It's all about the football

If you missed the comments on my previous post (because it took me, like, a week to moderate them - oops, sorry), go have a look. Then come back here for more Friday Night Lights talk.

Okay, first, an anecdote. I bought the FNL DVDs as soon as I finished watching the shows online. Yeah, I just wanted to see them again right away (in DVD quality). Also, my big plan was to make my husband watch them, so he would experience the FNL joy. I keep trying to get him to sit down to watch the first episode, and finally, last night he says to me "I don't care about FNL." Granted, he was feeling a bit grumpy from too much weekend partying, but, still, I was hurt. How could he not care about something so wonderful? Oh yeah, cuz he hasn't seen it yet. I will make him love it, I swear.

Anyway, if you haven't yet watched FNL:
a) Why the hell not?
b) Do not read past this point. You'll hate yourself for it. You will.


Here's a secret for those of you who know and obviously love the show. I don't think FNL is perfect. Nope. There were some little glitches in the second season. And I'm not even talking about the hotly detested Landry murder plotline. That was just a symptom of a larger disease.

You see, for a while there, FNL forgot what it was.

A football procedural.

Which means, when something happens in Dillon, Texas, we want to know how it reflects on the team. If it doesn't cause a ripple in the Panthers' world, then go tell it to someone else, I don't care.

Now, I'm not saying I want to see 46 minutes of football each week. That's obviously not what the show is about.

I want to know when Smash pops a racist c*** in the mouth and gets suspended from games. I want to know when Coach Taylor takes a job at UMT and abandons the Panthers. I want to know when Riggins can't get the girl he wants, causing him to drown his sorrows in beer and miss practice. When Landry murdered that guy, don't you think we should have seen how he sweated it on the field? How he almost quit the team, or couldn't handle the pressure, or blocked the stuffing out of an opponent twice his size all because of the stress he felt? If that had happened, I think we all would have been more accepting of that storyline (maybe?). It would have been even more interesting to see how Landry handled being a benchwarmer, while his best friend was QB1. A small story, but an effective one.

On the other hand, I really don't care that the ex-quarterback is having a baby. He's the ex- quarterback. He's not on the team, he's not a coach, he's not friends with any of the other team members anymore. Sure, a Jason Street spinoff might work. But what does he have to do with football? And why is Mrs Taylor coaching volleyball? And do we really care about Lyla and her new boyfriend (other than in the ways it disturbs Riggins?). Those scenes are a little boring, because, what does it have to do with football? Plus, why does Julie Taylor seem so self-centered and whiny? Because she doesn't give a crap about football. Think about it. What was the best Julie moment? When she QB'd the Powder Puffs. Right? So, let's get back to the football, FNL.

And Coach Taylor? Why are his stories always intriguing, no matter what they're about? Because anything that affects the coach is fair game. He is the heart of the Panthers. He is football.

When you're coming up with your FNL specs, think about this. Do all your stories relate to football in some way? If not, I say, axe them, or figure out the connection, otherwise you might leave your readers wondering why your stories matter.

After all, as much as Friday Night Lights isn't a show about football, it's really all about the football.


OMFG. Best. Show. Ever. Ever.

My husband went away for a week recently. While he was gone, I fell in love. I haven't told him yet, but my new love is smart, funny, sexy, and I just can't get enough of it. Yes, it.

I fell in love with Friday Night Lights.

When it first aired I thought "A show about football? Nyeh." But writers' group buddies David and Amanda both urged me to watch. And I thank them here and now. I owe them one, really, I do.

Now I'm gonna pay that favor forward. If you haven't seen it, do yourself the biggest damn solid ever and check it out. Every episode is on nbc.com for free, and there's no new TV on the box right now, so you really have no excuse not to.

By 2009 (God, I can't believe we have to wait until 2009!) I hope to have spread the word far and wide enough that FNL's viewing figures have doubled – at least. We owe it to TV to keep this show on the air.

If you trust my taste enough to just go watch, just go watch. If not, keep reading and I will convince you by listing...

A few reasons I crave Friday Night Lights

Coach Taylor
I'm going to do my best not to gush, but gushing is what men like Coach Taylor were made for. Never mind that he's kind of an ideal husband, father, and coach. Never mind that he's eye-poppingly well-played by Kyle Chandler. Never mind that he looks so good in blue (and green, and burgundy, and...). 

The thing that really gets me right here about Coach Taylor is how wonderfully true the character is, to himself and his ideals. No matter what madness is happening around him, he's tough, he's steady, he's moral -- but he's not perfect. He gets jealous when he shouldn't get jealous, he loses his temper and knocks people (even students) around now and again, he makes bad decisions, and he says the wrong thing sometimes. But he always makes it right in the end, and that's why I keep on loving him. I know I'm supposed to want to marry Coach Taylor, but really, I'd just love to write for this guy.

When you watch FNL, everything feels real. It's the opposite of the surreality of an Ugly Betty or a Pushing Daisies (both of which, incidentally, I love, but not nearly as much as I love FNL). Of course, the reality has a lot to do with the writing and the acting and the directing and the filming on location in Texas. But it owes its warmth and truth to the shaky spy-cam shooting. It makes you feel like you're listening in on a conversation you shouldn't be hearing, which, if you have a voyeuristic bone in your body, just makes you want to know more and more.

No super-heroes, spaceships, or mysterious smoke-monsters
Don't get me wrong. I love Lost. And Battlestar. And Bufy. I even liked Heroes there for a while. But not every show needs to be based in some alternate reality where people can store all of the CIA's greatest secrets in their brain. The world doesn't always need to be ending. Lives don't always have to be in jeopardy. Sometimes, it's nice just to watch a show about people, doing their normal people stuff, in their normal people lives, in some small town somewhere in Texas.

Nerds, jocks, and nerd-jocks
Guess what, jocks and cheerleaders are people, too. They're insecure, kinda sweet, and they love their mommas, just like geeks do. These jocks are just like real people, only with more active sex lives. I also adore Landry, FNL's resident geek. He's not some insecure speccy kid with a big brain and a wedgie. Even if no one else knows it, he knows he's really a cool guy and he doesn't give a crap what the 'cool' kids think of him. That's what the geeks who I went to school with were like. That's what I was like. Yay for dispensing with the stupid high-school stereotypes and drawing real, complex characters instead.

Football procedural
I don't like your average procedural. Crime-solving bores me after a while. But I love procedurals based around non-murder things. Like West Wing, a political procedural, or Buffy the Vampire procedural. FNL is a football procedural, pure and simple. Which is what makes it more powerful than, say, My So-Called Life. Instead of just being self-absorbed and kind of annoying (hey, I loved Angela, but she wasn't always that easy to take), everyone on this show either loves or hates football so much that even if they're not literally saving the world each week, that's what it seems like to them.

Snuffy Walden and Explosions in the Sky
A lot of the FNL soundtrack is by an Austin band called Explosions in the Sky. I've never really loved post-rock, but post-rock as atmospheric soundtrack to a brilliant TV show? It just works.

Much of the non-Explosions music is by composer Snuffy Walden. As if it's not cool enough that his name is Snuffy, his credits read like the watch list of my life. West Wing, Studio 60, Thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Sports Night, Huff, and, okay, about a zillion things I've never seen before (but maybe I should). When I hear the theme music to FNL (which sounds like Explosions but is really Snuffy), my heart pounds, I get chills. Chills, baby.

Okay, so, I could go on for days, but I'll have mercy, and stop. Just stop dithering and go watch the show. You can hold me personally responsible if you don't like it. But you will. So when you do, please tell a whole whack of people about it so it doesn't get replaced by something crap.

Next time on FNL gush-fest... I'll opine about FNL's (minute) failings and reveal my simple recipe for getting it back on track.


How to write a spec(tacular) pilot: step one

Step one: Join a writers' group (or start your own)

I know, this isn't technically even writing, but it's a key first step. You want your spec to be the best you can possibly make it, right? And you know what's gonna make it better? Other writers. Yep, I don't care how smart you are, other writers will make your writing better.

Two brains are one better than one, and five are four better. Capice?
Other people will catch mistakes, inconsistencies, boring bits, and other bumpy areas in your writing that you yourself might never notice. They're also very good (sometimes annoyingly good) at making you deal with the rough patches that you know are there, but that your brain has convinced you to ignore because it's just too hard to fix them. Plus, it's a wonderful thing to have a little group of friends who are going through the exact same roller-coaster ride that you are. It makes one feel slightly less crazy for choosing TV Writing as a career, instead of, say, Accountancy.

Of course, the catch is, to get the full benefit from a writers' group, you must be wide wide open to hearing and processing other people's ideas about your work. You don't have to agree with everything that is said, but if you just sit there with your arms crossed thinking "these comments aren't very helpful" while people give you their constructive feedback, then you should just give up TV writing right now. It's a collaborative medium. If you don't want to collaborate, be a poet.

Where do I find a writers' group?
A lot of people ask me this. Actually, almost ever writer I've ever spoken to has asked me this.

You can start by searching online for writers' groups. To be honest, I didn't find this very helpful. I could not find a single group dedicated solely to TV writing, and though there is some merit in working with non-TV folk, I really wanted the specific passion and knowledge that goes along with the format.

Since there weren't any existing groups that appealed, I started my own. Where did I find the members? Online. I read people's blogs. The ones I liked, I contacted. All but one of the people I got in touch with were interested in starting a group.

You can also post on forums like the one on TVwriter.com. Or go old-school and put up a notice in your local library or web cafe (which I guess is kind of new-old school). You never know who lives just around the corner.

Even if you can only find a couple of people in your area, they can probably recommend other people, and so on, until you've got a good thing going. You might want to do a little vetting to make sure these people want the same thing out of a group as you do, but once you've found even two other people, get grouping. Our group has had a few personnel adjustments along the way, but everyone involved (past and present) are interesting, thoughtful, and exceptionally bright people who I'm happy to know. TV writers tend to be like that.

What if I live in McNowheresville?
You're so lucky it's 2008 and you can just go online and find other writers from other areas. Email your work and critiques back and forth or use an online tool like Google Docs to exchange your work. Hey, you could even go all high-tech and use something like iChat to video and voice chat with your group.

It might feel scary to reach out to a bunch of strangers, but you're gonna have to do a lot of reaching out between now and the time you eventually get hired in TV, so you might as well start practicing.

Okay, go on, get your group started. I'll wait. Once you're ready, we'll discuss Step Two: The Idea.


Writers Give Back

Did you all know about this? I didn't.

WRITERS GIVE BACK empowers writers and others in the creative community to use their free time in a constructive way. Many of the members of the WGA (and outside of it) have expressed a desire to donate their time and energy, to "give back,” but don't know where to start.

WRITERS GIVE BACK establishes a permanent network of progressive individuals, philanthropists, advertisers, and charitable organizations


Get your daily Dollhouse fix

TV.com has a one-minute scene from Dollhouse posted. Not nearly as exciting as Fox's Upfronts trailer, but I still can't wait to see this show.

It will be even cooler when I am staffed on this show. Which will be, like, any minute now, obviously.

Now stop bothering me, I'm supposed to be working on my Pushing Daisies outline. Sheesh.

Scrubs carries on

I don't know about you, but I was pretty shocked when I saw the Scrubs "series finale". It was bad. Really really bad. Which made me sad, because I used to love Scrubs and have kept watching even though the last couple of seasons have been totally sucky. 

So, this article in which Bill Lawrence explains the network's involvement in ruining a great show (which has also earned a LOT of money) makes a pretty interesting read.

It's kinda scary how much power certain execs have over the shows we love. And even scarier to think you could have created one of the biggest earning sitcoms of the decade, and still get no respect from your bosses.

Let's hope the next 18 episodes really do hearken back to earlier days, when Scrubs was good.


How to write a spec pilot in 10 (really hard) steps

I recently finished writing my first pilot.  Yay me!

How do you decide when a script is finished? For working TV writers, that's easy. Once there are no more scenes to shoot, there are no more changes to the script (except in the editing room, where they can do some dazzling story adjustments). For us speccers and wannabes, there's no finished. You might think every word in your script is perfect, but one really good note from someone you trust is enough to send that tumbling. You also might get the urge to change things around after you see new episodes of the show you specced, or after you learn more about the craft.

As tempting as it is to spend eternity making minute adjustments to your scripts, it's good to let them go, kinda like kids. That's why I enter competitions. It's not for the prize money or the glory (God knows there's little of that to go around). It's for that 'this script is done' feeling. It's a pretty arbitrary cut-off, but I like to think that that's my best work I'm sending off, therefore the script must be 'finished'. It also allows me to free my mind to concentrate completely on my next project.

Now that I have such vast experience in spec pilot writing (one=vast, didn't you know?) I am uniquely qualified to write posts on how to write a spec pilot. Okay, maybe not. But I am uniquely qualified to share my personal pain and joy with you, write about the mistakes I made and the things I learned, and hopefully we'll all get something out of it.

Being arbitrary yet again, I've chosen to discuss the process in 10 steps / posts. 10 steps which I have not yet decided upon. But when I do, watch out blog fans. Whew, it's gonna be so exciting!

10-Second Restaurant Reviews [in the Form of Silly Poems]

2135 Sunset Blvd, Echo Park (or is it Silver Lake? I never know)

Cramped and cozy 
cultivate a fondness for stranger's elbows
Always packed
patience your most precious gift
Best food ever
served by friendly green elves
No meat, no booze
it's all about chow
Who wants to go
right now?


Writing is pain, sweetheart

Any total newbies out there? Here's something to remember.

Writing is hard. 

Through Write Girl, I work with a group of teenagers once a week. This week we tackled rewriting. For the most part, this is something they didn't really grasp, or had never thought about before. Remember in school? You just wrote the first thing that came into your mind and handed it in. If you were naturally good with language, you got an A. Not because your writing was all that good, but it was a damn site better than most of the other kids' stuff. The kids I work with are all pretty gifted. They're at a college prep school and they choose to come to our program. So their first attempts are generally coherent and intriguing.

But they still struggle with the idea of rewriting. Some of them looked at their work and couldn't find anything to improve. Others just hated the whole thing from start to finish. They couldn't find anything they wanted to keep. It's the second group that will probably keep on writing. Why?

Because writing is pain.

My husband is writing a novel. Or, he wants to anyway. My Mom is writing her memoirs. But she just can't get going. They both came to me for advice this week. Both of them had made several false starts, but they just couldn't get past the first few pages. 

They both got stuck because the words pouring forth from their fingertips did not sound like the words they'd read in books. Here's what I told them.

1. Ya gotta have an outline
2. You will write a lot of rubbish
3. Make it to the end, no matter how much you hate every word on the page
4. We'll fix it later

As a complete newbie I spent a lot of time writing crap. Rewriting involved getting rid of everything but the ideas, and starting again. Now, when I start a rewrite, I find I don't have to trash nearly as much as I used to. The more you write, the better you write. Fancy that.

But you will always, always, always have to rewrite.

10-Second Restaurant Reviews
This post is just an excuse to introduce my new segment. Recently I've been to a few bad restaurants, and in LA, there's no excuse for it. So here's my first 10-Second Restaurant Review. They won't all be in the form of bad poetry, but this one is, because I can.

Cafe Flore
3818 W Sunset Blvd, Silverlake, LA

Out of ice, out of rye bread 
(a reuben on sourdough? I don't think so)
Bone dry black bean burger
The burrito wasn't bad
It wasn't good either.
Zooey Deschanel was eating there
(green salad, bright red dress),
My friends love this place.
I wonder why?


Are you blue, red, or orange?

Click the picture to take the Bush-McCain Challenge. Funny and scary in equal measures. Scratch that, it's mostly scary.


And down will come baby, cradle and all


It happens to everyone at one time or another. But I didn't think it would happen to me in quite this way.

My Bones just aired on Fox last night. Okay, so not my Bones. Not exactly. But they sure had my theme and a lot of my little character moments. It was like someone took my spec, rewrote, and slapped it on the air. Only, obviously that's not what happened at all. In the biz they call it parallel development or some such.

Excerpt from their Bones

Angela picks up a baby whose mother has died in the MOW (murder of the week).

I want, like, a million of these!

What do you think she meant by a million? Two?

Okay, so that's their take on the Angela / Hodgins relationship. Here's mine.
Excerpt from my Bones
Angela and Hodge are talking babies and she's feeling her way around the subject of maybe not having any.

Dr. Jack Hodgins
I would love-- love to have children with you. But I'd rather have a life with you than a hundred kids without you.

A hundred is a lot.

Dr. Jack Hodgins
How do you feel about two?

I don't know. Confused? Terrified?

Dr. Jack Hodgins

Maybe. A little.

Seriously?! Who's gonna believe I didn't just nick that wholesale from this week's episode?

The thing is, I don't believe their take on it. Angela is this fiercely independent woman. It took Hodgins months of planning and romancing and cajoling to make her decide to give up her freedom and marry him. This is the same person who wants a million babies? Nu-uh. Then there's Hodgins, this romantic family guy (not like that Family Guy) who wants nothing more than to settle down with Angela in a little bungalow somewhere. And he's reticent about having kids? That just doesn't work for me. I feel like my take on it is actually truer to the characters. Of course, now that it's aired, their take is right and mine is wrong. Oh, those TV people have all the power!

And don't even get me started on all the coochie-cooing that went on in that episode. Or the fact that the baby had nothing to do with the murder. You could have just plucked her right out of there and the murder would have been unchanged. Of course, then there would have been no show, because the investigation was just an afterthought anyway. Plus, what the hell was she doing in the tree? You can't just put a baby in a tree and not explain it...

You got me started. And I clearly said "don't get me started".

So anyway, Hart Hanson, since I know you're reading this (I mean, who isn't?), I don't want to be an assistant on your show anymore. I want to be a baby writer (because obviously I know how to write about babies). Just let me know when you want me to start.

Artery Cloggery
We have these Neapolitan soy ice cream sandwiches in the freezer right now, from Fresh and Easy. I really hate Neapolitan ice cream (especially the strawberry part), but that hasn't stopped me from snarfing a few.


Canadian special-interest edition

Long silence, I know. I've been in Vancouver. Not on the set of Battlestar Galactica, like the other Jane. No, I've been hanging out at the US Consulate, begging them to let me stay in LA for a few more years. Which was surprisingly painless, if you don't count the six months of paperwork I did beforehand.

The whole sojourn got me thinking about Canadians in Hollywood. Sometimes it seems like half the writers in any given room are Canadian. Every time you hear a joke about Canada on a TV show, I guarantee it was either written by a Canadian or designed to provoke a Canadian in the writer's room.

For example, on this week's House, Dr. House has to treat an unbelievably nice guy. House thinks it's either a symptom of some mysterious disease, or the guy is Canadian. The House room is full of Canadian writers. House's creator, David Shore, is from London, Ontario. Bones was also created by a Canadian, Hart Hanson. There are kazillions of other examples.

So, do I have an advantage, being a Canadian in LA, looking for work as a writer?

Yes. Mmm, possibly. Actually, no.

See, the thing with being a foreigner in the US is that you have to be able to convince the government you should be allowed to stay. Not only that, but it's very handy if you can convince them to let you work, too. Trouble is, they usually only let certain 'professionals' in. If you want a job as a writer's assistant, or PA, or agent's assistant, you're a bit screwed. I mean, what showrunner is going to go to all the extra trouble of sponsoring you for a position when there are 1,000 other qualified actual US citizens lined up to take the job? I'm pretty sure none. Not even Canadian showrunners have enough time to take pity on poor countrymen struggling to make it in the big city.

If you're a Canuck and you wanna fly south, you need to get yourself a visa. Here are a few options.

  • Available to Canadians and Mexicans, though it's harder to get as a Mexican
  • Ties you to a certain job and allows you to stay for a year (you can renew almost endlessly)
  • The job has to be on the big list of jobs (called the NAFTA professional job list). If you're an epidemiologist, forester, economist, or urban planner, come on down. But if you're busy being one of those things, chances are you won't have the time to pursue your dream of becoming a writer.
  • You get it at the border after an interview with an immigration agent (if you're Canadian). The interview can be as short as five minutes with questions like "How fake is this job offer?". I got asked that one when I came down as a Technical Writer. For murkier jobs, like Management Consultant, the interview can last more than an hour, ending with a rejection based on some technical hitch like, "There's no address on this company's letterhead". My husband got that one. He was allowed to come back a few days later with better letterhead, then they gave him the visa.

  • Ties you to a specific job
  • Open to lots of different foreign nationals. I know Brits and Canadians who have them.
  • Rarer than a California ground squirrel without bubonic plague. Seriously, I'd avoid their fleas if I were you.
  • You need to find a company that is willing to sponsor you. You can change jobs later, but I've heard it's a big headache.

  • Requires you to start a business and make a significant investment in the business (think more than $60,000)
  • Lots and lots of paperwork
  • You'll probably need an immigration lawyer to help you out. More money!
  • After you get it, you need to spend all your time running your business, and no time worming your way into the wonderful world of television
Stay in Canada
No matter where we went in Vancouver, we ran into actors, casting agents, execs, and other Hollywood types. It's more LA than LA up there. If you can stand the rain, stay in Vancouver and break in there. The industry is smaller, but there are fewer competitors, too. Once you've cut your teeth on some Canadian shows, you can move down to LA and create your own series for Fox.

My husband and I were successful with our E2 application. He's the main shareholder in our business and I'm on the board of directors. Which means we can actually start to earn a living. I can also now apply for another nifty visa which will allow me to work for anyone. So, yay! Now I've just gotta find that plum opening as a writers' assitant. Hey, David Shore, hiya, Hart Hanson. We all know what a toque is. Wanna give me my big break?

Artery Cloggery
The chocolate rugelach from Siegel's Bagels in Vancouver are the best I've ever had. Their rosemary and rock salt bagels also rule the round bread world. Every time we go there, we beg them to open a branch in LA. You should, too.