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.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Inside that big Steel reveal on SUPERMAN & LOIS

Most of you know I've spent the last year-plus as the writers' assistant on season 1 of SUPERMAN & LOIS. Last week, our seventh episode "Man of Steel," was built around a reveal that I've spent over a year terrified would leak early - that the man addressed by his armor as "Captain Luthor" was actually John Henry Irons from another Earth.

Superman fans will recognize John Henry Irons as the hero who becomes Steel, first introduced as a replacement Superman back in the REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN story in 1993. Thus far, the character's only live action appearance has been in the 1997 Shaquille O'Neal movie STEEL, but he's long been a fan favorite in the comics. His arrival on the show was a big deal. Just check out some of these reaction videos (conveniently queued up to the moment just before the big reveals.):





I was extra giddy to see these reactions and to watch our fans on Twitter completely lose their minds for the twist during the East Coast feed. The reason for that is... revealing "Luthor" as Steel was MY pitch.

A little SUPERMAN & LOIS behind the scenes. When we first met as a room in late February 2020, I walked in with a list of about 15 characters I hoped we could use. I've spoken many times before about being a Superman fan and even more specifically, a fan of the REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN, so it's probably not a surprise that I came in hoping to introduce elements from the Post-Crisis comics I devoured as a kid.

When I saw the deck of characters already approved for us to pull from, three of my biggest hopes were on there. I remember staff writer Jai Jamison got VERY excited when he saw Steel was on the list of people we could use, if so inclined. I remember thinking, "If I don't get a good Steel pitch in soon, this guy's gonna get there first!"

Early on, the room was tasked with figuring out the backstory and motivations of the character known in the pilot as The Stranger. His dialogue suggested a knowledge of the multiverse and likely some kind of connection to CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS. His armor also addressed him as Captain Luthor, but beyond that, nothing was set in stone. We brainstormed a number of pitches and motivations, but nothing really seemed to stick. I tossed out the idea that, "What if he's a Luthor from a world where Superman is evil and Luthor is the only hero?"

If you're a comic book fan, you'll recognize that as a premise that originated in storylines from the mid-60s, where the JLA explored Earth-3, a world where all their counterparts were evil. This shift to making "Captain Luthor" less of a villain and more of an antagonist or an anti-hero seemed to open up a lot of doors and the staff latched onto this idea.

I do not remember if I also pitched the fact that that Earth's version of Luthor was married to Lois Lane. I have a vague sense that once we started discussing alt-universal possibilities, someone else came up with that independently. With this backstory being developed, we set out to do some broad sketches of the first several episodes and start to fill in how we'd use all of the characters.

For about six weeks or so, the Stranger really was Alex Luthor, a good Luthor on an Earth with an evil Superman. The more we filled out how we were gonna use this guy, and how he was going to interact with Lois, the more it became clear that while he presented as an antagonist, he had a very empathetic, honorable storyline, and that his trajectory was more akin to an eventual ally than a recurring foe.

Then it hit me. On April 10, 2020, I sent our Co-EP Brent Fletcher my pitch, wanting to test the waters with him before going to our showrunner Todd Helbing with an idea that could upend what we'd been talking about. I proposed we reveal Alex Luthor was actually Steel. Brent got back to me almost immediately. He loved it. He told me either he'd tee me up to pitch it to Todd, or if he saw an opening, he'd pitch it to Todd himself and credit me. 

The latter scenario ended up being how it played out. A couple days later, Todd came into the writers' Zoom room and said, "I think it's fucking awesome. We're gonna do it!"

At this point in the season, we were still breaking the third episode and the script for the second episode had yet to be written. With a big reveal like this, it's not uncommon for the creators to be asked, "When did you know? When did you decide?" So just to be clear about this: every script after the pilot was written with the knowledge that the Stranger was actually another world's John Henry Irons.

My understanding is that Todd Helbing eventually let our Stranger actor, Wolé Parks, in on the secret in June 2020. We didn't start filming until October 2020, so Wolé had plenty of time to prepare. I'm not aware of if any of the main cast knew before they received the script to 107, so I can't speak to their reactions.

So when I say we had to keep this secret a long time, I mean we had to keep this secret a LONG time.

Amazingly, aside from the occasional odd guess here and there, it remained a completely hidden twist until last week. Writing TV for the online age comes with a lot of hazards. Between Twitter, Reddit and other places for fans to congregate, writers now have to outsmart an entire collective. It often feels like if one person figures out a secret, the entire group mind now knows it. I'm delighted we were able to blindside a ton of the audience.

Another great joy of this was that once we settled on the Steel reveal, Jai Jamison lobbied hard to get the big John Henry Irons episode. In an Entertainment Weekly interview, Jai recalled, "I just got so excited. Todd will tell you, I spent so much time thinking about John Henry's Earth and background. I came in one day and was like, 'and then all this happened and then this happened, and then this.' And we're not going to see any of it, but…"

Todd interjected, "It's funny because Jai came in one day [after] emailing me [with] just a machine gun of ideas. And I was like, 'Dude, don't take this the wrong way, just pump the brakes a second. We got to slow down just a second. I haven't had this many ideas thrown…' No, but it was awesome, because you want the staff, everybody, to be that enthusiastic about it. So it was fantastic."

I have deeply enjoyed working with the staff this season and that interview, as well as every other interview surrounding it, demonstrates the caliber of people I'm working with. Just look at this exchange in full:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let's start with you, Todd. How early in the development process did you know the Stranger would actually be John Henry Irons?

TODD HELBING: It was a little bit of a problem. We knew from day one that we just didn't want to do a classic villain. We wanted to do something cool with Luthor. And then it was pretty early on where it was pitched by our writers' assistant, Adam Mallinger, that we should make him Steel. I mean, that was really early on. And I can't remember when I called you, Wolé. That was in like June or something, right?

WOLÉ PARKS: Yeah, it was like June or July. Or something like that.

HELBING: But it was just one of those pitches where you're like, "Oh my God, this just takes it to a different level! And then we can do Nat, and we can just expand this family." And it was just one thing after the other. And then the story got so much richer and deeper.


In all my years of reading about TV, I can't think of too many instances where a showrunner went out of his way to credit an idea to a writers' assistant - BY NAME - in a national publication. To say I was incredibly touched that Todd did so doesn't begin to convey my gratitude.

Jai also dropped my name in virtually every interview he did about his episode. Those are the kind of stand-up people I've been working with and hope to continue to work with for a very long time. I didn't expect them to go the extra mile and it was even more rewarding as a result.

There are some rooms where the writers assistants aren't even allowed to contribute, so to be in a room where I was encouraged to speak up, heard when I pitched a good idea, and then singled out as the person who had the initial pitch is incredibly rare. It was a highlight of this year, and probably will remain a highlight of my career.

The entire staff had their hands in the Steel storyline and in each episode. It was a delight to work with them and a real thrill to make a contribution to screen Superman canon.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

I'm a guest on the GEEK HISTORY LESSON podcast!

Another podcast appearance (I'm really enjoying these), this time with Jason Inman and Ashley V. Robinson on Geek History Lesson. We're talking about the greatest Superman stories ever. If you ever wondered what my Top 5 Superman Stories are, wonder no more.

You can access the podcast at any of these locations:

Direct Post

Apple

Spotify

This was a lot of fun. Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, December 25, 2020

CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS is back for a return engagement until Jan 8!

Did you miss CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS the first time it was released? Did you buy tickets and forget to watch? Did you love it and want to see it again?

Well, as a Christmas gift to you, we are making CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS available again until January 8th. For only $5 you can watch, though if you're motivated to donate more, you certainly can give more if you want because the proceeds go to two worthy causes.


And if you bought tickets for the first airing, those tickets still work at no additional charge! It's like rewatching for free!

1) The Hollywood Support Staff Relief Fund - This has been established by the Actors Fund to benefit L.A. based support staffers affected by the COVID-19 shutdowns. I'm a Writers' Assistant on SUPERMAN & LOIS, and I'm very fortunate to have a job right now. Many of my peers aren't as fortunate and I really want to help them out with this show. Please give generously. You'll be helping a lot of future TV writers stay in the game.

2) The Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation - This is a non-profit that does legal work to protect the land rightfully owned by the descendants of former slaves as well as ecologic and economic work to sustain those properties and their communities. Basically, they help underserved families protect land that the government or rich white people want to take from them and exploit.

Click HERE to get your tickets!

Related links:

Download the script here

Then, for an EXHAUSTIVE list of annotations that list every reference, go here

Links to interviews that I've done about CRISIS can be found here

For a roundup of the reactions to the first airing, go here.

And for a little history about how this came together, go here

A Crisis is erasing the world of the Teen Drama multiverse and the only thing that can save it is an all-star cast of teen archetypes assembled by Kevin Arnold and Dawson Leery! The worlds of VERONICA MARS, EVERWOOD, RIVERDALE, ONE TREE HILL, GILMORE GIRLS and 13 REASONS WHY are just a few that collide in this meeting of the angstiest, sexiest and fastest talking teens in TV history.

And in a special treat, this dream team includes Ephram Brown and Amy Abbott from EVERWOOD - played by their original performers: Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp! Yes, it's an EVERWOOD reunion, and that's not the end of the surprises here!

From producers Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek; Everwood; The Flash; Riverdale, and many more) and Ben Blacker (Thrilling Adventure Hour; Dead Pilots Society) and writer Adam Mallinger comes a tribute to the classic WB teen dramas of yesterday and an affectionate parody of the CW superhero shows of today.

Starring

Gregory Smith (ROOKIE BLUE) as Ephram Brown

Emily VanCamp (THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER) as Amy Abbott

Melissa Fumero (BROOKLYN NINE-NINE) as Lorelei Gilmore

Isabella Gomez (ONE DAY AT A TIME) as Rory Gilmore and Brooke Davis

Emmy Raver-Lampman (UMBRELLA ACADEMY) as Veronica Mars

Vella Lovell (CRAZY EX- GIRLFRIEND) as Veronica Lodge

Nick Wechsler (REVENGE) as Archie Andrews and Lucas Scott

Matt Lauria (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) as Dawson Leery

Anjelica Fellini (TEENAGE BOUNTY HUNTERS) as Hannah Baker

Mark Gagliardi (BLOOD & TREASURE) as Kevin Arnold

Caroline Ward (HOST) as Peyton Sawyer

Jaime Moyer (A.P. BIO) as Sue Sylvester

Lindsey Blackwell (DAVID MAKES MAN) as Young Veronica Mars

Autumn Reeser (THE O.C.) as Taylor Townsend

And Greg Berlanti as The Flash

.

Monday, December 21, 2020

2020 seemed to give me everything I wanted... and then it took my Dad

As 2020 winds down, I'm left with the realization that it's a year I'm always gonna remember as "the year I lost my dad." Considering how much has happened this year, it's sobering that that is what leaves a mark.

From the time Donald Trump, truly one of the worst Americans alive and easily the worst American president ever, had been elected, I'd spent practically every day counting down to Election Day 2020. In a truly dark turn of events, that day, November 3, 2020, was the first day in 73 years that my father was not on this Earth, having died the previous morning.

I started the year with so much optimism. Just two weeks in, SUPERMAN & LOIS had been picked up and thanks to prior encounters with Greg Berlanti, I had a meeting with Todd Helbing, the showrunner. Having been up for a Berlanti show the prior season, I knew that nothing was in the bag, so I went in as prepared as possible and managed to walk out with the job.

Holy shit! I'm was going to be working on a Superman show! Produced by Greg Berlanti! It was pretty much everything I wanted from the time I first came out here. When I finally met the staff, they proved to be a great bunch of people and for a month, it was a dream job. As writers' assistant, I was spending my entire day in a room with people talking about Superman, and I got to contribute quite a bit too.

Then, about a month into the room, the whole world changed. Due to a complete failure on the part of the Trump Administration to contain COVID-19, the pandemic broke out. The room moved to Zoom, and here again, I have to commend the staff I was working with. Working on Zoom is draining in a way that working in a normal room isn't, but I think we adapted about as well as any team could have.

I think it helped that as a collective, this might be the best writing staff I've been lucky enough to work with. In other rooms, I've watched as animosity brewed between some specific writers, to the point that it was obvious everyone in the room was noticing it too as it led to daily clashes between those two. I've witnessed one writer push another writer so far that the second writer simply walked out of the room at 11:30am, drove home, and didn't return until the next day. I've seen writers not intuit after months in a room which pitches aren't anywhere near viable, or be able to adapt their style when it's clear their personality isn't getting results.

We didn't really have that on our show. It was a great bunch of writers who all seemed to feel that the best part of our day was getting together and talking story. Most days, you could feel the excitement even across Zoom. I'm not exaggerating when I say that working on SUPERMAN & LOIS kept me sane this year, and helped me through what otherwise would have been an extremely difficult several months where I was isolating with only my wife and son.

At one point, we took a brief hiatus, and so, with nothing else to do, I found myself writing the teen drama mega-crossover I was born to do: CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS. I've told that story here, so I won't retread most of that ground again. But as you know, I was as shocked as anyone when - at a point when only four pages of this script existed - Ben Blacker contacted me and told me he wanted to do the Zoom live read of the script. Then, once the script was done and I showed it to Greg Berlanti, Greg generously offered to help us with casting.  This is how we got Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp to reprise their roles and make it sort of an EVERWOOD reunion.

As I returned to the show, the summer found me focusing my attention on either SUPERMAN & LOIS, or the production of the live read. Both were welcome distractions and as our amazing cast came together, it was clear that we had something special. At the same time, it was the end of the summer when Todd Helbing called me with a question, "How would you like to write the next episode?"

I found myself breaking my episode as the last pieces of the live read were falling into place. That all but confirmed to me that it was time for something that had been long delayed - I was going to remove the anonymity from The Bitter Script Reader.  And so, once we had filmed and edited the Zoom live read and announced a release date, I made that reveal as part of the announcement... on October 11, 2020.

Mere hours after I made that announcement, my mother texted me with news. My father had symptoms that appeared to be COVID and had gone for a test. 24 hours later, while I was in the Zoom Room, I got another text from my father: "I tested positive for COVID."

Late that night, I got a call from my mother. Dad had collapsed and hit his head, necessitating a trip to the emergency room. The next day, Tuesday, October 13, he was admitted to the hospital and was being given oxygen to get his blood-ox up. I spoke to him on the phone that day, immediately surprised that he sounded normal. I expected his voice to be weak, or for him to be coughing heavily, or at least sound winded. He didn't. I allowed myself to believe that this was a relatively minor case of COVID, especially when he was released that Thursday.

Friday night, October 16, he was back in the hospital after his blood-ox remained low. He would not leave again.

I spoke to him on the phone the next couple of days. Dad told me he was looking forward to my live read. He hadn't watched most of those teen shows, but he knew it was a big deal for me. He was impressed to see it all come together. In what turned out to be one of our last conversations, he said, "I'm most excited to see Greg Berlanti as The Flash."

I always took that to mean he was very impressed that I was doing something that someone as accomplished as Greg wanted to be a part of. And I think he was very excited for me that I was working with one of my professional idols.

In that same conversation, I told him that I'd just been on the notes call for my episode story area and that everyone raved about it. I read him the non-spoilery parts of the pre-meeting email, which was "We. Loved. This. Episode." He was so happy for me. I told him that I'd been working on my episode's paperwork, which included applying to the WGA. He asked what that meant. I told him it meant I was a writer. I'd be joining the union, card and everything.

But there became concern that he was talking too much and it was affecting his blood ox, so on Tuesday, October 20, they told me "no voice calls." The last conversation I would ever have with him was the day before that. I didn't realize for a few days that he had been allowed to keep his cell phone and was receiving texts, but once I did, I sent him a few pics of my son and we had a brief chat that Sunday, October 25. We texted again on Monday, October 26.

I woke up on Tuesday, October 27 to the news he'd been intubated and sedated. 

This was three days before my live read premiered. The one he'd been so excited for.

The rest of the week was a series of updates as to his condition, communicated in the forms or numbers and levels and benchmarks that aren't worth recapping. There's be improvement in one area, and then something else would go south. They'd address developing blood clots by using thinners, and then the thinners would cause trouble elsewhere in his body. So they would address that, and the distress then cascaded elsewhere.

What this leads to is a FaceTime call with my unconscious father on Saturday, October 31. He'd had a bad morning, but seemed to be turning around by the time they put me on the phone. I knew why they were doing this. I knew that this was the call where I was supposed to say goodbye, just in case there wouldn't be any other opportunity.

I hate goodbyes. I told him that. I told him I knew why they wanted me to talk to him. And then I said to him that I wasn't going to say goodbye. This call would not be goodbye. Instead I told him about everything that was going on. I told him I'd dedicated the live read to him and that since it debuted, so many people were sending well-wishes.

I reminded him of the line he often quoted from Dumb and Dumber, when Lloyd is told by Mary that his chances with her are "one in a million" and Lloyd says, "So you're saying there's a chance!" I told Dad that I needed him to believe it, and that I believed it.

The next day, I posted a picture of my newly-arrived WGA card to Twitter and spent the day fielding congrats from so many of my followers and peers. This was on the heels of CRISIS being very well-received just two days earlier, so my feed that weekend had been like a geyser of well-wishes and positivity. It was a lot of kindness at a time I truly needed it.

Dad did not have a good Sunday. Late in the evening here, I got a call from Mom that his condition was bad. My brother was making the four hour drive to get there because there was a very real chance that he wouldn't make it through the night. I've already told you as much about that night as I can bear, and you'll find that post here.

What I was left with in the wake of Dad's death was anger, so much anger. His death, like so many of the other 250,000 COVID casualties at the time he passed, didn't have to happen.

Any competent administration and Congress would have put everything on a true lockdown, paid people to stay home for two months, and then done contact tracing to isolate active cases and prevent a spread. They would have promoted the science aggressively, and let it be known that masks drastically reduce transmission and embraced the necessity of social distancing. They would not have prioritized "the economy" over human lives, and they wouldn't have acted like it was encouraging freeloading to take financial burdens off of people so wouldn't have to choose between going to work and staying safe.

My father is dead because of Donald Trump, because he chose to fight a pandemic like a PR problem.

My father is dead because not enough people understood how grossly unqualified and incapable this man was to lead... and that wasn't a hard thing to see. Myself and many others knew from the day he was elected that he would only bring ruin to this nation and we spent four years begging everyone else to see it. 

My father is dead because of every ignorant person who voted for Donald Trump despite all the red flags in 2016, and I promise you that just about all of them voted for Trump again the day AFTER my father died, thereby making it crystal clear their denial that boorish ignoramous completely screwed up the pandemic response. Other countries got a handle on it. We didn't - because we have a sociopathic asshole guiding our response.

I hold all of those people responsible, even those who once might have considered themselves close friends or blood relatives of my family. I will never be able to forgive them for what they did in putting that man in the White House. And I don't want people to tell me that I need to "understand" why they supported this racist garbage of a human. I have zero interest in salvaging those relationships and I could not have a lower opinion of those who tied themselves to Trump.

So you can see how all of that tends to overshadow the overwhelming positivity that happened elsewhere in the year. 

I was grateful for the many people who reached out to me as they heard of Dad's passing. One of the advantages of having a robust social media presence is that news travels fast. One of my oldest friends let me know that he felt "like I lost my second dad." A college friend who I first met at a pre-orientation event for Columbus locals attending Denison emailed me to say that he remembered meeting my Dad at that event 22 years ago, and talked about how friendly Dad was to him then.

A writer I worked with on my last show emailed me to say he spoke to my dad when I dragged my parents along to a cookout hosted by another of the writers earlier this year. Apparently Dad told him all about how we drove across the country together when I moved out here and "You know this already, but it bears repeating: he was damn proud of you. For your hard work, your perseverance, and having landed your dream show. He knew you were starting a new chapter and he was positively beaming. It was clear you and your family were the apples of his eye."

I wasn't prepared for how hard it hit to hear that from someone who'd only had one encounter with him.

So many people who Dad met only once or twice, often YEARS ago, emailed me to tell me details of their conversations with him. I have been to so many parties where a friend introduced me to their parents and I promise you, I probably couldn't pick them out of a lineup today. I don't even know if I often had any kind of in-depth conversations with those people... but Dad had such a presence that even in those short encounters, he made an impression.

These last seven weeks have been about me realizing that this impression is now a gigantic hole in the wake of his passing.

Again, the people on SUPERMAN & LOIS couldn't have been more wonderful to me. The morning of my Dad's passing, Greg Berlanti and Todd Helbing had flowers sent not just to me, but to my mother as well. That night, one of the actors on the show, Erik Valdez, happened to see a RT of my tweets about my dad's passing, noticed that we worked on the show together, and DM'd me to introduce himself and send his condolences. The next morning, I returned from a walk to find more flowers waiting for me and a very kind note from "The S&L Cast." Though he didn't claim credit, I'm sure that was Erik's doing.

All of the writers were so wonderful to me, reaching out, covering for me, being there to listen when I needed it. And in perhaps the most unexpected kindness of all, the other Arrowverse assistants - many of them, mind you, whom I've not yet met aside from email - reached out with a condolence card and gift card.

I'm telling you this because I want you to know that contrary to the stereotype of people who work in Hollywood, my co-workers, bosses, and counterparts on other shows are some of the kindest, most empathetic people you could know. Their big hearts made a horrible situation much more bearable than it would have been. All I can do is try to live up to that kindness and pay it forward when it's my turn.

Everything good about this year was connected to this show and Greg Berlanti. I got to write my first episode of TV. I got to write SUPERMAN. I did a star-studded crossover of my favorite teen shows and got Emily VanCamp and Gregory Smith from my FAVORITE teen show to come read MY words. Because of my job, I didn't have to worry about supporting my family during the pandemic, and because of the attention the live read got, I didn't have to go through the days after it alone.

2020 took my father from me and it feels like the only way it could balance the scales is by giving me everything else I ever wanted. And yet, as I sit here reliving the past year, I'm left with these thoughts:

As your parents get older, you confront the reality that one day, they will leave you. That had definitely crossed my mind the last few years. My father was 73, but he looked nearly a decade younger. He'd been taking care of himself. His father passed at the age of 79 and looking at pictures of him, I'm struck by how he looked at least 15 years older than my father did this year. 

Beyond that, my father's mother - my grandmother - had died only four months earlier at the age of 97. I never expected we could lose him so soon after her. Think about that... my father only lived four months of his life without his mother.

I feel like an entire decade was stolen from him. He should have been here to see my four year-old son grow older. Maybe he'd have even made it to his high school graduation, or at least been around long enough that my son wouldn't only know "Papa" as a distant memory.

It's unfair and it hurts and it never should have happened.

I miss him. And I will continue to miss him forever.

I love you, Dad.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

I talk 13 REASONS WHY, spec episodes and CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS on the podcast WHY NOT?

I was very excited to make an appearance this week on the podcast Why Not? This is one of my favorite podcasts this year. During the pandemic, David and Taylor launched the podcast as an episode-by-episode recap of 13 REASONS WHY. It was a show that they couldn't stop talking about, so they decided to make the podcast and find other people who couldn't stop talking about it.

I really enjoyed their examination of the first two seasons, but it was as they dissected season 3 (a lesser effort), that I realized that David and Taylor were examining the show with a fusion of the critical and humorous that I had not seen applied at that level since the glory days of Television Without Pity. When a show takes a ridiculous or an unpleasant turn, it's easy to just say, "This sucks" and rage at it. David and Taylor were great at engaging with what was embedded deep in the DNA of the series. They engaged with an obsession that could only come from someone invested in the show and they were hilarious as they laid it all out.

If you've been here a while, you know I was deeply invested in Season 1 of 13 REASONS WHY, to the point I wrote 13 posts about it. My thoughts about Season 2 were also largely positive, particularly with regard to Dylan Minnette's performance, though the heavy retcons left me conflicted. So this was the perfect podcast for me.

What you'll hear is a fun conversation between me, David and Taylor about the series in general before we turn to discussing my 13 REASONS WHY spec episode, which actually is the first episode of an alternate season 3. I wrote it over two years ago as an exercise in how one might write a spec episode.  It's sort of a mash-up with the premise of AWAKE. As the one year anniversary of Hannah's suicide approaches, Clay finds himself leaping between two worlds - the one he's known, and an alternate timeline where Hannah survived her suicide attempt and is still recovering. In doing so, this storyline would have explored all the ways someone in Hannah's situation could have sought help instead of trying to kill herself.

In breaking the story for that one script, I eventually ended up crafting an entire season's worth of story so that I could have a sense of what that first episode needed to put into play. Though I've shared the script before, I haven't posted that full season treatment on the blog. That comes up in my talk with David and Taylor too.

And finally, we have a little talk about CRISIS ON INFINITE TEEN DRAMAS and why it was a fun project as both a fan and a writer.

So listen to the podcast here or here on Soundcloud

And check out some of their other episodes. Since moving on from 13 REASONS WHY, David and Taylor have turned their insight and humor towards all manner of cultural garbage, including TikTok feuds, Fast Food brackets, Pretty Little Liars, Kid Nation, Emily in Paris, and much, more.

Notes:

My original 13 Reasons Why Posts

My posts on my 13 Reasons Why spec, with "How to Write a Spec Episode"

Link to my spec episode

Link to my treatment of my alternate Season 3

Crisis on Infinite Teen Dramas script

Crisis on Infinite Teen Dramas reaction

Crisis on Infinite Teen Dramas Annotations


Note: when downloading the script or the treatment, after you click the link, press only the button that says "Download" next to the title. Ignore all pop-ups and anything that tries to tell you your Adobe Flash is out of date.