Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Why all three seasons of PICARD were necessary to Jean-Luc Picard's journey after the end of TNG

I did another rewatch of the two-part finale of STAR TREK: PICARD and between that and some things from Patrick Stewart's memoir swimming in my head, I'm left with some thoughts about Picard, both the man and the series.

When PS was approached for the new series, he was the one who set down the mandates that distanced it from TNG. He didn't want any of the original cast. He didn't want to be in Starfleet or wear a uniform. If they were bringing back Picard, it had to say something new about him rather than re-explore old ground. I actually think there was a lot of merit to these stances, even if all we really wanted was a TNG reunion, which we eventually got. But I don't think S3's reunion undermines the rest of the show, nor do I see it as a retreat. It's a necessary conclusion for Picard.

Think about where Picard was at the end of TNG. He just had his Christmas Carol-like jaunt through time and came out realizing he needed to change the nature of his relationship with his crew. He joins the poker game. He's on his way to becoming less distant. He's opening up... And then what happens six months later in GENERATIONS? His brother and nephew are killed. He's the LAST Picard. There IS no biological family left for him.

And then what else happens? He meets Starfleet's greatest, James T. Kirk. And what's the retired Kirk's firm advice?

"Don't let them promote you. Don't let them transfer you. Don't let them do ANYTHING.... that takes you off the bridge of that ship because while you're THERE.... you can make a difference."

Taken together, we see how this pretty much cements the crew of the D as his family.

And over the course of the movies, that changes. It can't last forever. Worf leaves the nest and moves on for a time. Will and Deanna get married and go off on their own. Data DIES. Beverly leaves.

Then comes the whole Romulan crisis and then the android revolt. Picard's at the center of that crisis and Starfleet fails him. After an android sabotage of the shipyards built to evacuate the Romulans, Starfleet scraps the whole project and makes artificial life illegal in the Federation. It goes against everything Picard has fought for. By then, most of his "kids" have moved on. He took Kirk's advice. He stayed devoted to Starfleet and it fucked him in the end. So he quits in protest.

He doesn't recognize Starfleet. Problem is, without Picard - who had no bones about standing up to them in cases like INSURRECTION - Starfleet loses its moral way too. And that's where PICARD the series picks up. Picard's lost his family and the thing that was supposed to matter.

When he has to go on a new adventure, he's determined to do it without getting in the way of the old crew's new lives. This is JLP in his "Wings" phase. (The Enterprise D/E era being his "Beatles".) And look, Wings was a fine band. But they weren't the Beatles.

But step by step, PICARD shows us its title character putting things right. The android ban is lifted. He goes back to Starfleet, beginning to restore its moral center. S2 at first glance, can be mistaken as a bit of a sidequest. Q messes with history to create a timeline where Starfleet is a totalitarian conqueror, which forces Picard to go back in time and try to put things right.

Eventually it's revealed that history hinges on one of Picard's ancestors going on a crucial space mission. The ripple effect of her not going is what would result in the imperialistic Starfleet. What this means is that the moral fibre of Starfleet is inextricably linked with the Picard bloodline. Starfleet and Picard inform each other.

Just as The Sisko is of Bajor, Picard is of Starfleet.  Starfleet is what it is because of the Picard family. In Starfleet, Picard found his family - both in spiritual and literally biological terms by the end of the third season. That is the lesson that Q is trying to teach in season 2. Why else show him that?  

Picard needed to rediscover Starfleet as being core to his destiny so that on the final adventure, it plays out the only way it can for Picard to truly come full circle. The lesson he's been learning for 30 years finally is achieved.

His old crew IS his family. Of course they are the ones he ultimately has to take this last ride with. And for his full restoration, is there ANY other ending that could be more perfect than him leading the charge to save all of Starfleet with those people by his side?

And if you're putting all The Beatles on stage together, what madman would do that and NOT having them perform?

Kirk insisted that on "the bridge of that ship.... you can make a difference." It HAD to be the Enterprise-D. These seven people had to be by each other's sides one last time, willing to die for each other because if not, what were the last 35 years even for?

For Picard's arc since the series - the man who lost his blood family, lost his ship, lost his friend Data, lost his faith in the institution that was supposed to be his life - he gets a new family. He gets back the ship and the friend that he lost and he restores it all. Yes, I know.... every brick on that road was laid individually, with no real plan of it leading all the way to this path for much of it. But when you look back with hindsight, it all makes so much sense. PICARD S1 and 2 had to happen to make 3 the earned ending to EVERYTHING.

And that's why STAR TREK: PICARD was my favorite show this year. It wasn't a mere farewell tour that played the easy crowd pleasing hits.... it was an ending, one where each of those gracenotes had a purpose in the narrative and MATTERED.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Podcast appearances on The Writers Panel and Children of Tendu

In a complete coincidence I had two podcast appearances drop on the same day this week.

First, my friend Ben Blacker had me on The Writers' Panel to discuss my thoughts on networking on the picket line. We're in the nineth week of picketing and I've met something like fifty writers while picketing. And as I mention in this podcast, I also met Brandon Routh (SUPERMAN RETURNS) and his wife Courtney Ford (LEGENDS OF TOMORROW.)

Listen to The Writers' Panel here.

And then I got to fulfill a nearly decade-long dream by appearing on a podcast hosted by another two of my friends and former co-workers, Javier Grillo-Marxauch and Jose Molina. Their show Children of Tendu is one of the greatest resources for an up-and-coming TV writer and it was an honor to speak with them about my path from internet guy to assistant to staff writer.

The episode I'm on is called "Live from the Strike Line."

Listen to Children of Tendu on Stitcher here.

Listen to Children of Tendu on Apple Podcasts here

Listen to Children of Tendu and download the ep as an MP3 here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A SUPERMAN & LOIS comic I co-wrote is out today and it has a very personal meaning for me

Today's the day! The SUPERMAN & LOIS comic book I wrote with fellow S&L writers Jai Jamison and Andrew N. Wong is on sale.

As a lifelong Superman fan, it is absolutely surreal to see my name on a Superman comic, let alone one with pencils by Tom Grummett - one of my favorite Superman artists. Tom was one of the artists on the book during the 90s, particularly during the period that covered the Death and Return of Superman. Tom's art is what a Superman comic should look like to me.

The writing was a very collaborative process, but I wrote the actual script for the second and third stories in the issue. The second one was very personal for me. It's a story about Clark thinking about some of those small moments in his childhood where his father's influence put him on the path to be the man he'd become. 

I lost my father to COVID in November 2020, after I'd been working on SUPERMAN & LOIS for about 8 months and only a couple months after I'd gotten a script assignment. My dad never got to see the show I'd waited my whole life to work on. He never got to see my first episode of TV, and as I started this, I was aware he'd never see my first comic book. That one especially stung because when I was younger, he bought me many of my first comics.

As the three of us writing the issue generated ideas for our stories, I landed on the second story that eventually saw print. I pitched it to Jai and Andrew as a story about the father/son relationship. Though I didn't specifically underline it was inspired by my feelings about my dad, they certainly knew what I was drawing on. Between the three of us we had several ideas and we had to whittle them down. They absolutely could have vetoed this early on... but they didn't.

Then we had to pitch our stories to our showrunner Todd Helbing. There were a couple that Todd passed on for one reason or another, but he gave the thumbs-up to "Father's Day" along with four other premises. We had to pitch three stories to our editor at DC, Andrew Marino. Andrew and Jai were supportive of "Father's Day" and it survived the culling.

After Andrew Marino approved the story, I told him about how it was a tribute to my dad and asked if there was any way it would be possible to dedicate it to him. He was immediately supportive of it, much to my gratitude.

To Todd, Jai, Andrew and Andrew... I lack the words to tell you what this means to me. I sent my mother and my brother advance copies of the issue and I'm at a similar loss of vocabulary when it comes to expressing how meaningful it was to all of us to pay tribute to my father, to make him a part of this experience even though he's no longer with us.

To Tom Grummett and Norm Rapmund, you rendered this story exactly as I saw it in my mind's eye. Thank you for the gift of your beautiful art.

Eventually I'm going to feel like I've said "thank you" enough times. So far I haven't reached that benchmark. The entire experience of working on SUPERMAN & LOIS has been one that I'm full of gratitude for. Losing my dad is always going to be tied to my history with this show... but thanks to this issue, so is celebrating him.

You can buy the issue digitally at Comixology and Amazon by going here.

For a peak behind the curtain, check out this interview that Jai and I did with ScreenRant.

We also did a very in-depth interview with Craig Byrne over at KryptonSite.

Michael Bailey of the Superman Homepage (which might be the first Superman site I read on the internet EVER) gave our issue 5/5 in Art and Story for all three of our tales. He writes: "Reading a story where you get to have all of the action of a standard Superman tale and see Lois going all out to get the story and on top of that throw in some amazing Easter eggs and on top of that give them a special way to celebrate their anniversary… I really can’t ask for anything more than that. It’s Superman and Lois as a show in a microcosm."

We also got the most generous review from Cori McCreery, whom I know to be a massive fan of the Pre-Crisis Era of Superman. In a tweet, she said, "This was one of the best Superman comics I've read in a long time, and really captured both the feeling of my favorite era and of the show it was spun out of. Great job guys." The review made me unexpectedly emotional and I'm grateful to Cori for what she said.

I hope you all enjoy the issue. And if you don't, as Ed Wood says, "My next one will be better!"

Here are the preview pages, which are basically just an excuse for me to show off Tom and Norm's lovely work.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Sometimes you get to work with your heroes while you write for your heroes

Anyone who told you "don't meet your heroes" never got to write an episode of TV with Rina Mimoun.

I'll back up a little bit. Longtime readers of this blog - assuming any of you are still out there - are probably well aware of my affection for the WB TV series EVERWOOD. I not only once wrote a breakdown of the pilot, I also wrote a fun script called CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS that incorporated the characters of Ephram Brown and Amy Abbot in a multiversal teen drama crossover.

And then amazingly, got to see Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp perform the script for a live read a little over a year ago. My point is, there's little point in pretending I'm not an EVERWOOD superfan, or that the show hasn't been a major touchstone for me in my own writing.

So with that, imagine my delight when EVERWOOD writer and showrunner for seasons 3 and 4 Rina Mimoun joined the writers room of SUPERMAN & LOIS this year. I wasted no time in trying to get EVERWOOD stories out of her. And by no time I mean that I'm pretty sure the first thing I said to her was "Hi, I'm Adam and I'm a huge fan of EVERWOOD."

Flash-forward a couple months. The first four episodes are broken and episode five had yet to be assigned. Our writers were doubling up, so that meant that Rina and I were the only two left without an episode. That didn't necessarily mean we were going to be teamed and at one point it looked like each of us might fly solo on different eps.

As an aside, most of the time episodes are assigned based on seniority and availability. Indeed, you'll see that the writer breakdown this season mostly starts with the highest ranking writers on staff and works its way down. In rare cases, there might be an effort at matching a writer to their particular strength, but usually I'd caution against making assumptions about an episode that are based on what the writer has been credited on before.

For example, my name is on two of the biggest Lana episodes, but I actually didn't write any of her scenes in this week's episode at all.

To make a long story less long, I was thrilled when the assignment came down that I'd be working with Rina AND that we indeed were going to be getting "the quinceañera episode." Also, by that point, our EVERWOOD shorthand was well established so we were saying thing back and forth like, "It's like the Amy Abbott thing."

Our story break went pretty well. Most of the other writers were off on their own episodes for large parts of the break so much of it was just me, Rina and our excellent support staff. Showrunner Todd Helbing kept approving our beats along the way and eventually we were sent off to Story Area.

In the middle of this, Rina and I also reached out to Inde Navarrette, who plays Sarah. We wanted to get her perspective on what was absolutely essential to get right about our quinceañera and what elements of the celebration were likely to vary in real life. One of the notes became something we hammered again and again in our production meetings - "Make sure the tamales are authentic."

The way our show works is that we do a pretty detailed story break, send a 5-6 page Story Area (basically a synopsis of each storyline, broken into A, B, C stories) to the Studio and Network and then are sent off to script. Rina and I divided responsibilities on Story Area, which sailed through with mostly no notes and then had to decide how to divide the script.

The storyline of Sarah's quinceañera is filled with the kind of family drama that Rina is known for, BUT I also was prepared for the possibility that she might feel like she's written all that before and was more eager to dive into the superhero stuff. It turned out she was hungry for the Cushing family storyline, which was a relief to me because I did NOT want to be the guy trying to play "Piano Man" while Billy Joel was in the room.

I took the Jon and Jordan storyline and we divided the Clark/Lois A-story up by act. This worked pretty well, but while I was writing Act Two, I arrived at a concern that hadn't been evident in the story break. When Rina and I compared pages, we discovered we both had the exact same note. Still, we did the job we were sent off to do, completing the first draft according to the story break. Neither of us were shocked when Todd's assessment of that story element was the same as ours.

We rebroke the offending scenes and the second draft played much smoother. At that point, my job was done as the script rewrites become the purview of the showrunner and the upper-level writers. By the time we got to the Production Draft, it was in really good shape.

At the start of November I went to Vancouver for the shooting of my episode. After I arrived, I was told that usually they have separate cars to take the episode's director and writer from hotel to set, but for the first couple days, they needed me to double up with the director because we were tandem shooting with the previous episode. I had no problem with that.

My director was a wonderful woman named Diana Valentine. She's directed about 40 episodes of television and had worked her way up through the ranks to get there. The ice was broken immediately on our 30-minute drive to set. I mentioned she'd directed an episode of TV a friend of mine wrote and that just started a run of stories where we discovered all our various industry contacts in common.

I took my lead from Diana on set and very quickly picked up where I should be standing to be out of the way while still being available and engaged. While we waited in Video Village before our first shot, she said, "You know, I used to be Lynda Carter's photo double on WONDER WOMAN." What can you really say to that but, "Tell me more!" This was how I learned she got her start as a stuntwoman in the 70s and 80s and let me tell you, someone ABSOLUTELY needs to make a movie centered on the stuntwomen of that era because it's an underexplored topic rife with entertainment.

Also, I very much feel like we had extra superhero karma, making a Superman episode with a Wonder Woman calling the shots.

Suffice to say, by the next morning I went to our PA and told them they could just send one car to pick me and Diana up together for the rest of the shoot because we were getting on like a house on fire. It was great to start the day riding with her, and always fun doing a post-mortem on the way back.

On top of that, Diana was just a fantastic director, period. I learned quickly that she could anticipate almost any note I had and was thinking two steps ahead, always with an eye to the edit. She came prepared, knew what she wanted and - most importantly - knew how to communicate that to everyone. This was her first time on our show, but if you wandered onto our set at any point, you'd have assumed she'd worked with everyone there for years. That's a testament to her and to our crew.

I don't want to get into too many set-stories here, but I will say that the very first scene we shot for my episode had Tyler Hoechlin in full Superman regalia. That was a pretty cool moment. The day I traveled to Vancouver happened to be the anniversary of the day my dad died. I was already thinking about him, but as I was standing there, two feet from Superman, I felt very sad I wasn't able to tell him about this moment, and that he missed it by such little time.

I also resolved not to immediately turn into a fanboy and ask for a picture with Superman. After all, I was a professional there with a job to do. Also, due to COVID protocols, I had to be masked on set, so what good would ANY picture be?

All of our cast are fantastic people, by the way. I had only met Bitsie Tulloch and Erik Valdez prior to this, as they both briefly visited the writers' office at the start of the season. Both of them were friendly, personable people. I knew Erik slightly better, with our first interaction coming via Twitter. In the early weeks of shooting season 1, he saw a tweet I posted about my dad's death and that led him to realize I worked on the same show as him. He reached out over DMs and was very kind to me during a tough time. The day after that, I got flowers and a lovely note from "The S&L Cast." I'm sure that was Erik's doing, and it shows you the kind of guy he is. By the time I saw him on set, Erik felt like an old friend.

Erik's friendliness is not an anomaly among our performers. All of them proved to be very kind people. Though I didn't get to work with Wolé Parks, I did run into him at base camp and got to tell him, "I'm the reason you're Steel!" He immediately hugged me. I probably ended up spending the most time chatting up "the boys," Alex Garfin and Jordan Elsass. Because L.A. is like Neverland, I foolishly still think I'm the 22 year-old who moved out here and not someone much older. Inevitably, hanging out with the boys would disabuse me of that delusion, such as when I referenced at teen drama character of my youth and one of them responded, "Who?"

But all of our actors were wonderful professionals who came to set prepared and often brought their own suggestions and nuances to the scene. We had a ball spending two days filming the quinceañera scenes because most of the cast was there, but there was a lot of down time between shots when they were needed. They all hung out in the green room area together and I gather that for some of them, they don't often get to work with certain other cast members. Any time I happened back there, it seemed like they just delighted in each other's company and really enjoyed having that time together.

I also have nothing but raves about the crew as well. In the writers' room, we're all very passionate about our show and our characters, but we're very much isolated from the other production workers and the actors. It was very exciting to meet everyone and see they're just as jazzed about the show as we are. It was a very enjoyable two-plus weeks on set.

Our penultimate day was spent shooting a massive fight scene involving Superman. Our stunt coordinator Rob Hayter did an amazing job with this fight. I got to speak to Rob on set during a different action scene for the episode and it was great hearing him talk about how they go about making sure every fight tells a story, and how everyone knows exactly what they should be doing. For this fight, we were in a very large space and so Rob was on the "God Mike" talking our performers through the beats and moves of the fight. It was a little like hearing a boxing commentator call a match.

And I'm talking around spoilers here, but at one point we had one actor on a throwback rig and I got to watch - LIVE - Superman punch a dude and send him flying thirty feet backwards in the air! That was a helluva thing to see, and a great thing to come near the end of the experience.

Oh yeah, and in the middle of all that... I couldn't resist any longer.

I had come over to Tyler during a long downtime between set-ups and said, "So... I can't come all this way and NOT get a picture with Superman." He was happy to oblige. After someone from our crew took the picture, I said, "I just realized, you can't tell I'm smiling with the mask on." They said, "Oh, you can tell!"

You might also be able to tell by the four layers I had on that it was FREEZING there.

I hope you tune in tonight and see the results of all our hard work. The entire experience of making this episode was a delight, and a collaboration with so many awesome people I'm looking forward to working with again.

Friday, January 21, 2022

I'm writing a SUPERMAN & LOIS comic and want your help to make it a best-seller!

It was announced today on the official DC blog that I wrote a SUPERMAN & LOIS comic book with my fellow writers Jai Jamison & Andrew Wong.  Even more awesome for me personally is that DC got iconic Superman artist and co-creator of the Kon-El Superboy to draw it - Tom Grummett!

I've been a fan of Tom's work for literally 30 years and he was always one of my favorite Superman artists. Nothing I say here can adequately convey the thrill that my first comic book will be drawn by him.

It's coming out in April and I hope it sells well enough that DC will ask us to do more. Also, just from a purely ego standpoint, I'd love if we could make this the best-selling Superman book that comes out that month. To that end, I have a plan...

Pre-orders are incredibly important because they help determine the print run and how many copies a particular shop has in stock. If you know you want to buy the comic, it would really help out if you went to your local shop and preordered it. Most stores offer a discount if you do because you're helping them out too. At my store, you get 25% off if you pre-order.

Step 1 - Go to and find your nearest shop.

Step 2 - Go to the store before 2/19/22 and ask them to put aside a copy of EARTH PRIME #2: SUPERMAN & LOIS for you.

That's it!

On Sale: April 19th.

Spread the word and thanks! The full press release is below.

EARTH-PRIME #2, Featuring The CW’s Superman & Lois, in Comic Book Shops and Digital Platforms April 19

The creative minds behind The CW’s hottest DC super hero shows are bringing their talents and the characters they’ve made so popular to comic books in a can’t-miss comic book event!

EARTH-PRIME is a three-month, six-issue event set entirely in the universe of DC’s popular super hero TV shows. All issues are part of the Warner Bros. Television show canon, approved by CW television show producers. Each of the first five issues spotlights a different CW/DC super hero show, with the sixth issue serving as a cross-over finale.

EARTH-PRIME #1 (The CW’s Batwoman)

Ryan Wilder, aka Batwoman, makes her costumed comic book debut in a story co-written by series writers Natalie Abrams and Kelley Larson, plus series cast member Camrus Johnson (Luke Fox/Batwing), with art by Clayton Henry.

Ever since the tech that created many of Batman’s rogues hit the streets, Ryan Wilder has been running herself ragged trying to contain the new villains popping up around Gotham City. But when Clayface’s (making his CW debut) mud binds itself to a local high schooler, Batwoman will need help from an unexpected source to contain this muddy foe! Also, follow how Luke Fox balances his life as a super hero and a boyfriend!

EARTH-PRIME #2 (The CW’s Superman & Lois)

Superman & Lois series writers Adam Mallinger, Jai Jamison and Andrew Wong join DC fan-favorite artists Tom Grummett and Norm Rapmund in a story spotlighting Clark Kent and Lois Lane’s first anniversary. Trying to celebrate their marital bliss is never easy when you’re a super hero husband and news reporter wife; especially when world-saving and creating hard-hitting stories continue to spoil your plans! Plus, the true origins of the evil Superman from John Henry Irons’ world are finally revealed!

Both issues feature cover art by Kim Jacinto and will feature photo variant covers based on each individual show. Subsequent issues will spotlight The CW television shows DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, DC’s Stargirl and The Flash, all written or co-written by creative talent from the shows. Each issue will also include bonus material created by cast members of The CW shows, as well as “teasers” that will provide clues to the nature of the final crossover in issue #6

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Richard Donner put me on the path I'm on today and I'll be forever grateful

Richard Donner's SUPERMAN was the first movie I can remember falling in love with. It wasn't my introduction to Superman - Super Friends, SUPERMAN FROM THE 30s TO THE 70s, and a few stray comics had taken care of that - but it was my first experience with a living, breathing Superman who looked like he could have stepped right off the pages of the comics.

As a kid, I remember first knowing the film only in segments, as my bedtime meant I never saw the regular ABC broadcasts to completion. At first, the movie ended for me after Superman saved the helicopter. The next time, I saw all the way to just after Superman and Lois's flight together. The first time I saw the complete movie was around the time of my sixth birthday.

This seems impossible to fathom now, but my family didn't yet own a VCR. We had to rent one along with two movies that were selected to show at my party. My parents knew I wanted to see SUPERMAN but they also knew that another movie was likely to go over bigger with my friends. They agreed to let me put it to a vote - my film versus the other one.

STAR WARS won. And so it was with some slight bitterness that I experienced my first viewing of another film that would eventually become an obsession of my childhood.

Of course I finally saw SUPERMAN in full, and soon after that my family got their own VCR and I rented all of the SUPERMAN films obsessively. For some people of my generation, STAR WARS is the movie that made them want to be storytellers. For me, it was always SUPERMAN. 

I began to learn what visual and special effects were by studying that film and the making of it. Donner's dedication to "verisimilitude" opened my eyes to WHY certain stories work. Around the same time I discovered reruns of the old BATMAN series, which could not have taken a more different approach to how it adapted a beloved comic book character. Where that show played up how absurd Batman and his villains were within their world, Donner's movie was reverent. It somehow gave us a Superman who was true to his comic depiction and set him in an approximation of the real world.

Richard Donner showed us that you could make a good, optimistic Superman without compromising the character or the world he was set in. The post-Watergate era was a cynical one, and Donner ran right at that. He showed us that while the world was becoming more jaded, Superman's continued purity in the face of that made him an even more aspirational hero than ever.

That's one of those great things you learn about writing Superman. You don't "update" him so much as you change the world around him and much of your conflict comes out of his reaction to that. For instance, KINGDOM COME is a wonderful story about how the world seems to pass Superman's values behind and then when he returns, it's more apparent than ever that his brand of heroism is necessary.

Donner's Superman is the North Star for many Superman writers across multiple generations. Obviously, a lot of that comes from Christopher Reeve's iconic performance, which I paid tribute to long ago here. And much of the power of that film's script comes from Donner's brilliant collaborator, Tom Mankiewicz, honored here. But it was Dick Donner who was the conductor of it all, the steward of that vision. The theatrical cut of SUPERMAN II (a patchwork of production by Donner and his replacement Richard Lester) and especially SUPERMAN III make it clear how much was lost when Donner's voice was out of the conversation.

Without Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN, there would be no modern superhero films as we know them. Every successful superhero franchise since has built on his work. It was the CITIZEN KANE of comic book adaptations. He was as much a legend as the character he curated.

Earlier this year I showed my five year old son Donner’s SUPERMAN. I was worried that after SPIDER-VERSE and LEGO BATMAN he’d find it slow and boring. He was enthralled the entire time, barely even asking questions (usually the more questions, the less interested he is.) 43 years after release, it hasn't lost its magic.

Something I had suspected but didn't realize until yesterday was that Donner's SUPERMAN is the most commercially successful film adaptation of the character. Per this THR article, in 2016 dollars, the film made $1.09 billion. That makes it not only the most successful film to feature Superman, but more successful than any DCEU film except for AQUAMAN. That's rarified air up there with the last two Nolan Batman films.

Richard Donner’s Superman obviously was massively influential on SUPERMAN & LOIS and an inspiration to those who make it. Our Superman is drawn from a lot of eras, but I think it's fair to say that our Superman compass very often points to Donner's vision.

Dick Donner made me a Superman fan, a filmmaker and a storyteller. He's as much responsible for where I am today as anyone. And that's why it was especially sad to get the news the same week I'm about to walk into the SUPERMAN & LOIS room as a full Staff Writer.

Yes, I'm burying the lede. I almost made that announcement its own post, but it seemed fitting to say that here. You can draw a straight line from Richard Donner's work to where I am today, the path I've been on most of my life, and it is so bittersweet to have this personal achievement in tandem with his passing.

91 years is a long time to be on this planet, but that doesn't make it any less sad to lose him. I'm sorry I never got the chance to meet him and my condolences to everyone who was blessed enough to know him and love him in life.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

How my first episode of SUPERMAN & LOIS came together and reflected an emotional year

 "How would you like to write episode 10?"

That was the way Todd Helbing, my showrunner, told me I was getting to write the next episode of SUPERMAN & LOIS. It was the last week of August and when Todd called me at home, I was in the shower and missed the call. The voicemail he'd left was an ambiguous "Call me back when you can. I'm about to go into a meeting." After cursing myself for missing the call, I returned... and got voicemail. The interval between then and Todd calling me back had given me time to ponder... every other writer had been assigned an ep... was he calling to offer me an episode?

Having correctly forecast what the call was about in no way diminished my excitement. "Yeah, you know... I, uh, think I could squeeze it in. If you don't have anyone else," I seem to recall saying before going on to thanking him profusely. As with many moments in my life, I recall the meta-reaction of "Remember this moment" right alongside the rush of "Holy shit. My name's going to be on a Superman story!"

The day before, we'd batted around some ideas for 110 just to see what might fly. At that point, 109 was going to end with Edge's compound destroyed and some of the media insinuating Superman was responsible. It was in the air that 110 might deal with some of the public turning against Superman and part of that idea would also be ratcheting up the tension between Superman and the military, to the point that they might unveil a new super-operative who also becomes a media rival for Superman.

I was into this idea. I even had a fresh spin on the old chestnut of "the world wonders if it can trust its hero." We didn't need the entire population to turn against Superman, as if they were easily swayed residents of Springfield. All we'd need is 30% or so to embrace that and show how much damage Edge could do by manipulating that small portion of the population.

In my zeal, I spent the weekend sketching out several acts worth of story for these concepts and sent them to Todd. It was more information than Todd was expecting from me, though I wasn't the first first-timer to get so carried away by his enthusiasm that season. Todd politely told me I could pump the breaks a little. He wasn't quite feeling this story, but at this point, it was the start of September and since we wouldn't start shooting the first episode of the series for well over a month, we were massively ahead. 

Todd basically said he didn't know if this was the right story, but we had time, so give it a few days in the room to see where it goes. We fleshed it out and pitched it to Todd a few days later. Alas, our efforts failed to move the needle. Todd told us to move on to something else. At that point, I couldn't really complain, even though I was very into the idea.

An important thing to understand about a writers room is that it's not a democracy. To borrow a phrase I learned from my friend Javi Grillo-Marxauch, "you serve at the pleasure of the showrunner." Todd had given me days to flesh out my idea so I could present him the most polished version of it. That was more than fair. When you're in that situation and the showrunner says "no," it's like the Supreme Court ruling. It's settled law - move on.

We tried a second idea, dubbed in the room "The Frost/Nixon episode." It fared little better than the first pitch.

For the third go-round, we shifted focus. Episode 108 had ended with Morgan Edge using his mole to take possession of Project 7734, the military's cache of anti-Superman weapons. What if this was the episode where Edge used them on Superman? The brainstorming started with the premise that Superman and Lane could be hunting Edge's mole Rosetti after Rosetti took 7734. Rosetti somehow could get the drop on them and use the kryptonite on Superman.

At that point someone had the idea, "What if Superman gets hit with Kryptonite and it transfers to Jordan somehow? Being in proximity to Jordan poisons him with residual Kryptonite radiation. Superman takes Jordan to the cabin to help him recover. It’s a story about a father taking care of his sick son." (This is what it says in the notes, verbatim.)

THAT was when we knew we had gold. In eighty years of Superman history there have been hundreds of stories of him dealing with Kryptonite traps, and hundreds more about him losing his powers. In terms of incident, it's unlikely you're going to come up with something that hasn't been done before. The challenge becomes, what makes "Superman loses his power" into a uniquely SUPERMAN & LOIS story? Answer: have it threaten one of the kids.

The very next idea we had was to make this the ep where the Kent farm comes under siege by Edge's goons. The first version we batted around had Lois, Jon and General Lane defending the farm on their own while Superman stayed with Jordan. As this developed further, Clark and Jordan would be at the farm when the siege happens, with Clark having to don his Superman outfit and take on a couple Subjekts mostly powerless, showing that he's learned a thing or two about fighting depowered in the nearly 20 years he's been Superman.

If you watch the show this season, this is about the point where you're saying, "Uh, Adam? You're confused. This is the plot of episode 109." You're not wrong, but that story didn't originate in 109. As for how it ended up there, I'll get there in a minute.

We spent a little over a week refining this pitch. Todd was in and out of the room and for much of this, when he'd pop in, it fell to Co-EP Mike Narducci to summarize our progress. Todd would give his notes and we'd incorporate them as we developed the story further.

That same afternoon, we hit on the major emotional runner. Lois's father was running this "Kill Superman" project for the military behind his family's back. Lois and General Lane have had a strained relationship most of Lois's life, but especially in the twenty years since she became a reporter. When something her dad did threatens Jordan's life and he doesn't even have a cure, that's when she's hit her redline. Twenty years of putting up with her father's bullshit finally gets to her and she tells him that their relationship can't come back from this - not when his mistrust has made her son deathly ill.

At the time we were breaking this, I was in the middle of a conflict with my own father, so all of that went into how I was writing Lois's POV. I was pretty assertive about no matter how pissed and emotional Lois is, that shouldn't be a reason to dismiss the points she makes. Her emotion is justified by the circumstances, not something that should be used to minimize how it pushes her to react.

There's an easy out here where you could say, "Well, Lois is just too mad to think about this objectively." It was important to me to not dismiss her argument just because she was emotional. She earned that emotion. It's based in history and experience. To say she should take emotion out of that would be ridiculous.

At one point, we were going to see a little more of General Lane's perspective, just to understand what led him here. Here's a teaching moment for all you aspiring staff writers - I wrote to Todd just to let him know I was concerned that telling too much of the story from Lane's side might leave the impression that we were putting our thumb on the scale for him. I didn't want the takeaway to be that the episode was on Lane's side and Lois just needed to come around to the "right" answer.

Todd could have said to me "Look, this is the episode you've been sent off to write, just do it." Instead, he did something really smart and said that if I felt this passionate about Lois's perspective, then there was no way that the episode could undercut her because the way I'd write her was guaranteed to make the case for how justified her feelings were. That was going to withstand anything that came out of scenes from her father's perspective.

In a way, he made me realize I was inadvertently arguing that the only way I could make Lois's case is if it went unchallenged. Todd was right - I should be more focused on depicting Lois's stance so powerfully that it can withstand ANY challenge.

Eventually came the moment when I had to pitch the episode board to Todd. I did a conscious imitation of my friend Javi, who tends to infuse his episode pitches with some humor, high energy, and engaging with the room. Some people go more sedate, merely reciting the action scene by scene. I try to keep the emotion up during scenes. If you're talking about a scene where Lois tells her father she never wants to see him again, bring some of that intensity to the description.

Anyway, the pitch went over big and at that point I got sent off to Story Area. Once that got through the network/studio approval levels, I was sent off to write the outline. When you're writing on a show, the way it works is you write your Story Area or Outline, then turn it into the showrunner. From there, they rewrite it and turn it into the studio and network. Your showrunner's rewrites might alter the outline drastically before it's turned in, so you want to always be tracking what's changed and why.

My recollection is that more than 50% of my outline changed, though the story didn't substantially get altered. Once that was approved, I was sent off to script.

Our outlines are about 20 pages long... which is pretty long. My job is to take those twenty pages and turn them into a 50-53 page script. The trick to this is that outlines of scenes can sometimes go as deep as "Lois says X and then Clark says Y." It might look easy - surely all you have to do is rewrite everything in Final Draft form? That's the wrong angle to take. The goal is to preserve the thrust and intent of the scene, but bring in your own voice and scene work. Make the scene your own while still accomplishing everything the outline shows.

Easy, right?

This process took a little longer than normal because I was sent to Story Area before we'd even started shooting the first episode and then I was writing the outline during production of our first couple episodes, while Todd's attention was focused on launching the show. What this means is that my outline didn't actually get turned in until about two and a half months after my story break was approved.

I was sent to script just after the New Year. About two weeks later, I had a draft ready to turn in.

Right about then was when all of the earlier episodes were being rewritten for production. Keep in mind, the first nine scripts or so were all written before we saw a complete episode, before we had a real understanding of what production during COVID was like and how much of a typical script was needed to be cut in order to fit into our timeslot.

Once Todd and the other upper level writers saw a couple finished episodes, they began adjusting the subsequent scripts for production. In the process, some plot points got affected. Most notably is the fact that we had kept the Cushings mostly out of the genre side of the show early on, reasoning they needed to stay grounded. 

The B-story of my episode took place just after Edge hired Lana. Lois tries to warn her away from the job, Lana doesn't listen. She goes to Edge's corporate offices and is given a physical, during which she realizes something strange is going on. She tries to escape, gets caught and becomes the latest person to be possessed by a Kryptonian.

If you've watched this season, you know that the rewrites moved up Lana's awareness quite a bit. We now have her in episode 106 agreeing to be Lois's eyes and ears inside Edge's company after she takes the job. (As soon as that rewrite came out, I thought, "Well there goes a third of my episode.")

The A-stories of the season were mostly unaffected up through episode 108. Lana's family had been siloed enough off from the A-stories that the ripple effect of that change fortunately was not a massive seismic shift right away. Still, with each episode, a few things got reshaped SLIGHTLY differently and the ripple effect grew.

The original version of 108 built to Rosetti revealing himself as a mole, kidnapping John Henry Irons out of the DOD and delivering him to Edge. Edge was going to interrogate him and then try to turn him into one of his Subjekts. Superman, Lois and Lane would track Edge's Subjekts to their location, fight, and rescue John Henry, who would be left in a coma for a few episodes, following his near transformation. After that, they'd discover while Superman and team were occupied against Edge, other Subjekts raided the DOD for 7734 weapons.

It was a cool idea, but it was big. To make 108 more producible, it was rewritten so that the action sequence would be contained within the DOD. So how do we accomplish that? How about Rosetti exposes Superman to some anti-Superman measures that weaken his powers? And then Superman has to save John Henry at great risk to himself, even knowing that John Henry might turn on him.

Honestly, I think the rewrite plays out more powerfully that our original notion. But in moving the kryptonite weapon from 110 to 108, it pretty much ensured that 110 could no longer exist in the form I wrote.

As you've seen, 108 sets up Superman to lose his powers and then pass the virus to Jordan in 109. Several elements of my story moved up from 110 to 109, though many aspects of the story were altered, meaning it couldn't be a simple cut-and-paste from my draft into the new 109.

And so we arrive at 110, with everything that once was in there now absorbed into earlier episodes or eliminated entirely. That meant an entirely new story had to be crafted. One notion we had originally earmarked for later episodes was that Edge would possess Lana with Lara, his and Superman's mother. She was the scientist who developed the resurrection process, and though he tries to manipulate her into supporting him, she eventually would turn on him.

I think the notion of this being the episode where Superman frees all of Edge's Subjekts came first. We were pretty sure no one would see that coming with this many episodes to go, the assumption being they'd be built up for a massive battle in the finale. From there it was a short hop to realizing the way to accomplish this would be to resurrect Lara via Lana.

Most of the break was me, Mike Narducci and Kristi Korzec going act by act and figuring out the story, with Todd popping in and out to either approve or to redirect us. We broke the first three acts, then Mike, Kristi and I each went off to write an act individually, regrouped, broke the NEXT three acts, and then did pages for those acts, stitching it all together for Todd's approval.

This process once had a very politically incorrect name, but we now call it a "Voltron."

There's a certain irony about the process of this episode. When we broke the first version of 110, I was in the middle of a fight with my father and channeled a lot of that into Lois's conflict with General Lane. As many of you may know, after that story was approved by studio and network, my father died of COVID. When this new version of 110 was being developed, it now was a story about a son who resurrects a dead parent for one more day with them.

Is it coincidence that my story emotionally resonated with what was going on in my life, or was I deliberately working out my issues via the script? The answer... is yes.

Mike and Kristi were very accommodating in letting me write the acts that leaned on the emotion of Clark getting to know his dead mother. I thought about Dad a lot as I wrote those scenes. Sadly, two of my favorite moments didn't survive into the episode you saw.

In our first draft, we'd contrived a reason for Lara to need some Kryptonian components from Clark's pod. It justified getting her to see the farm where he grew up and also facilitated an emotional moment when she sees the pod that she designed to take Clark from Krypton to Earth. It was a really nice scene, but it had to go in the rewrite when taking that detour just drained too much urgency from the stakes of the episode.

The other moment I really missed was a concluding beat with Lois and Clark visiting the graves of Jonathan and Martha Kent. Clark had a moment where he said he hoped somehow they knew what happened today and how proud Lara was of the man they'd helped him become. Clark said that they deserved to be here today for that moment, to know they'd done their jobs right. It was me talking to my Dad through Clark's words. Maybe a little too on the nose, I grant you. Alas, the more we started understanding the handoff between 110 and 111, the more clear it became that there's no way Clark would have time for a cemetery visit in the coda.

Even though I wasn't able to pay tribute to Dad through Clark, he was there in spirit.

Dad bought me my first Superman comic book. He let me drag him to local comic conventions three times a year when I was growing up. He was so exposed to the comic world through me that when an episode of LAW & ORDER used the name of Superman artist John Byrne for a victim, Dad immediately recognized the person writing it (who turned out to be ARROW co-creator Marc Guggenheim) was probably a comic book fan. 

It is a mark of how terribly unfair life is that Dad could not be here this week to see the credit "Written by Adam Mallinger" on a Superman story. But he will always be a part of this episode as far as I'm concerned.

Thank you Todd Helbing for this episode. Thank you Greg Berlanti for championing me for the Writers Assistant position. Thank you to the entire writing staff for your incredible support through the writing of this episode, especially Mike and Kristi for including me in the rewrites, and Max for taking notes so that I wouldn't have to. Thank you to the cast who gave such great performances, to the crew who really made this episode look great, and to Harry Jierjian, who directed the hell out of it.

I think a lot about that phone call from Todd in late August, and how very grateful I am that he gave me 110 instead of, say, 114, which would have been assigned well after Dad died. He didn't get to see it, but he at least knew I was getting it. It's not everything I would have wanted this moment to be, but it's enough.