Sunday, May 19, 2013

The 60th Anniversary Special

The WLIO 60th Anniversary Show is complete, and by now has been aired twice on two channels, and will air twice more next weekend. I haven't said much about this project because, while I am not a superstitious person, more than one writer warned me not to tempt fate by talking about the show until it aired. Well, it has been broadcast, but there may be more on the way. I'd like to see a DVD release with the "Director's Cut" extended version, or at least some bonus features that would let us include some things we had to leave out due to time constraints. And, there is talk of an actual book. (My writer friends are gasping at this moment. I am tempting fate.)

This was my first jab at documentary. Yes, there was a ton of research, but most of it was more like solving a mystery. Who were these people? Why did they do the things they did? Why did they stop? And there was a grand misconception I was able to bust. And thanks to some great interviews from Grover Blazer, Valaire Orchard, and George Dunster, I had the evidence to back it up.

Overall, it went well. But it was a learning experience. A fellow writer/radio producer once told me sometimes I might find myself in over my head. When that happens, do that best you can and learn from it. He was right, and while I wasn't exactly in over my head, this project was a biggie. So, I present to you...

Lessons I Learned While Writing and Producing My First TV Documentary

No matter how many times you tell yourself there will be changes, some things will have to be cut, something will be rewritten by a talent or director or who knows who... you will still mourn the darlings that were murdered.

You cut the Danny Thomas strip tease? You bastards!

They always cut the segment you thought was worthy of an Emmy. But they keep the part you put in for filler.

We had another act scheduled for this time, but the bear died.

About ten minutes after it airs, a viewer will call with a factual error.

Yes. Yes. The actual name of the show was "Pink Lady and Jeff." I will certainly  pass that along.

You should collect the interviews first and write to serve them, not the other way around. Still, because of research done prior to the interviews, it worked out well.

OK, Mr. Bratton, the shoes are nice... but you are NOT the Great Gatsby.

Television is a MOVING image medium. It just might be necessary to (gasp) recreate certain activities. Plan for that.

OK, so the tower erection sequence didn't go as planned. We can fix this with CGI, right?

Don't spend a week researching a tangent that will be the first thing cut in the editing.

Why is this lady dancing with a plant? Man, I miss the '60's.

If there's time, give a trial section of script to the air talent who will be reading it and have them record some audio. This will give you a sample of that person's vocal style. From that you can write the script to better suit that style.

Let's all go to the Kewpee, Paul!

And finally... You don't want total control. Especially in TV. If it gets lousy ratings you always blame the brass for "tinkering" with your "vision."

Come to me, Christine. Behold the music of the night. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Where Are You, Lois Lane?

Some time back I poked fun at how my wife was sorta-kinda depicted in the movie "Runaway Train." It was an example of how Hollywood - more accurately the writers, directors, and producers - take great liberties with real life in order to make a movie so middling you probably have to look up "Runaway Train" just to get this reference. In the credits, the character is listed as "Findlay Reporter."

My wife chased a train halfway across Ohio because it was her job, not out of any desire to "get the story." Oh yeah, she wanted the story, and she knew as long as the train was in rural Hardin County the story was hers to be had. About the only thrills or humor to come out of the whole thing was when she returned to the news room to hear somebody say, "I'm sorry. She can't come to the phone. She left to catch a train."

News reporters don't get a very accurate portrayal in movies or on TV, but then again neither do cops, lawyers, surgeons, and advertising executives. Still Neda Semnani's article on Hollywood's depiction of female reporters is worth a read and further thought. Her listing of fictional female reporters leaves out one important figure in our pop culture: Lois Lane. Sure, Lois is a product of the comic books, but by the 1950's she was every bit as much a television character as Lucy, an entire generation thinks of Lois Lane as she was portrayed by Margot Kidder in the movies.

Lois played an important part in those golden age Superman stories, she gave Superman somebody to rescue. In the very first Superman comic she also provided a little eye candy with the dress-strap-falling-off-the-shoulder look. She was more pneumatically enhanced in the early days, and her snubbing of Clark Kent could be downright frigid. Over the years, she warmed up, but remained a competitor to Clark. Her first depiction in Hollywood actually wasn't from Hollywood. Superman cartoons were produced during the WWII era by the Max Fleischer studio in Miami, Florida. I those adventures, Lois Lane fired a machine gun at a gang of thieves, flew a plane, and basically bullied into any dangerous situation so that Clark could say "This looks like a job for Superman."

It was a variation of the Perils of Pauline formula, but somehow I usually didn't detect the sexism that normally comes with that formula. In the first Superman animated cartoon, Clark admonishes the editor for sending Lois out alone to interview a mad scientist. "Don't you think that's a little dangerous?" You can almost hear the "for a woman" waiting to end that sentence, but it's not there. The fact is it was more than a little dangerous... for anyone. This is followed by Lois piloting her own plane to the mad scientist's lab. (Apparently, she looked up his address in the phone book under "Scientists, Mad.")

Lois Lane evolved with the times to become a consistent representation of the female journalist. I'll stop short of calling her a role model only because I assume most women actually want to avoid needing to be rescued from mad scientists. But she was an influence. In an era when a woman's choices beyond the kitchen were limited, Lois Lane was a career woman in a respected occupation.

So what happened? Why have female reporters in movies and on TV become fluffy airheads? Have scriptwriters grown lazy and simply go to the first thing they think of? Are there not enough female writers in Hollywood to set the record straight? Or could it be that in an era when Kathy Lee and Hoda fill an entire hour on "Today," when networks hire and give soft soap assignments to the daughters of former presidents' daughters who don't possess the voice over skills of even a small market rookie, and when anchors of once proud network news divisions prattle on with the latest unconfirmed rumor or something somebody said on Twitter during live coverage in Boston... maybe Hollywood isn't that far off.