Monthly Archives: June 2004

Ask-The-Exec!

6/16/04

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Yes, that’s right, kiddos! Today we have a real live junior TV Exec in our midst, and she said she’d answer all our burning questions about the inner workings of television. So ask away, ‘cuz Jen rocks the house, yo. She’s honest, cool, dashing (and taken, boys and girls).

I’ll start:

Hey Jen, what was your biggest heartbreak of a series that you loved, but it failed?

What spec script do you never want to read again, as long as you live?

you nip, I’ll tuck

6/15/04

One of the ways to get yourself noticed in Hollywood is to write a “spec” script, which I believe stands for “speculation,” “speculative” or “speculum”- but I’m not sure which. The idea is that you pick a show on television that is most like the show you want to work on, and write your own episode containing the established characters.

Sounds easy, right? Except that unless you have some sort of insider knowledge, you don’t know the current gossip, and you can end up writing a spec script that nobody will want to read. For instance, let me impart this wisdom to you about this television season:

1. Agents are glutted with “Six Feet Under” scripts right now and are tired of reading them. Having seen the first episode of the current season, it seems to me they might take a look at some of them anyway.

2. Last year, there were a bunch of comedy pilots written around the premise of a cooking show, but after Emeril’s ill-fated project, all of them died. This year, the theme everyone keeps seeing is the “formerly rich kid” comedy.

3. Last month, this one guy got a great gig after writing a spec script for M*A*S*H, a show that has not been on the air for 21 years.

In that light, I joked with my cast that I was going to write a “Webster” spec, and sometimes a bold, stupid move like that is just what you need. My wife and I, however, decided to go with a current Fox comedy (try to guess which one) and we’re now choosing a drama just so the bases are covered.

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So I put it to you, blogosphere: have you ever seen “Nip/Tuck,” “The Shield” or “Joan of Arcadia”? And if so, whaddya think?

blindness escapes me

6/14/04

Ten years ago, I was living on a farm outside Chapel Hill, NC with my beloved friends Annie and Greg. One cold afternoon, Ann said she wanted to go hiking on our property, so I agreed. Curiously, I took my contact lenses out and put on glasses, which is something I NEVER used to do during the day (childhood psychoses, etc., but I’ll get to that some other time).

During our hike, a sharpened branch stuck out of a tree, and I saw it too late

hate, Hate, HATE!!!

6/9/04

Okay, so I’m up here in Boston and had a great experience today, and it’s also Chopin the Dog’s 14th birthday AND I know I just blogged about Reagan and everyone got mad at each other and one of my virtual friends is gone because of it, and then I found myself talking about abortion which I swear to god I NEVER do…

BUT…

Please take a look at George Bush’s re-election page. That bastard sack of gnu-poop Bush is riding Reagan’s still-warm shriveled corpse for political benefit, and it makes me SO FUCKING SICK I COULD JUMP INTO A SWIMMING POOL FULL OF “ICY-HOT.”

Has he no shame? More importantly, why did this particular act make me so INCANDESCENT WITH RAGE when there are so many other things to be angry about?

I can only hope that not one single undecided voter in a swing state could be so chunk-minded as to equate Bush with Reagan. Because, as much as a rat bastard Reagan was, Bush would not be fit to caddy for the Gipper at Sawgrass. And even if they thought Bush and Reagan were ideological soulmates, the “memoriam” page on the re-election homepage is so gutlessly smarmy, so acid-drippingly cynical, that I would hope most rational humans would see it for what it is: the pathetic lather-face of a boy pretending to shave with his daddy’s razor.

moaning myrtle

6/7/04

Iowa City, IA to Toledo, OH

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My buddy Oliver wrote to me, saying he’d listened to the “His Dark Materials” novels (as Tessa and I are doing right now) and wanted to hear the verdict on Cuaron’s “Harry Potter” movie. It’s funny how the two book series seem to flirt with each other

our 40th

6/6/04

Santa Monica, CA to Iowa City, IA

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We left California with so many balls in the air that it felt almost unnatural to be zooming out of town with the bikes strapped to the back of the Prius – it’s almost like we expected somebody to stop us at the gas station in Barstow and demand that we return. We’re leaving things in LA in the capable hands of Fate, and I just hope It knows what It’s doing.

A quick glimpse of the Friday-traffic-to-Las-Vegas from a mountain top was all we needed to know; we took a southward journey through Arizona, which ended up being excruciatingly, excruciatingly hot. We got out of the car at one point, and it was the diametric opposite of “The Day After Tomorrow”: our faces were flash-frozen with searing heat. The car said it was 110 degrees in the shade, but that seemed low.

We stopped at the only store in that part of Arizona, which contained several signs saying “WE KNOW THESE THINGS ARE OVERPRICED, BUT WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, SO STOP COMPLAINING.” To make matters more bizarre, there was no direct way back on the interstate, so we had to take the ancient Route 66 through the god-forsaken desert. I officially dubbed this picture The Last Place in America You Want To Be When You Get a Kidney Stone:

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Anyone who has been to Eastern Colorado knows it’s about as boring as North Dakota, but it provided a little shortcut here to Iowa. At first we succored ourselves with the Satellite Radio, but all of the news was about Reagan dying, so we delved into the Audio Book of Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials,” which, by the way, is fabulous.

“His Dark Materials” – which has a plot involving barbarians from the Russian North – actually got me thinking more about Reagan than any lugubrious newscast of his memorial. I should have expected that he was going to receive a eulogy from every network, and breathless recounting of his enduring “vision,” but I had no idea it would be so out-of-control as to make us sick.

Here’s the truth as I saw it: he was President when I was 12 until I was 20 – an incredible span of my life – and I hated the guy. He was mean-spirited, simple-minded, lacked all nuance and only believed in “Morning in America” if you happened to be white. He never did a thing for minorities, ransacked environmental controls and he gets reductive, laughably ham-minded credit for toppling Communism. His speeches on how he Believed in America were just like the 1980s: hollow, decadent, and full of mousse.

On a personal note, he was a Big Movie Studio guy who took away the tax deductions for independent film investors, thus killing the creative end of the movie industry for decades. Want to know why movies were so amazing in the ’70s and now they all suck? He’s your man.

The day he joked about the “missiles flying towards Russia” off-camera showed what this guy was truly made of. He began the Republican tradition of “moral certitude” in place of “facts.” He shares George W. Bush’s low-rent populism; his total incoherence and asleep-at-the-wheel grasp of specifics is passed off as “charmingly homespun,” and like Bush, he got away with it.

He filled me with fear, and made me feel very, very alone. And worst of all, he’s the spiritual godfather of every right-wing campus politico nut you ever knew in college, the kind of guy that is now running for the House of Representatives in Virginia and hopes to make sure you have no control over your own uterus.

When I first learned he had been elected, it was 1980 and I was living right here in Iowa. I was very young, but I knew something dark had just happened. Now, in my thirties, I’m back, it’s an election year, and I’m fighting for the light.

guarded optimism

6/3/04

When I was 25 years old, I basically won the jackpot: I was asked to be a contributing author to a book that ended up being successful enough that I didn’t need to look for work for about two years. Those were two “Chapel Hill years,” mind you, which meant that $15,000 could see you through 24 months of rent, movies and middle-shelf bourbon.

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publicity still from 13th-GEN in 1993; clockwise from top left: me, Neil Howe, R.J. Matson, Bill Strauss

I kept waiting for my life to take off, you know, for the book to propel me into the stratosphere. As soon as the sales came in, I would find a girlfriend, I would be able to write novels, I would be able to do anything I want. I have to say it was my Dad who brought me wisdom I was unwilling to hear: “no one artistic event changes everything.”

I rested on my pathetic laurels instead, and paid for it by having Nervous Breakdown #1 in 1994. Later on, when we were finishing financing for the Pink House movie, I became convinced that certain elements, once finished and paid for, would propel the movie into the stratosphere. Again, my dad cautioned me about putting too much stock in any one artistic event, and again, I was schooled by moments of abject despondency when things didn’t change.

You are still you in the morning, I came to understand, and thus I’ve tried to remain as process-oriented as possible. It is with that frank realism that I approach tomorrow’s meeting: it will be Tessa and I in a room with a very important entity. If they choose to work with us, it could mean a sea change in the way we will be viewed in the entertainment cosmos.

Or not. I pray for it to go well, but I am relieved by understanding that the Chaos Theory only works if individual moments in your career promise to play well with all the others.