The ‘Why TV’ Meme

Thanks to BooM, Kira has tagged me with a meme.  Thankfully the question is simple:

What made you want to be a TV writer? Was there a defining moment? Was it an awakening? Did you always know?

Let’s start at the beginning.  I know a lot of you are new to my blog, and since this is a the new home of my blog, I think it’s as good a time as any to talk about why I write, why I blog and answer the meme of ‘why TV’ while I’m at it.

Everyone has their story of when they started writing.  One of the things I was really good at as a kid was living inside my head.  There were days I walked around my high school, imagining I was *really* Sam Beckett of “Quantum Leap” inhabiting my body, trying to put right some problem so I could ‘leap out’.  Or there were the days I lived out my own little plays in my head of building a time machine to jump between parallel worlds, and the machine I built allowed me to travel into the Star Trek universe.  I actually wrote that story down.  I researched a timeline.  I wrote in my friends, gave my story complications, actual plot. 

Before that I wrote an earnest tale about a young girl charged with the task of getting her brothers and sisters to safety in a post-apocalyptic landscape…by driving a Yugo cross country.  That one won me an award in junior high.  My best friend growing up and I wrote all sorts of strange stories for ourselves, including partially improvisational plays we staged in her basement, all of them based ever so loosely on British costume dramas and mystery stories we’d seen on PBS.  (I fear that some of them live on video and could someday be used as blackmail against me.  So be it).  All of this and I still didn’t realize I wanted to be a writer.  I just thought I was really out of touch with the world and maybe even had a propensity for fan fiction.

Flash forward many years, circa 1998.  I was living in Florida, on my own, no family, no friends in close proximity.  I started blogging before blogging was “cool”.  I kept an online journal, and I found myself talking about TV and writing a lot.  Meanwhile I secretly envied my sister as she chose a path of pursuing her dreams of working in the entertainment industry.  True, I was technically working in the industry…but in the most remote way possible.  She was going at it head on, and I knew she would succeed where I had never even tried.

One night over Teppan dining a work friend asked me that question: “If you could go anywhere, do anything right now, what would you do?  Money is no object.”  I thought about it for about a second, and the answer surprised me.  “I want to write movies.”

The thought had never been verbalized so strongly, and it never felt more right than when I had said it.  And yet, it sounded so ridiculous.  I was 24 years old, working as a PC support technician, sitting in Orlando, Florida, and I wanted to write movies.

But my friend said the most perfect thing in response: “Well why don’t you do that?”

And I didn’t really have a good answer as to why not.  I mean, of all of the things I could have chosen to say in answering the most open-ended question one gets — “What would you do?” I picked something that took a) no money (not really, not like say, traveling the world) b) no immediate need to move and c) could be done while still keeping my day job.  Making a career of it, training, moving, all of that wasn’t needed.  All it really takes to start each time we sit down to write is imagination and determination.

In 2001 when the Twin Towers fell, my world seemed so closed in and small.  I felt small.  In the three years since my bold proclamation that I wanted to write movies, I had written fifteen horrible pages of a screenplay, no idea what I was doing, other than I had gotten one book (Syd Field’s) and tried to teach myself how to use a macro someone had developed for Microsoft Word.  And yet, right when the world seemed the smallest to me as if it would choke off what little life I felt I had, it opened wide.  My sister was disaffected with her life in Chicago, and after much soul searching and heartache that year, in 2002 we both resolved to move to Los Angeles and start doing what we wanted to do with our lives…make movies.

I still wasn’t thinking about television, even though it should have been obvious to me that I had passion for it.  I loved films, but I LOVED TV.  I knew what show was on when and on what channel all the time.  I kept grids of programming, long before having a DVR so I knew when to tape shows and what to watch live.  I would mark up the Entertainment Weekly Fall TV preview with notes about this new show or that, carefully weighing decisions on what I would invest time in watching.  I still ended up watching just about everything, good or bad.

But I had my mind on writing films, since that seemed possible from my home in Florida, where TV obviously did not.  In July 2002 I visited Los Angeles to help my sister find a place for us to live.  I was trying to get a job transfer but had no idea if I’d get one or not.  She had just spent a couple of months staying on a friend’s couch looking for an assistant job and landed one.  And yet, I felt so alive , actually doing things.

I had started subscribing to Creative Screenwriting that year, intent to learn all I could before moving to L.A. and it was that year they announced that they would sponsor a screenwriting expo.  As soon as I saw the announcement, I emailed that work friend and said “I want to go to this.”  It was being held in early November, and I knew that if I was going to have a shot at getting my relocation approved, I’d need a plan.

So it was with some saved vacation and a very large bag, I packed up and went to Los Angeles to go to the screenwriting expo.  I had no idea when I’d return to Florida.  It could be when the expo was over, but I had a nebulous idea to pitch to my bosses that I could be useful working in California for the weeks between my vacation and Thanksgiving.

And they bought it.

And that’s when the groundwork was laid.  The position I wanted was posted within a couple of weeks of my “visit” and I pushed to get interviewed.  Thanksgiving came and went and I was still in Los Angeles, still working remotely.  I prepared for the idea that I might not get my transfer and would have to submit my resignation.  I was ready for it, even if I had no idea what I’d do if that happened.

Fortune smiled upon me, and the week of Christmas I got the word — the job was mine, and the company would relocate me in January.  Right after the holidays I flew back to Florida to pack up my stuff and moved West.

The following year I started down my own path, pursuing my own dreams by enrolling in the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program. Based on the UCLA MFA in Screenwriting, I felt it was the best way for me to jump start my training, jump in and learn, learn, learn. So I did that for a year, writing two scripts for the program, and then felt directionless once more. I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to improve my abilities very rapidly. Everything I read and heard was that you need to write a few scripts to not only figure out how to do it properly, but to really find your own voice. If I was going to keep writing features (and I was not a speedy writer by any count), it was going to take a long time to get in the game, and I felt that time was not on my side. I had just turned 30 and I felt the first real pressure that my age may count against me in this career aspiration.

So I thought about how I could get more scripts written more quickly…shorter scripts…television! I started taking UCLA Extension classes for TV Writing and my new path emerged. I still intend to write a feature or two, but I have never looked back from the decision to write TV. Once I started cranking out specs, my writing started to improve more quickly, and I realized I really liked writing for TV, for most of the reasons others have already stated.

While I was contemplating how to answer this a strange little thought occurred to me that I had never pondered before. Most of those stories, those improv plays and the prose were written very episodically. I wrote to entertain my friends, and I’d write a “chapter” during study hall, and I always had a cliffhanger to keep them guessing until the next chapter, so I guess I was already trained for act breaks without even knowing it. I also really loved naming my chapters which now is like naming episodes. I suppose if I wasn’t writing TV I’d try my hand at movie serials…well, if anyone still made them.

So, that’s ‘why TV’. It wasn’t a thunderbolt, but like most things, something that crept up on me and then felt completely right when I did it. I can say that the moment I knew for certain that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was when I went to pitch my pilot for the first time. I didn’t care whether they’d want to buy it in the room or not, I was just so happy to be living the dream, and that feeling was one I didn’t want to lose ever.

And I still feel that way – living the dream. I may not have ‘made it’ yet, but I know I will and I’m already doing the things I only imagined. Not a bad way to live. 

Posted under blogs, writing

This post was written by Shawna on August 29, 2008

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Comic Con Analysis for TV Watchers and Wannabes Part Three

Sorry for the delays on this series, but this should wrap it up. It’s been a month since Comic Con which has given me some time to think about the long term impacts of the event. I even have some advice for networks and con-goers for next year. But that advice will come in a Postscript article next week.

So, let’s continue the report card — how did the TV networks fare at Comic Con? What did they offer and was their presence effective in generating good press and buzz for their shows?

Read More…

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on August 28, 2008

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Less than a week from relaunch

I’ve got a lot of ‘clean up’ stuff to do here this week.  In case you are paying attention, here’s what I’ll be doing the next few days:

Thursday 8/28 – Part 3 of the Comic-Con Analysis will be posted.

Friday 8/29 – September/October TV schedule posted

Saturday 8/30 – RSS feed for TV news goes live

Sunday 8/31 – New Blogroll Launches – Screenwriting, TV and other Entertainment news sites will be segregated into categories/

Monday 9/1 – RELAUNCH DAY!!  Expect one writing article and one fall tv season article. 

If you want your blog added to the blogroll hit me at my email: shouting2wind at earthlink dot net

Tell your friends!  Tell your enemies too!

Posted under blogs

This post was written by Shawna on August 27, 2008

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Two weeks until official launch

If you are hanging ’round here on the B to the L to the O to the Gee, well, aren’t you special. We ain’t even open for bidness yet.

I consider this a transition phase, as I move from my old Blogger home, where I’ve been settled for four years to this here WordPress thingamabob.

So, come September 1st, we’ll be relaunched. Yay.

Oh so what I really wanted to tell you is that tonight on Geekerati, I’ll be reviewing many of the new pilots and doing all sorts of prognostication as to who lives and who dies. That’s right, I’m playing TV Goddess and you can’t stop me. Listen Live to Geekerati, tonight at 10 Eastern / 7 PM Pacific at http://blogtalkradio.com/geekerati.

Posted under blogs

This post was written by Shawna on August 18, 2008

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Watch List now LIVE!

It is far from complete, but I’ll be updating this daily, so sit tight and all of the show premiere dates will be listed.  I’m also going to keep the 07-08 cancelled list on there for awhile, since some people may be looking for shows to come back which are, in fact, not.

Watch List

Posted under tv news, watch list

This post was written by Shawna on August 11, 2008

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Comic Con Analysis for TV Watchers and Wannabes Part Two

So, continuing where I left off yesterday, let’s talk cable. Cable networks have really raised the bar in terms of their presence at Comic Con. It’s completely understandable too. Cable is all about niche programming, finding a target audience and catering to it fully. Genre programming and niche are twins, so it makes sense to go after your potential audience for your genre shows at the Con. The number and type of shows being promoted really expanded a lot this year, and I can honestly say I was exposed to some shows I might not have given much attention to had it not been for their presence at Comic Con. Let’s start with basic cable nets first.

By the way, where I can, I’ll link to the Comic Con panels for mentioned shows. I’ll do the same for yesterday’s post, so revisit for the network shows. Bonus points to NBC for putting all of their show panels online!

ABC Family ABC Family has been a staple at Comic Con for a few years, since Kyle XY was a big genre hit for the network. This year they were there to really promote The Middleman and Samurai Girl [Transcript of Panel in Comment Form is here], both shows with young female protagonists who kick butt. Both shows got panels, which were reasonably attended. I think the increased female presence at Comic Con this year helped boost both shows. ABC Family’s booth was the same as last year, but I dig it, because they have COUCHES! When you get tired of being knocked around in the exhibit hall, having a couch available to crash on for a few minutes is pretty sweet, and I certainly don’t mind watching the TV in front of that couch for the promos for their shows if it means giving my poor tired feet a few moments of rest. The temporary tattoos for “Samurai Girl” were pretty nice, and there was quite a melee for “Middleman” pins (why I’m not sure, but to each his own). Grade: B+

Cartoon Network This year was all about adult swim, as far as I could tell. That’s not to say there wasn’t some presence for the network at large (Powerpuff Girls 10th Anniversary panel, for starters) but most of the attention was focused on Aqua Teen Hunger Force, (and their search for a live action Carl) Venture Bros and Robot Chicken. The booth must have been really popular because I never got near it. I hear there were some decent giveaways, but I never saw any, except a “Robot Chicken” flyer. I know the panels for the adult swim shows were packed, as was Powerpuff Girls, who I did see in the flesh as they did the voices for some camera crew. That was cool. Grade: B Comic Con Panels online!

Robot Chicken

Venture Bros.

Coming next: SciFi, Spike, G4, FX, Showtime, HBO, History Channel/Discovery Channel(!), BBC America and BET.

Posted under analysis, tv news

This post was written by Shawna on August 6, 2008

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Comic Con Analysis for TV Watchers and Wannabes Part One

You’ve probably seen all of the news smothered over the internet like Smuckers raspberry preserves (yum), and you may have even seen some of the panels.

Now I want to pick it apart and analyze it all. What does all of this MEAN?

The week before Comic Con a little event called the TCA Fall Press Tour happened…not that’d you’d know, because it got a thimble-size of the press Comic Con received. Anymore the networks realize that connecting with fans is as important (if not moreso) than chattering at TV critics and reporters who cover this stuff for a living. Granted, most critics are also TV fans, and it becomes evident as they pick good quality shows to support which just don’t get the ratings they need to survive. It happens every year.

Still, getting fans engaged, the kind who go to big events like Comic Con can be “make or break” for a film, and now for TV shows too. Lost set the precedent (though I’m sure other shows have visited before that show launched) for launching at Comic Con and getting fan support early. If the fans like you, buzz builds online and people get excited for the show.

The lesson learned in 2007 was it is not enough to hype the pilot. Too many shows (See: Invasion, Surface, Bionic Woman and Journeyman) placed too much emphasis on the pilot and not on the whole show. The good news, is that for the shows that approach the marketing of their shows with creativity and flair (and let’s be fair, we’re talking mostly ‘genre’ shows here), it can pay great dividends. Two years ago Heroes was the belle of the ball. Last year the big buzz was around Pushing Daisies and Sarah Connor Chronicles. All of those shows saw good sampling based in part on their launches at Comic Con.

So what about this year? Who has benefited the most from their appearances at Comic Con. Let’s give each network a grade.

ABC presented panels for Lost and Pushing Daisies, both returning shows. ABC hasn’t picked up their midseason shows yet, and their new fall shows don’t really qualify as ‘genre’. Both panels were packed and response was very positive. The “Lost” panel gave away some fun prizes to people who asked questions and showed a short teaser video tieing into the new ARG running this year. They put the panel in the largest room (Hall H) which shows just how much demand there is for the show at Comic Con. “Daisies” also got good buzz going again with some clips for next season (the benefit for returning shows this year is that most have already started shooting at least a couple of episodes, so there was stuff to show). ABC did a good job with their show promotion, though I think “Daisies” could have used a stronger push. Overall, a good job. Grade: A-

CBS had no presence at Comic Con this year. Their only new genre show is Harper’s Island which was nowhere to be seen. Viacom makes up for this shortcoming with its Showtime offerings, which we’ll get to later. Grade: D

Fox pulled out all the stops for its shows. Not only did the new J.J. Abrahms show Fringe get lots of viral marketing, a panel and a screening of the pilot, but Fox was there to strongly promote Season 2 of Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles and other returning shows. Offerings ranged from the obvious (The Simpsons, Family Guy, 24) to the surprising (Bones, Prison Break, American Dad. And then there was Joss. Of course, nothing could hold back the hordes of Whedonites who needed their fix of Dollhouse. The panels were all well attended (although Fringe was less full than I expected), the marketing was really great for the fall premieres, and definitely buzz was built for the new shows. I think Fox knows how to promote their genre offerings. Grade: A

NBC After mixed results from their Comic Con promotion last year, I was glad to see that NBC bounced back and charged ahead aggressively. They too presented some unusual offerings — The Office writers panel? (A dream for us!) But they were in full force for freebies and viral campaigns for Knight Rider, Chuck, The Office, and Heroes. They also did well to give lots of early info on midseason show Kings which got some good buzz and attention at the Con. Disappointments: No Merlin or Crusoe news. Their booth in the exhibit hall was similar to last year, but the giveaways were good, and the Comic Con exclusive merchandise was very popular. Grade: A-

The CW Okay, so I know Supernatural and Smallville were both there, but where the heck was Reaper?? Grade: C- (Kudos to WB for promoting their studio backed shows — they had the Nerd Herd car giveaway/drawing)

Hard to believe that was just the network presence! Next post: The cable nets, and how does this impact writing specs?

UPDATE: A myriad of panels!

NBC’s Show Panels

Posted under analysis, tv news

This post was written by Shawna on August 6, 2008

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