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Vancouver Writing Seminar with Larry Kaplow (House, Body of Proof)

Vancouver Writing Seminar with Larry Kaplow (House, Body of Proof)


Before TV, eh?, I wrote about television for other sites. American television (gasp) for American sites. That’s how I learned that I wasn’t learning about homegrown shows and a website was born. At the time I was writing an awful lot about House, so really you could credit an American show created by a Canadian for the existence of this website dedicated to Canadian TV. If you want to ignore a lot of other factors.

My first interview with a TV writer was with Larry Kaplow, who had just written House’s second-season episode “Autopsy,” which went on to win the Writers Guild of America Award for episodic drama. And as one of the House producers he would later be nominated for a few Emmy Awards for best drama. I take all the credit.

He’d also go on to be a friend who allows me insight into the creative process of writing for television, a warts-to-wonders view I hadn’t seen clearly from simply researching and reviewing books on the subject. When he was giving a week-long writing seminar in Kiev, Ukraine recently (after talks at USC, NYU, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and the National Association of Broadcasters, among others), I took advantage of our friendship and his jetlag to ask him to conduct a one-day seminar in Vancouver on May 6. Aimed at aspiring and emerging TV writers, it’s for people who, unlike me, can put his hard-won experience into practice.

“I’ll show people how to do it, how to write for television in the real world,” he told me about the seminar, which will cover topics such as breaking in, pitching, story structure, the writing room, dealing with notes, writing for production, and the development process. “There are a ton of great books out there. Best of luck to you. I only understand them now because I’ve spent the past however many years doing it.”

That however many years started with assistant gigs on Clueless and Chicago Hope before writing for Family Law, Hack, House and Body of Proof as well as developing his own projects.

He explained his glamorous path to show business: “I went to undergrad for English, grad school for creative writing, then wrote a shitty novel and a bunch of scripts that got options, then I got lunch for writers on the lowest-rated show in the business, then a kindly upper-level writer named Marjorie David basically begged David Shore (Canadian) and Stephen Nathan (not Canadian) [editor’s note: but who now works with Hart Hanson (Canadian)] to hire me as a researcher. I worked my ass off for Paul Haggis (Canadian) and I got my first script, and miracles of miracles I’m still here writing.”

“Passion and commitment are everything — because if you’re willing to let things go, then you’re not right for this business. And believe me, this is something I still have to learn.” In fact, he cites the most important thing he’s learned over his career as “I’m here to learn.” (He’s also here to teach; he’ll be giving a couple of class talks at local schools while he’s in Vancouver.)

“If it’s what you want to do, don’t give up. That ‘if’ isn’t a small thing. If it’s REALLY what you want to do, you won’t care who you are in the business, because the business is telling stories. And if you can be a part of that in any way, how cool is that? I never thought I was going to write TV. Never. And yet here I am, courtesy of kindly giants — several of them Canadian.”

As for what he wants to get out of his time in Vancouver, that would be “to meet the mad and interesting, of course. Is there anything else?” With these Stanley Cup finals we’ve got mad covered, no question. So come on Vancouver, let’s bring the interesting.

For more information and to register:

Battle of the FOX iPhone applications: House versus Glee

Battle of the FOX iPhone applications: House versus Glee

In these early-ish days of cell phone applications, it’s easy to give points just for showing up. Remember the birth of the world wide web when sites were little more than the company brochure slapped online? If you had one, though – however rudimentary or animated-GIF-encrusted – you were part of a vanguard that revolutionized the Internet.

TV tie-in iPhone applications are still rare. Some day, House and Glee will be proud to be the animated GIFs of the app age. Today, they are the leading edge.

InHouse (Free)

This app looks cool, and has some nice touches, but after using it for a few weeks it seems as though it was rushed out the door with only hard-core fans in mind. That said, I’m not one anymore, yet it caters to the behind-the-scenes geek and former rabid fan in me.

Fresh episode-specific content is released Mondays at 8 pm to coincide with the show’s airtime. Fun and/or informative video interviews are offered in the Writers Room and Media Room (the latter featuring actors and crew members), and are the main source of my affection for this app. Actually, the app had me at Writers Room – I’m fascinated by that process and my fondest memories of my time writing about House are of interviewing the writers.

I enjoy some of the backstage photos under Dark Room, but many of them mean nothing to me. That non-actor walking on the studio lot? Is she a key grip? Gaffer? Other title I only know from watching credits?

The Music Room is slightly odd. Instead of a track listing, there is minimal information and an iTunes link to one or more “music considered for scenes” pages. If you actually want to know what song is playing when, I guess you can use Shazam (aka Best Application Ever).

[Alex Solether, Publicity & New Media director’s assistant for House, told me via Twitter that they’re looking into implementing photo captions and in-episode music, so perhaps they should have launched without the not-so-meaningful content.]

Free Clinic offers giveaways to US residents, and the Houseisms section is a small selection of quotes (presented via the most awkward navigation possible, but it looks cool).

Star Hugh Laurie is noticeably absent so far other than vocal snippets used to introduce each app section. (Writers Room = “Schmucks with laptops.” And while those bits are funny the first time, thankfully the app allows you to turn them off.) It’s not surprising that he’s got other things to do, but star power or the wow factor is what draws less-than-devout fans to content. I’m possibly not in the majority in thinking that writers are also stars of a show, or that interviews are a wow item.

Weekly “appisodes” launch May 24 when the show is on summer hiatus. Centred around Nurse Jeffrey (also known as Who?), the three-minute episodes promise to “explore the world of the hospital that exists beyond the regular characters.” Again, likely only die-hard fans – and not all of those – will end up watching Houseless House (or more to the point, No-Characters-You’ll-Recognize House).

More importantly, there’s nothing that uses iPhone functionality to make this a good match of form and function. There’s no social networking tie-ins, no community building, no user interaction. There’s nothing here that wouldn’t fit perfectly on, which has all those nifty things. And hey, that way iPhone users could have browsed a mobile site along with those plebeians who use Android devices or BlackBerries or – god help them – computers.

Glee (99 cents)

I almost called foul when I saw this was a paid app – come on, it’s marketing for a TV show – but it is cheap and you get a fun product beyond the marketing tie-in, so I’ve changed my tune. Pun intended.

The app has one simple purpose: karaoke. It allows you to sing along with songs from the Glee soundtrack. It’s preloaded with a few and new ones to purchase are added weekly. And just like those crazy kids on the show, your voice will benefit from the built-in pitch correction.

You can share your recording with the world, connect to Facebook, join a club of fellow users, or realize that no human ears should be subjected to your singing voice and delete. The best part? Listening to recordings by people from around the world who didn’t have the sense to pick that last option.

I’m not a gadget freak or an Apple disciple, but I got an iPhone because it was the fun choice. The Glee app understands fun. Not my kind of fun, mind you, but it’s a terrific blend of game, social networking, and show awareness … that nonetheless makes me want to throw my iPhone off the balcony. But that’s me. And if the audience for the House app is House freaks, the audience for the Glee app is Gleeks plus anyone who might want to sing karaoke. I’ve seen those inexplicably packed bars.

Glee gets major points off for offending my grammar geek sensibilities with a home page massacre of the “sing” past participle. (“Have you sang duet with Finn yet?” No but I have SUNG a duet with Finn.) But that’s not really a reason to withhold your 99 cents. I guess.

And the winner is …

Which app will I use the most? InHouse, no question. That’s an idiosyncratic choice. Should you get it? It’s free; if you don’t like it I’m sure they’ll give you your money back. There’s bound to be something that will catch your interest, though I’d put money on this app seeming quaint in the not too distant future, like those basically-a-brochure websites.

I sing horribly and don’t enjoy listening to others sing horribly and will never again use any karaoke-like app. However, for best use of the medium and reaching out to an audience beyond the highly devoted, I gotta go with Glee.

House Confirms TV Trend: “Normal’s Overrated”

House Confirms TV Trend: “Normal’s Overrated”

My first (mostly) House article for Blogcritics in forever includes interviews with two mental health professionals: the president of the American Psychiatric Association and a psychologist/psychotherapist:

House Confirms TV Trend: “Normal’s Overrated”

As the 2008-09 television season ends and networks begin to reveal plans for their 2009-10 schedules, a surprising pattern emerges.

Pilots in contention for the upcoming season include NBC’s Legally Mad, with Kristin Chenoweth as an attorney with flashes of psychosis, and FOX’s Maggie Hill, whose title character is a heart surgeon with schizophrenia. Canada’s Showcase recently ordered Shattered, a 13-episode series starring Callum Keith Rennie as an ex-detective with dissociative identity disorder.

Renewed freshmen series Fringe and 90210 feature main characters coping with psychiatric conditions. And among the more senior series, House led up to Monday’s season finale with a storyline involving suicide and Hugh Laurie’s dysfunctional doctor questioning his sanity after confronting his inner Cutthroat Bitch: Wilson’s dead girlfriend Amber appeared to him as a facet of his tormented psyche.

Read more.

Interview with director David Straiton

Interview with director David Straiton

For TV, eh?/Blogcritics I interviewed the director of Defying Gravity‘s first episode. He’s also a regular director of House, so there’s some House and Hugh Laurie talk, plus comparisons of US versus Canadian productions and his take on Vancouver as the appropriate filming location for the future-set series:

  • Defying Gravity Director David Straiton Looks To The Future
    “Set 50 years in the future, Defying Gravity has been called Grey’s Anatomy in space. It may also be Lost in space. But it’s definitely not Lost In Space. ‘Fifty years ago we didn’t have iPods or cell phones or Internet or ATMs, but we still had cars, we still had houses with four walls, we still had television,” said director David Straiton in a recent interview. “Fifity years from now, it’s not The Jetsons.’” Read more.

I guess I have an OK head for the Emmys

I meant to give the rundown of my Emmy prediction success earlier (and by success, I mean failure) but I’m only now coming out of the coma that embarrassingly bad ceremony put me in.

First, clearly I hoped Hugh Laurie would finally win, but all I can say about the overwrought people who are whining he was “robbed” is that they either haven’t seen Bryan Cranston’s performance or they have drunk too much of the House fandom Kool-Aid. Besides, since Laurie didn’t attend the ceremony, we would have been robbed of an acceptance speech, and while it’s all about the recognition, blah blah blah, it’s really all about the witty acceptance speech.

Anyway, out of 12 categories, I got 7 correct if you combine all 3 of my opportunities to guess (which you shouldn’t, but it sounds better if you do). My heart got 2/12, head got 6/12, random number generator got 3/12.

Heart: House
Head: Mad Men
Dice: Boston Legal
Actual: Mad Men (head gets it)

Drama Actor:
Heart: Hugh Laurie
Head: Jon Hamm
Dice: Gabriel Byrne
Actual: Bryan Cranston (didn’t get it, though I’d said he was amazing)

Drama Actress:
Heart: Glenn Close
Head: Glenn Close
Dice: Mariska Hargitay
Actual: Glenn Close (heart and head get it)

Drama Supporting Actor:
Heart: Michael Emerson
Head: John Slattery
Dice: Ted Danson
Actual: Zeljko Ivanek (didn’t get it)

Drama Supporting Actress:
Heart: Rachel Griffiths
Head: Sandra Oh
Dice: Sandra Oh
Actual: Dianne Wiest (didn’t get it)

Drama Writing:
Heart: The Wire
Head: Mad Men Pilot
Dice: Battlestar Galactica
Actual: Mad Men Pilot (head got it)

Comedy Series:
Heart: 30 Rock
Head: 30 Rock
Dice: 30 Rock
Actual: 30 Rock (got it, got it, got it)

Comedy Actor:
Heart: Lee Pace
Head: Alec Baldwin
Dice: Alec Baldwin
Actual: Alec Baldwin (head and dice got it)

Comedy Actress:
Heart: Christina Applegate
Head: Christina Applegate
Dice: Christina Applegate
Actual: Tina Fey (didn’t get it)

Comedy Supporting Actor:
Heart: Neil Patrick Harris
Head: Neil Patrick Harris
Dice: Jeremy Piven
Actual: Jeremy Piven (dice got it)

Comedy Supporting Actress:
Heart: Kristin Chenoweth
Head: Kristin Chenoweth
Dice: Vanessa Williams
Actual: Jean Smart (didn’t get it)

Comedy Writing:
Heart: Pushing Daisies
Head: 30 Rock – “Cooter”
Dice: 30 Rock – “Rosemary’s Baby”
Actual: 30 Rock – “Cooter” (head got it)