Monday, August 28, 2006


Has it really been a year since Katrina? Of course, it's surely seemed longer, much longer, to those still dealing with the hurricane's fallout long after the rest of us have been distracted by newer and shinier tragedies.

Watch Spike Lee's HBO documentary, WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE, if you have access. It's a searing indictment of the government's response, and an elegy to a city that may never be the same but that can still dance even while burying their dead.

Lee managed to get interviews with an amazing number and variety of players. Nagin, Blanco, Kanye West, the doctor who told Cheney to go fuck himself while Dick posed at a photo op, scientists, historians, and most especially survivors of all stripes. As illuminated by Lee's interviews and footage from both then and now, there's plenty of blame and pain -- and resilience and resolve -- to go around.

I learned all kinds of things I didn't know before, such as the allegations that the levees were breached by explosions on purpose, a callback to an actual event from an earlier New Orleans hurricane, where a levee was detonated in a poor neighborhood to save a wealthier one.

I didn't fully understand the breadth and (still) lingering impact of the evacuation diaspora, or the land grab currently underway in the largely vacated worst-hit neighborhoods. That insurance companies weaselled so thoroughly to avoid paying claims to lifelong customers who had lost everything. That cash-poor Louisiana sees no money at all from the natural gas and oil industries just offshore.

Among other things, the documentary begs the question of what might happen in another city, with another disaster of this magnitude.

Here's one for Californians to try on for size: what will happen when the Big One hits? Will FEMA go to Pacific Heights and Beverly Hills before Bayview and Compton? And what will happen next?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Parker

Raise a glass or three today for Dorothy Parker, patron saint of this blog and indeed of cocktail-fond writer broads everywhere.

Parker wasn't all quips and martinis. She was also an activist, blacklisted by the HUAC, and a founder of the Screen Writers Guild which evolved into the WGA.

Oscar-nominated for 1937's A STAR IS BORN, Parker, like other luminaries such as Fitzgerald and Faulker who came West to write for the movies, found in Hollywood a lucrative but weird terra incognita:

When I dwelt in the East I had my opinion of writing for the screen. I regarded it with a sort of benevolent contempt, as one looks at the raggedy printing of a backward six-year-old. I thought it had just that much relationship to literature.

Well, I found out, and I found out hard, and found out forever. Through the sweat and the tears I shed over my first script, I saw a great truth - one of those eternal, universal truths that serve to make you feel much worse than you did when you started. And that is that no writer, whether he writes from love or from money, can condescend to what he writes. [italics mine] What makes it harder in screenwriting is the money he gets.

You see, it brings out the uncomfortable little thing called conscience. You aren't writing for the love of it or the art of it or whatever; you are doing a chore assigned to you by your employer and whether or not he might fire you if you did it slackly makes no matter. You've got yourself to face, and you have to live with yourself.
Pretty contemporary take, no?

Another quote (attributed), to see you off into your day:

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.

Amen, sister.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

STARGATE SG-1: "200"

Gold. Gold.

The 200th episode of STARGATE SG-1, the little Sci Fi Channel show that could (it debuted in 1997!) is a must-see for any sci fi fan.

Regular viewers of the show will no doubt pick up on a zillion in-jokes that I missed, but there's plenty to go around as the SG writers and actors tweak their own noses when the characters "help" a screenwriter (Willie Garson, as Hollywood shnook nonpareil) with a screenplay based on his TV show based on their exploits: WORMHOLE X-TREME! Exclamation point theirs.

Everything's fair game in the TV and movie development world, from the title sequence to act outs to swapping lead actors mid-series to having your funding slashed over a text message, but the real heart of the ep is the sci fi parodies of the show.

We see the Stargate posse as angsty O.C. punks, Classic Trek, in a galaxy far, far away, as Thunderbirds-style puppets (!!)... My favorite bit is when alien Vala tries to get her own storyline added, but only offers glosses on other, very familiar movie and TV tales. "If you're going to rip off someone," the writer admonishes, "You're going to have to pick something a little more obscure."

Cut to a pitch-perfect parody of a late, lamented sci fi show dear to my heart, one where Claudia Black (Vala) and Ben Browder clearly feel right at home.

"That's better," says the writer. "I have no idea what that is."

"200" rebroadcasts on Sci Fi on 8/25, I think, or track it down digitally. Find it. Watch it. Love it.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, But It May Be on iTunes

When NBC announced that it would be releasing the pilot for HEROES for free on iTunes in advance of its broadcast premiere, I made a "squeeeeeeeee" noise of delight that probably could only be heard by Aquaman.

The selfsame Aquaman whose own pilot (which wasn't picked up, unlike HEROES), gloriously, eponymously retitled from the safe 'n' boring MERCY REEF, hasn't left the iTunes top 10 TV Shows since it was posted.

I'm also in love with NBC's other savvy, digital media ploy, to release STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP to Netflix subscribers. My copy's winging its way to me as we speak.

I tuned in late to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA this year and have the entire third season on my iPod.

How great is all this? TV-watching in the age of the digital holy trinity -- Netflix, iTunes, and Holy TiVo -- is a thing of beauty.

There are interesting strategies at work with digital distribution: expand on the moneymaking potential of hit shows by making episodes available for sale after they air; promote and drive early word of mouth on shows that the networks want to be hits; and provide a revenue-generating home for those shows that didn't make the cut.

This last one I find the most fascinating. I hope more networks follow the Aqualead and make more pilots available on iTunes or on their websites. The interest clearly is there; for one, I'd pay to see SPLIT DECISION, whose script I loved but that didn't get picked up by the CW.

Digital distribution also works guerrilla-fashion. GLOBAL FREQUENCY was, of course, the first pilot to turn up on the internets and find popularity and press. Its owners should sell that puppy on iTunes, the perfect place for long-tail content. The pilot for NOBODY'S WATCHING, from a SCRUBS writer-producer, burned up YouTube and got bought for webisodes and script development by NBC.

Why not make more failed pilots available online? Let those who didn't get invited to the fall lineup prom find an audience, one that doesn't need to be the multimillions required to keep a TV show afloat. Recoup a bit of development money. The world's iPods are waiting!