returns)
Bret Harrison (Reaper)
Autumn Reeser (The O.C., Entourage, No Ordinary Family)
Rachelle Lefevre (Twilight)
J. August Richards (Angel, Raising the Bar)
Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill)
Marc Blucas (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

So as I said on Monday, don't come out of the gate with your most important script. If you're good, you'll have a whole career ahead of you to write that passion project. Your first script doesn't define you, so if deep down you have a guilty pleasure concept in mind and you know you can write it well, go for it.

It's bad enough if you're a snob about other people's writing, but if you're such a snob that you won't even let yourself write anything less than serious and dignified, maybe you're in the wrong business.


  1. When you say you were in college in 2001, Bitter, what you mean is high school, right buddy?

    Maybe even middle school.

    Hollywood's like Logan's Run; you gotta keep resetting that clock.

  2. haha, Undressed! I so remember that show.

    I think related to your (wise) advice about not trying to write Casablanca as your first script is the fact that new writers shouldn't come to town with the attitude that everything on TV or on the big screen sucks, and that they're going to fix it. As if people set out to make crappy shows and movies! Are you really going to walk into a studio and tell them all their movies suck? You'd better be prepared to talk about what you love that's out there right now, or nobody's going to want to talk to you.

  3. Sorry Jake, I couldn't hear you over the sound of my palm flashing.

    Amanda - sound advice. I've heard stories of writers interviewing for staff jobs and saying they were going to save the show from all the mistakes it made in previous years. Shockingly, those sorts of interviews never end with the writer being hired.