How to be a kick-ass writers’ assistant

It’s June, which means TV writers’ rooms for the next season are opening for business.  Most of the people in those rooms are veteran writers who (hopefully) need no advice.  A lucky few are first-time writers who will need a lot of advice, but they’ll get none from me.  (Y’all are on your own.*)  No, this post is for the other people who make their living in a TV writers’ room; the true, unsung heroes of television. The Writers’ Assistants.

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Anatomy of a TV Writers’ Room

449A4438One unexpected fruit of the internet: a million blogs dedicated to recapping every episode of every TV show currently on the air. Throw in all the people devoting their free time/lives to reexamining old episodes of Buffy, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Doctor Who, and you’ve got approximately 1 trillion web pages all devoted to one thing: Telling People What They Already Saw.

The AVClub, HitFix, TelevisionWithoutPity, and Entertainment Weekly — among countless other sites — have all figured out how to monetize the desperate need for TV addicts to have their opinions verified through consensus. No show is too small to be covered, no detail is too small to be obsessed over.  Thanks to the explosion of the TV echo-chamber, never before has so much attention been given to the process of making television.

And never before have so many people gotten it so wrong.

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Local L.A. Newscaster Or Porn Star?

If you’ve ever been to Los Angeles and turned on the TV at noon, 6, or 11pm, you might’ve noticed something “different” about the people delivering you the local news, sports, and weather.  Their lips are plumper. Their bods are buffer. Their boobs are much, much, larger. They frequently look like the porn version of what a local newscaster should look like.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s a quiz for you:

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No More Origin Stories

Henceforth, the following well-established characters no longer need to be shown how they become who they are:

  • Spider-Man
  • Batman
  • Superman
  • Green Lantern
  • Green Arrow
  • The Fantastic Four
  • All the X-Men
  • The Lone Ranger
  • The Phantom
  • Captain America
  • Thor
  • Iron Man
  • Iron Giant
  • Luke Skywalker
  • Anakin Skywalker
  • James T. Kirk
  • Spock
  • Willy Wonka
  • Indiana Jones
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Babe Ruth
  • Charles Foster Kane
  • Bane 
  • Harvey Dent
  • Catwoman
  • Pretty Woman
  • Jack Ryan
  • The Hulk
  • Hulk Hogan
  • Rocky
  • Rambo
  • Bambi
  • Godzilla
  • Scooby Doo
  • Yogi Bear
  • Bruce Lee
  • Bruce Almighty
  • Evan Almighty
  • The 40 Year Old Virgin
  • The Seventh Seal
  • Bill
  • Ted
  • Steve Jobs
  • JFK
  • RFK
  • FDR
  • ALF
  • Hal 9000
  • The Watchmen
  • The Wedding Crashers
  • The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Hobbit
  • Hitler
  • Black Hitler
  • Madea
  • Big Momma
  • Freddy Krueger
  • Jason
  • Michael Myers
  • Austin Powers
  • Dorothy
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The inmates of Oz
  • Franklin
  • Bash
  • James Bond
  • Jaws
  • Jesus
  • Underdog
  • Dog the Bounty Hunter
  • Boba Fett
  • Willy Wonka
  • Sarah Palin
  • Any fictional president who’s really just a veiled take on Bill Clinton
  • That guy who sawed off his own arm
  • The Punisher
  • The Terminator
  • John Connor
  • Sarah Connor
  • The Transformers
  • Mad Max
  • Maxwell Smart
  • E.T.
  • Nemo (the fish)
  • Kung Fu Panda
  • Oskar Schindler
  • Helen Keller
  • Mr. Magoo
  • The Alien from Alien
  • The Aliens from Aliens
  • Ellen Ripley
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley
  • Jason Bourne
  • Ethan Hunt
  • Rain Man
  • The Graduate
  • The Godfather
  • Robin Hood
  • King Arthur
  • Merlin
  • Houdini
  • Harry Potter
  • Burt Wonderstone
  • Snow White
  • The Fly
  • Marty McFly
  • Stuart Little
  • Robocop
  • Axel Foley
  • The Ghostbusters
  • Neo
  • Mulder
  • Scully
  • Josh Baskin
  • The Rocketeer
  • The family from Parenthood (the movie and both television shows)
  • The Odd Couple
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • The Mob Doctor
  • Darkman
  • Donnie Darko
  • William Shakespeare
  • Mozart
  • Beethoven (the dog)
  • Richard Nixon
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Blade
  • Dracula
  • Frankenstein
  • Young Frankenstein
  • Ben Stein
  • Bella
  • Edward
  • Jacob
  • Derek Zoolander
  • Paul Blart
  • Gumby
  • Judge Dredd
  • Swamp Thing
  • Tomb Raider
  • Sgt. Bilko
  • The A-Team
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Frank Abagnale, Jr.
  • The guy from the The Terminal
  • Anyone from G.I. Joe
  • Norman Bates
  • Dexter
  • Ebenezer Scrooge
  • Scrooge McDuck
  • Howard the Duck
  • Howard Hughes
  • Amelia Earhart
  • Supergirl
  • Charlie’s Angels
  • Liberace
  • Mark Zuckerberg

The following characters haven’t really had their origins explored on screen yet… but that’s okay.  Embrace the mystery.  Skip the origin story for them, too:

  • Han Solo
  • Hugh Hefner
  • Jack Bauer
  • John McClane
  • John McCain
  • Propeller guy from Titanic
  • The Fonz
  • The Golden Girls
  • Rapping Granny
  • Captain Hook
  • Grumpy Smurf
  • MacGuyver
  • Mary Poppins

The following is the entire list of pre-existing characters for whom it’s completely okay to retell their origin story:

  • Mighty Mouse

Could this have been the very first parody of The Mindy Project? From over 10 years ago?

Also discovered in an old Dartmouth Jack-o-Lantern: this parody of a comic strip in the campus newspaper circa the year 2000.  The actual strip was called “Badly Drawn Girl,” written and drawn by a student named Mindy Chokalingam. I wonder whatever happened to her…

Sort of Funny Girl

UPDATE: Point of clarification, the above was NOT written or drawn by Mindy. Sadly, I can’t remember which staff member came up with it…  I just thought it was interesting that her college comic strip (as characterized in this parody) bears some similarity to an excellent show currently airing on Fox…  Hmm…

UPDATE 2: Someone has created a tumblr featuring some of the original comic strips parodied here.

How does a techie/filmmaker/magician pop the big question?

How do you surprise someone who wants to be surprised?   That’s the problem I faced proposing to my girlfriend.  If I did anything out of the ordinary, she’d be suspicious.

I knew I wanted to do it around New Year’s — which would give us enough time to have a summer wedding — but as that day grew closer, I still found myself without any good ideas.  Should I use some of my old childhood magic skills to make the ring “appear” somewhere unexpected?  Should I use some tricks I learned in film school to do it with a heartfelt video?  At the time, I was just getting into the tech consulting biz.  Should I do something high tech?

Three days before my target date (Saturday, Jan. 1st), we went out for sushi.   My eyes kept wandering onto a TV in a corner of the restaurant.  And it hit me.  I pictured us sitting down to watch a Netflix movie at home.  Mid-way through the flick, a character would get down on one knee to propose to another, and that’s when I’d get up, walk to the TV, reach into the film, and pull the ring out of the movie world and into ours.  And then I’d propose with THE RING THAT WAS JUST IN THE MOVIE.   No way she’d see that coming.

I had no idea how I’d do it exactly, but I knew it’d require a little bit of magic, a little bit of filmmaking, and a little bit of techie know-how.  As soon as I got home, I started working on the following plan:

On Saturday, when I’m at her place, we’d get a disc in the mail from Netflix.  But what disc?  It’d have to be both a movie that’d realistically be on our Netflix cue, but also something with a half-decent proposal scene.  I rented a bunch of DVDs, scanned through a bunch of movies, and settled on…


Leap Year
, starring Amy Adams.  It was a romantic comedy that came out within the last year that neither of us saw in theaters, so it could realistically be on our Netflix cue.  It had a proposal-like scene in the 1st ten minutes.  Perfect.  I’m not going to wait two hours to do this thing.  Also, Melissa always falls asleep twenty minutes into every movie we sit down to watch together.  I mean always.  I had to beat the clock.

I’d rip open the envelope, pop the disc into the DVD player, and we’d sit back to watch the movie.  Ten minutes later, Amy Adams and Adam Scott would be on the TV, dining at a super-fancy restaurant, where Amy thinks Adam is going to propose to her (Spoiler Alert:  He’s not, but Melissa doesn’t know that).  So basically, their situation is the exact opposite of ours in every way.

Adam reaches into his pocket, pulls out a small jewelry box, and places it on the table.

Amy looks down at the box and lights up.  This is the moment her character has been waiting for her entire life.

And it’s at that exact moment the DVD will start to get glitchy…

After a moment of skipping, the DVD will freeze on the image of a jewelry box on a restaurant table.

Melissa will think the DVD is scratched.  I’d say “let me take a look at it.”

Then, as I reached behind the TV to “fix” it, Melissa will see…

…my hand and arm, reaching into the movie, grabbing the jewelry box, and pulling it out into the real world.

“I found the problem,” I’d tell her.  “This isn’t for Amy Adams.  It’s for you.”

At least that was the plan.  And for the most part, that’s how it went down.  Read on to find out how I did it, what went right, and what went wrong…

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Why didn’t Mark Zuckerberg sue the makers of the Social Network?

The Good Wife answered that question on Tuesday:  “Because such lawsuits are simply bound to fail thanks to a little something called the first amendment.”  But the episode went a step further: it showed what might happen if Zuckerberg did sue, and it even explored an area where he might actually have a winnable case.  The show’s handling of the subject was quite interesting, if not totally surprising:  The Good Wife has a history of wringing a surprising amount of drama out of routine legal procedures… you know, kinda like a certain best picture nominee.

10 Biggest Inaccuracies In The Aborted Kennedy Miniseries


It’s been a couple weeks since the History Channel abruptly decided to shelve its Kennedy miniseries starring Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes and still no other network has stepped in to pick it up.   Some believe the project was doomed by conservative bias while others cite too much dramatic license.  Here’s some of the most egregious errors:

1.  Kinnear insisted he could stay in character as JFK better if everyone called him “Greg” when the cameras were rolling.

2.  It turns out that Jackie Kennedy did NOT carry around a copy of Dianetics everywhere she went.

3.  There’s no way White House televisions in 1960 could’ve had access to the Fox News Channel.

4.  According to one historian, a sex scene lacked credibility not because there’s zero proof it happened, but because he could “totally see” Kinnear’s “cock sock.”

5.  The entire Kennedy administration wasn’t the dream of an autistic child.

6.  Probably not a good idea casting the guy who’s not good enough for Meg Ryan in “You’ve Got Mail” as one of history’s most desirable men.

7. RFK didn’t get the nickname “Bobby” because he had no arms or legs.

8.  Though it made for a more frightful climax, Lee Harvey Oswald and JFK were not roommates who met on Craigslist.

9. JFK’s actual inauguration speech spent far less time railing against Obamacare.

And the miniseries’s biggest factual fallacy…

10. Though filming the entire series in real time à la 24 was an interesting creative choice, it probably wasn’t a good idea to choose 8 hours where the Kennedy’s mostly slept.