Sunday, November 24, 2013

Picket Fences - one of the best.

Lately I've been watching this almost forgotten gem of a series called Picket Fences, that aired during the early nineties. If you haven't seen this show before, I highly recommend that you take a look.

There are a lot of good things about this Emmy winning series, but I think one of the most important things about the show is how well it manages to cover different aspects of life.

What I mean by this is that at the same time Picket Fences is a cop show, a lawyer show, a medical show and also a show about a family. There are a lot of things going on here.

Another thing about the show is that it was created by David Kelley, who later became known for his lawyer shows, like Ally Mcbeal, The Practice and Boston Legal. These shows managed to win a lot of Emmy Awards too.

Even though these other shows are probably more well-known to most, I think Picket Fences is Kelley's best. Whenever I watch it, I feel that it's his most 'complete' series.

Needless to say, this show had a lot of memorable characters: the sheriff dad played by Tom Skerrit, the doctor mom played by Kathy Baker, the flamboyant lawyer played by Fyvush Finkel and the judge played by the veteran Ray Walston.

The supporting cast, perhaps unexpectedly turned out to be equally strong.  The deputy sheriffs, played by Lauren Holly and Costas Mandylor were fully realized characters. Kelly Connell's quirky pathologist also provided consistent laughs.

The kids were all likable and relatable too. Adam Wylie, Justin Shenkarow and Holly Marie Combs had their fair share of dramatic storylines that ranged from getting bullied at school to even getting shot and getting temporarily paralyzed.

Picket Fences wasn't afraid of tackling 'hot button' issues. In fact, for Kelley it was natural to write about different kinds of moral dilemmas. He was fair, balanced and compassionate at the same time. His writing was full of integrity and kindness.

I still haven't completely re-watched the first three seasons (Kelley left the show after the 3rd season) but there are so many favorite moments from the show that make me appreciate this era that was actually the real 'golden age' of television.

Who can forget Frank the potato man, the beauty queen mayor that wasn't actually that dumb, the other mayor that happened to spontaniously combust, the guy with the alzheimer's, the midget secretary that was found in the freezer..

The cows that gave birth to human babies, the teacher that changed sex, sexual obsessions, powers struggles in the town. The fights in the courtroom. The list is almost endless..

There were almost too many great moments considering that Kelley wrote most of the scripts and  that you had to write twenty-two episodes per season. I guess he had to get a lot of help from others in order to maintain the quality of the show.

Yet, considering how much the quality of the show dived after Kelley left after season three, one can't help but to think that Picket Fences was still, nevertheless, a one man show. One guy was in charge of making the show great.

That's probably one of the reasons that the show was snubbed when the best 100 television series of all time were listed. Perhaps it was a bit too hard for a lot of people to digest that a show like Picket Fences and a writer like Kelley could actually exist.

Anyway, if there's one thing that I'd like to see happening, it would be that at some point I'd like to be able to buy Picket Fences on dvd. Because, amazingly enough,  they still haven't released this show past season one. That's a shame to say the least.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

'The Crazy Ones' - best comedy on tv?

One of the biggest surprises this season has been how good The Crazy Ones turned out to be. I had some doubts about it before, but now it seems that the show has found itself.

What I mean by that is that I think its seventh episode 'Sydney, Australia', that aired last thursday,  is probably the best sitcom episode that I've seen in a while.

There were so many good things about the episode: Josh Groban was really awesome, the song was catchy, everyone was likable and Robin Williams had a chance to be serious.

Furthermore, I got a feeling from the episode that everyone involved had a good time on the show: like for example in the above picture where they're dancing in a drag. It was silly but still good natured fun.

Another great thing about the episode was that it was genuinely touching. As unfortunate as it is, I haven't seen honest emotions in a long time - but I just loved the stuff that was on screen here. It was real - or real enough.

This episode also made me wonder whether The Crazy Ones is actually the best comedy on tv now. It could be better than Modern Family, a show that previously was responsible for delivering those feel good moments.

For some reason I just get better vibes from this show whereas when it comes to Modern Family, that show unfortunately can't seem to keep it real. The characters just won't go where they're supposed to go.

The Emmys are next year and if The Crazy Ones gets a bit better, I can see it winning the best comedy series. It's apparent that there's so much talent behind this show. The ratings seem to be pretty solid too.

Anyway, when it comes to the writing on the show, David Kelley still hasn't written anything else than the pilot so far. But the quality of the last episode made me think that he must be involved with the production of those scripts.

All in all, The Crazy Ones seems to be a surprisingly good show and I'll probably write a spec at some point. As long as I think that I can write a script that is dramatic enough to make you care.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Another take on "what shows to spec?".

Last time when I wrote about 'what shows to spec', I hadn't really thought it out enough. Even though what I wrote was true in theory, there was still that other side to the story.

So, even though it's a logical choice to write a spec for a show that is a ratings hit and popular, award winning and respected by most, you still have to consider those showrunners who might read the script.

In any case, if you're like me, there are basically two or three sitcoms that are worth your time. These are in my opinion Modern Family, South Park and maybe, perhaps The Crazy Ones. Those others aren't worth, at least not my time.

Having this few even remotely relevant quality shows on air (South Park probably being the best) creates a lot of problems: Not only for the aspiring writers (the talented ones are in worst shape) but also for the showrunners too.

One of the biggest problems for a writer like me is that if the show that I spec is not one of these three, it's likely that the showrunners of Modern Family, South Park and The Crazy Ones  - the shows that I care about - simply don't give a damn about my spec.

I mean, if I'd write a Family Guy, what is there in my script that would convince them to hire me? There's probably no substance or heart in the script and Family Guy isn't known for being a storyteller's show. There's no reason for them to care.

If I write an absolutely superb Modern Family script full of soul, substance and entertainment, then perhaps one of these three shows might take notice and would hire me. It's a long shot, but you never know.

On the other hand, if you do want to get hired on a show like Family Guy, I guess my advice would be not to necessarily write a Modern Family spec. That is because they just might not want to read your script.

This is because a lot of showrunners don't want to admit to themselves that their show sucks. They want to feel special (we all do) and in this case feeling special means that they tend to read scripts that aren't any better than what they produce themselves.

So if you want to write Family Guy at some point, your Community script is probably good. If you want to write Community, your Parks & Rec is probably good too. As long as the showrunner thinks that it doesn't have a lot of artistic merit, you're fine.

This is also the reason that spec pilots are more in demand than before. The showrunners like them, not because they want to hear your voice, but because pilots are so incredible hard to write and the chances are overwhelmingly that your spec pilot sucks.

It's an awful situation obviously for almost everyone. At the same time, I'd suggest that you take it with a grain of salt if someone tells you that New Girl is hot or that you can't do it without a Happy Endings spec or your own spec pilot.

In any case, if you decide to write a South Park or a Modern Family spec, please make sure that it's awesome. If you get hired on one of these quality shows, remember that there's an audience out there expecting to see something really good.