Ah irony. Here I am, supposed to be working on a screenplay for a contest, but instead I’m writing a column about television.
Since this is a debut column I don’t really know where I’m going with this. Mentally, I don’t have a format set in my head. I don’t know if I’m going to have gimmicks or running gags. I’m really not sure of too much, this is a brand new arena for me.
Since this is our first time together I guess I’ll open up about myself. Where to begin? Geez this is tougher than I thought it would be. Let’s start in college.
How I Became TV Mathan
My second year at Morgan State University had to fill up an English elective. As usual I went with the class that sounded the most interesting. For the life of me I can’t remember the name of the class, but I know that it was English 264. It was a class that taught the fundamentals of sitcom writing.
Y’see Morgan had a nice little deal with Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers would provided Morgan State with materials for a Writing for Television program, and the graduates of that program would (hopefully) work for Warner Brothers as writers. Seems pretty nice eh? Well it was just Warner Brothers attempt at minority recruiting; Morgan State University is a Historically Black University.
So anyway, I took the class because while exceeding expectations is cool, barely meeting them requires much less effort. Plus it seemed much easier than taking an actual lit course. But the day that I stepped into that class my life course was altered, or at least altered as much as a guy who had no real plan or goal in life could be altered.
I sat in that class and paid attention. Dr. Sedlak said, “from this day on you will no longer be able to watch or enjoy TV or movies like you did before.” Through the course of the class I learned the basics of screenwriting. I learned the terms, the breakdowns, how to write and what to write. I learned how to distinguish voices, how to choreograph a scene and how to create a story.
At the end of the semester Dr. Sedlak called me to her office and told me to keep writing because I had talent. Now, maybe she told every one of her students that, but she made me believe it. I ended up taking the majority of other courses in the Writing for Television program. All of the other instructors, Dr. Hall, Dr. Mehlinger, encouraged me to keep writing.
English 264 was perhaps the most satisfying and interesting class that I took in university, and it definitely helped shape who I am today.
Who am I? Well I’m still nobody, so I’ve clearly let my professors down. I’ve written some screenplays, but nothing’s been produced or sold. I’ve spoken to a couple of producers, but nothing has materialized. I’ve got plenty of ideas, but the entertainment industry really is about “who you know.”
But what Dr. Sedlak said about never being able to view TV and film the same was incredibly accurate. I can remember watching television before the class and thinking that it was predictable. But after the class I was rarely surprised. It made viewing a bore and made me obnoxious to people who were trying to enjoy a program. Eventually I learned to “turn off” that part of the brain, but that usually only works if I’m watching something that distracts me enough to leave it off.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. My taste isn’t that easy to narrow down. I suppose that I like character driven dramas like Homicide and The Shield as opposed to those that are story driven like Law & Order and C.S.I. But I don’t like them too character driven like O.C. or Dynasty. Ok that’s no completely true, because I’m diggin’ Six Feet Under. I warned you that this would be complex.
As for sitcoms, I’m not really a fan, anymore. It probably stems from the fact that comedy, by nature appeals to the most common denominator. There are some shows that I love like Seinfeld and The Simpsons. I’m currently enjoying Scrubs but the only reason I watch that is because my mom raved about it, as did a close cousin. Basically I’m not really accepting any new applications for sitcom viewing.
Come to think of it, I’ve really weaned myself from network television. I don’t watch too many shows on the networks. Maybe it’s the lack of profanity or the perceived sense of tameness that one gets from network television. Or maybe I still haven’t forgiven them for canceling The Ben Stiller Show, Homicide and Ed. Or perhaps it’s my disgust at their reliance upon reality programming. Whatever the reason the result is still the same.
FX has really impressed me with their programming. I for one enjoyed Lucky. But The Shield slayed me. I taped the first season and forced my roommate to watch them. Eventually she became hooked and a Tuesday night ritual was born. I tried to watch the first season of Nip/Tuck but I got bored Ã‚Â¾’s of the way through. I’ve caught every episode this season though, and while I’ve enjoyed the show for the most part I have one major complaint.
The show treats it’s viewers like they’re idiots. It’s frustrating to have every episode’s theme be as blatant as burning cross. Every Tuesday I complain that the show lacks subtlety. Dialogue wise the writing is great. But the writers seem to think that whatever the theme of the week is, needs to be forcefully portrayed, in a way that practially screams “see, this relates to the A story because they’re both about faith!”
The episode that is most guilty of this crime was the one where Shawn and Christian have to work on conjoined twins as their last surgery as partners (get it? Both the doctors and the patients are separating. Pretty subtle.)
But I keep watching the show because the like the drama, even if last week’s episode (featuring an out of character Christian, and Rebecca Gayheart proving that she can’t act) really disgusted me.
I’ve also grown to be a fan of HBO’s Sunday Night line up, in bits and pieces. But again, I have a complaint; Entourage.
I’ve been watching the show and for the most part I’m enjoying it. Some characters are annoying in a good way and some are just annoying. But it’s really only a half hour investment so where’s the harm?
I’m not going to blast it for being a thinly veiled attempt at replacing Sex in the City, but I am going to take it to task for it’s musical selections. Practially every song in the show is Hip Hop.
What’s the problem with that? Well, the cast isn’t predominately white, it’s Aryan Nation white. I understand that Hip Hop is the “cool” music, just like Jazz was in the 1920’s. But to have a show that’s all about hip and cool, and to use Black music, but have not Black characters reeks of exploitation. It’s like saying “yeah, Blacks dress cool, act cool, talk cool and sound cool, but you just don’t look cool.” I find that kind of offensive.
(Of course the argument could be made that the show is about power players in Hollywood, which would explain the absence of Blacks, but does anyone really want to open that can of worms?)
Speaking of Black faces on the small screen, I have to admit that while I’m not a fan of the reality programming I was kind of intrigued by the latest Real World offering on MTV. Y’see back when I lived in Baltimore I met some of the semifinalists for the current Real World cast. I interviewed them and got to know them a bit. So when I saw that MTV was promoting a new season, my interest was piqued.
I caught the preview where we get to meet the cast. Sadly none of the folks that I met made the cut. But I was really intrigued by the two Black cast members. I’m always fascinated by Black women who don’t date within their race, so they pretty much had me there. But then the introduction of the Black guy, who proclaimed that he didn’t have any white friends, and threatened a fellow housemate with talk of a revolution. Dude, I was so there.
Imagine my dismay when he came out in the first episode.
Now I don’t have a problem with yadda yadda yadda. Some of my friends happen to be blah blah blah. Whatever somebody chooses to do in his or her own yakkity smackity.
My problem is that you have two Black cast members; one who doesn’t like Black guys and one who does. Here I am expecting to get the second coming of Kevin Powell and I get Blaine. We aren’t talking Adibeisi (OZ) homosexual activity; we’re talking Keith (Six Feet Under) homosexual activity.
He’s not so much the Black voice that I wanted he’s the alternative to the flamboyant gay voice. I guess I felt cheated that I was going to miss him tearing into his housemate over her choosing to date white guys. Such is life. But is it too much to ask for a Black person who dates outside their race to be called a sellout in a reality program, after all that is the reality of the situation.
But really, that’s just my thoughts this week. Who knows what next week will bring.
Gee, I don’t really know how to end the column. Like I said, this is a work in progress. Things will evolve and perchance a final form will take shape.
But I do know that these all provide much better well rounded reads.
Coach begins his list of the 25 Greatest Characters in the past 25 years.
Ben Morse reviews a show that I may actually watch.
PK reviews a show that I wish I had seen.
Y’know what? The entire TV Zone is full of great reads. Explore every crevice.