Saturday, October 16, 2010

Nightmares and Hell.

I drove the 10 hours from Michigan to my parents' house yesterday. It was beautiful yesterday, and I made it in record time. I didn't tell anyone I was coming. It's nice to surprise people.

Unfortunately, all I dreamed about for the first half of the night was that I was driving through endless speed traps and past a plethora of police cars. Nothing like driving 600 miles only to dream about more driving when you finally get to sleep.

Deadline Hollywood broke a story about yet another Twitter to TV deal, "a comedy series based on Charlie McDowell's feed and Web site Dear Girls Above Me, about a single man who gains insight into the female mind by eavesdropping on his upstairs neighbors." This is CBS' third Twitter-based script order according to DH, along with Shh... Don't Tell Steve and $#*! My Dad Says. Dear Girls Above Me has gotten a script order to be cowritten by McDowell.

I hope this dies in development hell.

Look, I have no problem with web-based content being picked up for more traditional media, blogs turned to books, YouTube stars getting spots on talk shows, Twitters turned to TV shows [ok, that does sorta bug me]--if the content is any good. The $#*! My Dad Says feed is kinda funny. But I haven't bothered to watch the sitcom, so... Distribution is completely changing, and I'm not anti-progress. I think it's completely fair to "discover" talent online. And I wish McDowell continued success. But I do have some problems--

1. Just because you're internet popular doesn't mean you're Hollywood popular. McDowell may have a respectable following. I know if I ever broke a hundred followers I'd be thrilled, and he's near 35,000. Fine, I respect that. I respect that he's got a decent corner in the 140-characters of humor market. But if you make a TV show based on his Twitter feed and put it on network television--how are those 35,000 followers going to fair against competitors' programming? With Monday night football or The Big Bang Theory or Glee? How are you going to go from 35,000 to millions?

2. It's still a different format. A good writer is a good writer, true. I think all writing helps you improve your story craft. But the skills that go into making a Twitter feed funny are completely different than the ones that go into making a TV show funny. Networks do recognize that, I believe, which is why McDowell is only co-authoring the pilot and $#*! was mentored by sitcom veterans. However, just because something is funny in one format doesn't mean that it will translate effectively into another format.

3. Dear Girls Above Me isn't funny. I thought I'd check it out before I rail against it. It's not not funny. It's just not--anything special. And, I hate to be the humorless feminist in the room, but what a terrible portrayal of women. They are ignorant, self centered, and completely brainless. They're flat, one dimensional characters. Sometimes that works--Sue Sylvester from Glee was wonderful before they gave her the sister angle. But the way the Girls Above are depicted makes me cringe. Or, as one commenter at DH hypothesized, McDowell's going to inadvertently and unknowingly meet one of the Girls Above and fall in love with one of them. And that would just be tacky.

I don't think this is sexism on the part of the network because it works both ways. Shhh... Don't Tell Steve is about an idiot boy roommate. [I'd like to say people just being stupid isn't funny anyway, but the Jackass 3D box office proves me otherwise]. It still bothers me, and I think it's because men are continually drawn as fleshed out, full grown characters, but female characters regularly get slighted. Women are repeatedly depicted in TV and film not as characters but as plot points, foils, and objects of desire and ridicule. They do not exist except for how they are viewed and perceived by men. And that kind of characterization--not the one dimensionality--I strongly protest.

[EDIT: Elizabeth Banks posted this on her Twitter. I don't know where it came from, but it's fascinating. Not completely accurate, maybe--I'd argue some characters they don't list as being well developed as excellent examples of great characterization--but fascinating still. Female Character Flowchart.]

4. An audience? How many women do you think are going to be tuning into this show?

5. Really, CBS? All the material you get pitched and spec-ed and bombarded with and this is what you order? Now I just feel bad for all the talented television writers who just got screwed.

Speaking of people I feel pity for, as much as I love the Yankees, I feel kinda bad for the Rangers.

1 comment:

The Bitter Script Reader said...

I agree with points 1 and 2, I think it's a bit oversensitive to call the premise "sexist." I don't get the sense that the Twitter author thinks all women are as vapid as the girls above him. Speaking as someone who's had thin walls and REALLY stupid neighbors, the premise doesn't scream sexism to me.

If DGAM was instead about a man writing letters to every woman he meets about all the various ways they are inferior THEN it would be sexist. Instead his ire is directed at two such individuals (and idiots of either gender tend to run in packs) who just happen to live above him. It's not Charlie vs. womankind - it's Charlie vs. the co-occupants of his dwelling, who just happen to be women.

If it is a show where EVERY female character in every setting is equally vapid, then those railing against it might have a charge. At this point, we don't know enough to make that call. But it wouldn't be the first time that a sitcom used an execptionally dumb set of characters (both men and women) for the purposes of humor.

(And I think anyone expecting multidimensional characterizations from a Twitter account is asking for too much. One presumes that

Calling this sexist is like calling 30 Rock racist because the only black regular character is a moronic loon, and the recurring black characters have few "virtuous" traits. (You could argue Dot Com and Grizz are enablers, despite the few times they're the voice of reason, while Two-fer is a pompous blowhard who often goes out of his way to be difficult or take offense to the antics of the others.)

It's just the way I see it. Shouldn't we at least wait until a pilot script is written before we tag it as sexist?

That said, if "Shit My Dad Says" is any indication, adapting a Twitter feed is a dumb, dumb idea unless you can really flesh out the characters and the premise.