Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Free-for-All: Michael Scott vs. David Brent

Last night, The Office bid farewell to Steve Carrel's Michael Scott in a rather nice episode. The debate will probably be never be settled as to which Office "boss" was better - Michael Scott or the British equivalent David Brent, played by Ricky Gervais. Perhaps we can settle this with a simple dance-off?

I'm calling it for USA.

Don't feel bad, Brent... you'll always have your singing career.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Write for the read - Scream

In preparation for Scream 4, I found myself watching a making-of documentary on the first Scream. In it, writer Kevin Williamson says that he had a specific approach to his style. In his words, "I wrote it for the read."

What this means is: he made sure that it wasn't taxing on the reader. Once they picked the script up, he didn't want to give them an opportunity to put the script down. And sure, it sounds like elementary advice when I just say it like that, but you wouldn't believe how many writers seem to forget this, based on their opening pages. I see a lot of openings that are just bogged down with unnecessary descriptive detail, drowning in exposition and clunky dialogue.

In contrast, Scream has a very clean, very gripping opening. A teenage girl is home alone and she gets a call from a strange man. The first six pages or so are made up of very quick, very sharp dialogue between the two. This makes those early pages into a very easy read. The reader very quickly falls into the pattern of turning pages and then just when they start thinking, "This scene is kind of long," they hit the moment on p. 7 where the Killer says, "YOU LISTEN, YOU LITTLE BITCH. IF YOU HANG UP ON ME AGAIN I'LL GUT YOU LIKE A FISH. UNDERSTAND?"

That gets the reader's attention, and from ten on, the tension ramps up. It takes 17 pages to get through the opening sequence, and it reads like butter. It's a case where something takes up a lot of pages, but it works. Notably, those 17 pages translate to just under 13 minutes of film in the final cut. I think most readers who encountered the script would sense the heightened pace. (For me, I probably wouldn't have to think about it - I'd more likely notice that the script was a smooth easy read.)

Most of the time, I decide if something's a PASS or CONSIDER right after I finish the read and before I write a word of the write-up. It's a "go with the gut" kind of feeling and it comes down to nothing more complicated than "Did I like the script?" An easy read always equals a script in contention for a Consider. It's not like I start tallying points and do some kind of equation to decide, "Ah, yes.... this is a Consider."

An easy read means that the writer is usually doing something right. The flow, the pace, the distribution of information and the arcing of the plots and character arcs are all in harmony. That's what it takes to get a consider - a script that's worthy of presentation at the next level.

A hard read means that something under the hood is broken. Usually I'll devote my coverage to discussing specifically what is broken, but I'll almost never give a CONSIDER to a hard read. Over the years I've seen writers manage easy reads for very complex and complicated stories and premises. If your simple romantic comedy is a chore to get through - that's YOUR problem.

Write for the read.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Job Watch - looking for Writer's Assistant jobs

I got an email last week asking for an update on my job search. At the moment, I haven't really hit paydirt. I've been lucky enough to meet with a few writer's assistants who've offered to pass my resume along, and I've corresponded with a few working writers. As I suspected back when I put my initial plea out there in March, I'm still a little early. There's still about three weeks until the upfronts that announce the lineups. That means that shows on the bubble don't yet know if they're coming back, and most pilots certainly don't know if they're picked up yet either.

I admit there was some strategy to putting that first call out there so early. I figured it was better to be a bit ahead of the curve and have some time to talk to those contacts personally while they were free, rather than risk waiting too long and contacting them after any open positions might have already been filled. So yeah, it's mostly been meet-and-greets and a few polite emails, but that's the reality of looking for work in this business.

I will say that by writing this blog over the last two years, it has helped in making contact with people. I don't have a huge readership when you compare me to something like Ain't It Cool News, but I do have an audience of people within the industry. (Frankly, I still get shocked when someone working on a TV show or movie has heard of my blog. Sometimes I forget people actually read my ramblings.) It's become something of a calling card and it's given me a bit of credibility too. Most of all, I think it's put a face to my resume.

So this would be my advice to those of you trying to network long-distance: start a blog and get a Twitter. I talked to one assistant who made many professional contacts via Twitter before moving out to LA and that later led to help finding a roommate and getting settled upon coming to Hollywood.

If my blog directly leads to a new job, I'll certainly update you all. (Knowing me, I'll probably get at least a post or two out of it.) In the meantime, I'm aggressively looking for a job as a writer's assistant - or even a writers' PA if that's what it takes to get my foot in the door on a show. So if you're a fan of my writing and think I'm the sort of personality who'd fit well on your support staff, please contact me.

Like the side of the blog says, I've read for agencies and production companies. I've worked in development and have a fair amount of experience in the industry. Honestly, I'm keeping my eyes open for development openings too, as I'm aware my resume is pretty tailored to that position.

So if you've got any openings, please drop me a line at We'll chat and I'll give you my resume, no obligation. I've got plenty of good references too if you're not willing to take my word for it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - What are you writing?

So what's everyone working on these days?

My current writing docket includes a webseries, a half-hour single camera pilot, a high-concept action feature, and a character-driven thriller.

What mediums are you writing for?
High concept or low concept?
Do you prefer working on one project at a time, or do you do what I am, moving between several projects at various stages?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Give actors characters to play

I was watching the actor commentary on The Social Network this past weekend, and one of the many interesting tidbits that comes up is the fact that Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenberg each read for the other's roles at one point. In fact Jesse mentions that it was quite interesting to watch Garfield's performance, as he realized that Garfield was making choices that never would have occurred to him.

This reminded me of something that a lot of writers either forget or never learn - the script is just one aspect of a very collaborative process. An actor will put the screenplay through their own "process" as they attempt to build their performance. Sometimes they draw conclusions about their character that line up with your intentions, sometimes they won't. They'll stick to your script (mostly), but there's no guarantee that their view of the character will be precisely the same as yours.

But the thing that allows two actors to make different choices that are both "right" for the film is that as written, the characters have depth and complexity. Andrew Garfield's Eduardo might be totally different from Jesse Eisenberg's Eduardo, but they could both be valid within the script. Good writing makes this sort of complexity possible, as it provides a wealth of opportunity for an actor to draw upon.

Bad writing reduces characters to little more than chess pieces manipulated though the game board that is the plot. Those sorts of characters are rarely interesting for actors to play, and I guarantee they're not much fun for people like me to read. Now, this is NOT an invitation to write a long opening sequence that tries to tell your character's whole life story via flashbacks and therapy sessions. Instead, it's a reminder to approach every scene while keeping in mind each character's POV, motivations and history that they bring to that moment. Find little things you can do that resonate on a character level. (If you're really good, you can find little moments that do this, and go in line with the themes of the story.)

I'm sure there are people who could write entire books about this. I think an easy thing to boil this down to is: "Write characters who actors would want to play." Writers sometimes get so caught up in their cool story or the awesome twists that they're sure no one will see coming that they totally forget to give the actors anything beyond executing those twists.

Characters need to be more than a means to plot's end. Good characters can get you good actors, and good actors can often get you a successful movie.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Start late, get out early - Law & Order: LA

I'm going to give you a little bit of homework here. There's a fundamental rule of screenwriting that says "start a scene as late as possible; get out as early as possible." Or to put it in layman's terms...


*whew!* That actually felt good. Maybe it was just venting that, maybe it was that effigy of bad spec scripts I just burned, but I genuinely feel better.

Anyway, though pretty much every good movie or TV show should stand as an object lesson of this, there are probably few shows on TV that better demonstrate this than Law & Order. It's pretty much pure procedural, which means every scene is driving the story. The show is more plot-driven than character-driven, so that makes the series a perfect teaching tool for noting how little we actually need to see in order to follow the story. The plots are so dense that every scene has to cut right to the point, while still managing smooth transitions.

Unfortunately, the original Law & Order is no longer in production, but since its retooling, Law & Order: LA has been almost as good and this weeks episode "East Pasadena" can stand with the best of the classic series. Even better, this episode not only has one of the series strongest plots, but it manages a pretty good character-driven subplot for Detective Morales (Alfred Molina.)

If you have some free-time and keep track of how short the individual scenes are and how much information is conveyed in them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scream 4 - When a core character needs to die

Note: The second half of this article contains many spoilers about who does and doesn't survive Scream 4, (as well as Serenity.) You have been warned.

When writing a thriller or an action movie, one of the most important things a writer can convey is the sense that the script might have the stones to do the unpredictable and actually knock off a main character or two before the end. I believe this is what Blake Snyder called, "the whiff of death."

One recent film that really conveyed this feeling was Taken. Part of the reason I got drawn into the script is there was just something about the tone that gave me the sense the filmmakers would have the balls to end the film on a dark note. It was the kind of film that could have ended with Liam Neeson failing, and his daughter winding up either dead or sold into sexual slavery. The brilliant thing about that is that once you convince the audience that the unpleasant is possible, the "happy ending" is so much more of a relief and release.

Sometimes in order to make these stakes real, you've got to sacrifice a beloved character. The thinking is that if the audience sees you gun down an audience favorite, you've proven that affection for the characters alone won't save them and everyone is fair game. Supposedly, when Return of the Jedi was being developed, screenwriter Lawrence Kasden was a major proponent for killing off one of the core characters at some point in the story. He felt it would have been more powerful for the Rebel victory to come at some cost, and he was a major advocate for killing a character early in Act Three, so that the audience would worry that they were just the first of several.

In most accounts, Lando is the character considered most expendable, and he would have been killed after detonating the Death Star and failing to escape the blast in time. Harrison Ford was also a major proponent of killing off Han Solo, feeling the character had nowhere to go, so he might as well die and give the whole story some resonance. As you know, all the heroes came out unscathed, and it's possible the film wouldn't have been as big a hit if Han bit the dust. Then again, if that had been part of the plan from the start, perhaps it would have helped set the tone of the film more in the vein of The Empire Strikes Back. (Or it would have clashed like hell with the kid-friendly Ewoks, making the film even more uneven as a result.)

Serenity is a good example of this detail being executed properly. The film was spun off from the TV series Firefly and was hoped to be the first of several films with the TV cast. This made it all the more shocking when little more than halfway through the script, the Shepherd Book is killed. Even more traumatic to fans, less than half an hour later, beloved pilot Wash is swiftly killed after getting the ship on the ground mid-battle.

Two much-liked characters dead - and what does the film gain? Tension. Writer/director Joss Whedon used those deaths to set the stage for a climactic final battle where most of the survivors are in the middle of a pitched battle against the ravenous Reavers. Suddenly it doesn't seem unlikely that Whedon might go for an ending that has ALL of the Serenity crew go down in battle, and sure enough, as the fight progresses, there's a moment where it seems everyone's in mortal danger. Even when River ensures everyone else's safety and takes on the horde herself, we're still not sure that her noble sacrifice won't be a permanent one. There's only one thing we're sure of about the ending - anything can happen.

Fans still call for Whedon's head for killing Wash, but what that loss did for the climax is immeasurable. The alternative would have been a case like the original Star Trek, where very week you knew that if someone was going to die, it'd only be the nameless extra who beamed down to the planet with Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Kill a core character, and suddenly everyone feels like fair game.

Which brings me to Scream 4. Last week I said that I hoped that Neve Campbell's Sidney wouldn't be killed off over the course of the film, especially as part of a bid to hand off the franchise to younger characters. Even after seeing the film, I still stand by that thought. Sidney IS the franchise and the neatest trick of this latest sequel is that rather than diminishing that, it's a flat-out confirmation of that fact.

I might as well just say this flat-out - the film completely cleans house on the new teenage cast. None of the fresh-faced CW types make it out of this film alive, nor do any of the other new characters, save for Marley Shelton's Deputy Judy. The returning characters of Sidney, Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley all survive to the final fade-out. After seeing the film, I feel like there should have been one core-cast death ala Wash, as it would have lent more tension to the climax when Sidney seems VERY likely to meet her maker.

There's a scene about halfway through the film where Gale encounters the killer and gets stabbed a few times. Dewey is quickly on the scene too and has a brief tussle with the killer before he (or she) gets away. Despite a very brief attempt to convince us that Gale might die, it's pretty clear by the time we see her at the hospital that if they were going to kill her, they'd have done it already.

One of Scream 2's best decisions was killing off Randy. No one wanted to see Randy die - he was one of the fan favorites from the first film. He was part of the core group who returned from the original so there was the sense that he was a bit more invincible, and he CERTAINLY wasn't supposed to be killed mid-movie. When Randy was killed partway through the film, it lent the sense that an even bigger casualty was possible later.

In my humble opinion, that's what Scream 4 was missing, but I'm not naive enough to think that the option was never discussed. I've worked in development when these sorts of franchise films are being developed and there's always a point where the possibility of killing a core character is considered. Maybe the filmmakers still regretted killing off Randy and got gunshy about offing another "regular." Maybe the actor in question balked at coming back just to die, or maybe the studio worried about what would happen if one of the core three died. We can't know, but I'm sure it was on the table at some point.

The issue is made a little bigger by the fact that neither Gale nor Dewey have an especially integral role to the story, and there's very little they have to accomplish after their brush with Ghostface (save for their role in the climax.) Killing one of them might have energized the character arc of the other, and given that character a stronger emotional arc to play.

My preference probably would have been to use Gale's horrible wound as a red herring and then - while the audience is still reeling at the possibility that she might bleed to death - have the killer finish off Dewey. This helps in several ways. First, Dewey's survived severe stabbings in all of the other films. When he first goes down, the audience might expect another fakeout - giving his death that much more impact. Secondly, as the only "new" character to survive to the end is the Deputy, we've already got someone who can fill Dewey's role in the climax of the film. Finally, it means that Gale gets the story she's been trying to find, but it comes at the cost of her husband.

And of course, this means that when the killer stabs Sidney in the gut and it looks like we're seeing the series heroine bleed to death, the first thing in our minds is, "They killed Dewey, Gale's hanging on by a thread, so they're probably cleaning house and this really is it for Sidney."

(I will admit that I'm so used to trying to out-think the creators that when Sidney was stabbed, I didn't dismiss it as a fake out, for I assumed that NOT killing Gale earlier was to lull us into a false sense of security that our old friends would make it out alive. Basically, I didn't trust them not to reverse the reversal.)

In the end, I don't think this is a huge black mark against the film. In fact, given the way the Cox/Arquette relationship talk dominated some of the press for this film, actually killing off one of those two might have only lead to some uncomfortable speculation about behind-the-scenes tensions.

But I can't help but wonder - if Dewey died, how would that have affected the reaction in the theater when Sidney takes what appears to be a mortal wound? I bet it would have led to even bigger cheers when she tells the killer: "First rule of remakes - Don't fuck with the original."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Current movie reviews: like 'em or lump 'em?

I'm looking for feedback about the current movie reviews I seem to be in the habit of running. A few weeks ago, Sucker Punch provided me with not one, not two, but three posts. I've led off this week talking about aspects of Scream 4, and I could probably easily wring another two posts out of the film. My question is: should I?

When discussing current films, I'm aware that there's a good chance some of my readers haven't seen the film and I do my best to put any of my notes in context. When it comes to something like Scream 4, which has some twists and an ending that is best unspoiled, I also do my best to give readers adequate warning if they're about to stumble on something they might not want to know yet. Looking at the release schedule for the upcoming summer, I get the sense that I could very well end up dissecting at least one new movie a week.

So here's your chance to be heard. If you really hate when something like Sucker Punch takes over the blog for the better part of a week, let me know. Conversely, if you really like the in-depth autopsy and can't wait to see the same scalpels cut into Thor, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, Green Lantern and more, let me know and I'll do my best to accommodate you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The opening of Scream 4 - expectations and misdirection

NOTE: Heavy spoilers for the first 15 minutes of Scream 4 follow, plus some vague spoilers for the rest of the film.

Since I've devoted several posts to the Scream franchise in the past, one as recently as last week, I wasn't surprised when I got a few Tweets and emails asking for my take on the latest entry in the series, Scream 4. Not wanting to ruin the surprises of the film, I went mostly radio-silent about it on Twitter, except to say that I enjoyed the film. I didn't think it was the equal of the first one, but let's be honest - topping the first one would have been almost impossible. I was hoping it would be better than Scream 3, and on that order it delivered, coming in more or less even with Scream 2.

I've harped a lot on the importance of a strong opening in a film. The best specs I read usually have an opening sequence that defines the film and its world in an incredibly effective way. The worst tend to just lazily drop us into the world and trot the main characters out one by one. The original Scream had an unforgettable opening that just oozed tension. Once you watched it, the only way you weren't going to stick around for the rest was if you scared easily. In both Scream sequels, the opening kills have often been some of the better executed sequences in the film, so the new movie had it's work cut out for it.

The opening scene initially left me disappointed, until I got what the creators were going for. We open with two teens - played by Pretty Little Liars' Lucy Hale and 90210's Shenae Grimes - who pretty much embody everything the original Scream characters weren't. One is dumb enough to keep talking to a Facebook stalker, and another one when faced with a threatening phone call from the killer, first hangs up, and then later passes the phone to her friend. (Grimes by the way, makes ZERO effort to distinguish this character from her 90210 role, right down to the same acting ticks.) Moments later, these girls are dumb enough to actually open the front door when it might as well be flashing "KILLER ON THE OTHER SIDE."

So it's no shock when these two are swiftly dispatched, and just as I'm thinking "Wow, that was oddly tensionless for a Scream opening," the title card for Stab 5 comes up and I realize the joke is on me. It puts a clever spin on what we just saw. After all, in a world where Stab 5 is supposed to be of questionable quality, Shenae Grimes WOULD be its Drew Barrymore. Consider that a point for the casting people. (This is probably the best place to note that Scream 4 continues the series tradition of strong casting, not just for the genre, but for a feature in general.)

Enter Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell as the viewers of the aforementioned Stab sequel, cue the usual meta speech about how horror films are trapped in their old habits and aren't surprising anymore. (The meta perhaps is carried out a beat longer than necessary, but again, I'm betting that's intentional) Then, surprise the hell out of the audience by having Bell stab Paquin and ask, "Are you surprised?" As I'm thinking, "Are they really tipping their hand on one of the killers this early?"cue the title card for Stab 6.

Inspired. Rather than go for the scares, Williamson and Craven take more of a chance and go for the in-jokes, making it clear that whenever someone criticizes the Stab films, we should read that as "every bad horror film of the last ten years." Just as I'm thinking, "Wait... how can Stab 5 be happening inside Stab 6 and still be a coherent franchise" the film literally verbalizes my thoughts through the character played by Britt Robertson, who's watching Stab 6 with a character played by Aimee Teegarden.

That instilled me with a lot of faith that the film was in the hands of people with a mindset like mine, and who were going to ask the questions that a smart viewer would ask. Scream was the godfather of staying one step ahead of the audience and then using that lead to confuse the hell out of them. After Robertson and Teegarden do some due diligence on exposition, they're dispatched rather quickly. As a scary scene, it's easily the least impressive of the four films, likely because the creators realized that it would be impossible building up any sort of tension immediately after the two false openings. Overall, I think the opening works.

From there we move on to a scene that introduces Sidney's young cousin Jill (Emma Roberts), and her friends Kirby (Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe.) Given that Olivia looks a good five years older than the girls and seems to have stepped right out of a modeling catalog, you'd do well to wager that she's going to be the "early kill who ends up in a state of undress." The girls chatter about Jill's creepy ex-boyfriend bothering them all, and any fan of this series knows that means he's being set-up to be either the killer or a red herring that'll be called into service throughout the film. Not bad for a guy who hasn't even showed up yet. Then we go to school and meet even more new teens, in a way that doesn't precisely mirror the original Scream even as it evokes the spirit of those scenes. It doesn't feel like Scream so much as Scream: The Next Generation.

And that is probably the slickest bit of misdirection here. By going straight into the new cast, complete with proto-Sidney in the form of Jill, we're made to subliminally see this film as a passing of the torch. The opening seems to be saying, "Here's the new cast - enjoy the cameos by your old friends, but you'll be seeing a lot of these young faces in the inevitable sequel."

After all, that's how these franchises work. Slasher films are largely a teen-driven affair, and when the actors outgrow their parts, they're replaced by new ingenues. Actually, that's true in other genres. One day you're playing Danny in Grease, the next you're playing the DJ at the dance. Basically, by bringing in so much fresh blood, we seem to be primed for the old-timers to drop one-by-one.

And yet, once again, Williamson and Craven find a way to use our expectations against us. If you saw the film this weekend, you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Free-for-All: Random Thoughts

Random thoughts on this Friday:

I once read for an executive who legitimately believed that I Know What You did Last Summer was far superior to Scream. That individual no longer works in the industry.

Speaking of Jennifer Love Hewitt, I'm tired of all the bloggers who call her fat. You know they'd still give their left nut just to touch her breasts.

Related topic: wasn't Can't Hardly Wait an awesome film?

Further related topic: You seen Ethan Embry lately? Man, has he gotten huge!

My proposed coverage ratings: PASS, CONSIDER, RECOMMEND, and STOP - JUST STOP!

If a Republican on NBC had to be a front-runner for the Presidential nomination, why couldn't it be Jack Donaghey and not Donald Trump.

Occupational hazard of living in LA: sooner or later, you will make friends with an actress you first saw in the pages of a "lad-mag."

I haven't field-tested this one, but in situations like those above, I'm guessing there's no good conversational segue for "Hey, I saw your FHM spread."

I'd vote for Law & Order's Sam Waterston for President. Just sayin'.

I grew up on Comedy Central reruns of SNL and argue that no cast ever beat the Dana Carvey/Phil Hartman era. Shame they don't run it much in reruns anymore.

I have long subscribed to the belief that Linkin Park sounds like Savage Garden and Will Smith formed a super group. Listen to parts of "Crawling" and "In the End" and tell me you don't hear it.

When I was fifteen, my comic idol was Dennis Miller.

You know what more annoying than people who pull silly April Fool's pranks? People who just HAVE to tell those people, "Oh, you SO didn't fool me! I totally knew that was fake because it was so fakey-fake! I totally didn't fall for it because I'm, like, SO smart!"

The Lauren Graham apple story is absolutely true. I've spoken to witnesses.

Just so that doesn't start any rumors, the apple story is not in any way sexual.

Heck, even Law & Order's Michael Moriarty would be a better Presidential candidate than Trump, and we know he's nuts too!

I enjoyed Roswell when it was on the air, probably more for its potential than what it actually ended up being. I've not revisited since because part of me is scared it'll now play like a lame Twilight rip-off.

Also, never revisit the original Transformers cartoons.

Sometimes when I'm looking down my blog roll, I wonder who'd win in a fight between Amanda the Aspiring Writer and Bamboo Killers' Emily Blake.

Related to that, I'm pretty sure Ken Levine could kick John August's ass.

I once went to a book signing at the Grove just so I could meet Winnie Cooper.

On another occasion at the Grove, I saw an incredibly long line that wound through two floors of the Barnes & Noble and carried down the entire length of the sidewalk. The author in question? TV's Lauren Conrad. I don't have a joke for that... it's just too depressing.

I was recently disturbed when a casting friend told me about meeting a nine year-old actress whose favorite movie was The Dark Knight. (She apparently spoke at length about its themes and all the technical achievements in the film.) Then I remembered that my parents took me to see the first Burton Batman movie in theatres when I was nine... and my brother was seven.

Anyone who watches The Secret Life of the American Teenager unironically should be immediately sterilized so their idiocy maybe removed from the gene pool.

Someday I want to interview Secret Life creator Brenda Hampton just so I can ask her how she can stand to turn out a show with zero production values and redeeming value.

Yes, I'd say that to her face.

You need no further proof of the fact that the Parent Television Council is a group of publicity whores that do nothing but latch onto a trend than the fact that they pounce on Glee every week, but have yet to crucify the ABC Family Channel for Secret Life.

If I change my name to GE, can I avoid paying taxes this weekend?

Seriously, Trump?! Maybe Republicans really ARE that stupid!

Wait, I just remember that they love Michele Bachmann... they've LONG been that stupid.

90% of the scripts on Amazon Studios are incredibly awesome and on a professional level.

The preceding was "not intended to be a factual statement."

The one time I attended an American Idol taping, I ended up on camera.

I once suggested to my wife that when we start having kids that we should name our first son "Kal-El." She both (1) did not react as if I was joking and (2) did not seem especially surprised or disturbed by the idea. I feel I should be concerned about this.

I know everyone claims that Sharon Stone is a nightmare, but I met her once and she was incredibly pleasant and friendly to everyone in the office.

The first season of The John Laroquette Show was an incredibly funny and edgy sitcom. How is it not on DVD yet?

Winter's Bone has sat on my TV stand unwatched for three and a half months now.

As much as I'm glad there's not going to be a Writers' Strike, I was looking forward to networking on the picket lines.

If I channel surf and That Thing You Do is on TV, I will watch it.

Ditto for Bring It On.

My go-to karaoke gimmick is singing "We Didn't Start the Fire" without looking at the lyrics.

If Mr. Belding is at your karaoke bar, you're in the wrong place.

Film students - if your professor ever tells you that the class will be viewing WR's Mysteries of the Organism just get up and run. Trust me, you don't want to know why, but if you did you'd thank me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Notes From a Hack

I recently discovered a great blog called Notes From a Hack. The blogger writes under the name Irwin Handleman, "Full time comedy writer. Part time Bachelor-ologist."

I really enjoy "Irwin's" voice and find that he and I are often of like minds on a subject, but as far as my readers are concerned, his on-going series "An Overnight Success Story" is a must-read. In the seven parts posted so far, Irwin talks about how his writing career started, from impressing his boss with a script she was over the moon for, to single-handedly resurrecting a dead project at Lionsgate, only realize the director brought onto the script didn't get the material. Then, he not only had to endure a cringe-inducing viewing of the film, but found his contribution completely invalidated by WGA arbitration.

This is the business you all want to be a part of, folks:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Workshop - Hulu as web-series distributor

A while back, I plugged the webseries, Workshop: The Series, focusing on a series of struggling Los Angeles actors. Since then, the show has been picked up for distribution by Hulu. Season 2 launched on Hulu last week, and the creators claim this makes it one of the first independently-produced half-hour comedies on the web.

In this interview, star/creator Nate Golan explains how the deal came about:

"Getting the Hulu deal was months in the making. When we were still in production on Season Two of WORKSHOP in October 2010, a friend of mine, Canyon Prince, contacted me and told me he was running the first ever New Media Day at the Anaheim International Film Festival, and asked if I wanted to include WORKSHOP. We put together a 10-minute first episode of Season Two, and previewed it in Anaheim.

"I met a guy named Keith Knee, who had helped make another web series, Blue Movies, one of the most watched shows on the Internet. Keith told me he really liked the show, and though we could present it to Hulu. Four months later, with Keith's help and advice, and the help of another associate of mine, Garrett Law at Attention Span Media, Season 2 was picked up!"

I mention this because it points to two important things to consider when trying to break in. First, Golon and his team took the bull by the horns and made their own content. They had an entire season to learn the ropes of writing, producing, directing, acting and editing their own content. As easy as it is to get digital cameras and editing equipment these days, there's no reason to not take advantage of it.

Secondly, Golon networked and found a way to get his content into the hands of the right people. In doing so, he brought his content to a much larger audience and if that's a success, Golon might eventually graduate to being able to pay his bill by doing what he loves.

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out two things:

First, is a great way to fund your projects. Workshop: The Series raised $10,500 for the budget of their second season through these efforts. Take a look at their page here to get a sense of how the site works.

Secondly, as I'm friends with many casting directors and casting associates, I probably should point out that one of Workshop's core jokes isn't exactly reflective of reality. In the premiere of season two, these actor workshops are presented as a scam and as a way for unscrupulous casting directors to line their pockets from desperate actors. I can state that ALL of the people I know in casting have indeed used these workshops to scout new talent and have indeed called in many of the workshop students for auditions. One such acquaintance was able to rattle off a long list of workshop actors whom they had booked on their shows, let alone the much longer list of actors who were called in, but didn't make it past the audition stage.

Don't let that get in the way of the joke - I just know that casting professionals are really tired of the accusation, so I'd be remiss not to offer the correction here.

Here's episode 1 of season 2:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Scream's Sidney Prescott: Horror's greatest heroine

I'm anticipating this week's release of Scream 4 with equal measures of excitement and trepidation. I've said before that the original Scream is not only my favorite horror movie, it's one of my all-time favorite movies, period. In fact, it's pretty much the movie that made me a horror fan. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and you have to remember that that was a period where a proliferation of inferior sequels really tarnished the genre. The endless Friday the 13ths might have made a decent amount of money, but they and their kind really contributed to the perception that horror films were mindless, bloody and exploitative affairs. There wasn't much respect for that genre in general.

So as I was becoming "movie aware" right in the middle of this trend, Freddy, Jason and Michael Myers held no appeal for me. Slice and dice affairs weren't my kind of movie, and it's not as if the latter chapters in those franchises and their imitators offered much counterarguement to the notion that those films were trash. I remember the hype over Freddy's death, even though I had zero interest in the film, though I do recall being intrigued when I heard the following sequel took place in "the real world" and actually commented on the horror genre. I still wasn't intrigued enough to go see it though.

And then came Scream - which I initially dismissed as more trash. (Yes, even at sixteen I was a movie snob.) I don't think I even saw it until a few months after its release and I was instantly a fan because it was such a smart film. It was a horror movie for people who were smarter than the genre. If you haven't read it yet, check out my post on what you can learn from the original Scream. Scream 2 continued that tradition, and even though I was largely disappointed by Scream 3, it was still better than many of the imitators. So it's a given that I'm going to be there for the opening of Scream 4.

However, my trepidation comes from the concern that this time they might actually kill Sidney (Neve Cambpell.) I've spoken about this fear before, so I don't want to repeat myself too much. Instead, I want to talk about the impact of Sidney Prescott.

Back in college, I ran what was basically a half-hour teen drama that was intended to air on our school's fledgling cable network. (The network itself ended up crashing and burning, but that's beside the point.) I quickly decided that one of my central characters had to be an assertive female character. As I developed the character, like most writers, I found myself using a shorthand to describe her, citing other influences.

Remember, this is 2000, the height of the WB and after many, many assertive, strong, and/or ass-kicking heroines had invaded pop culture. So did I compare my lead to Buffy Summers? Joey Potter? Jen Lindley? Felicity? Angela Chase? Those were the leading teen heroines of that day, but they weren't my point of reference.

No. Without hesitation I picked Sidney Prescott, who was not only horror's greatest heroine, but possibly one of the strongest modern teen females ever created. She's perhaps the best-realized version of the girl-next-door turned heroine. When she takes on the killer, she doesn't have the advantage of super powers, cool weapons or military training (ala Buffy, Ripley, or Sydney Bristow.) She's also got her shit together a lot better than some of the WB female leads of the day, who tended towards mopeyness, martyrdom, and wallowing in their own baggage.

Yes, like most heroines, she's got some issues from a dead parent, but unlike say Lana Lang or Joey Potter, those issues don't DEFINE her. The wound is there, but it's not stopping her from interacting normally with her friends and it doesn't feel like she uses every conversation as an excuse to pick at that scab. She has friends, she's well-adjusted and she's generally likable. You get the sense you could carry on a conversation with young Sidney, and not once get the urge to smack her, or feel like she's making it all about herself.

I'm aware she's a descendant of Nightmare on Elm Street's Nancy and Halloween's Laurie, but I feel she is a successor that improves on the original. They're both icons in their own right, but Sidney is a better-realized character in my opinion.

(So yeah, I'll cop to the fact that when I was in high school, I totally would have gone for the Sidney Prescott type. It was my bad luck we really didn't have any in my class. However, I honestly think that every female lead I've written owes a lot to the impression Sidney Prescott made on my teenage brain.)

Better still, when the time comes, she actually uses her head. She's blindsided by the reveal of the killer, but the plot doesn't turn her into an idiot to pull this off. She makes questionable choices, but not stupid ones and it never feels like the script makes her brain-dead for the sake of advancing the plot. She's smart, she's likable, and she's emotionally mature, which is sadly kind of rare in teen characters, male and female.

But the real reason I think Sidney is horror's strongest heroine is who she becomes in the sequel. After all she's been through, she's still strong enough to not let it get her down. Her mother's been murdered, her friends have been killed and she herself narrowly escaped that same fate. That'd be enough trauma to turn anyone into a basket case, but no, she goes off to college, she has a social life, and she's almost jaded about the prank phone calls she gets.

Sidney is no victim. And she's got her shit together. It's part of her past, and ONLY when it's clear that someone is actively stalking her does she really let it get to her and mess with her mind.

This is partially why I'm less of a fan of Scream 3. Not only is Sidney's participation greatly reduced, but the character herself is shown to be living in seclusion, shutting herself off from society and people in general. I get that some of that was done to accommodate the fact that Neve Campbell only could work some 20 days on the film, but it's frustrating to see that in between parts 2 and 3, the killer essentially beat Sidney and drove her into hiding. Even though the "real" Sidney seems to reassert herself by the end of the film, I had a hard time recognizing the Sidney we rediscover early on as the same girl from the first two films.

In Scream 4, I hope to see more of the character who was the emotional core of the first two films. I'm sure the younger characters will dominate in terms of screentime, but even if Sidney's role is as limited as, say, Leonard Nimoy's in J.J. Abram's Star Trek, as long as the character is true to herself, I'll be happy.

And yes, it would be a shame if the film featured Sidney's death, but if the character has to die, I hope it's handled in a way that honors the character, and is a worthy death in some way. Kevin Williamson, Wes Craven and Neve Campbell have created one of the genres best characters, and it would be unfortunate to see that tarnished by an undignified exit. However, I have faith that these players wouldn't have teamed up again after so long if they didn't feel as strongly about honoring the character as I do.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fantasy Network Mogul: Part 5 - CW

Part 1: ABC
Part 2: CBS
Part 3: FOX
Part 4: NBC

I've saved the easiest one for last.

Canceled: Life Unexpected, Smallville
Endangered: One Tree Hill, Nikita

The network has ordered six drama pilots. Of them, two stand out. Based on this, I'd say Nikita stands good odds of coming back, and One Tree Hill might even return, pending a deal with the cast.

Logline: A dramatic series centering on a committed young female attorney who teams with a man who has recently transformed from angel to human on a legal aid clinic, she saving clients' skins while he saves their souls.
Cast: Ben Aldridge, Elizabeth Ho
Creatives: Richard Hatem (writer), Mimi Leder (director)
Thoughts: The CW always hits it big with supernatural concepts. The only thing that might hurt this show's chances is if they decide not to pick up two supernatural pilots.

Secret Circle
Logline: The story of a young girl who moves to a new town and discovers that not only is she a witch and part of a secret coven, but she’s also the key that will unlock a centuries-old battle of good versus evil.
Cast: Britt Robertson, Thomas Dekker, Natasha Henstridge
Creatives: Kevin Williamson, Andrew Miller (writers), Liz Friedlander (director)
Thoughts: Britt Robertson has been very strong in everything she's done before. The series would make a strong companion to Williamson's other CW hit The Vampire Diaries. For this season and this network, this is as much of a sure bet as anything else.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fantasy Network Mogul: Part 4 - NBC

Part 1: ABC
Part 2: CBS
Part 3: Fox

I've been glad to get so many Tweets and messages from readers who've enjoyed this week's look at Pilot Season. These posts take a little more effort than most of my regular ones, so I'm glad that the work has paid off for you.

Next to ABC, NBC probably has the most interesting pilot slate this year. In fact, I daresay you could program an entire network pretty solidly just from the stuff that those two networks aren't able to order to series. They've got 12 comedies and 12 dramas.

Gone: The Cape, Chase, Perfect Couples
Endangered: The Event, Outsourced, Chuck, Law & Order: LA

Comedies - NBC's existing comedy block is pretty solid. They really only have room for two shows, possibly three or four with midseason stuff. I'll admit that a lot in this category leaves me uninspired.

Are You There Vodka, It's Me Chelsea
Logline: A multi-camera comedy series based on the autobiographical book of the same name by Chelsea Handler, which chronicles her history with family, dating and friends.
Cast: Laura Prepon, Angel Laketa Moore, Natalie Morales, Jo Koy, Chelsea Handler
Creatives: Dottie Dartland-Zicklin, Julie Ann Larson (writers); Gail Mancuso (director)
Thoughts: This seems to be Chelsea Handler's year. I'm not a particular fan, but every woman in my age range and older seems to adore her. NBC doesn't need many comedies and this stands out in a middling comedy slate.

Untitled Emily Spivey Project
Logline: A single camera comedy series which takes an irreverent look at parenthood from the perspective of an acerbic working mother, who never thought she’d be a mom, along with her stay-at-home husband and opinionated parents.

Cast: Christina Applegate
Creatives: Emily Spivey (writer)
Thoughts: I don't have much information on this, but it's a single camera show and it's produced by Lorne Michaels, so perhaps it'd fit in well with 30 Rock.

Unt. Whitney Cummings Project
Logline: A multi-camera comedy series centering on a couple who have made the decision that they don't want to get married.
Cast: Whitney Cummings, Chris D’Elia, Beverly D’Angelo
Creatives: Whitney Cummings (writer), James Burrows (director)
Thoughts: I might as well be up front with this: I'm not a fan of Whitney Cummings' particular sort of comedy, I don't think the premise sounds good.... but the legendary James Burrows is directing. Never bet against Burrows.

Dramas - There's a lot of high profile stuff that has so much buzz, you'd think it was ordered already. NBC needs to make over a good portion of their line-up, but with a few aging shows taking up space, they likely won't get the full-scale makeover that ABC does.

17th Precinct
Logline: Drama in which the world is ruled by magic and not by science.
Cast: Stockard Channing, Jamie Bamber, Eamonn Walker, James Callis, Matt Long, Tricia Helfer, Kristin Kreuk, Esai Morales
Creatives: Ronald D. Moore (writer), Michael Rhymer (director)
Thoughts: This is another script I've heard extremely positive reviews of. Ron Moore also seems intent on re-employing many of his Battlestar Galactica actors. The challenge for this will be to break out and find a wider audience. It's a niche show that would do gangbusters on cable, but might not pull in the numbers needed on a network. Still, NBC would be wise to be patient, and if I was setting the schedule, I'd put this on Mondays at 10, in a block that includes a hopefully-renewed Chuck, and a likely-to-be-ordered Wonder Woman.

Logline: A complex drama in the style of Traffic set in the world of crime, law enforcement and politics in sprawling modern-day Los Angeles.
Cast: Danny Pino, Daniella Alonso, Matthew Levy, Madchen Amick, Noah Emmerich, Emma Dumont, Luis Chavez, Jimmy Smits
Creatives: Stephan Gaghan (writer/director)
Thoughts: It feels like NBC orders this show every year, just under a different name.

Logline:A soapy dramatic series that looks at the social and political tumult of the 1960's from the perspective of Playboy bunnies working at the Playboy Club in Chicago.
Cast: Amber Heard, Naturi Naughton, Laura Benanti, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Leah Renee, David Krumholtz, Wes Ramsey, Eddie Cibrian
Creatives: Chad Hodge (writer), Alan Taylor (director)
Thoughts: I've seen some unkind reviews of this pilot script. The show was in the middle of controversy when the publicity whores at the Parents Television Council attacked the show for its nudity waivers. (Presumably, they're going to shoot more explicit versions of scenes for later release on DVD.) I'm willing to be that NBC won't be able to resist the free publicity unless the final result is completely unwatchable.

Logline: This one-hour musical series follows a cross section of characters who come together for the exhilarating ride of putting on a Broadway musical.
Cast: Debra Messing, Megan Hilty, Katharine McPhee, Jack Davenport, Angelica Huston
Creatives: Theresa Rebeck (writer), Michael Mayer (director)
Thoughts: Steven Spielberg is executive producing, and this musical series is clearly NBC's bid to get in on the Glee action. Throw in a few Broadway vets, and you'll probably end up with a pilot strong enough to get ordered.

Wonder Woman
Logline: In this reinvention, Wonder Woman is a corporate executive and vigilante crime fighter in Los Angeles who works to balance all of the extraordinary parts of her life.
Cast: Adrianne Palicki, Elizabeth Hurley, Tracie Thoms, Cary Elwes (Harry)
Creatives: David E. Kelley (writer), Jeffrey Reiner (director)
Thoughts: I saw more reviews of this script online than any other, and the buzz was overwhelmingly negative. Then I read it and my immediate reaction was "Okay, there's stuff here that will absolutely need to be rewritten and nobody does rewrites and on-the-fly retooling faster than David E. Kelley." My feeling is this project is too high-profile right now NOT to get ordered, barring a total disaster of a pilot. (And even then, I think they'd order it for midseason and start the retooling process.)

The main reason I'm not going in-depth about the scripts I have read is that I know a lot of rewriting can still happen before the script goes before the cameras, so I don't want to be too harsh on a work in progress. There's a lot I could say about what I've read - especially Wonder Woman, but I'm not sure that's quite fair. (For instance, by the time it leaked, the Wonder Woman draft was already six weeks old.)

Rewriting can save the bad execution of a good concept, but a terrible concept will never be salvaged. Fortunately, I think the networks have a pretty good ratio of good concepts this season, so most of the worst concepts probably won't see the light of day.

Part 5: The CW

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fantasy Network Mogul: Part 3 - FOX

Part 1: ABC
Part 2: CBS

And now we come to FOX, in what might be the hardest network for me to handicap this season, at least in the comedy department. They've got eight comedy pilots and seven dramas. The comedies are a mix of family comedies and high-concept material, while the dramas are dominated by action-adventure type-stuff.

Canceled: Running Wilde
Endangered: Bob's Burgers, Human Target, Lie to Me, Traffic Light

Comedies -

Chicks & Dicks
Logline: An optimistic Midwestern woman moves in with three juvenile men in New York City.
Cast:Zooey Deschanel, Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield
Creatives: Liz Meriwether (writer), Jake Kasdan (director)
Thoughts: I'll be honest, I'm making this guess on two factors - the talent, and the fact the premise just screams "FOX."

Little in Common
Logline: A single camera comedy series centering on a three families (one white, one Hispanic and one African-American) who are brought together by their kids' sports teams.
Cast: Paula Marshall, Rob Corddry, Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union
Creatives: Rob Thomas (writer), Adam Bernstein (director)
Thoughts: It sounds like an attempt to do a Modern Family-style show with multi-ethnic appeal. Fox won't be able to resist giving this a chance.


Logline: Revolves around Alcatraz Island and the efforts of a team of investigators to track a group of missing prisoners who mysteriously reappear decades after they disappeared.
Cast: Sarah Jones, Santiago Cabrera, Robert Forster, Jorge Garcia, Parminder Nagra, Sam Neill
Creatives: Elizabeth Sarnoff (writer), Danny Cannon (Director)
Thoughts: JJ Abrams' Bad Robot is producing, which instantly increases its odds. It's got a supernatural mystery that will probably pair it well with Fringe, and a strong cast. For Fox especially, it's a no-brainer to order this.

Locke & Key
Logline: The three Locke children are still reeling from the brutal murder of their guidance counselor father by a deranged student when their mom, Nina Locke, moves the family to a small island off the coast of Maine and they discover a mystical doorway in their new home.
Cast: Miranda Otto (Nina), Sarah Bolger, Nick Stahl, Jesse McCartney
Creatives: Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Josh Friedman (writers), Mark Romanek (director)
Thoughts: It's another one that fits in that Fringe style of drama. I've heard mixed things about the script, but this feels like a go.

Terra Nova
Logline: A family from 100 years in the future travels back in time 150 million years to prehistoric Earth in order to correct the damage that has been done to the earth and save the world.
Cast: Jason O’Mara, Shelley Conn, Stephen Lang
Creatives: Brandon Braga, Rene Echevarria (writers), Alex Graves (director)
Thoughts: It's already been ordered to series. Steven Spielberg is executive producing.

Part 4: NBC
Part 5: The CW

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fantasy Network Mogul: Part 2 - CBS

Part 1 - ABC

CBS is coming off of a strong year - so strong that they don't have many vacancies on their lineup. This is bad news for aging shows that might find themselves euthanized just to make room for new blood. In a weaker season, CSI:NY probably wouldn't be at as much risk.

Here's the thing about CBS. Anyone who's dealt with them knows that they have a specific type of show that works for them. No matter how many times they say they want to break outside that box and try new things, they always will get cold feet and retreat to the familiar. You can also usually count on their moves to be more conservative and predictable.

The one thing we can be sure of is that Alex O'Loughlin won't be getting a new pilot, as he did the previous three seasons. CBS tried so hard to make him happen, you'd think he was "fetch" and they were "Gretchen Wiener."

Canceled: Medium
Endangered: CSI: NY, The Defenders, Mad Love, Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior

Comedy - CBS has nine comedy pilots in contention, with most or all of them being multi-camera. Of those, the ones below strike me as the most likely pick-ups.

The Assistants
Logline: A multi-camera comedy about four assistants who work for a celebrity couple.
Cast: Heather Locklear, Jason Jones,
Creatives: Tucker Cawley (writer), Pamela Fryman (director)
Thoughts: Most of CBS's loglines sound very generic, so I admit this is a case where I'm betting on the actors as much as the concept. They've got another pilot also dealing with young people and their first jobs, so I'm inferring that's a concept they'd like to put on the air.

How to Be a Gentleman
Logline: The series centers on an uptight guy and his male friend from high school who helps him get through life.
Cast: Dave Foley, Rhys Darby, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Kevin Dillon
Creatives: David Hornsby (writer), Pamela Fryman (director)
Thoughts: Another frustratingly generic logline. I could see this fitting with the Chuck Lorre style of sitcom that works so well for CBS though.

Vince Uncensored
Logline: A multi-camera comedy series centering on a man who decides to approach his working and domestic lives more honestly after a life-altering experience.
Cast: Michael Chiklis, Elizabeth Perkins
Creatives: Pheof Sutton (writer), Kelsey Grammer (director)
Thoughts: It's one of the few CBS comedies where the logline hints at some greater depth to the character arcs. Put that together with Chiklis and I'm willing to be on it. Writer Sutton is late of Terriers and Boston Legal.

Dramas - 7 pilots are in contention, most of them procedurals so as to fit with CBS's existing line-up. And again, this may just be the fault of whoever's writing these loglines, but I'm not blown away by much on the list.

My best guesses?

The Doctor
Logline: A dramatic series centering on a family medical practice with a mother and her adult children at the center.
Cast: Christine Lahti, Eva Amurri, Michael Boatman, Kyle Maclachlan, Scott Foley, Lorraine Toussaint (Ayanna)
Creatives: Rina Mimoun (writer), David Nutter (director)
Thoughts: Nutter has a pretty good pilot-to-series track record. Mimoun has worked on Pushing Daisies, Everwood, and Privileged, among others, so there's no denying her chops, and the cast is strong. I'm gonna bet on CBS picking it up, and struggling all season to find it a good timeslot.

Hail Mary
Logline: Buddy P.I. show centered on a suburban single mom in Atlanta who teams up with a street-wise hustler to solve crimes
Cast: Minnie Driver, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brandon T. Jackson
Creatives: Jeff Wadlow (writer), Brad Silberling (director), Joel Silver (EP)
Thoughts: This is what I meant when I said CBS will buy something that's way outside the box just for the sake of doing it. Don't be surprised if Driver's presence gets this thing ordered, probably as a replacement for The Defenders.

Person of Interest
Logline: An ex-CIA agent and a scientist team up to prevent crimes before they happen.
Cast: Michael Emerson, Taraji P. Henson, Jim Caviezel
Creatives: Jonah Nolan (writer), David Semel (director), JJ Abrams, Jonah Nolan, Bryan Burk (EPs)
Thoughts: Procedural? Check. High-concept hook? Check. Superstar producer who the network wants to be in business with? Check.

Logline: A dramatic series centering on a woman, who, on the lam, impersonates her twin sister. When she does, she discovers that her sister's life isn't perfect either.
Cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Nestor Carbonell, Ioan Gruffudd, Kristoffer Polaha, Tara Summers
Creatives: Eric Charmelo, Nicole Snyder (writers), Richard Shepard (director)
Thoughts: The pilot script has gotten some decent reviews, but even without those and the presence of Gellar, this is one I'd want to see. Again, this'll be the "outside the box" buy.

Part 3: Fox
Part 4: NBC
Part 5: The CW

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fantasy Network Mogul: Part 1 - ABC

We're at the point in pilot season where a lot of pilots are winding down production and are either in post, or are preparing for delivery to the network. There, the creators will wait on pins and needles while network executives screen their wares and decide what's worthy of a spot on their lineup.

I got a copy of the competitive pilot report, which is a list of every pilot in development for each network. After looking through the list, I decided it might be fun to assess each network, and take a stab at guessing what looks like it'll make the line-up. In most cases, I'm going on little more than the logline and the talent attached, so this isn't going to be the most informed opinion. But, in a month, it'll be interesting to see how closely my guesses line up with the series orders.

We'll start with ABC, which looks like the most interesting battleground this pilot season. This is Paul Lee's first pilot season as network president. He was elevated last summer after building ABC Family into the neo-WB its become, so I wouldn't be surprised to see his line-up attempt to skew younger. In fact, just looking at the numbers, there are big signs that he's prepping ABC for a makeover.

ABC ordered the most pilots of any of the five networks this season: 10 comedies and 15 dramas.

Canceled: My Generation, The Whole Truth
Endangered: Better With You, Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives, Detroit 187, Mr. Sunshine, No Ordinary Family, Off The Map, V

That's potentially 10 slots that could be vacant next season. I'm guessing we'll see at least seven of those shows go, and probably more of them than that. (At this point, I'd really only bet on Brothers & Sisters, Desperate Housewives and V as being likely returning shows, and V's just barely hanging on by a thread in the view of most industry observers.)

There's always the chance that the loglines don't do a premise justice, so I don't want to mock the entries that I think are longshots. Having said that, if the loglines are anything to go by, ABC's comedy development this season could have been a lot stronger.

What ABC is likely to pick up:

Comedy -

The Last Days of Man
Logline: A multi-camera family comedy series centering on a man who is fighting for his manhood while surrounded by a world of women.
Cast: Tim Allen, Nancy Travis
Writer: Jack Burdett
Thoughts: Tim Allen's due for a comeback, everyone loves Nancy Travis, single-cams are big on ABC, and Burdett's credits include five years on 30 Rock.

Lost & Found
Logline: A multi-camera comedy series centering on a self-centered party girl whose life is turned upside down when the son she gave up, who is now eighteen and straightlaced, shows up on her New York City doorstep.
Cast: Jordana Spiro
Writer: Marisa Coughlin
Thoughts: Writer Coughlin is probably better known for her acting career, but the premise stands out among ABC's other offerings. Never underestimate how much networks like Jordana Spiro, either.

Logline: A multi-camera comedy centering on a married couple and their relationship with their respective in-laws.
Cast: Marcia Gay Harden, John C. McGinley, Adam Arkin, Kyle Howard
Writers: Andrew Reich, Ted Cohen
Thoughts: Kudos to the casting people. The logline makes the show sound like an Everybody Loves Raymond riff, but to get some of those actors, the script must do something right. Reich & Cohen have a long list of credits, with the most notable being many years on Friends.

Dramas - It should be said that ABC's dramas are probably the most competitive of any network's this season. The fact that so much of the line-up is in flux makes the pick-ups even more unpredictable. There are fifteen shows on the list, and more than 2/3 of them easily have the ring of something that could make the line-up.

Charlie's Angels
Logline:A dramatic series based on the 1970's comedic drama centering on a trio of sexy female detectives working for a mysterious boss named Charlie.
Cast: Annie Ilonzeh, Minka Kelly, Rachael Taylor, Ramon Rodriguez
Writers: Alfred Gough, Miles Millar
Thoughts: Gough & Miller had their most recent success with Smallville. Word is that the script isn't great, but I could see ABC picking this up based on the brand and a desire to appeal to a younger audience.

Good Christian Bitches
Logline: Dramedy based on the novel of the same name in which a recently divorced mother of two moves back to the affluent Dallas neighborhood where she grew up to get a fresh start. Instead, she finds herself caught in the middle of a world of gossip, Botox and fraud.
Cast: Annie Potts, Leslie Bibb, Miriam Shor, Marisol Nichols, David James Elliott, Kristin Chenoweth
Creatives: Robert Harling (writer), Alan Poul (director), Darren Star (EP)
Thoughts: The "in" thing this season is to adapt a novel, and Paul Lee had success with that approach on ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars. The cast here is very strong. This is writer Harling's first TV work, but director Poul's credits include Six Feet Under. Starr's name should be recognizable to fans of Sex & The City, Melrose Place, and both incarnations of 90210.

Logline: A dramatic series set against the world of miracles in small town Hallelujah, Tennessee that's being torn asunder by the forces of good and evil until a mysterious stranger moves to town.
Cast: Jesse Martin, Frances O’Connor, Arielle Kebbel, Terry O’Quinn, Donal Logue, Della Reese
Creatives: Marc Cherry (writer), Michael Apted (director)
Thoughts: Good cast, a writer in good standing on ABC, and a high-concept idea all add up to an order. ABC typically orders at least one of these supernatural shows a season, so we'll see if that holds.

Logline: When a female FBI agent's son is kidnapped she travels all over Europe to find him
Cast: Ashley Judd
Creatives: Greg Poirer (writer), Steve Shill (director)
Thoughts: It's already ordered to series, and it's Poirer's first foray into series TV.

Once Upon a Time
Logline: A drama set in small town Maine centering on a female character in a fairy tale-inspired world.
Cast: Lana Parrilla, Ginnifer Goodwin, Robert Carlyle, Jennifer Morrison
Creatives: Adam Horowitz, Eddie Kitsis (writers), Mark Mylod (director)
Thoughts: I haven't read a great many pilots this season, but I did read this one. It's VERY strong script, and the opinion of many I've talked to is that it's ABC's best pilot script, if not one of the best of the entire pilot season. I'd be shocked not to see this make the lineup.

Logline: A contemporary re-imagining of The Count of Monte Cristo from a female perspective - chronicles the story of a mysterious young woman who comes to the Hamptons to exact revenge on the people who destroyed her family.
Cast: Emily VanCamp, Madeline Stowe, Nick Weschler, Connor Paolo, Henry Czerny
Creatives: Mike Kelley (writer), Phillip Noyce (director)
Thoughts: The presence of feature director Noyce (Salt) is worth taking note of. The premise feels like it'd be at home next to Brothers & Sisters and Desperate Housewives, so the fates of those shows probably will have an impact here. I'm a fan of VanCamp, Weschler and Paolo from their WB/CW days, so I'm pulling for them here. The pilot script's gotten generally good reviews too.

Overall, the pickups depend on how much Lee wants to makeover ABC's lineup. I'm probably not 100% right, but I'd gamble on seeing several of these debut next fall.

Part 2: CBS
Part 3: FOX
Part 4: NBC
Part 5: The CW