Adventures in Speccing & The Trouble with Choice

I don’t really do New Years Resolutions, but I’d love to finish something I write this year. My first challenge? Finishing a spec script. Tis the season for TV writing fellowship submission deadlines and I think I am going to take a crack at actually submitting something. So, right now, I am working on a spec script for the show Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

The best thing about spec writing? Rewatching a show you love and getting to call it research.

The best thing about spec writing? Rewatching a show you love and getting to call it research.

I’ve worked on a few specs before. I wrote a Castle spec a few years ago that got completed, but wasn’t good story wise and was way too short. I wrote a Parks and Rec spec that, upon reread, felt authentic to the show and actually had some jokes (!) but was missing a third act resolution and pieces of a plot point were done by the show itself after I’d stopped working on it. And earlier last year, I tried my hand at a Scandal spec. It seemed to be going well while writing it during a show hiatus, but once the show returned, a lot of little points I’d thought of were used on the show and plots/relationships/etc were more and more invalidated each new episode. I’ve also written a few short teaser-type scenes for a sit-com pilot and the first few pages of a drama pilot. Again, nothing I’ve completed.

A lot of my scripts have places where I just keysmash the clever things they should be saying and bracket the actions that should happen between the scenes I've thought of.

A lot of my scripts have places where I just keysmash the clever things they should be saying and bracket the actions that should happen between the scenes I’ve thought of.

Even though each script has gone unfinished or left something to be desired, I’ve felt stronger and stronger about my writing after each attempt. But it is time to finally finish something. The point of writing fellowships is to hone your craft, so hopefully, should I finish something and submit it, it is more about the potential within my script rather than how brilliant it actually is, but as with most writers, you want it to be brilliant from the get go.

Instructor feedback from my unfinished Scandal spec. There's hope for me yet!

Instructor feedback from my unfinished Scandal spec. There’s hope for me yet!

I mostly write this so I am putting it out there. Connie should be working on her spec script. I’ve got an A story (recently developed, but I finally feel good about the direction it’s going), a nemesis for the main character (though I’m still working out obstacles), an emotional trajectory, a B-story involving Terry, Rosa, and Gina, and a vague idea for a C-story that maybe should tie into the A-story?

What I’ve noticed is that I am paralyzed by choice when it comes to writing fiction. There are so many paths a character could take, so many ways a character could be, which determines where the story goes. What if I choose wrong? If I pick between two ideas and one isn’t working, does that mean the other is better? Or should I break my brain trying to make idea number one work? I spend a lot of time stuck at the fork in the road and when I pick one, I keep wondering what’s down the other path. It’s definitely a struggle. And that’s all in the outlining. Once I’ve started, the characters start speaking and want to do different things than what I’ve planned, which affects where the story goes and thus all the little pieces I’ve thought of start to fall apart. Hence why I never finish anything. Even if I stop thinking about the road to the other side of the last fork in the road, a new one comes and I become overwhelmed with choice and the fear of missed moments of awesome. Also, there’s the giving up and the getting distracted, and the chronic procrastination, and ooh books! –ooh, new TV shows! –ooh, other ideas I should write! Typical writer problems.

So my goal for early 2015 is to finish this spec script. I bought an iPad around Christmas and it’s actually been helping me to be really productive. I’ve written about 7 pages of notes in Pages solely on my iPad while rewatching the show and on my commutes to work. And I bought Final Draft for iPad, which I think will be a really good way to write while on the go. So here’s to finishing this spec script. Hopefully the abundance of choice won’t be so paralyzing — I can just use those ideas in a second script. This post is to get my feelings out and for you readers to hold me accountable via comments, or Twitter, or wherever you see me lurking on the internet. Because if I’m on Twitter, I’m not writing. (But don’t take away my internet, research spurns ideas!)

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Reaction to an act out I think for my Scandal spec. LOL!

Happy writing!

Are any of you working on some works-in-progress that you’d like completed this year?

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Link: Stephanie Beatriz on Why Diverse Casts Are Needed on TV | Latina Roles on TV & Movies

Stephanie Beatriz on Why Diverse Casts Are Needed on TV | Latina Roles on TV & Movies

Stephanie Beatriz on Why Diverse Casts Are Needed on TV | Latina Roles on TV & Movies

Everyone PLEASE read this awesome blog post by actress Stephanie Beatriz on Latina.com. I love Brooklyn 99, not only because it’s funny and it’s so similar to Parks and Recreation (same showrunner, so duh on that part), but because it’s so diverse and tries to actually look like a New York police station. The fact that there are TWO black men and TWO Latina women on the show feels like a first on network TV (psh, cable even) and it shouldn’t. But it is and the fact that Stephanie didn’t think she had another shot on the show after Melissa Fumero was cast is absolutely ridiculous but completely indicative of how the business works for people of color.

I am so glad that there are two Latina women on the show and the one is the main love interest and neither are made to be stereotypes of their culture, they just are and they don’t compete for men or attention, they coexist like real human beings. Just the fact that they’re both on the show and have such different personalities is fantastic because it immediately disproves the idea that people of color can only fulfill one type at a time on any given show. Brooklyn 99 just makes me really happy and I am glad that in this dwindling age of network comedy, it’s a beacon of hope for both a brilliant, hilarious show, but also for the future of what television will look like. I quoted Stephanie below, but click through for more of her blog posts.

When I was waiting to hear about my screen test for Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I started looking at Deadline.com constantly. It’s a website that often posts up to the minute casting news, and is pretty handy during pilot season if you want to drive yourself absolutely bananas. I checked it, at minimum, eight times an hour. I was a woman possessed, because this show was the thing I wanted more than anything in the world. And then I saw that Melissa Fumero had been cast as Amy Santiago on Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and I felt my guts roll up into my throat and try to escape out of my mouth. Omgomgomgomg that’s it then. There’s no way in hell a major network is gonna cast two Latina actresses in such a tight ensemble show I AM SCREWED.

And then next day my agents called and told me I’d booked it.

I couldn’t believe it. I had been saying to my boyfriend the night before how there was JUST NO WAY. Normally, The Latina is a singular element of the ensemble she is working in. She’s there to provide contrast, or sexuality, or humor. Or she’s there to clean the floors and/or steal your man. There are some serious stereotypes very much alive in film and TV today, and The Latina is one of them.

Here’s the thing though. The world is changing. Slowly but surely, television is changing. The character stereotypes are changing, or being turned inside out by some fantastic writers and actors (I’m looking at you, Orange is the New BlackScandal, and The Mindy Project). People of color are on TV playing roles that are fleshed out, complex, human. And yes, some of those characters are maids. Some are sexy heartbreakers there to steal your man. Some own BBQ joints, while some are Chiefs of Staff. Some are prisoners, and some are cops. All are real people with hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and all the other vast human emotions and desires.

Right now, you can turn on your television or log onto your Netflix or Hulu account and SEE YOURSELF. Not always, and maybe not as much as you’d like, but you can. You can find characters who look like you. I couldn’t do that very often when I was a kid, and it subtly informed me that I might be kind of unimportant. Thank God for Luis and Maria (Sonia Manzano and Emilio Delgado) on Sesame Street, who were the first Latinos on TV I ever saw. I was fascinated by them both, and remember thinking how lucky I was that my mom looked just like Maria. I watched Sesame Street into junior high, simply because I loved seeing Maria and Luis on TV. In fact, in my memory, PBS was one of the only places I regularly saw people of all races on my television.

This is important. Because young women are watching TV, and they are getting messages about who they are in the world, who the world will allow them to be. And in big important steps, television is showing a reflection back to those young women that YOU CAN BE WHATEVER THE HELL YOU DAMN WELL PLEASE, and that two Latinas on one show is NORMAL. I think that’s a win for everybody. 

–Stephanie Beatriz

Upfronts 2014: FOX, NBC what are you doing?

Let’s start network-wide. Fox and NBC swapped for me in the past year, NBC going from a favorite, most watched network, to me having one show next season (the mid-season, finale season Parks debacle…). While FOX went from me abandoning several of it’s shows due to reordering episodes and demanding stasis in characters that achieved character development to the network I have the most shows I am interested in this fall. And FOX pulled me in with the commitment and success in diversity. So let’s talk about what they’re doing this fall.

NBC– honey, what are you doing? They’ve cancelled most of their comedies, leaving Parks and Recreation, their current longest running sitcom as a mid-season replacement in it’s finale season. According to the schedule listed in the link on Vulture, there are only 4 comedies on the schedule, split between Tuesday and Thursday 9-10 comedy hours. What? Has NBC given up on reclaiming it’s must-see-tv fame? I suppose it wasn’t working, but it kills me that not one of the four comedies is Parks. What a way to alienate your little comedy fanbase. Why not use Parks and the final season momentum to pull your existing fans over to new shows? You now have to do the work to get non-NBC comedy watchers (those who didn’t watch 30 Rock and Community and Parks in the hey-day of low-rated but cult favorite comedies). I suppose they no longer want those fans. They want new ones entirely. Or they’re trying to sustain the network on the Voice, Dick Wolf, and the Blacklist until they figure out something that works. But, to me, it doesn’t seem like they’ve found the formula yet. I’ll see you mid-season, NBC, when you put Parks and Recreation back on the schedule. (Let’s face it, it’s a cancelled-new-show replacement. As soon as one of the new comedies fail, they’ll stick Parks in the 9pm comedy spot until the rest of the season is done. More on Parks later.

 

 

FOX, homie, you’re doing a lot of things right, but one thing feels very wrong. I will be watching seven FOX shows this fall. That’s more than any other network and more than I’ve ever watched FOX. They’ve been getting some good, diversely cast comedies in these past couple of seasons. New Girl confirmed Damon Wayans Jr as the 6th member of the cast, rounding them out to Friends proportions, The Mindy Project had a strong finale with lots of possibility, and Brooklyn 99 came out of the gate with comedy, diversity, and heart. So why are they sending Brooklyn 99 to the Sunday animation slot?! It seems ridiculous to me. Vulture says,

There’s logic behind this year’s changes: Family Guy is pretty much a multi-camera sitcom that happens to be animatedand Mulaney is multi-cam; Brooklyn is sophisticated single-cam that could mesh with the sensibility of The Simpsons. And once Fox picked up both Brooklyn and The Mindy Project, it was obvious one would either move or wait until midseason: Fox simply doesn’t have the comedy strength to support a two-hour sitcom block on Tuesdays.

But that seems absurd. I definitely think they could sustain it. But even if it can’t, splitting the comedies into the animation block disturbs something that’s been working on FOX for years now. Animation fans won’t necessarily hold up these fresh comedies and when was the last time comedies aired on a Sunday night?! This makes me nervous for both BK99 and Mulaney (which I may watch), because they’re basically hiding it in the schedule. No one looks for comedies on Sunday nights. That’s typically a Feature film, Sports, Drama night. FOX made success with animation as alternative programming to this trend, but this upcoming change might break both the animation block and the comedies they want to succeed. Sigh. There are few shows I want to succeed more than Brooklyn 99. I hope they just suck it up and block the comedies together.

Schedules change, often by November sweeps when networks figure out what’s working and what’s getting cancelled. So we’ll see if this remains the schedule for the fall. But both networks are boggling my mind.

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Response Post: “New Girl, Brooklyn 99, and Breaking the “One Black Friend” Pattern | TIME.com”

Can you find the token? (Love you Dule Hill)

It’s so very rare to find a show with more than one character of color. Some notable tokens off the top of my head include Angela from Boy Meets World, Lisa from Saved by the Bell,  Martha Jones from Doctor Who, Charlie on The West Wing and Gunn on Angel. 30 Rock subverts the trend by having Tracy Jordan in the main cast, but also Twofer, who is both black and nerdy. Some of the disappointment behind Agents of SHIELD came from the team claiming diversity and internationality (yup, I made that up), but only having one character of color, Melinda May.

For the most part, the characters listed above were main cast members, but even when I Googled “Token Black Character,” a lot of the examples were recurring characters, if that. When we begin to include 1-episode black characters as “token” characters, it doesn’t look good for the diversity of television.

Some shows this season, however, are trying to buck that trend. Mostly they’re on FOX, who started and seems to be maintaining a diversity initiative this season. Brooklyn 99 has one of the most diverse casts out there, up there with Grey’s Anatomy in terms of variety, which makes sense due to its New York Police Department setting. FOX also airs Sleepy Hollow, which has 2 black main cast members and up to 4 black supporting characters. Then there’s John Cho’s recurring character and the sometimes seen Abbie ex-boyfriend Det. Morales.

And when they brought Damon Wayans Jr back to New Girl, I was pleasantly surprised that Lamorne Morris wasn’t going anywhere. (Though, just through a quick google, there don’t seem to be any new cast photos with Damian– I have to wonder how the conversation went down when they told Lamorne Damon was coming back. Was there a “don’t worry, we’re not replacing you with him like we did him with you” conversation, or was it just we’re adding him to the cast everyone, no one is leaving. With this trend so prevalent, I would have been a little nervous my time was up.)

This article, from Time a few weeks ago, discusses FOX and other networks beginning to break the 1 black friend trend, which we could hopefully include other nationalities of color too. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article.

But it’s also a welcome change because it makes New Girl a rarity in TV today: a major-network sitcom with more than one African American character in its regular ensemble–a comedy about friends in which “a black friend” isn’t “the black friend.”

[…]

The big networks have had a notoriously sketchy track record on casting diversity–better some seasons, terrible other seasons. The reaction has tended to be adding minority characters to shows with largely white casts. That affects the overall math, of course, but it has the side effect of replicating a universe in which black–or Asian, Latino, &c.–characters are scattered, uniformly and singly.

[…]

The exceptions are scarce: Troy and Shirley on Community; Glee, if you count that as a comedy; Parks and Recreation, depending on your definition. (That is, Rashida Jones is biracial, but having seen every episode I can’t recall Ann Perkins’ ethnicity.)

[…]

Brooklyn 9-9, the diversity is very conscious, not for p.c. reasons but simple realism. As its co-creators have said, it’s a New York City police show, and New York’s police department is about half minority. So you’ll see two Latina detectives who are very different personalities, because why not? You’ll see Andre Braugher and Terry Crews (who had a fantastic episode this week), sharing a subplot about Crews’ character’s annoying brother-in-law–not because they’re bonded as the precinct’s black characters, but simply because they work together, and it’s life–and, you know, in-laws, amirite?

[…]

But there’s another reason: sometimes, a show should just have two black women on it, because sometimes in life, there just are two black women in the same place. (Again: or men, or Indian, or Middle Eastern, or…) TV should be diverse because of fairness, but above all because it should reflect the world.

I hope this upcoming pilot seasons shows a continued growth to this trend. It shouldn’t just be FOX and Shonda Rhimes’ shows on ABC that have more than one token character of color. But that’s if the shows feature a character of color at all, like I said, sometimes the token is a recurring character and not even a supporting character. All television shows don’t necessarily have to be a tossed salad of racial diversity, but more shows need it.

Read more: New Girl, Brooklyn 9-9, and Breaking the “One Black Friend” Pattern | TIME.com http://entertainment.time.com/2013/11/07/new-girl-brooklyn-9-9-and-breaking-the-one-black-friend-pattern/#ixzz2q49hWhew

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ConStar Watches How I Met Your Mother “Last Time In New York” and Brooklyn Nine-Nine “The Slump”

catching up on TV during a sick day, so some of these will combine shows from earlier in the week.

HIMYM:

I love where you can see where they just redecorated an old set to make it in the Bed and Breakfast. The Bar/Lounge area is probably just the MacLaren’s set redone.

Is Lily gonna be slightly drunk this entire season? lol

Oh that bottle of scotch! Yuckkk! But oh Lily, stealing the new bottle.

I totally forgot about Ted moving to Chicago… Also, I missed The Mother in this one!

Aww the Mini-flashback of Ted during Lily’s Life Lecture lol. I enjoy their friendship.

Oh Cliffhanger!! Barney sounds mad in the scene, but why would he be upset? He’s been fine with Robin all this time (I don’t remember but I don’t even think they kissed?) so why is he suddenly mad at Ted? I guess I’ll find out Monday.

I suppose, for now, they’re succeeding in stretching the story to fit just the weekend. Though there is some time fudging. Each episode hasn’t been approx 30 mins of time (right?), but continuity is doing pretty well, especially the jokes from the premiere (“thanks, Linus”), so that’s good.

B99:

Yup. still enjoy the theme song. is this Scully the Jerry of the precinct? He has a disgusting body thing, is married, and they kind of also look similar.

“What did I say about doing voices.” “It’s my craft, I’m a storyteller.”

Oh ok I am finally getting some Santiago character; all about praise and commendations. Also as a friend of mine said, Chelsea Peretti’s character is Sam Puckett from iCarly, but so is Rosa. The mixture of them is the perfect Sam Puckett (Sam meets April Ludgate probably). Now that I’ve spotted the Jerry of the precinct, now I’m gonna look for other Parks characters in the B99 cast.

“This is taking too long! I’m going to miss the farmer’s market!!”

Oh hey that kid in the beanie is on WildnOut!

“Not now, Boyle, let a brother breathe!”

I think Santiago and Rosa are basically Sam and Carly. I hope they’re paired together often and become best friends lol.

Oh, I just noticed in the chief’s office, his binders are Rainbow colored right behind him.

I love how the Captain can get away with pranks right back to Peralta and because he is so serious, Peralta believes him. It’s brilliant.

No better way to scare children than weird dancing.

Wow, Terry Crews had some of the best lines of this episode.

What I Watched Today – New Girl, The Mindy Project, and Brooklyn 99

New Girl – Wow, this show is just so perfect. Almost too many jokes to mention. This show makes me laugh every commercial break, which is so important for a show. Genius move. Also cut on a hilarious joke and this show did that every act out for me.

I love the Nick/Jess moments. I love how much he wants to help her. I love watching Nick trying to juggle Jess’ AND Winston’s crazy. I’m really pleased with the Nick/Jess post hook-up dynamic. This has been a good year for couples I love getting together and getting better as characters/duos rather than falling flat or the writer’s trying to force them apart every moment they get. Let the characters get together and explore where that can take you! Too many shows give them 2 episodes together (this could be New Girl‘s approach, it’s honestly too early to tell, but I have hope) and then split them up and give them loads of angst. In this episode, you get the moments where they were together, but they also have the same dynamic as before which only makes watching their interactions even better. Great job to the writers.

I’m definitely Team CeCe. And I am so nervous for her and Schmidt’s dynamic when she finds out. She seems so pleased he picked her and happy to see him, her heart is going to be so broken. She really opened up her heart to him. Yikes, the angst will hurt. Hopefully they will keep Nick/Jess the way they are to keep me sane.

Poor Winston. But his “cat killer” crazy was hilarious and well-played. A broken heart made him a little psycho. Still thinking about how uncomfortable the licking sound the cat makes on Schmidt made me.

The Mindy Project –  One piece whipped cream suit was an amusing sight gag. Though I’m still having trouble seeing Mindy and the Rev together. I don’t know if it’s because I approve of Mindy/Danny or if they just feel forced together.

Also, as I tweeted last week, I am super over James Franco. So I don’t care about him on this episode. And I maintain that Mindy is always less funny after the brilliance of New Girl. If they switched the times, Mindy might be funnier in comparison. Or perhaps it’s Sophomore Slump? One day I will stop saying this, sorry.

The theme song remains the best thing about this show.

Brooklyn 99 – I enjoy the theme song for this too. They feel similar, so I wonder if they were done by the same person? Or one inspired by the other.  I liked the locker vs dumpster joke. Really good joke construction and delivery. Before the first act out, I laughed or smiled more than when I watched Mindy, but found myself not really caring about the plot. It was on in the background as I wrote these posts, but didn’t grab me to distraction from this task as trying to blog through New Girl did.

Black TV 2013: Fall and Winter Preview | Old School 94.5

Black TV 2013: Fall and Winter Preview | Old School 94.5.

Check out this article, which discusses some of the [network tv] shows airing this fall that feature black characters. It’s sad we still need articles like this to point the shows out, but it’s useful. Especially since when I last looked at NBC’s Thursday Comedy Lineup, I did not spy not one black person on the posters (as much as I looove love Parks and Rec, it doesn’t add much for NBC’s lead/co-star diversity).

I am about to watch Sleepy Hollow tonight and as yesterday’s post said, I watched Brooklyn 99 and was pleased by a diverse cast. I am also interested in Almost Human and I already watch Scandal. Glad to see that there is some color on network TV, but it’s a shame that most of these shows the black character is a co-star or supporting, not the main actor/lead character. Kerry and Blair Underwood (Ironside) are leads. The Originals seems to star the black lead, while Sleepy Hollow, Almost Human, and Brooklyn 99 seem to be a dual lead deal thing going on.)

Hopefully, if there are midseason replacement shows, we can get some more diversity on network television (or some break out supporting minority characters who get increased storylines), because it feels like an all-time low right now. (Is Brooklyn 99 the only network sitcom starring a black person right now? With Mindy making 2 shows with minority leads? If there are others, let me know…)

What I Watched Today

Today I finished Orange is the New Black, after starting the season yesterday midday during a sick day at home. Interesting show, great supporting characters, I’ve grown to dislike Piper more and more as the show progressed. Daya, Taystee, Poussey, and Black Cindy are some of my favorites characters. The pre-prison flashbacks were such a small taste of these characters and I really want more of how a lot of them got to prison and their normal lives.

I also watched:

Whose Line is it Anyway?

Brooklyn 99 – Hmm. Amusing new show. Enjoying the diversity (2 black people AND 2 hispanic characters). Mike Shur is a plus, as a big #Parks fan. I’ll keep this on my DVR.

New Girl – So glad it’s back! It was sooo good and I LOVE Nick and Jess! and Winston was FANTASTIC and oh Schmidt. But the show has not lost it’s greatness over the summer.

The Mindy Project – Well. There were some good moments, but as usual, you can’t air Mindy after New Girl, it’s not as funny and for me, constantly fails in comparison. Sorry Mindy. Also, I’m bored with James Franco. *rolls eyes* But welcome back, Mindy.

The Daily Show

The Colbert Report

The Queen Latifah Show – I might check this out regularly. I don’t watch a lot of talk shows, but today’s interview with Will was funny of course and the segment with Will and Alex Trebek was inventive and fun. I still need to watch the rest of the episode though…

A Different World – expect this to go on my daily list a lot, since I love it and it’s right there on my DVR.

[New segment I will do to help me write everyday/more often. As the Fall 2013 TV comes along, I will try to at the very least, post what I watched each day. If I’m feeling write-y, I will add opinions and such. Though it may only be: “I’m so excited for this episode!” (if written before) or “this episode was fantastic!” (when written after). Hope I can keep up and keep going with this blogging thing. =)]