The TV Writing Journey

Published: 1 year ago

One and Gone: Reunion (FOX — 2005)

Some shows get years of success, while others barely get a few episodes to prove their worth.
Time to take a look at these oft-forgotten series and their single season. This is One and Gone.

On today’s program: FOX’s Reunion.

Presenting Reunion


What was it about?

Breakfast Club meets 24, or The Big Chill meets Lost.
Each episode of Reunion follows one year in the lives of six BFFs, starting with their high-school graduation in 1986 and ending in 2006 1998 (following the cancellation of the show after only 13 out of 22 potential episodes).
The show also features the running (main) plotline in the present (2006) of a detective investigating the brutal murder of one of the six friends the night of their 20-year reunion.
It’s high-concept, it’s very soapy, and it’s fun to watch the same actors play the same characters in their 20s, 30s and 40s–all within the same season. Should have been on The WB instead of FOX.

When was this even on the air?

Fall of 2005 on FOX. On Thursday nights at 9 (versus The Apprentice and CSI). Ouch. Talk about a competitive timeslot.

How many episodes?

13 episodes produced (out of a planned 22). 9 made it to air with the last 4 available online.

Stars & Stripes

Created by Jon Harmon Feldman and Sara Goodman, with the former serving as showrunner.

Regular cast:

  • Dave Annable (Aaron Lewis) as the lovesick puppy turned Internet entrepreneur
  • Alexa Davalos (Samantha Carlton) as the triangle love interest turned corpse
  • Will Estes (Will Malloy) as the BFF turned priest
  • Sean Faris (Craig Brewster) as the privileged asshole turned paraplegic
  • Chyler Leigh (Carla Noll) as the innocent girl turned femme fatale
  • Amanda Righetti (Jenna Moretti) as the wannabe actress turned
  • Mathew St. Patrick (Kenneth Marjorino) as the cop with a vengeance

Notable guest-stars:

  • Gregory Harrison as the privileged asshole’s asshole dad
  • George Newbern as the obligatory clichéd abusive husband
  • Geoff Stults as the handsome stranger struck with cancer


I’m a big fan of dramas that play with storytelling structures, especially when it involves time (see 24 or Lost), so Reunion theoretically fits right into my playground.
But was any of it actually good? Let’s take a look.

The Ugly

This shot.
Reunion 1x05 1990_SingleShot

Present day
Before we get to the real novelty of the series, let’s take a look at the continuing narrative/arc of the season, which is entirely set in the present. To emphasize with the sunny past (I guess), we end up with some weird hyper-stylized present where everybody is a dead-eyed zombie living in a grey film-noir-esque world. Or something. (See the screenshots coming up)
This is a whodunit-style mystery about one of the six having been killed. Yet, halfway through the season, the present storyline starts to focus entirely on two characters’ involvement with the murder. In other words, the show stops featuring (and caring) about three of the five remaining friends still alive in the present.
Have I lost you already?
Now, what I’m describing already sounds like a terrible story, but the biggest disappointment isn’t that we’re seeing too much of the present; it’s that we’re actually seeing too little of it. The ratio of a given episode is about 80/20 in favor of the flashbacks, with the flashbacks completely overtaking the present in latter episodes. Why? My guess is that the last 2–3 episode of a theoretical full season would have prominently featured the events leading up to the murder (i.e. present-adjacent stories). Therefore, no need to talk about it before then.
Either that, or they realized how shitty the makeup looked.

Soap clichés
I know Reunion is a soap, but there were too many crappy twists for my liking.
And you get a pregnancy! And you get a wedding! And you get a surprise bastard!

The Bad

Enough shown.

Meta jokes
Examples include:

To quote the EW review of the time:

Even the ‘80s scenes are weak because the writers are so taken with the setting, they can’t stop reminding us. Sloppily. One character calls Wham! ”the next Beatles”; another dances to ”Material Girl.” The gang dons double-layered polos, Frankie Goes to Hollywood-style T-shirts, and menswear-for-girls. In short, we’re never looking at ’86, or ’87, but an ‘80s-world amalgam — and apparently anything that happened in that decade is game, even if it’s off by nearly 10 years.

Fortunately, self-referential humor isn’t the main point of the show. And past the 80s (i.e. the first couple of episodes), we don’t have to suffer through a lot of those inane references.

Some dialogue
Especially early on in the show, there’s quite a lot of bad lines (expositionary or other).
Here’s a frightful example from the pilot, said to the triangle love interest by her secret lover:

If Halley’s Comet’s coming back early for anyone, I think it’d be for you. <3


The characters
Less archetypes and more stereotypes.
They get fleshed out over the course of the half-season, but we don’t have the real satisfaction of seeing their complete evolution from walking clichés in the pilot (80s), to their more devilish counterpart in the present. Had the show gone on for a full season, I would assume this frustrating contrast would have been less jarring.

The Good

The music
Say what you will about the meta “time winks”, but I really enjoyed the music choices (at least past the pilot). Maybe it’s because I already enjoy the songs picked, but they ended up actually being relevant to the episodes’ content and featured scenes.

The actors
Again, despite the crappy makeup, you can’t fault the actors for doing their best and making some barf-worthy scenes just be cringe-worthy.
Special kudos to Will Estes, Dave Annable and Chyler Leigh for committing to some of these crazy storylines.

Time management
Apart from the present, the way Reunion handled the majority of each episode (i.e. flashbacks) was, in my opinion, a good use of storytelling.
Most episodes concentrated on a very particular moment within the year, and showcased through that lens the various events in the friends’ lives. Only in a couple of instances did they actually go through an entire year.
Either way, the “moments” they showed were the most relevant and illustrative of where the story was (as opposed to historical events). The writers chose to focus on the important events in the lives of their characters, regardless of when during the year they were taking place. This is in opposition to what they could have done: showcase historical moments within these years to cheaply entice nostalgia or emotions out of us. A pitfall that was avoided.

The Great

This double popped-up collar
Reunion 1x01 1986.avi_snapshot_17.18_[2013.09.07_13.25.39]

Bottom Line

Pilot to finale: Evolution of a single season

Reunion started bad. Really. The pilot of the show probably has the most hackneyed soapy storylines you’ll ever see. But the cool concept made me stay past it.
The show was at its height of ridiculousness when, within the same episode, the 30-something actors were playing both teenagers, and grayed-out 40-year-old equivalents. As I said, the makeup is really distracting. The more egregious issues however, were the constant callbacks and “look at me” nostalgic moments of the pilot.
Cut to thirteen episodes later, where the majority of these issues are mostly fixed. Once you get into the 90s, there are only a few minor nostalgic references, and the wardrobe doesn’t look that bad. You’ve gotten used to the soap storylines, most of them having actually become relevant to the ongoing plot. The present, however, is still a major issue (see above). Still, an overall positive evolution for only 13 episodes.

Watch or let it die?

Eh. It’s hard to give it a thumbs up when there are a lot of loose ends by the end of the show. You definitely won’t get enough of a complete picture to be satisfied.
The concept is executed well enough for a night-time soap (past the first two episodes), but the murder mystery is dragged on far too long. Worst part is the lack of any conclusion or real payoff of any kind.
The showrunner himself has confirmed that the murderer’s identity and motive (which you can find online, since they weren’t revealed in the show itself) can barely make sense for “us”, given the lack of information from years 1999 to 2006. Key events are completely unknown to the viewers, which makes the entire present storyline irrelevant.
A complete 22-episode season would have been worth the time investment, but as it stands now, the unfinished Reunion will live on as a haphazard foggy memory of what could have been.
Kind of like high-school.
Get it?

Final rating

On a scale of 1986 to 2014., I’ll give Reunion a solid 1989 B.C. with an unexpected pregnancy.

Published: 5 years ago

3 Screenwriting lessons from Coupling

A key part of writing for television is watching television. And learning from it.
Screenwriting lessons from tackles series past and present, analyzing them through the prism of screenwriting.

Today, we take a look at one of the greatest British sitcom, Coupling.
You might know the series from its infamously aborted American adaptation, but just like pretty much anything, the original by Steven Moffat is vastly superior to its remake.
Though similar to Friends, the show ends up being quite different from it, both in its length (four seasons of six 30-minute episodes), and subject matter (sex is omnipresent for one).

Lesson 1: Context is key

Coupling is built around the relationship of six friends, but more than that, the peripeteia stem from their adventures outside the group.
Some jokes on the show might seem easy, or downright idiotic, but the truth is there are “no jokes per se” as Steven Moffat puts it. The humour comes from the context.
This ties back to the true essence of sitcom, or rather situation comedy.
Most of the memorable scenes of Coupling are exactly what makes the genre so appealing: comedy through situation, double-entendres, and other qui pro quo (not to be confused with quid pro quo). There are no punchlines or zingers on the show, it’s all about what the audience knows vs. the characters. This allows you, the writer, to play with two key aspects of TV series: character points of view and audience expectations.
Qui pro quo are classic and traditional, but they works extremely well when done right.

Lesson 2: “Traditional” format doesn’t necessarily mean “traditional” content

Bold and ballsy are not incompatible with the classic multi-camera format. Sometimes, you shouldn’t be afraid of avoiding the cookie-cutter and go where no show has gone before.
Multi-camera might seem at first constrictive but it might actually end up being the complete opposite. Moffat understood perfectly that the format was going to have to evolve, and he used this as an advantage.
Coupling thrived with its innovative use of storytelling. Rarely (if ever) has a sitcom so successfully utilized such a wide variety of non-linear techniques.
The main episodes that spring to mind are The Girl with Two Breasts, Split , The End of the Line, and Nine and a Half Minutes.
Don’t get fooled by the titles.
The Girl with Two Breasts played with the qui pro quo to a new extreme by introducing a foreign language. Almost half of the episode was in Hebrew, with most notably a crucial exchange between an Israeli woman and one of the main characters. The tour de force employed in the series was to show the same exact scene once more, only this time with the Israeli woman speaking in English and the other character in gibberish (ergo from her point of view).
Though the idea of showing back-to-back the same scene may seem almost ridiculous, the gutsy (and well executed) move actually paid off and proved extremely popular.
From that moment on, each season had at least one “epic” episode, as Moffat called them.
The second in the list is Split. As the name implies, it used throughout the entire episode a continuous split-screen (to showcase the split between the two main characters).
As always, the episode was filmed in front of a live audience, which means that, thanks to the multi-camera format, they had to shoot the two sides simultaneously on two different sets. Hilarity ensues.
Once again, this is a truly awesome use of what has since become more of a gimmick (I’m looking at you 24).
The End of the Line and Nine and a Half Minutes use the perspectives of different characters by showing different angles and POVs. What is great is how the various scenes intersect with one another, providing each time additional information regarding what came before (or will come after).

Lesson 3: Don’t forget continuity

Sitcom and serialized storytelling might seem antinomic, but in truth, even the most rudimentary comedy will have some form of continuity: relationships.
If anything, television is the land of characters, and especially in sitcoms you need to embrace that.
Somewhat like Arrested Development (though less pronounced), Coupling had numerous references to past episodes and small details. Beyond that though, the relationships between the characters evolved organically and clues regarding what was to come were disseminated throughout the show.
It wasn’t a surprise then when a Season Two episode “flashbacked” all the way to the Pilot to provide additional perspective on a certain relationship.
Don’t be afraid in your script to leave some questions/relationships open, even if it’s a comedy. After all, a pilot needs to set up the world. You don’t necessarily have to enter a super-serialized form of storytelling (especially for a sitcom), but don’t necessarily presume your audience is made out of amnesiacs. Even Friends had arcs.

What to take from the show

The audience has expectations that need to be managed, characters have points of view that must be thought out, and situations have perspectives that can (and should) be manipulated.

Published: 5 years ago

Ding Dong, Appointment TV is Dead

With 24 being canceled and Lost ending its run next May, this season will mark the last year of so-called Appointment Television.

Everything is now available at our finger tips, and denying it is simply delusional.
It’s a given that people are currently watching television in a very different way than how they were used to for the past last 50–60 years.
Pure made-for-TV content is virtually gone. Networks are constantly thinking of new ways to use new media to promote a show on the air.

Appointment TV itself has gone through some changes throughout the years.
At its core, it can best be described as a can’t-miss show you have to see every broadcast week.
The reason you “can’t-miss” it is exactly what has evolved.

Appointment TV has been in existence since the early days of television at a time where only a handful networks existed. Everyone around the country would tune in to watch one of the few shows on the air, week after week.
When a finale aired, it was an event like no other that a majority of Americans would follow. M*A*S*H*’s series finale achieved a 77% share with 50.15 million households. Three years prior, the Dallas reveal of who shot J.R. attracted 41.5 million households for a 76% share.
To compare, this year’s Super Bowl, the most-watched television program in television history, “only” achieved a 68% share.

But don’t think this viewer problem is anything new.
Over twenty years ago, in 1988, LAT’s Peggy Zeigler wrote in an article entitled “Where have all the viewers gone?”:

And everyone has to figure out how to make network television back into a hits business. The buzzword is appointment television, industry shorthand for the kind of “can’t miss” shows that people make sure they’re home to watch — or they tape. Appointment television translates to hit shows: “Cosby” was appointment TV, so was “Moonlighting” and “L.A. Law.” Appointment television brings more viewers to the set; “The Cosby Show” single-handedly boosted Thursday night HUT levels when it debuted in 1984.

By the mid-1990s, NBC’s “Must See TV” brand was starting to die down, and so was widespread Appointment TV. Due to an increasing number of channels, everyone had their own little personal “Appointment TV Show,” but few were nationally-recognized as such.

A crazy storytelling form became at that point a bit more common: serialized narratives.
Though heavily-serialized shows wouldn’t catch on for another ten years, “softer” mythological ones would in the meantime not only become critical hits, but also cultural ones. Series, such as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, succeeded in keeping an episode format while creating arcs over a full season.
Appointment TV was at that point apparently dead, replaced by Cult Television.

Then something happened: the Internet.
People could share thoughts and discuss mythological components, dissect a show, relay tons of behind-the-scenes information. But it needed content.
No new series had appeared to fill the void since the end of The X-Files.

24 premiered in 2001 and was an instant hit. Many reasons were given, a major one is linked to its serialized format.
It wasn’t only made to enhance “the watercooler factor,” but more importantly allowed the show to introduce a brand new concept: addictive television.
At the other end of the box, people had started to proactively change their schedules to fit a given show into their lives.
You wouldn’t necessarily want to do a Hill Street Blues marathon, but we’ve all heard countless stories of people watching several seasons of 24 back-to-back in one sitting.
After that shift occurred, virtually no episodic Appointment TV remained. Friends’ finale became an actual Television Event (thanks to the show’s influence on pop-culture), but the show never actually reached on a regular basis the levels of 80s sitcoms.

In 2004, Desperate Housewives brought back soap-opera to primetime with much success.
The same year, Lost smashed the mythological show rulebook and paved the way for new forms of television-related transmedia storytelling. Its complex mysteries also brought viewers, who tuned in week after week, wanting answers, or at the very least more clues. For its six seasons, countless time has been spent talking about the series and its content.

The void was filled, and the ultimate form of Appointment Television was born. If only with a decade to live.
Slowly but surely, the tool that helped it resurface was causing its very downfall.
The shows had become so serialized that you couldn’t miss an episode, and needed to use technology to catch up on them. From there, it wasn’t much of a stretch for “can’t miss shows” to become DVRed and streamed instead of live-watched.
Ironically, Appointment TV had become a “must-see,” but not necessarily on television’s schedule.
What works best on television are episodic shows, and what works best outside television are serialized ones.

Meanwhile, Event TV (sports competitions, award shows, etc.) was emphasized as such thanks to Twitter, and other live-communities.
It now has grown into something new: Social Television.

Lost’s series finale in May will be Event Television. Everyone around the country might not watch it, but they will surely talk about it. By that time however, Appointment Television will be gone forever.
Whatever the case may be, massive weekly viewings of a show are a thing of the past.
Welcome to the world of crossmedia.

Published: 6 years ago

Elephant Appreciation Day

Today is Elephant Appreciation Day.

September 22 was declared Elephant Appreciation Day in 1996 by Mission Media, a graphics and publishing firm who got the day included in “Chase’s Calendar of Events.” Why bother celebrating elephants? Mission Media says elephants deserve a day of their own because they are the largest land mammal of our era and are undeservedly threatened with extinction.

What better way to celebrate this magnificent occasion than to show to the world the best picture ever taken: an elephant eating a giant pumpkin.

And in these tough times, everyone needs to cheer up:

Ha ha.