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Published: 4 years ago

Tips and stories from around the Web, Part 4

Let’s take a breather from all the heavy stories going on around by looking at a few (very interesting) entertainment and writer-related articles and interviews.

First, in case you missed it, The Futon Critic has a minute-by-minute rundown of the anticipated Freaks & Geeks/Undeclared reunion that went on at the Paley Festival a few days ago.

We also have an article from the LA Times about the broadcast of “enhanced” version of serialized series; meaning an old episode with subtitles supposedly clarifying past plot-lines for the viewer.
A great lesson on how to destroy any subtext and condescend to the max everyone involved.
And it becomes pretty ridiculous when it hampers the enjoyment of the current episode. Following ABC’s tries (with Lost and Ugly Betty), DirecTV has now decided to use the same tactic for none other than Damages. Summing up a season’s worth of mythology, one sentence at a time. Lovely.

On the writing side of things, Jen Grisanti, who many may know from the NBC “Writers on the Verge” program, released a couple of weeks back another great one-hour podcast interview, this time with Matthew Salsberg, writer and executive-producer on Showtime’s Weeds. A must-hear.

Finally, it’s always nice to hear personal experiences from fellow (television) writers, and John August’s regular segment, “First Person,” provides just that with amazing in-depth guest articles. Allison Schroeder continues the trend by writing about her “big break,” from being a PA on Pineapple Express and Smallville, to moving up the ladder as writer’s assistant, and then followed by becoming a staff-writer on 90210.

Published: 4 years ago

Is Netflix’s original programming strategy a game-changer?

By now you’ve probably heard the news: Netflix has decided to enter the original programming world. Not only that, but the king of online movie distribution is doing it through a $100-million deal, scoring House of Cards (one of the most sought-out cable pilots) with a 2-season/24-episode order.
Boom.

It’s certainly impressive, and pretty much unheard of, but why can this move be considered a game-changer?

First, the fact that Netflix is doing original programming is, by itself, a major decision, and dare I say a major shake-up in the peaceful realm of the television industry.
An outside entity getting on TV’s turf by pulling the rug out from their feet? They’re a distribution outlet, not a content developer. Surely this is tantamount to iTunes making shows of their own, right?
Well the truth is that we’ve now moved beyond all of that.
Do you remember The Outer Limits’ opening credits? “We control the horizontal and the vertical.“
I could write a thousand pages describing how “the Internet” or “YouTube” or “the writers’ strike” changed the way “television” is “made,” but the bottom line is that the standard TV business model is slowly eroding away. We’re now angling towards an endless array of verticals and horizontals. The latest example being Comcast buying up NBC/Universal. The “input” and “output” tubes are starting to fuse themselves together into an endless loop.
Scary, huh?
So we have Netflix, which controls 61% of movie streaming and is literally getting a dedicated button on your remote control, who is now moving beyond its distribution model to become a content creator–nay, a premium content creator and provider.
I’d say that’s one major step towards the future of television.

Now there’s also the problem of the content itself. Netflix went with House of Cards; in other words, this is a very high-profile cable drama.
The message is clear: You don’t have to be HBO to provide epic premium content.
It’s not only about making original content, it’s about making original premium content that can rival cable.
Is cable really in competition with online distribution outlets?
That’s still up to debate, although Netflix clearly thinks so.
“But they don’t have development executive” you say. Well that may be true, but I’m still waiting to see Netflix’s exec pyramid to validate that statement. They’ll probably create a dedicated department in the next few weeks.
Regardless, seeing as this is their first original venture, and the way they acquired the project, I’m willing to bet that they’re more than willing to give some artistic freedom.
After all, we’re not talking about a project by unknowns here. House of Cards is a respected foreign property drama and has established auspices (Fincher/Spacey). Plus we have MRC, which has a decent track record, but more importantly everything to prove. It’s probable that they’ll be the ones more involved in the creative process.
And will House of Cards be eligible for an Emmy?

Finally, we have the deal itself. A two-season order is nowadays virtually unheard of.
As Nellie Andreeva pointed out in her article:

AMC went straight to series on The Walking Dead but with a modest six-episode order. Rome and Fox’s CGI extravaganza Terra Nova started off with 13-episode orders. Starz, which has been going straight-to-series with its dramas, ordered 10 episodes of Camelot and 8 of Boss.

Although still unknown, the distribution model of these 24 episodes will probably be by itself somewhat of a revolution (at least for that type of content).
Will it be VOD-only? Will DVDs be mailed out? How about the marketing campaign?
Everything needs to be defined. Or rather redefined, since this is after all a TV series we’re talking about.
Change is afoot.
The fact that Netflix spent $100 million to acquire the project is them basically thumbing their nose at cable.
Had AMC or HBO acquired the project, it certainly would have kept its appeal, but beyond its artistic value, the fact that Netflix is developing it is much more alluring.
House of Cards is now a big fish in a small pond–which is about to get enormous.

Of course, at the end of the day (or rather months to come), all of this might end up being a catastrophic failure. Nobody watches the show and millions have been spent for nothing.
I personally believe though that it’s going to work out on all fronts.
And if anything, this will at least usher in a new era; that of premium original content not originating from the standard black box, but from an entirely different mode of distribution.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

One final question remains: Will House of Cards be eligible for an Emmy?

Published: 4 years ago

Oscar thoughts (2011)

Well, it’s already been a year since we were treated with the Baldwin/Martin hosting duties and, although not that amusing, they fared much better than this year’s duo.

But let’s get something out of the way first.
Was The King’s Speech the best movie of 2010?
Probably not.
Was it undeserving of recognition?
No.
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know it was not only entertaining and funny, but also fresh.
There, I said it.
I went in expecting some heavy period “Oscar-grabber” piece, and I came out feeling invigorated.
Hell, it was the complete opposite of what many people are comparing it to: Shakespeare in Love.
So, no, I don’t feel the win was that much of a rip-off, and if you look at the list of the nominees, 2010 was a pretty great year for cinema.

Now onto the hosts.



*crickets*
Call it bland, call it grey, call it apathy, but the hosting this year was plain boring.
Even Franco seemed to be pretty absent throughout the show (maybe it was due to the Bruce Vilanch-written jokes?).
There’s not much else to say about that, except to add that Hathaway’s visible enthusiasm was misplaced.

If there was one great addition this year though, it was undoubtedly the magnificent set. Now that’s a step in the right direction.

It was also pretty funny to see how the ceremony itself was not unlike Inception: we have to go deeper!
An announcer announced the next announcer who then announced the next announcer, and…so on.
Anne Hathaway introduced Billy Crystal who introduced Bob Hope who introduced Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law who then presented the SFX award.

Speaking of Bob Hope. Though I appreciate the effort of recreating his persona on stage, they do realize the world, and people, were not black & white in the 1950s right?

Also note that they apparently removed the “applaud your fave” during the In Memoriam segment.
No more ghoulish popularity contest!

Surprisingly, another positive thing this year were the acceptance speeches. Both Aaron Sorkin and Christian Bale were not only humble in their victory, but also self-deprecating. Others, like Tom Hoper, were actually inspiring.

As for Billy Crystal’s comeback, well, that was met with a lot of relief from everybody.
Maybe he’ll get so much hype from his performance that they’ll rehire him next year…

And what to say about Kirk Douglas?
I love the man but, damn, that presentation was downright embarrassing for everyone involved. And what was going on with the aide battling for his cane?

Oh, I almost forgot to point out that Modern Family served us with another, funny, Oscar promo.
Probably the most entertaining 30 seconds of the evening.
That’s two for two.

As for the various winners (and losers)…
Although everyone was hoping for Exit Through the Gift Shop to win (and get a Banksy party-crashing in return), I’m glad that Inside Job got the award. Even better was director Charles Ferguson’s opening statement about how “three years after a horrific financial crisis caused by fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail—and that’s wrong”.
A lot of people are also whining about the Inception snubs and how everyone was thanking Chris Nolan–except the Academy voters. Although somewhat true, I do feel Nolan Fincher will get recognition from the Academy soon.
As in, next year with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
As for the rest of the winners, there isn’t much to add that hasn’t been said. I don’t consider any of the wins to be surprising (yes, even Melissa Leo).
This year’s ceremony was, overall, probably the least surprising in quite some time.

Finally, we were treated with a (somewhat awkward?) end-of-show choir.
Under-privileged kids, singing happily with Oscar winners getting their $30,000 gift-bags.
Stay classy Academy.

Published: 4 years ago

#TheGreyBox — Week One

It has been a week since #TheGreyBox was launched and we’ve already been having great discussions with great people all around.

It was a bit tough the first couple of days after the opening as people kept joining for a span of a few seconds and then quit. Fortunately though, people quickly understood that a chatroom doesn’t work like a virtual game and they started hanging around (i.e. idling) a bit more.

In just seven days, we’ve already had an impressive total of over sixty actual chatters engaging in conversations!
The best surprise however was the diversity of the people that have been joining en masse.
Any of our visitors will tell you about the wide variety of guests we’ve been having, including repped writers and writer’s assistant–and they were all graciously answering questions.
Plus, all television genres have been represented, from the obvious like comedy and drama, to even animation.
Interestingly, some of the best discussions and advice given on #TheGreyBox did not happen when a gazillion people where hovering around, rather at random, impromptu moments.

The lesson to be learned here is that great advice is always around the corner on #TheGreyBox.
And this is just another reason to hang out more on the chan!
I’ve already talked numerous times about the benefits of staying in the chatroom, not the least of which is, just as I said, being present when something epic is going on.

It is a pain to keep a browser tab open 24/7, especially with virtually no notifications of incoming messages.
If you’ve already checked out the chan and like it, I therefore encourage you to get an IRC client.

What is an IRC client?
Think of it like a dedicated software for IRC and its chatrooms.
TweetDeck for instance is a Twitter client. GTalk is also a client, but for Google Talk.
The same way you can check Twitter on their website or use GTalk via GMail, you can use a webchat for IRC (probably what you’re using right now).
Although it is easy and simple to use a webchat when you are at work or away, it is always nice to come back home to a personal client customized to your needs.

Why you should use an IRC client:
1) Connectivity
You won’t need to keep a browser tab open to reach the chan. Your IRC client will be able to be minimized, run in the background or even comfortably rest in your taskbar. No need to keep going back and forth between websites or reconnecting every time you want to join.
2) Awareness
Even if your client is running in the background, you will be instantly notified when someone logs in and/or when a discussion is happening. Never will you miss another conversation about television writing.
3) Logging
Remember that great advice Amy gave you about your spec last week? Neither do I.
Now you don’t have to worry about relying on your fragile memory with the introduction of logging. As the name implies, your client will log every conversation going on in the chatroom inside a simple text file (with as much information as you want it to contain). That way, you will easily be able to read back Friday’s discussion about fellowships without missing a beat.
And if you’re busy/away but your client is running in the background, you will actually be able to log discussions you were not able to attend.

I wrote a simple, straightforward guide (with pictures!) to help you install and configure your client as you wish. You can check it out over here.

Obviously, if you don’t want to deal with all the technical hassles (though they’re worth it), you can always join the chan the old fashioned way, by going to http://www.thegreybox.net.

And since Monday morning is “Comic-Con ticket sale” day, we’ll be hosting an e-party on the chan starting at 5:30AM PST/8:30AM EST!

We’ll see you on #TheGreyBox.