Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New Posts

Check out my new site for posts on Chuck and Journeyman.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

New URL!!!

Running With My Eyes Closed is moving. Starting Monday Sept 24 you'll find me at my new digs: jillgolick.com. Please update your feedreader, links and bookmarks.

Monday, September 17, 2007


The K-Ville pilot, written by creator/executive producer Jonathan Lisco, almost looks like a front-loader. But it isn't. In fact the structure of this pilot is a thing of beauty which can only truly be appreciated in its deconstruction.

The basics: K-Ville is a cop series set in post Katrina New Orleans. The first episode is a premise pilot. It has four acts and a tag.

The series focuses first and foremost on Marlin Boulet, a cop who survived Katrina. His new partner Trevor Cobb is the second main player. Surrounding them are a cast of characters who populate the police force: other cops and the tenacious but good-humoured Captain.

Like many pilots we've seen, one major story thread sets up the series premise (A) and another involves the case of the week (B). A third storyline follows Marlin's relationship with his ex-partner Charlie (C).

Act One is made up of seven sequences.

The first shows us a man nearly drowning as the water reaches almost ceiling height with barely room for him to keep his head above water. This, we will realize later is Trevor Cobb.

In the next sequence we meet police officer Marlin Boulet. Katrina is flooding New Orleans. Pandemonium, water, citizens in dire need and at the height of the craziness, Marlin's partner Charlie bails, taking the squad car.

These two sequences aren't just here by happenstance. They are moments that have changed both men. Katrina reshaped the lives of both these guys and made them who they are when we meet them two years later in sequences two and three.

Is this front loading? Did Lisco just spoon feed us the premise? No. Over the course of the episode we come to understand the toll Katrina took on Marlin. Plus this first scene ties nicely into the Charlie C-story. And finally, Lisco is saving a reveal for the final scene of the episode, which sheds new light that first Cobb scene.

So the premise bookends the episode, with scenes at the top and bottom of the show that inform our appreciation of the series premise. And lots of scenes in between that slowly reveal how Katrina reshaped Marlin.

The third sequence in act one shows us Marlin two years after Katrina in a New Orleans that is slowly coming back. Devastation is everywhere including in this man, who is now making himself a sandwich and dancing to music that is playing. But he leaps out the kitchen window to tackle a kid trying to dig up his cypress tree. He threatens the kid and then asks about his parents. The sequence is all about what Marlin has become.

And sequence four shows us what Cobb has become two years later as he stands next to a car pulling a trailer and surveys New Orleans.

The fifth sequence brings the two men together. They meet and are partnered up by their captain with the rest of the squad looking on. The sequence also introduces the mystery surrounding Cobb. Why on earth would a northern become a New Orleans cop with all the problems Katrina has brought? He'd have to be "half a nut job". Cobb cheerfully accepts the title.

The sixth and penultimate sequence of the act shows us the two lead characters at work, policing a fundraiser. Marlin is drinking, but Cobb doesn't drink on duty. As committed as Boulet is to New Orleans and his job as a cop, he is not too worried about the rules. We're beginning to get a picture of him as an anti-hero, devoted to rebuilding his city, but lax about the law. A few little tidbits are dropped to help with the crime of the week plot and then we're launched into it with gunshots.

A wild car chase with lots of bullets flying is the final sequence of the act. The bad guys escape into the casino and the curtain drops.

The second act is made up of six sequences.

First, we're at the crime scene, but not to advance the B-story. Most of the action enhances our understanding of the series' characters particularly the gaggle of secondary cop characters who each get a pithy line. Marlin once again behaves as a guy on the brink, while Cobb presents as a serious investigator. The sequence throws to the first suspect, the victim's ex. But before we cut to him, we learn that the victim is dead which heightens the stakes for Marlin.

When we find him in the second sequence of the act, he's in the midst of torturing the suspect as Cobb looks on.

The third sequence of the act is a quick B-story recap with another opportunity for the minor cop characters to suggest that they'll be players in future episodes.

Sequence four takes us into the C-story and reminds us how Katrina has altered the courses of so many lives. Ex-partner Charlie shows up, desperate to be a cop again and redeem himself in Marlin's eyes.

In the next sequence, we go home with Marlin and meet the wife and kid who abandoned him. Or did he abandon them? Either way, everyone still loves each other, but Marlin's commitment to his city is stronger than his commitment to his family.

For the final sequence of Act Two, we get back to the B-story. Boulet and Cobb work another fund raiser. This one also gets shot up. Tons and tons of bullets fly. The pair race to their car to chase the bad guys but kaBOOM! Their car explodes. It's another act-ending action sequence.

Act Three is largely B-story although the first sequence strays into A territory when Cobb reveals knowledge of the city that a northern shouldn't have. It's another reason for his new partner to wonder about him.

The third sequence of Act 3 involves Charlie, so it's partly C-story. But Charlie is bringing information about the B-story crime.

Even the romantic sequence with the wife that is interrupted by the flood is really a B-story beat. The flood is the work of the criminals they are getting too close to catching. It is also a reminder of the legacy of Katrina. The sequence brings the act to the end. A pattern seems to be forming; every one of the three acts has ended in an action sequence.

The first sequence in Act Four brings us that statement of theme we've been waiting for. The arrested casino guard tells Marlin:

Your eyes right now? They're the eyes of a soldier on
the edge of a breakdown and a man who's not going to last.

But Marlin isn't a quitter. His essence was formed in that moment at the top of the show when his partner took off on him. Marlin will never do that. He will never abandon his duty to this city. And therein lies the show (or at least most of it): a cop driven to the brink but who refuses to give up.

Now that Marlin's nature has been revealed it's time to try to unravel Trevor Cobb. So in the third sequence of the fourth act, Boulet points a gun at his partner and asks how he knows how to get to some obscure gumbo joint when he's supposed to be from the north. Cobb isn't ready to reveal, so he stares down the gun and explains he was once stationed nearby. Which raises the question, just how close to the brink is Boulet?

Boom boom boom. Sequences four, five and six wrap up the B- and C-stories and we're into the tag.

The tag consists of three sequence. The first two are typical tag scenes that wrap up storylines: Charlie will survive and the neighbours love Marlin despite his flaws because he's saving the 'hood.

The third tag sequence is the kind of scene we save for pilot tags; the ones that throw a new twist on things and (hopefully) heighten the audience's interest in coming back next time.

This scene explains the first scene of the episode and sheds some light on who Cobb really is: an escaped prisoner who killed a man to survive and escaped punishment to recreate himself under the cover of the storm.

Whether you buy the twist or not, you have to admire the craft behind it. Once again, we're forced to consider the legacy of Katrina. Both men were changed. Marlin may have been a good man, but is now tortured, on the brink and lawless because of the storm. Cobb was a criminal, but Katrina turned him into a good guy. Both men are tied to the city and committed to rebuilding it.

It's great thematic material and Lisco has used it beautifully.

If the series is going to succeed and thrive, I think it needs three things:

It needs to maintain authenticity, not just in its portrayal of New Orleans but also in its crimes and criminals. The pilot's B-story had some holes in it and wasn't quite believable for me, particularly in the area of the criminals' motivation. They seemed to be serving the plot more than acting for their own good. You can get away with this in the pilot, but next week, when we show up to watch K-Ville, we'll be looking for a crime story.

Secondly, I wouldn't mind a toning down of the gun play. The big exciting act-ending action sequences keep the pilot moving and exciting. And New Orleans was once the murder capital of the U.S. but still, they fired a tom of bullets in that pilot. It wasn't credible in my opinion.

Finally, I think they need to keep these characters deeply troubled. There's always a temptation to redeem characters and make them heroic, but this series needs anti-heroes so I hope Lisco will keep the flame under them cranked.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Front Loaded Pilots

My objection to a lot of the pilots we're going to watch over the next few weeks is that many of them front load their series premise. You'll see soon enough; shows in which there's a voice over to tell you how things came to be this way or the teaser is a vignette that sets up the series premise.

Can you remember all the way back to the Beverly Hillbillies and the theme song that set up the series premise? This is a very old-fashioned storytelling technique.

I think the most successful pilots of the new season don't front load the premise. Instead, they slowly reveal it through the episode. The characters and their world emerge bit by bit with twists and surprises along the way. Most of the pilots I've chosen to discuss over the next couple of months do that. Many of the ones I'm not going to write about are front-loaders.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Time to Watch Some New Shows

I've made a few decisions about the new season and which pilots I'm going to breakdown. I'm going to start with K-Ville. It airs Monday Sept 17, 2007 at 9 pm on E! and Fox if you want to catch it before I post.

Mondays may be a problem night for me, because I also like Chuck, Journeyman and Aliens in America which are all also Monday night shows. Chuck and Journeyman both premier September 24th -- Chuck at 8 on Citytv and NBC and Journeyman at 10 on Global and NBC. I'll post shortly afterwards.

Luckily, Aliens in America doesn't premier till October 1 at 8:30 on SUNTV and CW, so that gives me some time to prepare a post.

I will probably also give you some thoughts on Pushing Daises which airs on Tuesday October 2 on CTV and Wec Oct 3 also at 8 on ABC (what a surprise, no simulcast).

I wrote about the Dirty Sexy Money pilot script, so I may go back and compare script and produced pilot sometime after that airs on CTV. Again, no simulcast here, so DSM has its ABC debut at 10 on Sept 26 and its CTV debut on Sept 30 at 10.

I may hit one or two of the others depending on mood and time, but the above is the current plan. So fluff up those pillows, grab the remote and settle in for some serious viewing.

(Btw, I’m not trying to be geocentric -- I just don't know what the air dates for these shows are outside North America. If you do, leave a comment.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Things For You To Do While I'm Previewing the New Season

I am getting prepped for the fall launch. That means watching as many pilots as I can get my hands on (thank you to my new best friends at CanWest Global who have supplied me with screeners) and figuring out which ones I'm prepared to watch 4 or 5 more times, so I can post about them.

While I'm doing that, Matthew Weiner of Mad Men thinks you should be writing your pilot. Okay, that's a bit of a stretch but Michael Patrick Sullivan at Red Right Hand met him at Sublime Prime Time and reports as follows:

  • Weiner's advice on pitching pilots (if you're not some established showrunner or big name writer): Don't pitch it. Write it. "Ideas are a dime a dozen...don't just be a guy with an idea, sit in a chair and write it...that makes you a guy with a..(miming the holding of a script)...a property. Sheryl Zohn said it a bit better. "It makes you a writer."
Check out the whole post here.

If you don't feel like writing, Geek Tonic has a post with links to pilots available for free viewing from Amazon Unbox. His links include Bionic Woman, Life and Journeyman. Also Chuck which I discuss after it airs September 24th. I haven't tried this yet but I suspect it won't work outside the US. Let me know.

If you don't feel like writing or watching, you can always friend me on Facebook.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Shield

This post is dedicated to my agent, Glenn, who love The Shield and always points to it as an example of a great television pilot. And I agree.

I'm all about first acts these days, so most of my comments will be about the first act structure and scene construction. (Which leads to a fair amount of character talk).

The first episode of The Shield is a typisode pilot, a rare sighting here at Running. The show launches us right into the world where we meet the characters mid-life. You want to know what an average episode of The Shield is like? This is a pretty good example.

You could argue that the murder that takes place at the end of the episode is an inciting incident for what follows and therefore this is a premise pilot. But that would be stretching it. The series isn't heavily arced and although Terry's murder does play later in the season, it's not a huge storyline. I'd guess that Creator/Writer Shawn Ryan put the murder in more to show us what Vic Mackey is made of than to set up the rest of the series.

Shawn Ryan, btw, teamed up with David Mamet to give us The Unit. And he has a hand in the Women's Murder Club one of the new fall series (but from what I've seen, it's not too strong a hand).

The tease of this pilot is great. It sets up the entire series premise by intercutting between two storylines and includes good measures of both comedy and action.

On the one hand, we've got Captain David Aceveda addressing the press and telling them how community policing is the right way to clean up his 'hood. On the other hand we've got Vic Mackey and his Strike Team chasing down a perp. (A story)

By the end of the teaser, we've had a picture painted for us of two men very much at odds over how policing methods. One is straight and narrow, law and order, by the book but with a taste for the press and a certain ambition. The other is a ruthless, lawless man of action, with a sense of humour, a sense of well-being and a sense of invulnerability. A clash between these two men seems inevitable.

The first act is made up of six sequences.

The first finds Claudette and Dutch at a murder scene and ends when they realize that the victim's young daughter is missing. (B-story)

The second sequence features a confrontation between the Captain and Vic over allegations that Mackey attacked a suspect with a pair of pliers. Mackey seems to come out on top. (A-story)

In the third sequence we return to Dutch and Claudette. They banter about personal matters before reporting to the Captain about the case and their next steps. (B-story)

The fourth is a Danny sequence. Dutch follows her into the kitchen and tries to arrange a date with her, but Vic comes in and teases Dutch till he leaves. Then Mackey hits on Danny and their on-going relationship is revealed. This sequence sets up the antagonism between Vic and Dutch and also the Dutch-Danny-Vic triangle. (C-story)

Next comes a short sequence of Terry watching Vic for the car. We know that Terry is an outsider and not privy to Vic's real business. (A-story)

And then to the park, for the final sequence of the act which gives us a nice end of act turn. The Captain enlists Terry's help in an undercover operation to bring down Mackey. Terry agrees for a price, but also suggests that the Captain's motives aren't pure. He knows that Aceveda is planning to use this for political gain. (A-story)

By the end of the act, there are a lot of balls in the air. The feud between Mackey and Aceveda is well established and the one between Mackey and Dutch is taking off. We're a few beats into the murder-kidnapping case and Claudette's irritation with Dutch's style is starting to show. Finally we know that Dutch has a crush on Danny and that will be complicated by her on-again off-again relationship with Vic.

There's a lot of character development throughout this act. To understand it better let's take a closer look at the two sequences in the Dutch-Claudette murder-kidnapping storyline.

Dutch is one of my favourite characters in The Shield. He's so repulsive in this episode but at the same time, you kind of feel for the guy because he's inept and wants badly to be good at his job and liked by people. He comes out of the box with a big personality, commenting on the murder victim's "rack", spouting FBI profiler mumbo-jumbo and setting his sites on Danny.

By contrast, Claudette is much lower key, but full of character nonetheless.

The first sequence is made up of four scenes: Dutch and Claudette at the murder scene. Dutch is commenting on the naked victim. Interestingly there is almost no police work done or mentioned in the scene.

In the second beat, Dutch follows Danny outside and does what for Dutch qualifies as flirting. In doing so, he gives us some information about the crime, but dressed up as big shot FBI profiler talk.

In the third scene, Dutch meets the sister of the murder victim. She falls on her knees in grief before him and the assorted cops watching snicker because she's in blow job position. But Dutch -- who moments ago was talking about a dead woman's breasts -- is humanized in this moment because he doesn't know how to react. He's embarrassed and upset for this woman and he doesn't like what the other cops are thinking. It's a very intense emotional beat.

And then comes a great turn that flips Dutch and us-as-viewers into a new emotional space: we learn that the victim has a daughter. In the fourth scene of this sequence, Dutch reports the news to Claudette, who has already figured this out because she's holding the daughter's photo. Now the question is, where is the little girl? With the killer?

The second Dutch-Claudette sequence starts with a line from Claudette which I love as a scene starter:

I stopped listening to you five minutes ago.

She and Dutch are at a hot dog stand and he's still talking his profiler-speak which is annoying Claudette.

In the second beat, they head inside passing Danny and Dutch's potential relationship with her becomes the subject of the conversation.

When they get inside the squad room, Captain Aceveda turns up and they give him a report on the crime. They give us the following new information about the crime: the father of the missing girl is a crackhead and Dutch thinks he's the killer and kidnapper and a known criminal visited the victim yesterday.

We see none of the police legwork that was expended to acquire this information. Until we get to the interrogation room, we see little actual policing. Ryan uses his screen time for character development. Even in the interrogation room, it's more about the police officers, their methods and what that says about them as people, than it is about the crimes and criminals.

The pilot episode of The Shield is meditation on character. The pilot and first act show us how Ryan manages to keep the thread of the criminal investigation alive with a minimal screen time. His supersizing of character development is what hooks us into the series in these early moments.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Murderati on Series Pitching in L.A.

Murderati has a fun two-part post about the pitching process in LA.

Included is a checklist of things required before you can even get the meeting:

Item 1 – You must have a place of residence in Southern California. You may be able to swing a NY residence, but if you are truly starting out, it’s SoCal or nothing. X has covered this. Look it up, people.

Item 2 – You must have an agent. A legitimate agent. “Bob’s Talent & Pet Agency” in Pacoima is not legit. Your cousin acting as your agent is not legit. Some guy you met online who claims to be a manager is not legit… unless he can show you at least three working clients. Having 17 unemployed clients does not count. Besides, managers are for actors, or people who can’t get real agents. I know exactly one working screenwriter who has a manager (along with an agent), and that writer hates the manager. You don’t need to be with Endeavor (though it helps), but you must have an agent that is capable of having their calls returned.

Item 3 – You must have NO LESS than two samples of your writing. And I mean samples of one-hour episodic television writing. Three is really how many you should have, but you can get away with two if both are brilliant. Nowadays they should be original specs – meaning, they should be pilot episodes of some idea of your own. It used to be you needed specs of shows currently on the air (hit shows), but that’s more about getting a staff job, and we’re talking about how series are created. Oh, and it’s a good idea that neither of your samples are the show you are trying to sell. They can be, but it’s a slippery slope.

Item 4 – You must have the ability to check your ego. It’s okay to have an ego, but you must be able to sit across from an idiot who is telling you what’s wrong with the thing you wrote and, while you know with every fiber of your being that what is being said is complete horsepucky, you must be able to nod your head and say, “That’s interesting. I’ll take a look at that.” If you cannot do this, sell your SoCal residence, fire your agent, and burn your two specs. You will not make it.

He also talks about how you feel after the meeting with the studio"

You walk out of every pitch meeting thinking you hit a homerun. Thinking that they’re gonna be on the phone with your agents before you have your parking validated. As you take the elevator down to the parking garage, you’re trying to decide if you’ll buy property in Sun Valley or Martha’s Vineyard, once season five airs and your backend starts kicking in.
The second part of the piece -- on the network pitch -- is here.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Kay Reindl at Seriocity has some really interesting things to say about pitching shows. She talks about how pitching works in LA and what some of her own meetings have been like. She goes on to talk about the components of the pitch, which are of course, the components of the series.

It's a great piece and you should read all of it, but here are a couple of excerpts. Reindl on the premise:

this should be clean and easy to grok. You shouldn't have to spend more than thirty seconds pitching your premise. And the rest of your pitch should only expand on that premise.
The characters:
they must rock. As simple as that. They need to make sense for the premise. An example would be the X-Files. Mulder's the believer. Scully's the skeptic. She's sent to keep an eye on him, but winds up having his back. Simple, right? Iconic, even. And they fit the premise. Your characters should feel like individuals. You should know their backstories, what got them into this predicament, why the show is about THEM, and how they react to what's happening to them. Arcs for characters are an excellent idea. Tell the executives where you want to take these characters. Know their voices, and incorporate them into the pitch.
Reindl on the engine:
this will be referred to as the franchise. What that really means is, what happens every week?
And on the world:
this is especially important when you're pitching a show that doesn't take place in our mundane, everyday existence. Pitching a genre show? KNOW YOUR WORLD. And the rules for your show. Does your show have a visual style? Know what that is.
These same elements are at the core of a great pilot script. The more you know about them, the better your pilot and your series will ultimately be.

PVR Watch

Shawna at Shouting into the Wind has a list pilots and air dates for September and October. Get ready for some serious tv time in the next couple of months.

Monday, September 3, 2007

My Dirty Little Secret

I've been a little light on the postings lately, for a variety of reasons.

One of the reasons is that there weren't that many new pilots on television in August and I've been in the mood for fresh pilots as opposed to archival. Plus looking ahead to September and October, I'm going to have my work cut out for me.

And then there's the end of summer thing -- rushing out to enjoy the last dregs before it's gone. Plus school's starting any minute and there are new shoes to buy, after school activities to sign up for and the whole sending lunch every day thing to dread.

But none of those are the real reason I slowed down.

I've been posting less, because I've been writing like a fiend. I had a big burst of energy on the pilot I've been developing. And when I finished my draft a week or so ago, I wanted a break from all things pilot.

I'm pretty pleased with my script. I've been working this concept for a long time. And this is actually the third pilot I've written. But this one slipped out the most easily and has by far the most energy and fun of the three.

Just before this draft, I did some major surgery on the premise and then I cranked up the character to eleven.

My original premise had CSI elements, a single character lead surrounded by a team of regulars and two mysteries in every episode. It's still got the two mysteries and some science, but I've gone from single lead to more of a buddy picture. I've lightened it up considerably, de-emphasized the mystery and added action and lots of humour.

While I’m happy with the draft, I'm by no means done. I particularly want to work on strengthening the first act and by that I mean making it more hooky. So you may note in these pages a new attention to first acts.

Here are a few stats from my script:

It's four acts and tag (I envision the series title before the first act) in 60 pages. The first act is 12 pages long, the second 15, the third 13, the fourth 16 and the tag is 4 pages. The first and second act curtains drop on B-story which is one of the two mystery of the week plots. The third, fourth and episode curtains turn on the A-story.

But here's my big dirty secret: it's a premise pilot. The two lead characters meet for the first time and we see the team form.

I know I know I know. I'm the one who says do not ever write a premise pilot for the Canadian market.

And you know why: you don't want to be forced to air any particular episode first. You want to take best advantage of your launch publicity by showing first time viewers the best episode you've got in the can. And a premise pilot limits you to showing only that episode first.

But I'm not there yet. I'm still selling the series. Using only a script.

And I think this premise pilot is my best hope for selling the franchise which brings together two unlikely people. And you kind of need to know how they got brought together before you settle down to enjoy their interaction.

So there it is. I have preached against the premise pilot for years now and I've gone and written one. It just goes to show, you should never listen to me.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

K-Ville On Demand

The pilot episode of K-Ville is up on Fox's website for you to see. Unless you can find some way around the geographic restrictions, you can't watch it from outside the United States.

I enjoyed it. I've only watched it once, so I don't have a lot to report. I can tell you that it's thick with character and has an action scene in most if not all acts.