Stuff To Read: My Email To The Office of The Writers Guild Of America East Supporting The Striking LO:CI Writers

Music To Get Psyched Up With ‘Let’s Turn It On’ by Freddie Mercury

Well the writers strike today in NYC picketed in front of Chelsea Piers, which is the home for the production offices for LO:CI, SVU and the mothership. Since I couldn’t just run up there and join the protests nor did I have time to send anything cool or useful to the strikers, I fired off this email to the WGA East. Hopefully it will encourage at least one writer or staffer to hang tough :)

To Whom It May Concern at the WGA East

I’m just one fan of a bunch of us out there in the big wide world of the work of the writers of Law & Order: Criminal Intent but since I know they will be striking later today at Chelsea Piers, I am hopeful that you’ll print out a copy of this email and pass it to the women and men of CI who will be walking the lines out in front of their production offices. I wish I lived closer as I’d be happy to walk the line with them or offer my support in any way possible, but since I live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and just found out about the strike location a few hours ago, that isn’t going to happen. So this note will have to do.

Thanks very much

Go WGA Writers!

November 7, 2007

Dear CI Writers (and any other CI production-involved people below the line or above it who happen to picket or support the strike at Chelsea Piers on November 7, 2007)

This is just a note of encouragement and support from one of many of CI’s fans who has been suspicious and concerned for many months that the AMPTP wouldn’t negotiate in good faith with the WGA and that all you writers would end up on strike.

Last season’s renewal negotiations I know were tough on everyone. CI was dropped by NBC and moved to USA Network which in retrospect has been a blessing in disguise. I also know that many of the above the line types from Vincent Katie and Chris on down to those of you who are more behind the scenes but still above the line didn’t get much-deserved pay raises they earned. Worse I understand that the below the lines folks actually took pay *cuts* to keep CI in production.

It has been wonderful to see CI flourish at USA Network to the extent that CI is now the #1 scripted drama on basic cable. The ratings are so good that if you were on a broadcast network, you would be beating the network pinheads at NBC who didn’t have the sense to either keep the show or promote and schedule it wisely in the first place!

It has been gratifying to see more people discovering and enjoying CI either through the syndicated episodes airing on Fox, the reruns on Bravo, or of course the heavily promoted original episodes on USA. And that’s just in the United States…you would not believe how many fans you have around the world and how fast the word is getting out about how great CI is — I’ve waited six seasons to see this happen and I am so thrilled for you all!

So you can imagine how heart-wrenching it is for me to hear that you will be striking with only 11 episodes completed. I am disappointed that the seventh season of CI may only be half as long as the other six seasons of CI were. And this from a show that in it’s first year was delayed due to the cataclysmic events of 9/11, then aired irregularly thanks to NBC’s scheduling whims and the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Know this…a bunch of us ‘old-timer’ fans stuck by you then and we’re still sticking by you now. None of us has a serious enough case of the seven year itch that we’d easily stop watching CI.

In the grand scheme of things, losing a few TV episodes isn’t all that tragic for us fans. But I worry for those on the CI staff who don’t have a lot of financial options. Some of them may be writers, some of them may be crew or production office staff. But everyone is striking in what I am convinced is a worsening economy. I worry about people who make CI episodes not being able to make mortgage or car payments or pay medical bills, their kids who might not have much of a Christmas, or the debt some of you might have to go into if the strike goes long or unfortunate things happen. You are taking a big risk and I worry it might not go well for everyone.

That said, I think you really don’t have a choice in the matter. I have been reading Nikki Finke’s website and yesterday’s blog post http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/deals-lies-backchannelling-why-this-is-a-bigger-mess-now-than-ever-before/

made me seeth with anger.

Lawyers like me have a word to describe the nature of the dealings between the WGA and the AMPTP: unconscionable. Bad faith doesn’t even begin to describe the way they’re negotiating even if only half of what Nikki Finke reported is true.

I also understand that someone has to set the precedent and take the AMPTP members out behind the woodshed in these negotiations to show them that the creatives in show business really do matter. In my few instances of representing music artists in contract negotiations with the music divisions of the same unconscionable corporations (they offer the same crappy contract provisions to bands and singers and musicians, only the faces you deal with are different), I found that at some point you just had to say no to the powers that be. They will overreach in every way possible and try to get as superior a position relative to you as they think they can get away with without making you walk away. So the WGA has called their bluff…the AMPTP can and must do better. Indentured servitude hasn’t been the law of the land since the Civil War.

What I am hoping will happen will be that the folks in the AMPTP will be wiser than the folks in the music divisions in the same companies and realize that the ignorance of a lot of bands singers and musicians won’t be repeated in these ‘new and future media’ clause negotiations. The stunts pulled then are well-known now in the entertainment law community and they won’t work. Trying to swindle the most literate and intellectually curious artists is always a dumb idea and is doomed to fail.

Moreover if the WGA fails, it will make it just that much harder for SAG, AFTRA, & DGA members in the near future to try and win some paltry share of the enormous revenue these companies generate from all your labors. And then you have to think of the non-union members of CI’s production team…if all of you successful above the line types can’t get an additional sliver of the revenue pie, what will happen to lowly production assistants and mail room types who don’t have the strength to even form a union? So you must negotiate not only for yourselves but for everyone on the CI team.

So as you are out there pounding the pavement for what seems like paltry pennies today, know that you do have some power and leverage and you would be foolish not to use it. The other side clearly can be defeated if the world knows just how grasping and greedily the AMPTP members are behaving.

Please be assured that the word is getting out about how the AMPTP isn’t negotiating in good faith. All you writers need to do is refuse to accept any contract provisions that are unfair, to let others know how AMPTP members are behaving and to resolve to not agree to anything but that which is reasonable. If we CI fans can be of any assistance in reaching your goals, do not hesitate to contact us…we would be pleased and honored to help you all as you need it. It’s the least we can do.

You should also know that CI fans are reaching out to other shows’s fans and we too are organizing online to support you and to resist the propaganda that ridiculously tries to pin the sins of the AMPTP on the WGA. While few fans are highly educated or wealthy, they have enough experience and instincts to spot when someone slick and rich is trying to hustle them.

Here are some places you can go online for information and support from the masses:

The CI Writers Strike Thread at the USA Network CI Fan Forum (yes we’re wasting the network’s bandwidth coming up with ways to help you counter their greed and stupidity)
http://forums.usanetwork.com/index.php?showtopic=394870&st=19

Fans For The WGA CI Forum
http://fansforwga.ipbfree.com/index.php?showtopic=18

WGA_Supporters LiveJournal Community (it’s a multi-authored blog representing many fandoms)
http://community.livejournal.com/wga_supporters/

Fans4Writers (started by Joss Whedon’s fans but soon to be populated by other fandoms)
http://fans4writers.org/

Fans For The WGA (which covers 19 different TV show fandoms at this writing)
http://fansforwga.ipbfree.com/index.php?act=idx

There will be other sites added (I am planning some blog posts to my own blog and I am sure that other CI, Vincent D’Onofrio. Kathryn Erbe, Chris Noth and Law & Order and Homicide: Life On The Street related groups will be joining up to support you soon)

I’ve also already picked out a red fleece pullover to wear today and will be following up on this story like white on rice.

Good luck to you with your picketing and take heart in the knowledge that you are gaining momentum out there amongst rank and file TV fans. CI fans and others are behind you and doing whatever we can think of to ensure you succeed!

With heartfelt gratitude for everyone who works on CI and for every TV show writer and screenwriter.

Stuff To Read: Why I’m Finally Going To Say Something Nice About Warren Leight

Music ‘One Day At A Time’ by The Knack

I know I bag on Warren Leight and the current crop of LO:CI writers pretty savagely and constantly lament the departure of Rene Balcer and his writing staff from LO:CI as a major turning point in the quality of my beloved show.

But I’ve got to hand it to Warren for really respecting the picket line and the WGA strike (even though it looks like once we hit the 11th episode of LO:CI this season a whole bunch of us are going to be jonesing for new Goren or Logan episodes).

As an intellectual property attorney who has seen the evil a ‘current or future media’ clause can visit upon an artist (this overreaching clause came from the music divisions of entertainment conglomerates and I saw more than a few artists suffer from not grasping its implications to their bottom lines), I say to the writers at LO:CI for goodness sake, strike hard against perpetual indentured servitude the MegaMediaCorporations(TM) Inc. want to imprison you in and all y’all deserve some revenue from the Internet downloading, the cell phone downloading as well as more than a pathetic four cents per DVD.

For the fans who are going to be going into withdrawal well may I remind them that back in 2001 the first season of LO:CI was delayed due to 9/11 and then all through the winter of 2002 we had to wait many many weeks to see new LO:CI episodes because of the nuisance of preemption by the 2002 Winter Olympics? Thanks to FOX syndication reruns, Bravo reruns, the first 3 seasons of LO:CI on DVD, Amazon downloads, plus whatever marathons USA Network chooses to run etc, well you won’t have to suffer as much as we dinosaur days fans did. You’ll live…trust me. Just take the hiatus one day at a time

Oh and huge kudos are going out to the LA Times for their WGA strike coverage and this article.

Warren Leight is grappling with his dual roles on LO:CI

“Grappling with his dual roles”
— Matea Gold LA Times Blog

“Warren Leight, executive producer and showrunner of USA’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” was wrestling with an issue facing many of his fellow showrunners on the picket line: how to juggle his competing duties as a writer and producer.

Last night, he finished one last tweak on the 10th episode of “Criminal Intent” and faxed it in right before the strike deadline. The script for Episode 11 is also done and will probably go into production before Thanksgiving. Though Leight won’t write another word until the strike is over, he may get called on for his input on editing and other responsibilities he has as a showrunner.

“I’m trying to figure it out,” said Leight, who says he won’t cross the picket line. “I think that’s a hugely complicated issue. I have to play every situation by ear. A lot of showrunners are grappling with that.”

Leight feels strongly that the writers were forced to strike. “They made us an offer we had to refuse,” he said of the studios. “My sense is they wanted it to come to this.

“In a sense, they managed to do the impossible: They brought writers together,” he added. “Look, it’s an ornery group. But we know what the stakes are. There’s remarkable unity between the guilds on both coasts, which has never been the case, and across different echelons of the guild. It’s unfortunate it’s come to this, but they’ve managed to create more unity in the writers guild than we’ve been able to do on our own in 30 years.”

Unlike the 1988 strike, this stoppage comes down to one clear issue for most writers, Leight said: “They know if they don’t stand up now out here, there will be no residuals in five to 10 years. It’s a one-issue strike.” ”

I don’t know how else I can support the striking writers except to say so right here on The Vault’s homepage and to maybe go rewatch VDO’s rants as the writer David Kahane in ‘The Player’ for inspiration (and ignoring the conclusion of the film). In real life the weasels of MegaMediaCorporations(TM) Inc. don’t always have to win.

If somebody wants to hook me up with a WGA T-shirt or a strike sign I’d happily accept them :)

Stuff To Watch: Some Thoughts On Law & Order: Criminal Intent Season 6: Some Advice For Its Creators

Music ‘When The Day Goes Down’ Acoustic Version By The Eurythmics (from the promotional only ‘Acoustic Eurythmics’ CD Sampler released in 1989)

Law & Order Criminal Intent has just finished a horrible season, an ‘annus horribilis’ or maybe more accurately a ‘tempestas horribilis’ and has moved from NBC to the USA Network. In order to make the move go more successfully and to make sure as many viewers as possible watch all future LO:CI episodes, USA just completed a marathon broadcasting of all of the episodes of the sixth season (stretched out over two weekends). So while this gesture of support made by the new network was appreciated, there are old issues pertaining to the sixth season that I feel compelled to address

I call this completed sixth season a horribly rough season because it involved a lot of changes in the creative team, which dictated a lot of changes in the creative decisions that went into making the shows and which affected both the characters and the fans relationships with them.

I won’t sugarcoat the fact that as a fan of LO:CI who was willing to watch the show from Day 1 Year 1 that the show I fell in love with was the Rene Balcer helmed version of LO:CI and that there were too many changes packed into too short a period of time with Season 6 to keep me as ecstatically happy as I was with Seasons 1-5. The characters suffered, the stories suffered and as a loyal fan I suffered along with it. But with the move to a new network and the start of a new seventh season, I have some advice for the creative powers behind the show and although it may be presumptuous on my part, I am acting as an advocate for a certain segment of loyal LO:CI viewers, viewers who may not be as clearly heard as they ought to be.

With much soul searching I have come to the conclusion that those who were responsible for LO:CI’s fall from grace (a ‘sixth year itch’ if you will) are a combination of the network, the production company and the writers. I am certain that NBC which is a floundering broadcast network stuck for the most part in last place in the ratings (which matter far more to advertisers and the shareholders of media companies than to your typical viewer) put the most detrimental pressure on the show to change. Broadcast networks have a long history of doing this fiddling with programming that works reasonably well creatively and artistically in an effort to capture *every* *last* viewer. This kind of narrow-minded thinking has decimated both the news and entertainment divisions of the broadcast networks, making them sacrifice serious, intelligent, steadfast viewers for viewers who are nothing like their core audience and probably never really will be won over as loyal viewers. The core audience however once it perceives it has been abandoned inevitably moves on…in the case of news to the Internet or in the case of entertainment programming to cable networks (and presumably in the future to Internet broadcasting). This is not an amicable parting of the ways as smart loyal viewers once burned generally don’t ever come back.

Getting LO:CI free of NBC, a network that is now helmed by a very immature programming executive who is hailed for his connections to crap celebrity culture that the vast majority of Americans don’t really think or care about and has dubious creative ideas (bringing back ‘Knight Rider’ but changing the car to be Transformer-like is his latest aspiration) was a crucial step for LO:CI’s survival. But it is going to be up to LO:CI’s writers to keep creeping network pinheadism in the name of higher ratings from further alienating LO:CI’s core audience to the point of no return.

To its credit, USA has an excellent track record with how it promotes its shows (heavily if not always accurately or cleverly) and to my knowledge has not imposed too many idiotic demands on its shows creators (one I am aware of is relocating ‘Burn Notice’ from Newark (as conceived by the show’s author) to Miami, presumably so that scantily clad young women and men could be used in a ploy to get ratings from young people…the show’s creative team very shrewdly minimized that sort of footage and didn’t dwell on it, choosing instead to make Miami into a kind of sight gag). But the ratings monster will demand to be fed no matter which network a show lives on and if the writers don’t hold the line, what makes LO:CI LO:CI will be lost.

One other area that concerns longtime LO:CI fans is what Wolf Studios may do. Dick Wolf is in the enviable position of not being dependent on any one of his brand of crime dramas for the majority of his income. Currently SVU pulls the best ratings and has the most recent award winners, while L&O is Wolf’s favored first born series and Wolf is more interested in capturing a longevity record for most consecutive L&O broadcasts rather than capturing the long term respect of viewers to come. The cast of LO:CI, no less deserving of accolades and raises didn’t get them this year and the below the line unsung heros — the LO:CI crew — in many cases took pay *cuts* to keep LO:CI going. As LO:CI is running third in the competition for Wolf’s affection, interest and resources, the writers need to be ready to stand up to potentially detrimental demands from Wolf Studios. I am certain that if the issues are mostly economic, there is some degree of cost containment that can be done and in fact this could improve the creative direction of LO:CI if necessity forces everyone to be more inventive. So I am less worried about how Wolf will influence LO:CI’s creative direction.

Now I come to the difficult area…the fans. Old school fans like myself have to some degree been placed at odds with newer fans, largely by the networks insatiable ratings growth demands and to a lesser degree to satisfying Wolf’s quest for increasing profitability of his shows. While we can accept that things change over the course of the production of a series — actors leave, writers seek to advance their salaries by taking on more roles than just writing, and networks and production companies want more money and ratings first, then some awards, and all for a decreasing investment — we longtimers have endured a lot of changes in a very short period of time.

To give you a fair analogy of this old timers overall evaluation of LO:CI Season 6 stands, think if you will for a moment about the brilliantly funny 1984 mockumentary movie ‘This Is Spinal Tap’. There is a scene in which the band’s lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (played by Christopher Guest) shows off his collection of guitars and stage equipment to the film’s director Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) that goes something like this:

“Nigel Tufnel: [pointing to a customized Marshall amplifier head unit] This is a top, to, uh, you know, what we use on stage, but it’s very, very special, because, if you can see…

Marty DiBergi: Yeah…

Nigel Tufnel: [pointing to the control dials] …the numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board: eleven, eleven, eleven, eleven…

Marty DiBergi: Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel: Exactly.

Marty DiBergi: Does that mean it’s louder? Is that any louder?

Nigel Tufnel: Well, it’s one louder, isn’t it? It’s not ten. You see, most… most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You’re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up… you’re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi: I don’t know…

Nigel Tufnel: …nowhere! Exactly! What we do is if we need that extra… push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel: …Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi: Why don’t you just make ten louder, and make ten be the top… number, and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel: [pause, blank look and snapping chewing gum] These go to eleven.”

While it is one thing for a band to “put it up to eleven” for the occasional solo or the big finale of the concert, it probably isn’t the brightest idea to set the amplifier and the volume as high as it will go and leave it there. It’s hard on the equipment, it’s hard on the musicians who can wind up with hearing loss and tinnitus and frankly it’s exhausting for the audience too and loses its desired impact if the maximum is sought for any significant length of time (probably more than five minutes in the context of music). And note that this scene doesn’t go on forever…nor is this joke repeatedly referred to…the concept is played for it’s optimal level of humor and then the story moves on rather than killing off the joke through overkill.

And now I’ll summarize LO:CI’s biggest problem in Season 6: certain elements of the show got permanently turned up to and stuck on eleven.

Before the change in creative direction, there were slower gentler less intense main character development arcs, a mostly indiscernable series evolution arc and well paced but interesting individual episode arcs. It is fair to say that Seasons 1-5 were somewhat formulaic, but the cases in each episode were more varied and the main characters were developed cautiously, thoughtfully and subtly. The cases investigated drove the character development and the crimes explored gave the guest characters interesting lives of their own. Also no one episode spent its entire 44-45 minutes at the absolute dramatic apex such that it foolishly squandered the energies of the guest characters, the series regulars or the audiences.

This all changed in Season 6. I can’t give a reason for certain as to why but my guess is that the ratings monster drove a lot of the radical creative departures.

Take the season opener for Goren and Eames “Blind Spot”: Goren reunites with his profiling mentor (and apparently his sole reliable father figure), sees his partner Eames kidnapped and tormented, is himself anguished by the prospect that not only has he outgrown his mentor, but that the man is really a bad father, that Goren should have somehow foreseen that the profiler’s daughter would become a serial killer, and that his new boss Ross hates and distrusts him. We also see that Ross is uneasy in his new role as the commander of the Major Case Squad, doesn’t understand that as a commander his job is management and not direct investigation, and is pushing Eames to ‘control’ her partner, the ‘overthinker’. Of course Eames is captive to this illogical Ross versus Goren conflict (and not to mention to the whims of a serial killer).

You can get away with running *all* of your characters on eleven for the entire length of *one* 45 minute episode, and to some extent trivilize the crime and investigative procedure that viewers expect from a show billed as a ‘crime drama’ or a ‘police procedural’ but you can’t make a habit of it.

So what happens to this investigative team in their second episode ‘Siren Call’? How about more irrational conflict between the boss and his detectives, the need for Eames to seek psychological counseling thanks to the previous case’s kidnapping, the revelation that Goren’s mother is dying of cancer and so his time and energy are spread thin amongst his investigative duties and his fillial piety, and oh yeah, we end with a seemingly preventable and gratuitous cop’s suicide witnessed by Goren, Eames, the cop’s remaining daughter (his other troubled stepdaughter was his very own homicide victim) and his terminal cancer stricken wife.

Stuck on eleven, I tell you. And for Goren and Eames and Ross we stay this way all the way to their season finale “Endgame”

Under the old regime logically, Goren and Eames would have been put on leave or desk duty and permitted to step away from the emotional brink, to have some catharsis (and through them some vicarious catharsis for the viewers). But this is not where the writers went (presumably because ‘high drama’ equals ‘high ratings’…a classic network pinheadism that needs to be shown up for what it is: a fallacy).

I find it utter unbelievable and reprehensible that most every case that came up for Goren and Eames to investigate generally had somewhere in the background a clueless, oblivious and/or delusional male who inflicted injury either deliberately or grossly negligantly on his spouse and/or his children. But ‘Blind Spot’, ‘Siren Call’, ‘Bedfellows’, ‘Masquerade’, ‘The War At Home’, ‘Privilege’, ‘Albatross’, ‘Brothers Keeper’, and ‘Rocketman’ all fit that pattern, a pattern that does a heck of a job angsting Goren indirectly and by association Eames and Ross and the viewers. As much as I disliked ‘Endgame’, at least the suffering was openly and directly inflicted upon Goren by the perpetrator, and frankly ‘Silencer’ becomes the exceptional episode where the source of familial distress leading to the motivation behind a crime is a female sibling who abandons her brother. Of course the case in ‘Silencer’ could also remind Goren of how he has been abandoned by his brother as their mother lies dying, but at least it’s a different kind of case with different emotional implications for Goren Eames and Ross. Still the writers beat the ‘bad family stuff’-as-criminal-motivation horse into oblivion. For ratings and new viewers. At the expense of old viewers, rational thought, good storytelling and giving the actors the chance to play more broadly and creatively with the scripts.

So what about LO:CI’s other investigative team Wheeler & Logan? Well here things are less a case of ‘Law & Order: Detective Angst’, but there is a case pattern into which the writters fell that frankly was also lazy and overdone. From their season opening case ‘Tru Love’ it was clear that Logan was going to be stuck playing the now ‘old guy’ detective who is utterly befuddled by modern culture and people under a certain age and needs his youthful partner Wheeler to explain it to him (as if poor Logan had suddenly and inexplicably lost his ability to think like a young person). While this could have been a rather pointed clever and amusing play on how as the young Detective Logan used to give his mothership partners Greevey, Ceretta and Briscoe grief and now had to take a bit of what he used to dish out, frankly it insults the intelligence, wisdom and intuitiveness that are rightfully Logan’s now that he is decidely ‘middle aged’. Whether it’s adult women stuck in adolescence (‘Tru Love’, ‘Bombshell’), the music business and rap/hip-hop culture (‘Country Crossover’, ‘Flipped’, ‘Players’), other youth media (‘Blasters’ Weeping Willow’ ‘Bombshell’) or the clash of the rise of homosexuality (‘Maltese Cross’), or multiculturalism and freer female heterosexuality (‘World’s Fair) against more traditional sexual and ethnic mores, Logan was often made to look unnecessarily dumb or helpless against young hip and improbably ‘always in the know’ Wheeler. The two exceptional cases ’30’ and ‘Renewal’ angsted Logan with the loss of a friendly career ally in the former and a potential romantic partner in the latter. And of course we had Ross interfering with the Logan and Wheeler led investigations as well, angsting Logan with his assertions that Logan is still in Ross’s eyes an ‘overreactor’ or a hothead while championing the unproven Wheeler. Talk about an unnecessary age war.

So here we long time fans are as befuddled and exhausted as our heroes. Now we surely are familiar with all of their inner conflicts and emotional issues but that came at the expense of the crimes and the cases. Some of them were too easy for us to solve and some of them we just didn’t really care who did it (although upon reflection we missed getting glimpses of criminality in all its myriad forms and with a variety of motivations that the ‘Criminal Intent’ name implies). It was something of a minor victory to still be watching a sixth season LO:CI episode at its conclusion, but it wasn’t a lot of fun or something that made you think much because you were overwhelmed by the emotional heroin of full metal melodrama.

So with the new network and the new season here is this fans small plea to the writers: dial back the emotionalism already. Pretty please, just simply give us all a break.

We have graciously let you into our most intimate and vulnerable spaces; our living rooms, bedrooms, media rooms…wherever there is a television, your characters have been given our permission to be eagerly welcomed guests in our homes. For six seasons we have largely enjoyed your company, chosen it over the company of other shows and other activities (most notably such as spending time with our families and friends). We are well invested in both what happens to the characters personally and what happens to them professionally and care about both the process *and* the outcome of each of the episode, series and character arcs. Our homes for the most part are supposed to be havens from a world that increasingly seems ‘stuck on eleven’ thanks to complex and difficult economic and political issues our country faces, the ever-increasing presence and dependence upon technology we as a society are confronting, and increasing change in just about everything you can imagine. Forgive us for sometimes wanting to take things a little slower and experience them less intensely but remember that we want you to entertain us with your stories, not exhaust us with drama kings and queens the way most other forms of media want us to. Intense feelings in characters are not unappreciated but not if to experience them we have to sacrifice the logic and quality of storytelling.

Running at eleven is simply not sustainable, certainly not for us old timers and most likely the new viewers will eventually burn out from the excess of spectacle and angst chosen over storytelling and progressive judicious familiarity with characters of depth rather than volume of feeling. We long time viewers have few ways to communicate this exhaustion directly to those in charge other than online or in old fashioned letters to production companies and more indirectly by changing the channel and not buying the products and services your artistic endeavors are meant to promote. As it is your typical viewer old or new is running all kinds of debts: too little time, constrained financial resources, being pulled in many directions by friends, family, community. We are willing to give something of ourselves to you in terms of time to work out these intense emotional phases for our main characters but not if you keep exceeding the limits of believability or the bounds of emotional restraint.

Let me give you one other piece of advice (and this goes for everyone on the creative team, not just the writers). Always remember that you are the professionals and we are the amateurs. If we all wanted to as fans, we all could write fan fiction which I can tell you from personal experience usually involves pushing characters’s emotions to eleven and often loses sight of context and good storytelling until you learn to do better. It is hard to restrain one’s self as an amateur writer, to learn about the dramatic arc of storytelling and follow the conventions set out by a genre and adhere to it rather than to indulge in flights of fancy and amuse one’s self to the exclusion of everyone else’s enjoyment. Whether you choose to read fan fiction or monitor online fan discussions of how the shows are progressing is your decision, but please don’t let yourselves be seduced into exchanging your visions of where the characters, crimes and series should go for ours. Not all of our ideas are good ones and you shouldn’t chase ratings or universal public love and approval or professional accolades through us. While your characters speak for victims living and dead, and their friends, families and loved ones, you ultimately speak for your characters, or more accurately, your characters speak through you to us. We don’t expect you to be perfect, but we do expect you to be the characters’ advocates, their champions. You don’t have to do everything we say we’d like you to do, just do the things that make sense for the characters and the stories. In the same way you would reject bizarre or inappropriate ideas from those above you like the network or the purse-string holders in production (or get creative when forced to labor under an idiotic edict), be strong and reject our silly and stupid notions and be true to your own artistic judgment. Even us stuck in the mud old timers can be brought around on many of your new ideas (not all of them as you have made mistakes too…welcome to the human race), but it is up to you to woo us back.

We are looking forward to being surprised and delighted…what a welcome change that would be from the larger world we live in. May you rise to the challenge, tackle it with aplomb and deliver television destined to become timeless entertainment.

Collecting Advice: Don’t Make This Mistake With A Collection

I am posting only briefly to say that I am minorly traumatized by recent events that happened in the actual physical location of The Vault.

Upon opening a giant (4 foot long, i.e. so big it had handle openings cut into its ends so it can be moved) cardboard footlocker-sized box of posters I have not looked in since 2003, I discovered the remains of what was a rodent ‘condominium development’. I say the remains, because the mice responsible were evicted well over 2 years ago (their food source was eliminated as soon as I became aware of their presence in the house). So I wasn’t confronted with any actual mice or their corpses.

What I did find were some destroyed posters, thoroughly chewed and shredded. Color me upset and mildly grossed out.

Most of the posters I lost were thankfully not VDO related…in fact the only posters like that affected were my 3 US single sided styles A B & C posters for ‘The Cell’. Thankfully these weren’t expensive posters and will not be hard to replace (in fact I will probably go ahead and spend a little extra for the double sided versions I had wanted in the first place). But the mess that had to be cleaned up was not fun and took me several days to straighten out. And I lost some of my other lesser movie posters and many promotional and concert music posters (from an earlier collecting phase) which I liked and was saving to get framed at some point so I’m kind of mourning their loss and frustrated that it was so easy for the mice to ruin them.

At least I had the good sense to store the most important and/or valuable posters inside thick walled poster tubes with plastic end caps…mice were unable to enter these at all. The posters either not in tubes or in a few cases in partially capped tubes towards the bottom of the box were the ones that got shredded into confetti. But I have definitely learned not to store anything “shreddable” and “organic” like paper or wool or cotton in cardboard boxes in the basement (the same mice destroyed a few sweaters of mine stored in cardboard wardrobe boxes, the kind you get from a moving company that have a metal pole from which you can hang hangers and the same offending handle openings cut into two of its sides).

I think what happens with the violated cardboard boxes is some of the mice enter through the handle holes, get stuck in the boxes and shred up anything between them and getting back out of the boxes. They all eventually figure out how to escape but they leave a lot of damage in the aftermath.

This not so subtle wake-up call prompted me to upgrade every kind of item I am storing related to VDO that will fit into the following nifty storage container made by Sterilite:

Sterilite Wheeled Footlocker

I have invested in 9 of them so far and have plans to buy at least one more (for VDO TV appearances and movies on DVD, VCD, VHS tapes and laserdiscs which are currently split between 2 18 gallon Rubbermaid tubs). Unlike the locker pictured in the photo, the ones I found are black with a white handle although they also come in a deep blue with a silver handle. They strike me as extremely rodent-proof, easy to move around and easy to store. They’re not exactly cheap, but they are easy to find in my area and give me piece of mind should critters decide to try and move into the house again (living in the country this is always a strong possibility). And transferring everything into what I think of as safer containers has made me better organize and catalog what I have. So this is something of a blessing in disguise. I just wish these had existed when I started collecting…they would have saved me some grief (but then so would me packing away the posters more carefully in the first place).

I still need to find something more suited to posters that are more than 4′ in their smallest dimension (things like banners and subway sized posters) but I have some ideas about how to better protect those than with only capped cardboard tubes stacked on their ends in lidless plastic Rubbermaid tubs.

So I and the stuff are going to be okay. In the relative scheme of things, it’s not that big of a deal and it could have been worse. And 99.8% of my VDO stuff is unaffected although it’s been eye opening to find that I needed to get so many of these footlockers to house 6+ years worth of collecting efforts.

Still I don’t understand why the mice picked my collection to shred when they could have done the same to papers stored in cardboard boxes with handle holes…those they left untouched…go figure.


Music “Don’t Ask Me Why” Acoustic Version by The Eurythmics (from the promotional only ‘Acoustic Eurythmics’ CD Sampler released in 1989)

Wow! VDO Vault Celebrates 36,000 Hits on VDO Photos on Flickr.com

Some of you out there must really be bored and/or like looking at VDO-related pictures on Flickr.

As of sometime during the morning of Tuesday August 14th 2007, the VDO Vault photo account at Flickr.com reached over 36,000 hits. This is a pretty big landmark considering the 35,000 mark was passed less than two weeks earlier.

This means that since I started a Flickr account back in January of 2005, approximately 2000 visits each month are registered there of people looking at photos of the collection. That works out to something over 60 views a day.

I don’t really pay close attention to the numbers of people visiting this blog, the audio files I maintain at musicwebtown.com or the videos I have posted to YouTube. This is probably because Flickr makes it comparatively easy for me to keep track of page views there (everytime I log in I see the statistics). But they are high enough that I figure someone other than me is amusing themselves with what I do. So I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and keep somebody besides myself pre-occupied.

Anyway yesterday in honor of the 36,000 milestone, I posted a several more photos of Japanese items in my collection. There is one whole new set of items to look at: Japanese movie programs (or more correctly their covers). That brings the total number of photos you can browse at Flickr to 938. If I get a little more motivated this month, I might shoot for bringing that total number of photos up to 1,000 (or more). Since it is summer though and most everyone is spending time outside, I have slowed up a bit, well, that and I have been staking my claim to some more Web 2.0 real estate for the VDO Vault ‘brand’ as well as vegging out a bit and enjoying the weather.

And FYI there’s been another 150 hits in one day at Flickr even though I’ve been really slow to get this blog entry written and posted!

Music to goof off by: ‘Foolin’ Around’ by Freddie Mercury

This Photo Is A Bit Old But…

…it will have to do for today while I regroup and work on kind of a broad sweeping blog post. Thanks to Ethan Hawke and whomever had the brilliant idea of giving him a camera to mess around with while he was shooting ‘The Newton Boys’

Given how I have felt more than a little like this (overwhelmed and eager to hide) lately:

What is it with everyone on the web wanting everything and wanting it right this minute just like that awful little bratty Veruca Salt character in “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory”?!?!

You might say I’m crazy to feel this way, but this morning while I was taking a break from organizing a big blog post and uploading a couple of new photo sets to Flickr, I happened to watch AMC’s ‘Sunday Morning Shootout’ and the industry guest of the two Peters (Bart and Guber) was none other than Variety’s Anne Thompson who is now writing a blog at Variety’s website called ‘Thompson On Hollywood’.

Thompson was making the point that for professional journalists they find themselves having to rush even faster to get stories out first. In her case, sometimes that means she blogs something before a fellow journalist who is also set to do in-depth coverage on the same event finishes their story and files it.

To Thompson, it also means “live blogging” which strikes me as the same sort of thing that happens on the TV news with a “breaking story”. On TV this means you get to watch a bunch of people from the news division basically interrupt everything scheduled to say things like “we think there’s something going on, we’ll tell you what little we know whether or not it’s true and no we haven’t wasted precious time checking it out, and then we’ll just keep on babbling like idiots so that you don’t change the channel and so that later some other channel can claim that they were ‘first’ to report the story, so pretty please don’t touch that remote, okay?”

I want someone to please tell me how this is going to work in what is mostly a type-written medium?!?!

Are we going to see pages on web sites and blog posts full of typos, bad writing, etc or are these people just going to put something like little YouTube videos that say the same useless things the TV news talking heads and pundits say all over the Internet?

When did legitimate journalists stop caring about being the ‘best’ (ie telling a complete, factually accurate and useful story) and start caring about being ‘first’? And why are people who get their information online letting this sort of crap journalism take over here? If I want to watch a shitty excuse for a news story I can always go turn on my TV, thanks.

Do we really need to sacrifice usefulness for speed?

Oh well rant over. The photos I added at Flickr today are primarily photos of books that have been adapted into various movies with VDO in them. I am happy to say that I have taken the time out to actually read almost all of them (I need to read Malcolm X’s autobiography)

Music from the pre Web overload era (to remind me and everyone to slow down and enjoy the speed of life a little):

‘Switchboard Susan’ by Nick Lowe

I’m Just Not Sure What To Believe Or Think Other Than Maybe I Should Watch Even *Less* TV

This post is kind of a thought piece and is only very tangentially related to VDO so you might want to move on if you’re were hoping for something more on point.

Last night ABC TV’s (in the USA) Primetime aired a piece on the actor Daniel Baldwin and his latest attempt to rehabilitate himself from his apparently very long-term addiction to cocaine. For whatever reasons, Daniel let the ABC cameras be turned on him while he spent several months in a $50,000 a month rehabilitation facility in Malibu California and also while he went through various criminal court proceedings on drug-related charges as well as him going on a movie location shoot. The ABC report also delved into his relationships with his family a little bit, especially mentioning Daniel’s also famous actor brothers.

For those who don’t know who Daniel is, he was one of the stars of the highly-regarded US TV series ‘Homicide: Life On The Street’. Daniel played Detective Beau Felton and left the show well before VDO did his Emmy-nominated guest appearance in the H:LOTS episode ‘The Subway’.

Felton was not a very popular character on Homicide. He was not meant to be pretty or brilliant or particularly likeable. But Daniel played Felton well, figuring out how to balance Felton’s repellant qualities and the character’s downward spiral with a sprinkling of humanity that would cause you to soften your initial negative judgment of his worth. That certainly takes some skill on the part of an actor and Daniel Baldwin proved he had the talent to find just the way to play that character.

I for one learned to like the Felton character enough to write a short piece of fan fiction a few years ago that would allow me to combine the Felton character and that of Ned Beatty’s perfectly archetypical cop Detective Stanley Bolander with Detectives Goren and Eames of Criminal Intent fame and play around with some ideas I had into what has turned out to be a not utterly embarassing piece of writing that lingers on the ‘net in the archive of the excellent peer-reviewed fan fiction site Apocrypha (for those who care to read it see “What It Feels Like For A Girl”).

Frankly of the four established characters I was writing for, Felton was the most difficult to make believable and consistent with what most Homicide fans would know about him and yet not appear as a simple strawman or too stereotypically the ‘bad boyish cop’. I don’t think I succeeded totally capturing the complexities of Felton but at some point you have to put an end to a story for it to be published. So you could say I carried the idea of Felton and my conceptions about around in my head for quite some time.

So it was with more than a little interest that I tuned into watch the Daniel Baldwin piece.

In that story I wrote of Felton:

“The younger man is somewhat burly and boyishly attractive, but Goren notes that excess is taking its toll on those inherent good looks and prematurely aging the man”.

You can imagine that my description pretty much fits Daniel Baldwin the man as much as and maybe more so than it fits Felton, especially as he appeared before ABC’s cameras.

At this point in the Primetime show I was utterly hooked into watching in the same way that I was initially hooked into watching VDO’s film ‘Guy’, the story of a relatively ordinary and average man who lets a strange woman filmmaker turn the camera on him to make her next movie. ‘Guy’ to me is a watershed moment in filmmaking not only because it predicts the rise of ‘reality’ television in our culture but because it plays around with the idea that the act of turning a camera on someone causes them to alter their personality and become someone other than they normally would be. Maybe this isn’t acting in the professional sense of the word but it could be called posing or persona building.

The thing that makes a movie like ‘Guy’ different from a ‘reality’ program like Primetime is that it is 100% clear to me that ‘Guy’ is a character being made by Vincent D’Onofrio and being masterfully fashioned into an utterly average guy trying to figure out on the fly who to be before a camera and in the process not only distorting his own identity but how he relates to the films few other characters. I can’t say enough good things about how brilliant D’Onofrio’s performance in ‘Guy’ is, how I am haunted by it when I think of it and how I find much more to thoughtfully consider in it every time I actually watch the film.

Anyhow the ‘Daniel Baldwin’ in front of the Primetime camera struck me as less of a real person and more of a character like ‘Guy’ as the camera rolled on. The TV program does give some glimpses of a person in real pain but there are also moments when we see Daniel trying out being an actor, trying out being a contrite defendant, trying out being a part of a family, trying out being religious. You are left at the end of the hour wondering how much of what you saw was due to drugs, how much was due to his fear of being incarcerated, how much was an actor trying to suss out what his audience wanted at any given moment and how much was the actual human being underneath all of the layered-on roles.

I looked at the comments on Primetime’s website after the broadcast and found that the comments about ‘Daniel Baldwin’ were very mixed but one comment lead me to what is purported to be Daniel’s MySpace page. I found the possibility of ‘Daniel Baldwin’ having a MySpace page both intriguing and repellant.

I should mention that a few years ago after an experience I had online at a Yahoo! group purporting to have had the actual Vincent D’Onofrio as one of its members that my opinion of celebrities who venture online into public fora and with no intermediation from others is inclined to be negative and mistrusting. You can read about my experiences elsewhere on my blog if you choose to (just search on ‘DASH’).

But given my viceral reaction to the similarities of Felton as I envisioned the character and the ‘Daniel Baldwin’ of Primetime, I felt compelled to go to the MySpace page. I went there not taking for granted the fact that the page’s author might not be the actor I have seen on fictional or ‘reality’ TV.

I have read every entry at ‘Daniel’s’ blog at MySpace and I can say that I am now more thoroughly concerned confused and repelled by what I saw. Again ‘DB’ or ‘Deebs’ as the author calls himself is by turns misogynistic, angry, despairing, flippant, profane, insecure, self-absorbed, meek, playful, despondent, conflicted and contradicts much of what was said in the Primetime program. If anything “Deebs” is far more villainous, self-destructive and frightening to me than I would have imagined the character Felton to be (and if you read my story you will see that I only have the Felton character drinking heavily, hitting on women while he is still married, and utilitizing the services of a prostitute). That confuses and bothers me in a way I cannot adequately express but I also accept that it is not up to me to do anything about it other than to not encourage “Deebs” to make a spectacle of himself.

If I were his lawyer I would demand that the MySpace page be taken down: If it is *the* Daniel Baldwin writing the page there are admissions that could be used against him in court (not to mention calls into question what was said before Primetime’s cameras) and if it isn’t some of what is said potentially defames a whole panoply of people. But the one thing that seeps through the entire MySpace blog is that there is a troubled person behind the writings even though the medium of a MySpace page further distorts the true identity of the author and may pile on some more roles, poses and personas that have to be stripped away from who ‘Daniel Baldwin’ and/or ‘Deebs’ truly is/are.

I only know that whoever all these people may be, they are beyond my very limited capacity to help them. I also have confirmed why as a rule I choose not to watch ‘reality’ television. Unlike my experience of the film ‘Guy’ where I know I am dealing with an invented premise and characters, with ‘reality’ programming, I don’t believe the picture represents reality anymore than Salvador Dali painted with absolute fidelity the world around us. If I want to ponder alternate realities I can choose a good piece of fiction like a Phillip K. Dick story or I can daydream.

But I fear for a world where this sort of ‘reality’ television and unfettered access to the well-known via the Internet is considered to be a healthy diversion or a legitimate form of entertainment.

Anyway if ‘Deebs’ or his people should stumble upon this blog post this song is for you and all the complexity within and around you. I hope for your sake and for those who know and love you that you have an ending at least as upbeat as the one Primetime wanted to attach to its report on you. I also hope that with what you’ve done on TV and online that if you can’t redeem yourself, you help one other person who is similarly situated.

Music: ‘The Beast In Me’ by Nick Lowe