Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Talkback - Who are the most underrated writers?

I've seen a number of articles complaining about how "Writer so-and-so is overrated" and how "That Hack is overhyped.  So I'm curious... what writers do you think are under-recognized and underrated?


  1. It's tough to categorize screenwriters in this way, since it's entirely possible to be a successful screenwriter and never have an original script produced. I do think that the current reigning triumvirate of screenwriters -- Kaufman, Tarantino, and Nolan -- have gotten nothing they didn't earn and more than deserve.

    The fiction scene is a lot different. The chasm between best-selling authors and also-rans is gigantic. I really can't think of a single successful "print" writer who really deserves what they've gotten -- except maybe Stephen King who both deserves his reward and has worn out his welcome long ago.

    Still, for the resurgence he showed in the '90s before he ended up in the front seat of a distracted driver's truck, for THE GREEN MILE and FOUR PAST MIDNIGHT, I'd say he merits being able to buy the state of Maine, as he probably could do at this point.

    Of all the also-rans who never made the Big Bucks, I'd place Norman Spinrad at the top of the list. He's "elderly" now, suffering from stomach cancer, and broke as always. But who can forget THE IRON DREAM, A WORLD BETWEEN, BUG JACK BARRON, and THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE? (And if you haven't read these minor masterpieces, go to the amazon's used book store and get started).

  2. I'll play!

    Mark Verheiden -- started out in the 90s writing consistently amazing comic book adaptations for Dark Horse comics. Later became something of a hired gun who shows like SMALLVILLE and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA brought on whenever they needed a kick-ass, adrenaline-fueled episode. The man writes fast-paced action like nobody else on TV. Becoming showrunner of FALLING SKIES (at least for one season) should have been his big break but, reading between the lines, it seems like the network and exec producers tampered with that show too much.

    Brad Falchuk -- clearly the best writer on GLEE, but frequently overshadowed by his more famous and influential boyfriend, and by the dude who created the show. Falchuk seemed to actually understand why viewers cared about those characters. It was his early episodes that introduced the Kurt/Kurt's father emotional subplot, which would prove so successful they basically had to refocus the entire show around it.

    David Guggenheim -- sold SAFE HOUSE on spec for six figures back in the days when that wasn't supposed to happen. He earned it though, because the script is incredible -- lightning on a page. His pilot for EXIT STRATEGY was just as good, and, in a just world, would have been picked up to series in a heartbeat. Apparently he's writing novels now, which I think is sort of a shame given his screenwriting talent.

    Marti Noxon -- wrote for both BUFFY and MAD MEN, which automatically makes her TV writer royalty. Sadly, she received a lot of undeserved flak when she became de facto showrunner of the (not great) last two seasons of BUFFY. But after last year's FRIGHT NIGHT, she deserves to have studios fighting over her. Seriously, that film, and script, are hugely underrated.

    Cheo Hodari Coker -- writes the best damn episodes of SOUTHLAND. His style is heavy with metaphors and symbolism, which isn't to everybody's tastes, but somehow he balances it with pitch-perfect, naturalistic dialogue. Needs to win Emmys/some other form of critical acclaim, but that's unlikely given how far SOUTHLAND seems to fly under everybody's critical radar.

    Grant Morrison -- yes, he's a superstar in comics. But the poor guy just can't seem to get any traction in Hollywood. It's a crying shame. I actually met an exec last year who told me his company had just met with Morrison, but all his pitches were "too weird". I wanted to shake the guy! In a world where even the weakest parts of Alan Moore and Philip K Dick's ouevre can get adapted, surely WE-3 and JOE THE BARBARIAN deserve to be made into films.

    Liz Meriwether -- is already pretty famous, but I'm including her anyway. She should be a household name, dammit. She is my personal comedy god, NEW GIRL is brilliant, and FUCKBUDDIES remains the funniest thing I've ever read in my entire life.

    1. God, I f* LOVE Southland, awesome writing! Why is this show so underrated, WHY??

  3. I second Marti Noxon, who wrote my favourite BUFFY. And until recently, I would have said Graham Yost, but JUSTIFIED has changed all that...

  4. There are a few shows I love with writers who seem to do precious little else. Being Human (Toby Whithouse) and Takin' Over The Asylum (Donna Franceschild) are cases in point. How does one tell if they're tragically overlooked geniuses or one trick ponies?

  5. Fred Dekker. Monster Squad and Night of the Creeps. He was just warming up!

  6. I can't really think of any contemporary writers that are under-recognized or underrated, but Alan Sharp, who wrote NIGHT MOVES and ULZANA'S RAID back in the 70s, is under-recognized, not underrated since everybody who knows anything about him seems to love his stuff.

    When I was younger I had a pretty snotty attitude about Neil Simon, but now I realize he's a much better writer than I thought - like Norman Rockwell, I thought he was too middlebrow, but also like Norman Rockwell, his work is harder-edged than it seems at first glance. So those are a couple of guys I underrated, although they're not underrated by the general public.

    For all the acclaim he's gotten, I think Vince Gilligan is underrated. BREAKING BAD is the Great American Novel of our times, IMO. And I haven't even seen the fourth season.

  7. Peter Hedges. I think a lot of people looked at DAN IN REAL LIFE as just a sentimental rom-com, but I found it to be so much more than that. It's become one of my all-time favorite family-centered films.

    Dan Fogelman would fall into this category for me as well. I don't think people expected much from him since he came from animation, but CRAZY STUPID LOVE just blew me away in terms of story and structure. Loved it.