The Kyle Killen Formula

February 27, 2012

I’ve now seen two pilots written by Kyle Killen. The first, Lone Star, aired in 2010 and was cancelled after its second episode. The second Awake, premiers on NBC March 1st.

Having seen the pilot of Awake, I’m left with a visceral reaction. It’s the same one I had after reading the opening pages of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip or Tripping Daisies, and it’s the same excitement that I felt in the last few minutes of Lone Star. Quite simply: “How the hell do you read this script and not make this show?”

The formula is actually really simple: you start with a provocative concept that’s naturally designed to create conflict. You introduce it in full by the end of the first act. Make sure we care about the main character. At the end of the episode, the protagonist makes a conscious (and plot-wise, inevitable) decision to lead a double life. Fill in the gaps in between.

So simple, and yet so darn powerful.

I remember when I saw Killen speak at Austin Film Festival in 2010, he mentioned that when you’re testing a TV pilot you sit a bunch of people in chairs with dials, and they turn their dial up when they like something and down when they don’t. Meanwhile, the producers sit in another room with a blue line and a pink line that goes up and down according to the men’s and women’s reactions, respectively, to what they’re seeing. In Lone Star, the blue line went way up when the protagonist made the conscious decision to become a serial bigamist, which Killen interpreted as men thinking, “Yay, bigamy!” Speaking personally, my blue line would have gone way up at that point, but not because I’m a fan of bigamy: it’s because I was left excited about where this show would take us and how in the hell this guy was going to pull this off.

It was the same thing watching Awake. Although the protagonist’s conscious decision at the end was predictable (at least to me, having seen Killen’s work before), I was left with that same feeling of excitement. That same feeling of: How in the hell do you read this script and not make this show?

This is what we all, as writers, need to strive for: a concept, and a script, that is so outstanding the production execs couldn’t possibly resist.


Smash

February 6, 2012

Tonight at 10/9c  on NBC Smash premieres. And if you can’t wait, you can watch it right now on Hulu. Which you might want to do, because OMG beaver nuggets, this is a good one. Katherine McPhee exudes every iota of hometown innocence with jaw-gaping sexuality that you could want from an actress playing an actress playing Marilyn Monroe. The script oozes with conflict, thanks to the big egos and emotional decisions that go into this kind of subject matter, and it’s dripping with subtext, thanks in no small part to the manipulative (but very believable) villain. And although musicals always run the risk of coming off as cheesy (see Why I’m Giving Up on Glee), this one uses the music exactly as its designed: to further the story and to heighten the emotional stakes when dialogue just isn’t enough. The cheese is meant to be there, and the rest hits right at the emotional core.

I always get excited when I see shows that revolve around the entertainment industry. They always seem to have an extra spark, because the people making it really know what the hell they’re talking about, and they really care about it. And as someone who works in the industry, I get it. Of course, the same thing that appeals to me about these showbiz TV-shows – that I get what they’re talking about – may be the reason why they don’t always do so well. Studio 60 was awesome, but was doomed to a single season, mostly because the audience just didn’t quite appreciate it to the same level.

So let’s give it some love, and give Smash the opening night it deserves.


Why I’m Giving Up on Glee

January 12, 2012

That’s it. I’m officially giving up on Glee. Although Season 2 sucked me in with it’s sitcomesque humor but dramaesque structure, and the fact that literally every song they cover seems to be better than the original, the impotence of the writing in Season 3 has left me bored, frustrated, and irritated.

Specifically, there are two things I’m reacting to:

  • Plot Holes: As a musical, and as a TV show, there’s always an extent to which we suspend disbelief. The fact that there’s always a band ready to play every song is amusing, but it’s not something that bothers anyone who isn’t a douchebag. That’s not what I’m talking about here. Remember the episode that followed the Super Bowl last year? It involved a series of football games, where the players did things that people never do in football games. Like, for example, taking a shotgun snap when you have the lead in the final 30 seconds and are supposed to be in victory formation. They might have gotten away with it if we hadn’t just watched the biggest football game of the year. That was Season 2, and at the time I was willing to overlook plot holes like this, because I was absorbed by everything else. But this year there just seems to be so damn much of it. I’m talking about Sue Sylvester running for office against nine opponents, and then later in the election it turns out she’s running only against one. I’m talking about the fact that she loses that election to a write-in candidate. I’m talking about Sugar Motta being rejected from the Glee Club, which forms the entire basis for the season’s conflict, only to be welcomed in with open arms (and narry a word about her lack of talent) after the Trebletones lose at Sectionals.Any one of these by themselves  I’d be able to overlook, but adding them all up it just bugs the crap out of me. It’s just plain lazy writing.
  • Unsupported Character Changes: EVERY. ONE. Always. Comes. Around. And. Does. The. “Right.” Thing. EVERYONE.  I love Blaine, and I’m super happy he’s part of the regular cast, but who leaves an expensive private school so they can be closer to their high school boyfriend? Michael Chang’s father, who hasn’t spoken to him in weeks, suddenly, after a pretty lame conversation, decides to come see him perform (not even his best performance), give a standing ovation, and then completely change his tune? I don’t think so. Finn and Rachel, in a five minute conversation with Trouty Mouth manages to convince him to give up the money he’s earning and come back to Ohio? And then he convinces his parents in another five minute conversation? Oh, come the f*** on. These are major life changes we’re talking about here, and I understand that these things happen in TV shows, but again, it seems like every five minutes someone is doing a complete 180 that changes either their whole character or their whole life.

So, for those reasons, I am officially ending my relationship with Glee. You had me for a full season, which is better than most. But it’s time for us to part.


The REAL Cop Show

July 22, 2009

Last night my wife and I sat down to watch episodes 3, 4, and 5 of ABC’s Castle.  If you’ve never seen it, the title character is a murder mystery writer who follows around a sultry detective and helping her solve murder cases.  It’s sort of like Law & Order meets Murder She Wrote.

As a general rule I don’t like murder mysteries or cop shows, because they’re all the same and I just can’t bring myself to suspend disbelief quite that far.  In real life, the obvious suspect is usually the right one.  How do these guys keep getting all the complicated cases?  And why do so many wealthy and presumably intelligent people forget to ask for a lawyer when they get accused of something?

The cop show I’d like to see is the one where you know in the first 5 minutes who did it, and then spend the next 55 trying to draw out the confession, sometimes failing because the person remembers to ask for a lawyer who tells them to stfu, and they actually listen, so now you’ve got to build your case and take it to the D.A.  How refreshing would that be?  It might be boring and repetitive, but then again, so are the rest of these shows.


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