Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Webshow: Therapy Scripts

In this week's video, the Bitter Puppet discusses the difficulty in reading a script written by a person who's using their creative process to work through their own emotional issues.  Plenty of artists have drawn from their own life as inspiration, but great writing needs to be more than just venting one's feelings.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Reader questions

Let's dive in to a couple mailbag questions I've neglected.

Calvin asks:

Are there any guidelines to introducing the second character in a two-hander?  Can you bring him in at the start of the second Act or do we need to see him in the first Act (ex. Lethal Weapon)?
And in this instance the script would not be a confined space like your post about "P2".  It would be a mentor/student cum surrogate father/son relationship.

This is one of those "it depends" questions.  If it's a true two-hander, then it's going to be hard to avoid bringing both leads in during the first act.  A two-hander implies the script favors neither actor over the other, so if that's your goal, you're going to need to showcase the other character in Act One, even if they don't meet until Act Two.

However, if you were to tell the same story mostly from the student's perspective, I can imagine a scenario where the mentor character might not become a factor until the second act.

Tarek asks:

I am currently writing my first feature-length screenplay, which is a hard-boiled detective story. The writing process has been good thus far, but the thing is, I want to direct it. I’m scared that If I just simply write and sell it, then my own vision will be compromised. I’m writing it so that it won’t be that big of a budget, which I hope will make them less cautious about having me direct. Is it possible for me to bargain with them to let me direct it?

Do you have a reel? Have you directed anything in the past?  If not, the odds of being trusted with the director's chair go down dramatically.

You also have to consider how badly people want to make your script.  Sometimes if the spec is THAT hot and the director has some kind of reel to show for it, you might be lucky enough to find a company willing to toss some cash at it.  It helps if the script is low-budget, though.

I've certainly heard of more than one instance of music video or commercial directors writing their feature debut and holding out until someone allows them to direct.  Bear in mind that in these cases, the scripts were so hot that they were being offered an additional half-million to a million dollars to cede the director's chair to someone else.

If you've got a low-budget script that you are determined to direct, your best bet is probably to finance it independently.  You're probably not going to be dealing with many major production companies with something that small anyway.

And finally... "S" asks:

I writing in regards to ask for your insights as a professional reader. If screenplay structure and page count aren't a factor, are screenplays being judged on brevity of word count on the page? If the script doesn't facilitate a quick read is that a negative against the writer. And lastly if a work of fiction contains factual information be it medical, scientific, or police procedure that the reader isn't familiar with, should that be a critique against the writer? Thank you for reading and choosing to respond.

Okay, this is one of those questions where I can only say, "you're worrying about the wrong stuff."

"If screenplay structure and page count aren't a factor" - there is no world in which those aren't a factor.  Page count directly relates to pacing and flow of the story.  Structure is the backbone of the story. You will never find a reader who completely ignores structure and/or pacing in their evaluations - because you'll never find an executive who ignores both.  Those are two of the more critical aspects of evaluating a script and a writer.

"Are screenplays being judged on brevity of word count on the page?"  Indirectly.  Scripts that are harder to read tend to be judged more harshly.  If the reader has to keep rereading overwritten paragraphs so they can figure out just what exactly is going on in the story.

Brevity of word count is less of an issue than clarity of word count.

"If a script doesn't facilitate a quick read, is that a negative against the writer." Yes.  Execs, readers, reps, they're all busy people with a lot to read.  Never count on getting the benefit of the doubt so take great care when crafting your script to ensure that everything is clear and easy to understand.

"And lastly if a work of fiction contains factual information be it medical, scientific, or police procedure that the reader isn't familiar with, should that be a critique against the writer?"

It's a critique against the writer if they aren't able to make that information accessible to their audience. I had no medical training, but I was able to understand ER from the time I started watching at age 14.  Few viewers had much insight into the process of collecting crime scene evidence before CSI, but that didn't prevent the series from making it accessible.

I'm sure many people see movies about subjects they aren't well-versed in.  A good movie is able to help an audience understand without seemingly pandering or over-explaining at every turn.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Webshow: Are Pitchfests Worth Doing?

The fall season means that many of your favorite shows finally return the airwaves, and the Bitter Script Reader is no exception!  Yes, as many of you have been asking for, the puppet is back!

This week, we address a topic I've been asked about via Twitter and emails - are pitchfests a good idea? 


Monday, September 16, 2013

Breaking Bad and the necessity of an unhappy ending

It's a familiar story. An early cut of a film is screeened for a test audience.  The test audience rejects the dark ending of the story, forcing the filmmakers to scramble and reshoot an ending that will leave everyone feeling good.

The problem is that the entire film has been spent building to a specific destination, and a last-minute swerve is often recognizable for exactly what it is - a patch job.  I remember the first time I sat in a movie theater and clearly perceived such meddling.  It was in the somewhat forgettable Mel Gibson thriller Conspiracy Theory.  Gibson plays a paranoid cab driver whose theories about the government seem borderline delusional - until it appears that at least one of his assumed conspiracies actually exists. After a lot of action that, frankly, I barely remember, Gibson's character is shot and then dies in the arms of his love interest, played by Julia Roberts.

In a coda, we see Roberts at Gibson's grave, leaving behind his union pin.  She walks off and the movie seems to be on the verge of ending - except it doesn't end.  We cut to a dark sedan where the federal agents inside are watching Roberts - and Gibson is among them.  He's faked his death and now he's working with the feds to help bring down what's left of the bad guys.

As if that wasn't tacked on enough, we then get another scene where Roberts goes horseback riding and finds something on the horse's reins - the union pin.  So not only is Gibson alive, but he's made sure that Roberts knows - just so the audience can go home satisfied that they'll one day be happily reunited.

If you haven't seen the film, maybe you can't appreciate how bullshit that ending feels - but trust me, you can feel the studio patchwork.  I might not have wanted Gibson's character to die, but allowing him to live completely sold-out the movie's integrity.

And this is hardly the first film to face tinkering after test audiences revolted.  Hell, you can credit a test audience with the entire Rambo franchise, as they rejected the original ending of First Blood, which featured Rambo's death.

Test audiences often have a hard time with downbeat endings. They like to leave the theatre feeling good.  Bad test scores often spook studios, and making an ending less depressing is a fairly favored tactic.  You know all those alternate endings you see featured on DVDs - that's the shit that either didn't work, or didn't make an audience happy after the first attempt.

Which brings me to Breaking Bad (Spoilers for last night's episode follow - read at your own peril.)

If Breaking Bad was a feature film, what we saw last night would be the "too dark" ending that would spur an audience revolt.  Hank, the DEA agent we've all been cheering on as he pursues his meth-dealing brother-in-law Walt, is shot dead after a sting operation that netted Walt and briefly gave him a small taste of victory.  The same shootout with the Aryans also claimed the life of his partner, and the confrontation ends with Walt handing Jesse, his former partner-turned-Judas over to the Aryans, where he is beaten, imprisoned and forced to work for them.

"You can't kill Hank!" This test audience would cry.  "He can't just be shot like a dog! Not when he's so close to finally nailing Walt!"  I imagine they'd also take exception to Jesse's fate, especially Walt taking such glee in revealing he let Jesse's girlfriend die a few seasons back.

We all spent the week needing to see what came next.  We hoped against hope that Hank and his partner weren't doomed.  But the truth is that any reprieve for Hank and Gomez would have felt false.  They were outnumbered and outgunned.  No matter how much we hated to see Hank die, any scenario that would have allowed his survival would have felt like a cop-out - and it would have diminished the series.

There are still two episodes left.  Perhaps they will see Jesse's rescue and Walt being brought to some kind of justice.  But what went down this week will leave permanent scars on these characters.  Walt's family is shattered. Recriminations will be handed down, trusts are broken forever, and his wife and children will likely be stigmatized for life.

This might not be the ending we wanted, but it's the ending the story deserves. And because of that, it was incredibly powerful drama.  The show strode into the darkness with incredible confidence this week.  Some might say that it doesn't take many guts to shock an audience - but to dive in and then deliver some of the most agonizing moments of the series in a way that proves they had to happen? That takes genuine artistry.

Breaking Bad has earned it's dark climax, and I couldn't be more blown away by it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The fantastic short film NOAH

"Check out this short film. It's 17 minutes long!"

Nine times out of ten, that statement would fill me with dread.  I've championed short films on this blog before - most notably some of the more impressive ones from Campus MovieFest - and I've always emphasized that shorter is frequently better.  An old film professor of mine was fond of saying, "Student films come in three lengths: long, too long, and entirely too long."

This is especially true when viewing videos online, where the sweet spot seems to be between three and a half and five minutes.  If someone sends me a 17-minute film I'm supposed to watch on my laptop, it had better be really good.

The short NOAH, from directors Walter Woodman and Patrick Cederberg is that good.  Hell, it's fantastic.  Ingeniously told entirely from the perspective of a computer screen, we get a window into the title characters relationship with his girlfriend through Skype, Facebook, Google and online chats.

When I watch a long video on YouTube, sometimes I'll pause to send an email.  I might even be typing an email in another window, or having a online chat convo while the movie still plays.  With this, I'm pretty sure I didn't touch my mouse or my keyboard for more than 17 minutes  This is the kind of idea you watch and wish you'd thought of.


I have a feeling Woodman and Cederberg are going to get a lot of notice from this. The film had its world premiere this week as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Breaking Bad and cliffhanger structure

Note: spoilers for this week's Breaking Bad and uninformed speculations on next week's episode follow.

This week's Breaking Bad ended on a helluva cliffhanger.  After being betrayed by his former protegee, Walter White was led into a trap and finally arrested by his brother-in-law, DEA Agent Hank Schrader.  For a few moments, viewers dared to hope that the ending could be so bloodless.  Hank and his partner tricked Walt to leading them to where he'd buried millions in drug profits.  However, this happened to be out in the middle of nowhere and Hank hadn't made this arrest an official DEA operation, so his own office had no idea where he was.

After savoring Walt's arrest, Hank called his wife Marie and told her "I got him."  It at last seemed over, and there was relief in his voice as he assured her everything was going to be okay now.  Before he hung up, he told her he loved her.

In TV/movie cliche terms, Hank might as well have said he had only two days to retirement, for he was giving off just about every other warning sign of being about to be martyred tragically.  Sure enough, the Aryans allied with Walt (long story) arrive on the scene.  They not only outnumber Hank and his partner, but they heavily out-gun them.  A shootout ensues and there seems to be no way that the Aryans don't have the upper hand.  It's hard to imagine a circumstance where they would allow Hank and his partner to live.

But let's speculate here: If the creators were out to shock us with Hank's death, the place to do that would have been to end the episode with him getting his head blown off.  That would have certainly had more impact in the final seconds of this episode than in the opening moments of next week's, right?

So perhaps we're merely meant to think that Hank is dead meat - hence the writers deliberately playing to the cliches by including that phone call to his wife.

Or is that just what they're expecting us to think?

So here's an exercise: think about what scenario allows for maximum suspense and the strongest impact when that tension is broken.

Here's what I think: the next episode will not open with the results of the shootout.  No, they're going to keep us in suspense as long as possible.  Hank being killed straight off at the top of the show wouldn't generate suspense.  If that was the intent, he'd have died at the end of this week's, leaving us to wonder "What's next?"



No, I think the purpose of the call to Marie was to set up the early part of the next episode to be told from her perspective.  Hours will pass as Marie's relief passes into concern after not hearing from her husband.  She'll go to the DEA and learn that Hank is missing and then will have to come clean about everything she knows about Walt's operation. 

This is where all the shit goes down: Walt's family brought in for questioning, his unassuming facade stripped away.  It hits the fan here - and yet we still won't know what happened to Hank.  Eventually, some trail will lead the authorities out to the site of the shootout.  We'll find Hank's partner's body first - but no sign of the Aryans, Walt or Jesse.  For a moment we'll have hope that Hank is alive...

And then we'll find him.  Dead.  He'll be revealed murdered just after we have cruelly been invited to hope otherwise.

From flash-forwards we know that Walt survives for at least another year, during which he returns home after a long absence.  He purchases a gun and it seems that revenge is on his agenda.  A popular theory has emerged that he's coming back to kill the Aryans, perhaps to rescue Jesse from them.

I don't think he's coming to rescue Jesse. I think he's coming to avenge him.

My supposition is that Walt and Jesse both get captured by the Aryans. Walt is in full "fuck you" mode.  The Aryans have just killed his brother-in-law, so he's not inclined to help him and Walt's cancer will do him in soon enough anyway.  It's over - the last episode saw to that.  He's also pretty pissed at Jesse so he's not going to stick his neck out for Jesse.

The Aryans kill Jesse.  Walt somehow gets away, licks his wounds for a year and then comes back to settle a score.  It wouldn't surprise me if most of that happens in the penultimate episode, leaving the final episode to explore all of the fallout from this.

So there's my crackpot theory.  Odds are I'm wrong about most of this - but I bet I'm on the scent of how the next episode starts.

What theories do you have?  In what way do you imagine the cliffhanger to be resolved and how will it be dramatically satisfying?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Vanity projects and meh scripts

Last week I Netflixed a film that starred and was co-written by an actor I rather enjoy.  I knew from the start that it was a vanity project, but having seen the trailer featured at the start of another DVD I'd recently rented, I figured there was a chance of it being amusing.  I also knew there was an equal chance that it sucked.

As this was a very low-budget and little-seen affair, I don't really feel like beating up on it.  If something made it into wide release or even became semi-notorious on DVD, I don't have a problem unloading on it.  Here, the film's biggest sin is that it was rather unremarkable, and as it came from an earnest place, I'd feel really bad crapping on it this publicly.  (Cynical low-budget horror films will always get their turn at the woodshed, though, so don't think I've gone soft.)

This particular actor works a lot, but tends to be typecast in particular sorts of roles.  It's no accident that this film was designed to let them stretch and pick up a few dramatic scenes for their reel.  In that regard, I feel safe in calling it a success.  I don't think they were miscast and they did a solid job in their role.  This showed some savvy at least - the actor knew their strengths and played to them.  It also sidestepped a couple other failings in most vanity scripts by making sure the other characters were rather well-rounded too.  It wasn't one "ACTING!" scene after another, and there were a number of moments of sharp dialogue.

However... (you knew this was coming, right?) the project itself is very middle-of-the-road and forgettable.  It's very character-based rather than concept driven.  There's nothing wrong with that - you might recall I raved about The Spectacular Now for that very reason recently.  This film is not a movie that leaves you going, "Well THAT was awful" but it doesn't exactly make you go, "I have to tell people to watch this."

It's what I call a "meh" script.  There aren't any huge glaring sins that one could point to, but there aren't enough peaks either.  That's a large percentage of what a script reader sees in the course of their job.  I'd suspect that a good number of people reading this blog are at that level as well. You know enough to turn out a coherent script, but for whatever reason your work lacks that "X-factor" that turns readers into advocates.

I know it's frustrating to get feedback when you've written a script like this.  People offer praise for what they liked and perhaps a few superficial sentences about why is doesn't work for them.  What the writer hears is "Well if there's nothing major wrong with it, why are you passing?"  I've seen writers get very angry when the feedback amounts to "It's just not good enough."  The question that the writer benefits most from asking is, "If there's nothing major wrong with it, what's keeping them from championing it?"

"Good enough" is rarely good enough.  Truly great material is so rare that one rarely has any motivation to not push it higher.  So the next time someone gives you one of these gentle passes, I want you to think about a movie that you saw, but forgot most of within a few weeks.  Think about your own reactions to material - understand that it's possible to not hate something and yet still not LOVE it.

Then once you understand "Oh, I get where they were coming from," see if you can make it better.  Or you might realize "I can't go the distance with this idea, so I need to think bigger when conceiving the story."

It's really hard to learn something from a gentle pass.  As writers, we want to be told, "Here's the tumor in your story - just cut it out and you've got the next big thing."  But it's not always that easy and at some point in the process you need to put yourself in the audience's shoes and understand how to stoke their interest.

Otherwise you're just writing a vanity project that's merely showing off a few strengths without making a real impact.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Anatomy of a TV spec - Don't Trust the B--- in Apt 23 - Part II

Picking up from yesterday, I had decided to do a spec episode of Don't Trust the B---- In Apartment 23 as my submission to the WB Writers Workshop.  Now I just had to come up with a plot.

From the moment the series began, I had great affinity for James.  I could probably write for his character forever.  I love writing blowhards, but I really enjoy writing for blowhards who are completely obvious to their own assholery.  Lock me in a room for a week, and I can probably come back with a season's worth of James stories.  So it came as no shock that I quickly had a James story that felt very much in the spirit of the show.

The show's pilot made it clear that unlike some celebrities who run from the thing that made them famous, James milks Dawson's Creek for all it's worth.  Or at least he does when it results in him bedding women who grew up with crushes on Dawson.  It was pretty well-established on the show that James gets a lot of action by trading on that nostalgia.  But there's a flaw in relying too much on that association.  I'll let James explain...

INT. COFFEE SHOP - DAY

James enters. Strides over to counter.
 

JAMES
Enough about your problems, my turn.
 

JUNE
You just got here!
 

JAMES
I got complacent. I should have seen it coming.
 

JUNE
(weary)
Go on...
 

JAMES
A blind spot in my demographic appeal. “Creek” nostalgia locked up
the 25-39 demo, DWTS made me the number three sexual fantasy of the
40-plus crowd and my one-man “Curious George” show is planting
the seeds for the next generation of Beekers.
 

A guy tries to nudge in.
 

GUY
Hey, can I just order a--


James turns with a dramatic flourish, pushing the guy away without even seeming to notice him.
 

JAMES
In doing so, I neglected the current 14-19 demographic. Do you
know what that will do to my sex life in a few years?
 

JUNE
You’d have to sleep with women your own age?
 

JAMES
(horrified)
Exactly! I have to fix this.


Basically, James flies into a panic when he meets a hot 18 year-old who's completely ignorant of Dawson's Creek.  So his goal for the episode is to find a way to stay relevant to the next generation.  In and of itself, that's not a particularly unique problem, but the way James process and deals with the problem is entirely in keeping with his character.

I knew I was on the right track when everyone I told this plot to - including an actor who appeared on the series - responded with, "Oh I can TOTALLY see James doing that!"

But James is just a supporting character on the series.  He might have his own B-story in every ep, but at that point in the show it was never the A-story unless it involved Chloe or June.  Plus, the goal of a TV spec is to show how well you can mimic the actual series.  For that reason, it's a bad idea to center your TV spec on guest characters or supporting characters.  The stars of your show are the ones who need to drive the story.  I had to come up with a plot for Chloe and June and it needed to work with James's storyline.

During one brainstorming session I reflected back on my attempt to write a Revenge spec and it made me realize that both Chloe and Emily Thorne could be considered sociopaths and masterminds.  It led me to the notion that I could have Chloe Revenge-ing someone.  I went through a couple versions of what this could be, but I kept hitting the same stumbling block.

The problem is June.  Having Chloe pull a Revenge takedown presented an opportunity to fill in some of her past, but it left June with nothing to do but be the tag-along wagging her finger in disapproval at every mad scheme Chloe set up.  The real challenge of writing June is to not make her a killjoy.  She's bright and perky, but that quickly gets boring - especially when it feels like she's stomping on Chloe's fun.

Eventually it became clear to me that the only way June getting in Chloe's way was going to work would be if the story came from June and Chloe's scheme kept threatening whatever June was trying to accomplish.  Several episodes in the first season had played with this dynamic and after I started writing, the second season went back to this well with a fair amount of frequency.  I was a little disappointed that I was falling into a well-established pattern on the show, but after exploring a number of other avenues, I understood why alternate structures were not natural fits for the show.

Shifting the focus to June made a number of things fall into place.  The idea became that June would encounter several people who wronged her in her past and Chloe would take it upon herself to extract an Emily Thorne-like poetic vengeance on them, all while June attempts to abort this scheme she never wanted in the first place.

Because I wanted James's story to intersect with June's, I couldn't send the girls to a high school or college reunion.  June's past had to come to her, so I decided that some of June's old sorority friends would come to town for a wedding.  Since they needed to be evil, it made sense to me that they would make June a member of the wedding party so as to take advantage of her hyper-responsibility in planning everything.

Basically, they wanted a stooge to do all the grunt work - which I revealed was the dynamic in college. Through flashbacks I piled on some other Mean Girls-ish crap.  Fortunately, some of my friends are frenemies with some horrible harpies.  Every now and then these viral entities have snuck into our social group, wreaked havoc and eventually been expunged.

What I'm getting at is - between my female friends sorority experiences and a lot of ex-girlfriends of friends, I had more than enough to work with here.  Having known plenty of "users" over the years, this stuff practically wrote itself.

Eventually what emerged is that a cousin of the bride-to-be would be eighteen and totally perplexed that all of the other bridesmaids freak out at the discovery that June is friends with "Dawson."  James is so shaken by this that he passes up several easy lays in order to try woo the eighteen year-old, seeing her as the litmus test for his future demographic appeal.  This worked out neatly because while June leads the bachelorettes on a night of wild clubbing, I could always cut away to the underage cousin (barred from the debauchery) as she dealt with James.

Chloe's role in the story would be that she seemingly fits in with the Mean Girls, only to be a Trojan Horse that takes them down from within.  I had a few reversals written into this, and was rather dismayed when a couple episodes from later in the second season would pretty much play the same card.  On the other hand, it meant that I was writing them in-character.

I also came up with a C-story that involved the creeper neighbor Eli and I was actually pretty proud of using him in a way that both was true to his character and was an angle that was completely unexplored by the series.  I had a lot of balls in the air, but they all seemed to be crossing into each other's orbits in the right way.

After a few drafts, my biggest problem still was June.  While she'd probably be the wacky friend on any other show - on THIS show, June is the straight man.  Somebody's gotta be the killjoy of the group just to give the party animals someone to push against.  In practical terms, this meant that all of the good lines kept ending up in James, Chloe or even Eli's mouth.  Getting June to be funny within the parameters of this episode and still be "June" was probably my biggest challenge.

In the end, I was pretty happy with what I wrote, though it definitely was a much harder needle to thread than any original project I'd taken on.  It's really hard to nail the voice of a show while demonstrating that you're not just a really good imitator - that you're bringing something of yourself to the table.

This is why I still very much believe that it's best to put your energy into original pilots and screenplays.  The only avenue where a spec episode will really do you some good are with these sorts of fellowships and workshops.  They can be great ways to break in, don't get me wrong. but hopefully what comes across in this post is just how many moving parts there are in your typical TV spec.

And now - since Apt 23 was canceled, I get to go through this all over again with a new show if I intend to apply next year!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Anatomy of a TV spec - Don't Trust the B--- in Apt 23

A couple days ago, I learned that I was not among the applicants still in contention for the WB Writers Workshop, so I extend my condolences to all of those who join me in that pool, and my congratulations to those still advancing.

This last year was the first year I actually had my act together enough to submit on time.  In the past, the thing that always gave me trouble was the requirement to submit a spec episode of an existing show.  Over the years I've put the majority of my focus into feature specs, though I have written four spec pilots.  In terms of spec episodes, my portfolio amounts to an episode of SVU that I wrote a full decade ago.  (Considering it was one of my first specs, it's a pretty decent piece of writing, built on a concept that probably could still work on the series today - but it's not something I'd ever consider as representative of where I am now as a writer.)

Spec pilots are hard enough to pull off.  The script has to introduce an entire world, provide the engine for future installments and establish all of the characters firmly enough that one can imagine seven years of stories coming from them.  There are pilots that make it to air that STILL struggle with this.

And guess what? Writing a spec episode of an existing series is even harder.  At least as far as I'm concerned.

First, you have to pick a show to spec.  You shouldn't pick a first year show (because there's a huge risk it will be canceled, rendering your spec useless) and once a show has been a hit for a year or so, the market seems to be deluged with specs for that series.  I'm pretty sure there was a point where 90% of aspiring TV writers had The Office specs.  For this reason, it's a good idea not to spec something that's in its fourth season or later.  Not only is it on the verge of being passe, but it's also likely that a lot of other people have picked that series as well.

So late last year, I sat down and strategized which show to spec.  With most of my favorite shows aging or ending (including 30 Rock, The Office, and Modern Family) selecting a show I felt passionate about quickly brought me to a narrow field.  It was between Revenge and Don't Trust the B---- In Apartment 23, both of which kicked off their second seasons last fall.

I had a really great story for Revenge's Emily Thorne, one which would have dealt directly with the ethically murky master plan she's undertaking.  It would have been a "takedown" episode, but one that sprang from character rather than being motivated only by clever plot twists.  The only problem? figuring out what to give the rest of the supporting cast to do, as their actions are always dependent on their place in the larger seasonal arc.  Without that relevance, too many of their scenes threatened to play as filler.

That lead me to put Revenge aside and focus on Apt 23.  What I loved about the show is that it was edgier than most other shows.  The characters are less likable than your average sitcom and prone to the sort of snarky, brutal quips that I enjoy employing in my writing.  Chloe - played by Krysten Ritter - is pretty much a sociopathic party girl capable of setting up a master plan and making everyone around her run through it like rats in a maze.  Had the show lasted a few more seasons, I almost think that TV Tropes would have to have renamed both the Xanatos Gambit and the Batman Gambit after Chloe.

So she's smart, she's bitchy, she has no morals, and she's capable of anything. I can work with this girl.

Apt 23's secret weapon is James Van Der Beek, playing a very self-absorbed version of himself.  What I liked about James is though he's a version of the typical Hollywood asshole, he's sort of a naive version of such.  He genuinely doesn't realize he's being an ass (as opposed to Entourage's Ari Gold, who knows he's a tyrant and revels in it.)  James legitimately hasn't reached the stage of psychological development where he's realized the world doesn't revolve around him.

Some of the best "James" stories have played off the fact that he exists in his own celebrity bubble where the world works for him in a certain way. There's a lot of humor to be mined when something threatens that bubble and we get a whiff of just how unprepared James is to survive in the real world.  An early season two episode revealed that James loves turning down the rest of the Dawson's Creek cast each year when a reunion is proposed.  Quickly, we learned that the letter James gets every year comes not from the Creek cast, but from Chloe. 

Chloe's roommate June - who's every bit as sweet and ethical as Chloe is bitter and mean - initially thinks that this is one of Chloe's horrible pranks, with James as the victim.  From what we've seen of Chloe in the past, it's not out of character for her to play a long-con with the intent of crushing the victim in the end.  But as it turns out, Chloe cares about James and has been sending those letters every year to feed his ego.  She knows it gives him a boost to think he's got that kind of power over his former co-stars.

My point here is that the character dynamics are pretty clearly drawn.  June's the goody-goody; Chloe can be pure evil, except when it comes to James, and even then, we're never 100% sure she isn't playing him; and James lives on his own planet and is doing his best not to adapt to the real world.

There's a lot of natural conflict in that triangle, so I saw potential for a story.  The fact that the tone of the series fit my comedy style was a bonus.  Now I just had to come up with a storyline.

And that's where we'll pick things up tomorrow.