The Walking Dead, pt 2

I have to start at the end of this thesis first, which, I know – everyone hates non-linear storytelling, but deal with it.

All of the commentary so far (including my own) has failed to mention the BIG REASON there may be no writing staff for Walking Dead next season.

Nope, nothing to do with Darabont’s ego.

No, it isn’t that they think it’s the better way to go.

It’s not stupidity at work (seriously, it’s not).

IT’S MONEY.

“The Walking Dead” is the first series produced by AMC Studios.  As such, it was a HUGE investment…an investment they haven’t recouped yet.  AMC (the network) will recoup from ad sales and that will flow back to the studio for the second season order, but the producers are faced with a major problem: They need to make 13 more episodes of this thing.  As quickly as they can.  AND THEY HAVE NO MONEY.

I don’t blame them for going the freelance route — it makes total sense.  If you understand the money issue, you understand the logic.

But as I, and others have already argued, this is an issue that needs to be considered without the money crunch entering into the equation right off the bat.  For the show to continue being successful, and thus feeding the coffers of the studio and network, the show needs to be cohesive, feel ordered and well constructed.

To do that, you need a super human working non-stop for a couple of years or you need a staff.  AMC doesn’t have 2 years.  They don’t even have a year, though that’s how long it will take to get the second season on TV.

Freelancers will speed up the process considerably, but it will come at a cost to the quality of the show.  It can’t be helped.  This is an episodic show – one episode leads into the next.  It is very hard to freelance that.  You can freelance the heck out of Star Trek or shows in the 70’s or 80’s because they are a completely different construct for storytelling.  Most episodes exist independent of one another.  I can turn on Star Trek: TNG and watch a random episode…and not worry what happened right before it or right after it (unless it’s “Best of Both Worlds, part 2” or one of the other 2 part season finales).

Trust me, a freelance show would be in my best interest.  The point has been made all over – it’s a way to find new writers! Fresh blood!  But let’s get real — if there’s no staff, there’s no chance that new writers are going to get a shot at writing a script.  The smart move is to find seasoned writers, people working on other shows who have pedigree (like, Glen Mazzara, who wrote an episode this season and is currently running “Hawthorne” on TNT) to make sure that you are receiving high quality writing which can be massaged for continuity.  That means going to heavy hitters — Whedon alums, LOST scribes, BSG writers…you get the picture.  Li’l ole me is not going to get a script.

BUT

I MIGHT have had a shot of getting the writer’s assistant job (probably not, I know no one over there who could work that miracle, sadly) and as an assistant you have a shot at co-writing an episode later down the road or getting your own script.  If the show goes enough seasons, you might get bumped up to staff writer and then you’re even better off.  As a freelancer…there’s no shot of that.

So, the whole ‘no staff for the show’ thing still strikes me as a very bad idea.  The showrunner (presumably Darabont at this point) didn’t create “The Walking Dead” — Robert Kirkman did.  Neither of them have run TV shows before.  They don’t know what it takes to do the job which is far beyond vetting scripts from freelancers.  (For more on what a writing staff does, go read Kay or Lee’s posts).

Okay – I got that piece out of the way, now I’ll back up to the Twitter conversation I had over Sunday/Monday with my good friends Dave, Kira and Michael.

After “The Walking Dead” ended on Sunday night, I tweeted this:

"Trying to figure out how best to write up my thoughts on "The Walking Dead" thus far.  Nagging in my brain starting to take hold full time.I further tweeted that I had identified three issues with the show, which I felt, if addressed properly would really elevate the show (you can see the actual tweet in the image below).

In response, Dave piped up with:

[Okay — this method is gonna get exhausting. I’m gonna start typing in the tweets we sent and you’ll just have to take my word for it — if you want to verify the conversation below, you can do a twitter search on ‘davidanaxagoras’ or ‘teelajbrown’ to see most of them.  Sorry – just trying to speed the process]

So then Dave tweets further:

Dave: Is the other one the fact that the Sheriff has no reason to be invested in the survival of these strangers, unlike Jack?

Now, I did have an issue with this but not nearly as much as Dave does:

Dave: I have no idea what Rick is about. He’s a chump for being cheated on, he left his family moments after finding them again…

Shawna: i thought ‘why does Rick care about rest of the group’ was an issue but there are bigger story construction fish to fry.

Dave: There may be larger issues, but you can’t hang a show on a char like him and you don’t come back weekly for story constructs.

Dave: I think they’re improving, and I find the show mildly enjoyable, but LOST casts a looooooong shadow over TV drama.

Dave: Also, LOST had the good sense not to show us what was in the hatch before they opened it…look what you’ve done I can’t stop

Sorry about that, Dave.  I didn’t mean to stir anyone up, but clearly I’d struck a nerve with SOMEBODY.  Imagine my surprise when this got picked up hours later by Kira who chimed in:

Kira: Hmm. I’m not bothered by the same issues in Walking Dead as you are. (SPOILERS ahead for any mutual followers)
Kira: Rick’s caring about the group — without having to — is precisely what makes him a leader…

Kira: …as opposed to everyone else who just wants to look after what’s theirs.

By the way, I totally agree with this — in the comic.  So far in the TV show, I don’t think this has been adequately illustrated.  As I mentioned before it always feels like there are scenes missing — the stuff cartilage between big moments that help us understand the ‘whys’ of character actions.

But let’s continue:

Kira: And the show makes Rick face the emotional and survival costs of that approach. Lori calls him on it.

Kira: Re. pace: since the CDC’s like 10 miles from where they were, I appreciated them not dragging the journey out.

Kira: Esp. with that wrenching (and, I suspect, not over) story point of Jim on the road to cover the distance.

This, by the way, I have a split opinion on – I think the CDC goal feels non-organic to the story, even with Jim suffering so.  But I agree that we’ll see Jim again.  It’s the nature of this show (or, at least, what I imagine the nature of the show to be).

So now here comes Michael with his thoughts:

Michael : I see Ricks char as being driven by his role as an idealist police, now burdened by the fact…

Michael: …his shift will never end. The quick arrival at CDC also seems to be a direct answer to Lost…

Michael: …we not only opened the hatch right away, we showed you what was on there at length 1st as if to

Michael: say “this is in no way about answers. This is not the island. Doesn’t matter why zombies are here”

Great point by Michael — I think this is exactly what the CDC story is about, but that doesn’t make it right to do it in the first 6 episodes — we’re just meeting our survivors. Now we’re meeting THIS GUY (Noah Emmerich) and it’s just an abrupt departure.

Now the tweets get fun:

Kira: Agreed. And I see the CDC as different from the LOST hatch. Both are valid story devices.

Kira: Don’t see what’s inside: mystery. See a messed up guy in a messed up situation: suspense.

Kira: Will CDC guy save our gang? Can he? Is this an even worse place?

Michael: I would [wager] this is a preemptive strike at “curing zombism” There is no cure, now go survive.

This is where I note how much I love my friends.

Dave: Not a mystery, I agree. But narratively speaking, it takes the wind out of the stories sails.

Dave: I’d be much more invested in Rick if we had stuck closer to his POV — not knowing what CDC held.

Dave: I do like the whole CDC set-up. Just wish we had discovered it as our main chars did.

Michael: conflict for Rick is between his role as father and husband and his role/need as group leader.

Dave: Good point but need to see this dramatized–jack did not believe he could lead, no conflict for Rick

At this point, we all agreed we need to settle this with some mud wrestling and a night watching the finale (okay, I made up the mud wrestling part).

So why did I go to the trouble to recreate this whole conversation? Because it was good, for one thing. For another, I like that we can discuss the show without it getting into ‘WHATEVER U HATERZ — THIS SHOW ROXXORS” and other fine examples of discourse that populate the web nowadays (darn kids).

So now it’s your turn — You’ve heard what I had to say, what a few other people have to say…what say you? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What brilliant point are we missing, but you didn’t?

[Thanks again David, Kira and Michael for allowing me to repost their tweets!]

Posted under analysis, writing

This post was written by Shawna on December 1, 2010

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The Walking Dead, interlude

We interrupt my continuing rant about “The Walking Dead” to direct you over to Kay’s blog Seriocity – because, seriously, she nailed about 2/3 of what I was going to cover in part two, and there’s no way I can top it. Here’s a sample:

Darabont, ultimate television historian that he is not, wants to model The Walking Dead on how the BBC makes TeeVee — with a showrunner, no staff, and freelancers coming in to write episodes. First of all, I think the BBC model works because production over there is an entirely different animal than it is here. Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t there story editors on BBC shows?  Isn’t there some experienced framework in place to make the shows run smoothly? And haven’t the majority of the showrunners come up through the very stringent system so that they know how it all works? Don’t they have — dare I say it — experience? And don’t the freelance writers also know precisely how the system works, and how to pitch and write scripts for these shows?

Since that’s not how we do it here, I can’t imagine that this sort of thing would run smoothly. Actually, hang on a minute… I actually have experience with this sort of thing! I was on a show where it was decided that the majority of the episodes would be freelanced. This led to hearing A LOT of pitches and not surprisingly, an enormous number of those pitches missed the mark. Because see, that’s how our system is designed. It’s almost impossible for freelancers to pitch an acceptable story to a US TeeVee show, which is why the WGA required freelance episodes are usually given to friends or assistants.

Seriously. You need to read the whole thing.  Plus, I need more time to finish part 2.  Hey, I have a pilot to re-write, a webseries to work on…Shawna’s gotta eat.

UPDATE: Lee Goldberg has weighed in.

UPDATE #2: Michael Patrick Sullivan has blogged this as well – and yes, the alluded to tweets will be revealed in part 2, I swear!



Posted under analysis, blogs

This post was written by Shawna on December 1, 2010

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