I’ve done a lot of posts about TV writing. But this is a post about the before… the writing I did when I was still learning how to write TV and hoping someone would pay me to do it someday.

Before I even knew it had a name I was writing fanfic. I filled notebooks with stories about my favorite characters from soap operas and prime-time shows, weaving the stories I wanted to see that had never been told by the writers who made me fall in love with said shows.

Once I learned what fanfic was officially called (from an article about the “Star Trek” fandom) well, then I knew that I was writing it. And thanks to the Internet, I had a way to post it and see if other people liked it. To my great surprise, some folks did, and so I kept writing it. And writing it. And writing it.

Oh, did I ever keep writing it.

I wrote a lot of other things, of course – because when you want to be a TV writer, you have very specific things you must be writing, like TV specs and pilots. Lots of TV specs and pilots. But whenever I got stuck or frustrated or just couldn’t make myself stare at a script page for another second, there was always fanfic to go back to.

My first big fandom was “The Pretender.” I was all about some Jarod and Miss Parker and if Steve and Craig were going to hold out on me FOREVER (I love you guys, but for real!), then I was going to write a hundred different scenarios wherein my favorite genius and my favorite badass ended up together.

Next, there was “General Hospital.” In truth, GH was technically first because I hand wrote a ton of stories in those notebooks about GH (Brenda Barrett epics, y’all) that have long since met their end during one of my mom’s spring cleaning frenzies. But in my official days as a fanfic writer, GH took up a lot of my time. A LOT of my time. I wrote mostly Sonny and Alexis fics, but also Cassadine family stories and more Brenda stories (Brenda and Jason, you guys… BRASON FOREVER!) – and then there was my other favorite Alexis pairing – Alexis and Jax. There are all kinds of other random little stories and one shots of things that caught my attention, but 90% of it is easily Sonny and Alexis.

And then there came my deep dive into the “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Private Practice” fandom. I consider them one and the same because I got into both shows for the same reason – one Addison Montgomery, legendary kickass surgeon in Jimmy Choos. I wrote Addison winning Derek Shepherd back. I wrote her making it work with Mark Sloan. I wrote her falling for Alex Karev. I wrote her with Pete and with Sam and with Wyatt and Noah. I even wrote her with Burke and the bomb guy (yes, The Kyle Chandler bomb guy.) Because Addison was this amazing woman who just wanted to be forgiven for not being perfect. And really… isn’t that what we all want?

There are for sure some other random stories from other fandoms, but these were the ones that sucked up the majority of my time.

When I became a working TV writer, I pulled all my fanfic down where I was able to because I was worried people would think it was weird or cheesy. Would think I was too much of a fangirl to be taken seriously. And then one day I mentioned it casually to another writer who admitted she had written some fic, too — and she was impressed with the sheer volume of stories I had written. And then I started talking about it more, and finally what the reaction I really got from people was “That’s so cool! I bet you learned a lot doing that” I stopped acting like it was a secret shame — and the truth is, I really did learn a lot from writing all those stories.

— I learned how to write for my whole audience. There are characters in my fics that are characters I absolutely hated on the show, but I couldn’t write them like I hated them. I had to write them for the people who watch the shows. Not to say that there aren’t a few fics in my collection where I didn’t take a swipe or two, but I quickly learned that meant I was alienating some readers. So to the best of my ability, I tried to write those characters fairly. And it was a great lesson. Because any writer who writes TV who tells you they love every character they’ve ever written equally is lying to you. Sometimes there are just a few who don’t resonate for you the same way as others. But you have to write them for the audience that loves your show. That’s your job. So practicing that in fanfic came in very handy.

— I learned that I have a type when it comes to the female characters that often pull my attention the most on a show – tough as nails, often deeply misunderstood, with demons that lead them to make painful mistakes, but who will sacrifice themselves in a heartbeat for someone they love. This is pretty evident in my pilots. They are script worlds built around women that definitely fit the description above.

— I learned a lot about problem solving. I wrote one of my most popular fanfics on a regular schedule… posted a chapter every Friday or Saturday night over a couple of months. In this particular fandom, friends would message me asking when I was going to be ready to post… so the pressure was pretty intense. And if I was stuck on a story point or a line of dialogue, well… the clock was ticking. So I learned a bit about something being “good enough” to meet a deadline. How not to be too precious with every last word and just get the damn thing done. Because that’s a lot of what TV writing is… just getting it done. You want it to be good – great – brilliant, always, but sometimes it is literally just about turning it around to get a script distributed by a certain time – so “good enough” has to do.

In my most recent writers room, several conversations about my fanfic writing led to a declaration that I should repost it all. Then I looked at how much I have. Guys, I’d need to hire an assistant just to post fanfic if all of it was getting reposted, so that is probably not happening. But I will post some of my greatest hits here on the blog as I have time to assemble them.

But here is what I’m not going to do as I repost these stories:

— I am not going to rewrite them. Not even proofing them. You get them as is, typos, formatting issues, and all. Because the point isn’t to pretend like they aren’t chock full of mistakes. The point is that I wrote and kept writing and got better as I did, and that’s why they’re still worth something to me. Each of these stories is a building block to the writer I have become, so whatever they are or were, they have value to me. The mistakes are part of that. My need to make a proofing pass just to see if I used the same word too many times in a script? I figured out that bad habit writing fanfic. And the subtle difference between reusing a line or phrase for effect and just being repetitive? I learned that from writing fanfic, too. So other than copying and pasting separate chapters into one PDF file, you’re getting what the original readers got.

— I am not going to shy away from things that, looking back now, make me roll my eyes at myself. You will see that baby writer Niceole loved her some cliched phrases like “Make love to me” and “You are the love of my life” and so on and so on. Some of my “love scenes” are so trashy romance novel in style that I honestly should have probably tried to write a romance or two back in the day… and my obsession with happy endings is rarely disrupted (though I did write a “Pretender” story once that had people ready to yell at me because it most definitely did not have a happy ending).

— I am not going to change the ridiculously pretentious names of some of these fics. Oy! I have learned a lot about titles since way back, let me tell you. But they are called what they’re called, so… laugh away.

With those rules in place, here’s the first fic I’m reposting – the Destiny Series. It’s a very early one from my “Pretender” days, set just after the season three finale when Miss Parker got shot and I had a lot of time over the summer to obsess about what should happen when the show came back. For those who don’t remember, season three was basically the season of massive Miss Parker heartbreak because she fell in love with Thomas Gates, and then he got murdered, and then she got shot by Willie Gault, and basically my girl couldn’t catch a break.

It’s long, y’all. Most of them will be. So if you’re brave or curious enough… the file is attached.

More to come…

Destiny Series Whole File

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A wonderful writer I know, Ken LaZebnik, who helped found the MFA in TV and Screenwriting at Stephens College, invited me to speak at the graduate level commencement ceremony that would mark the culmination of the program’s first class. I had met these students during their first year, speaking on a panel, and I accepted the chance to celebrate their major accomplishment with them. It was an extra-special opportunity to share some of my personal experiences as a female working in the entertainment business at Stephens, which is an all-women’s college (though the master’s program does admit men as well).

As you’ll see in the text below, I found the task of coming up with something to say a bit daunting at first. And I was a nervous wreck when speech time came! But I was moved by the response of the students and so grateful to be a part of their shared experience, and I will always be happy I made the trip to Columbia, MO, for that beautiful day in May.

A few people have asked to read the speech, so I finally just decided to post it here… for what it’s worth to anyone else who might find some use in it.

Congratulations again to the Stephens graduates. They are going to do the world proud!

_____

Hello. Congratulations to all of you, and thank you for letting me be a part of this important day in your lives.  I’ll be honest – when I was invited to give this speech my first thought was, “am I grown-up enough to tell anyone anything about what comes next?” I mean, my collection of Marvel Pop figures and comics and my obsession with “Agents of SHIELD,” would make you argue that I definitely am not. And I was a little afraid when I sat down to write this, feeling an intense doubt that I had anything to say that might matter to you.

As a writer by trade, my career-centered fear often manifests itself in “oh, no, what if I have nothing to write this time!” When I am in that place, I take the advice a good friend gave me… remind yourself you’ve done it before. So I re-read a blog I posted, hoping to inspire new writers the way others have inspired me. I happened upon this bit I had written and knew I wanted to share it with you.  It was meant to give some perspective to diverse writers… but the truth is, it applies to women, in all workplaces, just as perfectly.

In fact, in my industry, where there is so much talk about bringing diversity in front of and behind the camera, the truth is… being a woman has always been a bigger deal than my being black. If you don’t believe it, look at how few female showrunners and directors there are in TV. That is a sad state of reality in many industries, not just entertainment. Wrestling with that reality and your response to it is something you can’t avoid as you embark on your careers. And so this is the thing I wrote, for what it’s worth:

You will meet people who will see you as less than, who will think you only got the job because you fill a quota. They won’t know anything about you… they won’t know about how you worked graveyard shifts to put yourself through college and how you took responsibility for and pay thousands of dollars in student loans because your education was that important to you…

they won’t know that you wrote till 3 a.m. on weeknights and all weekend long around day jobs because that was all the time you had and you knew you had to write to be a writer… they won’t know about the twelve specs and six pilots and the dozen short stories you wrote to prepare yourself when opportunity came…

they won’t know about the literally thousands of pages you wrote that no one will ever see because they were never about making money. Their value was in making you a better writer. They won’t know these things about you… but you will. And you will show them that you earned your job by being the best you that you can be… by proving that you belong, no matter what they think. (That’s the end of the thing).

I wish I could stand here and tell you that your gender won’t matter. But it will. There is this thing I refer to as the “assumption of greatness” that follows most men into the workplace. “He got the job; of course he can do it.”

But for women, it’s somehow always a pleasant surprise when we’re amazing at the jobs we were hired to do. Have you been there? Where you could almost see the thought bubble over someone’s head thinking, “Wow, you’re pretty great at this for a girl”?  I know I have.

So as infuriating as it is, your gender will matter. Your race will matter. It’s okay to be angry about it. But you should also embrace it. Accept it. Then be who you are. Be the person that you are in the deepest levels of your gut and your heart.

Be the person your soul aches to be.

And know that most of what you need to be that person and live in her skin – those are the same tools you’ve used to get to this day, right here… graduating with a degree that you worked your butts off to get despite every obstacle that tried to derail you.

I came from a military family. Spent years surrounded by the sailors and soldiers who made up my parents’ circle of friends. Some of what I learned was about following orders and the importance of doing your duty. But I also picked up invaluable lessons in reading a room, understanding people, and how to be myself even in a situation where my views or opinions are not always welcome.

I learned to tell the difference between someone testing me with a pointed comment and someone truly targeting me with malice. I learned when I needed to fight back and when I won by just shrugging and walking away. And I learned a hell of a lot about football. That never hurts.  Nothing announces your presence in a room like reminding everyone you probably know more about football than most of the men. It’s how I stay true to myself, stand up for myself, while still being part of the group I want to belong to.

Whether you mean to follow me into a writers’ room or head into business or dive into the hard work of helping families, your task is to find out what you can do to stay true to yourself when things get hard.

Then do that.

It sounds ridiculously simple, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It took time and trial and error… but I learned to live in my own skin. To not take everything personally and to worry more about what I think about me than what everyone else does.

My family couldn’t afford to help me through college at USC, and to keep a roof over my head — and to do something that felt a little more important and inspiring than answering phones in an office — I got a gig as a police dispatcher, working graveyard shifts to put myself through the ridiculously expensive but totally amazing school of my dreams.

Police dispatcher. Random job of random jobs for an aspiring writer, without doubt. It’s less random if I tell you my cousin was a cop and thought my ability to stay calm in a crisis would make me great at it. He was right. I was pretty great at it. And sitting in front of that radio taught me more about the power of words than anything I’ve ever written.

“Male, possibly intoxicated, talking to passersby.” “Man behaving erratically on a public street.” Two completely different ways to describe the same call that can change the entire tone of the police response.

I became immersed in a world where the words I chose could literally mean the difference between life and death for a citizen, a suspect, or my officers. It was a heady, huge responsibility. But the perspective those years gave me was a gift. In all my jobs since, when tensions are high and people are worried about deadlines and failure and money and whether someone’s going to get fired, I am the person who says, “hey, guys… I know this is important. I know we’re all stressed. But no one’s gonna die. So let’s take a breath and figure it out.” It doesn’t end the crisis, but those words usually stir the air just enough for us to get back on task, look at the problem with fresh eyes, and find a solution without giving ourselves an ulcer.

Most of you won’t have to live through high-octane police radio calls… but you do have perspective to draw on when you need it. What did you have to say to yourselves over the past few years when a deadline was looming and your project was only half done? What did you say to your friends when they encountered the same crisis?

Whatever those words are, you know them already. They will make you the calm in the storm. They will help you stay focused when the people around you start to spin. They will help you get through a day that feels impossible. So know yourself. Know what you need to hear or say to move forward. And never forget it.

I really wish I could tell you that you’re leaving fear of failure behind you with this huge achievement. Oh, how I wish I could tell you that. Instead, I want to tell you… it’s okay to be afraid. Be afraid you’ll fail. Be afraid you aren’t good enough. Fear isn’t something to run away from.

I just started work on my fifth TV show. It’s a job I spent four years campaigning for and working toward. And then I got it. And I was elated. I had worked impossibly hard for this opportunity, and it paid off. It was pure joy. For about a day. Then I immediately felt that gnawing worry that shows up every time I have a first day of work with a new showrunner who is putting their faith in me… “holy crap, can I really do this?”

The answer is, of course I can. I have documented proof. But I never want to believe my own press. Call it being humble or wanting to stay grounded. I find that constant need to prove myself is my friend. It keeps me from thinking I know it all. That I don’t need to work hard. That I should stop studying or learning.

Your version of that fear will come for you. But this… being here today… that’s your documented evidence that you can do it. Most of you balanced work and school or family and school or family, work, AND school to complete your degrees. You have already done what felt impossible. Conquered that fear. So let it motivate you going forward.

But if it ever starts to become a burden… tell fear how awesome you are… and to take a seat, because you’ve got this.

So the big ideas I’ve danced through today are: be who you were meant to be in the world, remember your strengths by reminding yourself of the victories that got you to where you are, and don’t be afraid to be afraid. Now there’s one more. Something I think every woman especially, but every person in general, has to know as they move through the world – at work, in your relationships, in life: know where your line in the sand is.

There will be moments when you can’t let something roll off your back, where an unfairness has to be addressed, where you must speak up because you won’t be able to live with yourself if you don’t.

That’s your line in the sand.

It may be a boss or a fellow employee or a client pushing you there. And sometimes you can’t walk away. You have to say “enough”. Sometimes a fight is worth fighting.

You are the only person who can decide that.

We all have things we can take and things we can’t let go. That’s being human. And you don’t forfeit your right to be a person because you have ambition and want to succeed. You especially do not forfeit it because you’re a woman and the system tells us to smile and play nice to get ahead.

I am a mama bear by nature. And I have reached my line in the sand as a working woman a few times. Usually because an untenable situation is affecting the people around me… my co-workers, my teammates, my friends. Those are usually the fights I choose to fight.

I do it knowing there will be consequences… because there are always consequences. But there will be times when what’s right is worth that risk.  And I implore you to be the kind of people who are willing to choose your battles and fight them.

Ninety-nine times you may say this is not a hill I want to die on. That’s your choice to make. But when the idea of letting something go seems worse than anything you might face for speaking your mind… be courageous enough to speak your mind. Because it is the only way anything ever gets better.

It is the way we slowly tear down those myths about how women should behave in the workplace. In the world. It’s how we destroy the idea that a woman should apologize for demanding her worth be acknowledged or for occupying her space when someone else wants to crowd her out.

You’re all here because you believe you can do something in this world. And you already know a truth crucially important to your success. You have a right to it. Not because you’re entitled. Because you’re willing to work, sacrifice and fight for it. You’ve earned the right to succeed. You will keep earning it.

But you’ll have days where you forget that you deserve success. Days you are afraid and think the fight to climb the ladder is too hard.

I hope on those days you will remember today, when you celebrated this huge accomplishment and some crazy writer from Los Angeles crashed your party and stood in front of you and told you to go out and be who you are in the world – be you proudly, strongly, hilariously, wondrously, and loudly. Be you.

Now go show the world you’re ready for what comes next.

Find your brave

November 14, 2016

The world got turned upside down this week, and most of the people I know and love are reeling. The fear of seeing all that has been fought so hard for being undone is too real… and the reality of racism and sexism and hatred of the other surging in our country is terrifying and frustrating and disheartening.

I feel all of that. And I am so tired of having to be the bigger person… of having to work twice as hard to be thought of as almost as good (whether it’s about my race or my gender or both)… and then having to find a way to get along with the people who think that way… and the message this country just sent to me is – too bad, be ready to work even harder, because your other-ness offends me.

I’m sickened at the thought of people I love being targeted because of their name, their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, or their religion.

I’m scared.

I have friends who are marching in protests and diving in to work with organizations that are ready to fight for our civil rights in the coming years. I know writers far more eloquent than I are already penning essays and opinion pieces and providing sage advice on what we all need to do next. I am going to join in and do my part in the ways that feel right to me — I hope we all will.

I wish I had some great contribution to make to these well-expressed rallying cries. I’ve started and deleted so many posts this week… because my heart is heavy for other reasons outside of the election, from the things that come when life doesn’t stop because you got scared and confused or blindsided by the world you live in… and the words have been wrapped up in that and struggling to find a way out.

But I sat down today to try to write this because I keep having this thought and I figured if it wouldn’t leave me, it was worth something:

Find your brave.

We’re all brave in different ways. Some people march in the streets, some of us (myself included) are so paralyzed by the idea of being in a large crowd that the protest is almost more terrifying than what we’re standing up against. Some of us can write. Some make speeches. Some can volunteer to help an organization that steps between those who need help and those trying to harm them.

There are all kinds of ways to be brave. For me, from the earliest point in my life, it started with two simple words.

“I’m Black.”

I’ve spent my entire life being told by people I wasn’t related to: “No one would even know you were Black if you didn’t tell them.” To which I say, “Why wouldn’t I tell them?”

My parents made this very clear: we were Black. There was no confusion, no wondering. It was simple. So I live by keeping it simple. And I respond to the curious looks that, I’ve learned over the years, mean “what is she” by saying, “I’m Black.” I tell a story the first day in the writers’ room to make it clear so no one has to wonder. I own who I am, and I do it knowing that sometimes after I say it out loud, I will see that subtle shift in a person’s eyes… the one that says that knowledge has changed how they look at me. And then I own who I am by not caring what they think.

I recently spoke with a group of young writers who will go out into the world with the word “diverse” attached to them. They’re the diverse writers – the ones who will be different, and often a minority, in their rooms. And I think maybe I didn’t tell them this, and so I’m correcting my mistake because I owe them this…

You will meet people who will see you as less than, who will think you only got the job because you fill a quota. They won’t know anything about you… they won’t know about how you worked graveyard shifts to put yourself through college and how you took responsibility for and pay (yourself) thousands of dollars in student loans because your education was that important to you… they won’t know that you wrote till 3 a.m. on weeknights and all weekend long around day jobs because that was all the time you had and you knew you had to write to be a writer… they won’t know about the twelve specs and six pilots and the dozen short stories you wrote to prepare yourself when opportunity came… they won’t know about the literally thousands of pages you wrote that no one will ever see because they were never about making money. Their value was in making you a better writer.

They won’t know these things about you… but you will. And you will show them that you earned your job by being the best you that you can be… by proving that you belong, no matter what they think.

You’ll find your brave.

Then reach back and help someone else find theirs. Help that next young diverse writer who has climbed as far as he or she can, who just needs someone who’s done it before to help them take the next step.

Then take your brave out into the world with you.

If you see a man harassing one of your female friends… tell him to stop.

If you see someone treating someone like an “other,” tell them to stop.

If you see wrong, do what you can to make it right.

It will be terrifying. It will be hard. But it’s what makes you who you are. And it’s how we show the people who are scared to speak and to act how to do their part.

You’ll get tired. Hell, I’m already tired. And angry. And frustrated. And sometimes you’ll feel hopeless.

But you’re gonna get up the next day and do it again anyway.

Because you’re brave.

You came that way.

We all came that way.

We just can’t forget it.

When I talk TV with people, I’m never shy about heaping praise onto shows that I love. And I’ve long since gotten used to having this exchange when I bring up “Person of Interest” –

“’Person of Interest’? Isn’t that just a typical CBS procedural?”

Me: “No. It’s one of the most well-plotted serialized shows I’ve ever watched.” (And remember, I’ve seen over 1,000 TV shows!)

2016-06-21 23.19.07

The finale of POI aired last week, and I’m still strung out emotionally over it. It leaves the screen after 103 episodes. Not every single one was perfect but every single one was necessary to complete what turned out to be an amazing canvas.  And in my humble opinion, its legacy is to be one of the most underappreciated shows in recent memory.

As many of you know if you’ve read my blog before (or follow my fangirling on Twitter), I write with TV on in the background – typical latchkey kid behavior manifested in my adulthood.  This translates to writing at the office as well, thanks to my friends Amazon Prime and Netflix, which I stream in the background and listen to over ear buds while I write.  Last year, I re-watched the first four seasons of POI as my background, and even though I own all the DVDs and have seen multiple episodes several times, it was that re-watch that clued me into something monumental about why I adore POI so much – 85% of what I love about the show was put in motion by the end of episode 10. We’re talking characters, relationships, and ideas that consistently played through five seasons – including the final moments of the series – and most of it was on the board by the end of episode 10.  That cohesion over 103 episodes was accomplished without the writers dropping story points and with major cast changes to wrestle with along the way.

Within those first ten episodes, the characters became my heart when it came to this show.  This little group of four became the embodiment of the emotional struggle of everyday life… how we make mistakes and try to overcome them, how we search for redemption even if we aren’t sure we deserve it, how we look for the best in people even after we lose our way.  And they did all this while fighting the good fight for the little guy… taking down bad guys, helping people stay on the path of right when they were about to step into wrong. Even as the core cast both expanded and then lost members in heart-wrenching fashion over the years, the mission remained unchanged, and underlying every action, every episode was one clear message:

No one is irrelevant.

It might be this key point that explains my great love for this show, above the A-plus writing and great performances… POI was hopeful in a way I never expected it to be and that it turns out I needed so much.  Life mattered… good mattered… saving one person at the risk of everything mattered… and that idea propelled the entire series.

Over the past five seasons, we went on journeys to the darkest places within these characters and often found light there – John’s need for vengeance after Carter’s death inevitably brought him home, to the place Carter most wanted him to be – with the people who loved him; Harold’s battle to save the world revealed the best in those he chose as allies; Fusco went from dirty cop to hero because John and Carter and ultimately all of Team Machine reminded him who he wanted to be before the dark side tempted him.  And along the way, enemies – Root and Elias – turned into friends.  Meanwhile Shaw, the embodiment of what it meant for life to be “irrelevant” joined the team and embraced the mission in her own unique way.

And none of these characters’ pasts were whitewashed to make us like them.  Humanizing Elias by letting us into his abusive and tragic past gave us a deeper understanding of the path he chose and the drive behind the rise of his organized crime empire, but the show never tried to convince us his sins were justified. Instead it helped cement how monumental it was when Elias stood beside Team Machine in some of their most dangerous moments, even though he knew Reese, Harold et al would take his criminal enterprise down in a heartbeat if he endangered someone they cared for or one of the “numbers” the Machine asked them to save.

Root – in all her complex, twisted glory – was another character who had done dark, terrible things – had even tried to harm our beloved team – and yet her obsession with the Machine actually gave her the chance to find the connection she’d craved her whole life – both within the team and with the Machine herself.  Root found her purpose after a life of thinking people were just “bad code,” and her mission to save the Machine from all threats helped us to understand that the Machine’s importance was even greater than we’d ever suspected.

But I think the most amazing accomplishment of this fantastic show is the humanity the writers imparted upon a set of typed letters on a computer screen and a bunch of cables and servers.  The Machine was as real to us as any of the team… and our connection to her deepened as it became clear she suffered the pain of loss with Harold and Reese, that she hated the idea of failing them. As the Machine’s very personal relationship with Harold, her “father,” created conflict over the years, she became a maturing child, struggling to both find her own identity and be the “person” her parent wanted her to be. And in her ultimate act of humanity, the Machine found a way to be what… or who… she was meant to be despite Harold’s fears and reservations, even if that meant she might be destroyed.

I could literally write about specific things I loved and outstanding moments on this show for pages and pages. But what I hope after you read this is that if you watched it once and said no… or you never watched it at all, that this will make you go back and give it another chance (Netflix is your friend!). Look beyond the case of the week setup that helped us get into the world and spend time with these fascinating characters, go on a journey with them that will both rip out your heart and renew a little of your faith in the world (as much as any TV show can do that).

And if you loved POI as much as I did… if it brought you the same joy and heartache and wonder that it did me… thanks for sharing the roller coaster. And thank you a thousand times over to the wonderful writers and actors and the crew that made this show come to life… you’ve inspired me forever.

Between summer programming and the upcoming fall onslaught of new shows, my oft-discussed “prime-time shows I’ve watched” list will roar past 900 before the year is out. Yeah, that’s 900 individual shows. Like I’ve said before, if I had put that brain power to use somewhere else who knows what I could have invented or cured. But in my world TV pays the bills, so TV it is!

In the calm before the summer viewing storm, I decided to take a minute and look over some of my all-time favorite shows and characters. All of these are listed in no particular order… and yes, I’m clearly cheating in a few because I couldn’t hold it to just five.

Top 5 all time (I did a full blog about these shows in 2011 — https://niceolelevy.com/2011/07/21/the-fantastic-five-of-this-writers-life/ — so I won’t repeat except to say, they’re magic):

  1. Hill Street Blues — Someone needs to get Daniel J. Travanti back on TV full-time.
  2. Homicide — Frank Pembleton is everything.
  3. NYPD Blue — Sipowicz and Simone forever!
  4. Once & Again — So real it hurt but in all the best ways.
  5. Friday Night Lights — Texas forever!

Top 5 shows that would be the next top 5 all-time:

  1. China Beach — Dana Delaney, y’all. Seriously, everything about this show is awesome, but Dana Delaney will rip your heart out about a dozen times before you get to the end, and then in the finale, she will kill you dead.
  2. Terriers — best single season show ever. I hope “Gotham” finally makes Donal Logue the TV star he deserves to be.
  3. Boston Legal — I hated the first season of this show. And then David E. Kelley got rid of everything I didn’t like and by the final episode of the series, I felt like someone was taking away part of my family.
  4. West Wing — Till Sam Seaborn leaves anyway. That’s where I pretend the show stopped; It just was never the same for me without Rob Lowe’s Sam around.
  5. The Closer — Start to finish, one of the best and most complete lead character arcs this side of Andy Sipowicz. Loved. Every. Minute.

Top 5 shows my parents made me watch in reruns:

  1. The Big Valley — Victoria Barkley was the shit, y’all. Watch her get ready to kick some ass anytime anyone threatens those kids. Especially Heath. Pretty, pretty Heath.
  2. The Rockford Files — Jim Rockford was just awesome. Cool, loyal, wry and smart.
  3. Marcus Welby M.D. — Dr. Steven Kiley can out handsome and out doctor McDreamy.
  4. McMillan and Wife — When you question my “Castle” love, look here and blame my parents. Fun banter and crime solving with cute coupleness.
  5. I Love Lucy — because for real, FOR REAL, I know it’s not a drama, but Lucy is everything.

Top 5 current shows:

  1. Masters of Sex — I think Allison Janey is going to kill me before this show ends. If she doesn’t, Beau Bridges will.
  2. Person of Interest — This show is so much more than it looked like it would be when it started. The investment I have in this crew not losing another beloved member (it still hurts!) and getting out of their current situation alive could not be bigger.
  3. Elementary — Jonny Lee Miller is just amazing. His ability to convey Sherlock’s growth and struggles without dialogue is just… wow. For that alone, it’s worth it. But the rest of the show is awesome, too.
  4. The Americans — The way Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell have built that relationship on screen paired with the consistently great writing makes it can’t miss TV. Heart-attack inducing, but can’t miss.
  5. Sons of Anarchy — I can barely watch it, it’s so brutal. But also brilliant. And seriously, show… DO NOT KILL NERO! (I know you will, but I’m not giving up hope till you do!)
  6. House of Cards — Look, I can’t trim this one. I love Frank and Claire without remorse. They are the Macbeths if things go their way, and I find it fascinating as hell.

The other 5 shows I never miss:

  1. Suits — Harvey and Jessica and Louis are the masters of the universe.
  2. Major Crimes — I loved “The Closer” and was worried about the spinoff, but I am so in, it’s not even funny. Such humanity on display every episode.
  3. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — I admit I was totally in the “This show is boring” camp the first few episodes. Then a few insistent friends lured me back about week 15, and now I am beyond escape from the love.
  4. Castle — My love for this show is well-known and oft-ridiculed. But Stana Katic, Nathan Fillion and the rest of the cast make the rough weeks worth it.
  5. Dallas — This sequel to the classic nighttime soap did everything right… they used original characters, built out of the story we knew, and the handling of Larry Hagman’s death was fantastic.
  6. (Honorable mention — Luther, though I fear we’ve seen the last of the TV version. Luther himself is awesome, but also because his relationships with Justin and Alice are things of beauty).

Top 5 Favorite Female Characters:

  1. Miss Parker/The Pretender — I wanted Miss Parker to get a happy ending way more than I needed one for Jarod. Smart, tortured, and badass — which is apparently a type for me. See below.
  2. Kate Beckett/Castle — Smart, tortured, badass — also fun, and a great cop, and well, Castle’s muse. And all my friends who remember I didn’t like her in season one never let me forget it now. 😉
  3. Melinda May/Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — Smart, tortured, badass… diverse, not 20-something, and still badass.
  4. Brenda Leigh Johnson/The Closer — Smart, badass, and by the final season, definitely tortured. When Brenda Leigh walks out of Major Crimes for the last time, the journey we’ve been on with her is so complete and so emotional that you were willing to let her go if it meant she was gonna have a real shot at being happy.
  5. Tami Taylor/Friday Night Lights — Tami was kind of everything I’d ever want to be… without being tortured. And even though we never saw her have to be a physical badass, she was definitely a spiritual one.
  6. (Honorable mention — Joss Carter/Person of Interest — I just can’t talk about it much because it still hurts. But Joss pretty much became the soul of another human being. If that isn’t powerful, I don’t know what is.)

Top 5 Favorite Male Characters:

  1. Andy Sipowicz/NYPD Blue — The end of this series is exactly the ending you wanted for Andy even if you didn’t know it. You ever want to see a man go to hell and back, watch this show start to finish.
  2. Eric Taylor — Coach was everything. Every single kid in the world should have a Coach Taylor in their life.
  3. Tim Riggins — Yes, FNL gets two, because Riggins… RIGGINS! Tim Riggins was every guy who wants to live a better life and isn’t sure he can.
  4. Frank Pembelton/Homicide — A good man, a great detective, and the moral compass in a city struggling to hold on to its humanity.
  5. DCI John Luther — a true gray hat who struggles with himself and the monsters of the world all while being smokin’ hot.

Predictions for my next 5 favorite shows:

  1. Allegiance — that’s pretty much a given, right? Since it’s my new job. 🙂
  2. Murder in the First — Bochco, people! Bochco and Taye Diggs.
  3. Empire — because I’m gonna want to love it.
  4. Scorpion — because I’m gonna want to love it.
  5. Marvel’s Agent Carter — because the Disney/Marvel-verse has stolen my brain.

Got some Top 5’s of your own? What are they? Always curious to know what other folks love!

Wow, it’s been a minute.

I knew it had been a while since I had time to blog. Turns out I was last here on May 16th, when I decided to give notice at my job and have faith that the writing gig I’d long sought was waiting around the corner.

It was.

After worrying over how few meetings I was going on… (I later found out my upper-level writer friends didn’t want to tell me all they were hearing about what a tough year it was for staff writers, and thank goodness! There might be way less vodka in my freezer if they had)… I found out that I had a showrunner meeting for NBC’s new series “Ironside.”

I was excited to be sure, but also grounded. I’d gotten close three other times to getting a job. And so even though I really wanted this and knew I was ready for it, I went into preparation mode knowing my life wouldn’t end if I didn’t get the gig.

This showrunner conversation was very different than the others I’d been on. It was going to be over Skype, which till the day I found out about this meeting, I had never used. So most of that first few hours was learning exactly how to Skype. (Thanks to my brother and my friend in Texas for practicing with me.)

Then there was watching the pilot… three times… and reading the latest version of the pilot script and thinking up ways that my life experience made me a good fit for this show.

The next day, after I made sure my room was clean enough for Skype and after I picked out my favorite business casual t-shirt, I met Ken Sanzel over the computer. It was a good conversation, though I couldn’t honestly tell you now what most of it consisted of. It felt like we got along really well. It ended with my asking when he might make a decision and Ken saying probably in the next day or two. And that was that.

I had a lunch date with another writer friend, so I left messages for my agent and manager, sent up a little ask to my Dad that he pull any strings he had up on high in heaven, and went off to lunch, which was great and fun, and I never bothered to pick up my phone because I wasn’t expecting anything but a possible recap phone call with my reps.

So imagine my surprise when I pulled out my phone to see what time it was as we were getting the bill and saw that I had three missed phone calls and two missed texts from my agent, manager, and two of my writing mentors. I looked at my friend and said “Either this is good news or something REALLY bad just happened.”

It was good news.

Of course, I didn’t know that right away because my reps asked me to walk them through the meeting, which I did, and then came the moment my stomach dropped…

“He (Ken) just had one kind of hard question he wanted to ask.”

Okay, I can take hard questions, I thought. Lay it on me.

“Do you want to write on his show?”

I cried. I’m not gonna lie. I cried right there in the thankfully very empty restaurant with one customer and one waitress looking at me wondering what was going on. I cried for all the times I almost gave up and held on; for all the nights I slept two hours to meet a deadline for my writing programs at CBS and NBC; I cried because I am lucky enough and blessed enough to have been surrounded by people who believed in me.

I cried because finally… finally… someone said yes.

There were a lot of phone calls then, and celebrating… at least after the waiting. Waiting for your deal to be officially signed so you can shout your good news to the world feels like torture till you remind yourself how long it took to feel that exquisite, awful delay before you can tell people your dream finally came true.

The best call came from my mom the day after I told her I got hired. She called to make sure I had really given her the good news and she hadn’t dreamed it. She had dreamed it so many times, she just wanted to make sure it had actually happened.

There was also the amazing news and gift that one of my great friends, Brian, was also staffed on the show, and we would be there to help each other through those staff writer ups and downs. Seriously… that was a miracle of some writer god’s making, and I will never forget how the universe had my back there.

We started our show the first Monday in June, and we hit the ground running. First thing you should know, Ken’s not a room guy, so we ran a “writers’ hallway.” Our crew of consulting producers, co-eps, producer, and Brian and I got used to moving into each others’ spaces quickly and comfortably, bouncing story areas, breaking out our boards, and asking questions. Lots of questions.

I was the only person on our staff who had never been on a show before. But everyone, from our P.A. to the boss was willing to answer a question, point me in the right direction, or just let me blather my way to the answer on my own. (This includes my man Brandon, who didn’t tell me I could park at base camp during my location shoot, but I love him anyway).

There are moments from wandering that hallway I’ll never forget, especially some of our bullpen hangouts with Teri Weinberg, who probably won’t miss me taunting her with baked goods. Or maybe she will…

There were hard days in the mix of awesome. It took a while to get my area in shape, and then I think I wrote no less than six drafts of my outline. The first draft of my script was… not what it needed to be. The second made me feel like I had earned my desk.

Then there were notes and then there was prep, and thankfully I had an awesome co-ep shepherding me along the way. You should all be listening to The Mick Betancourt Show on iTunes, btw. He has great people sharing their stories about how they got started in the business, along with some amazing life history that will show you, truly, we all get there in our own way.

After prep came shooting. And let me tell you, if I thought I was blessed before, the crew that made our show happen was the extra helping of wonderful. They were so patient with the new kid who didn’t always know where to stand and who dropped her phone under our vehicle barricade and tried to act all nonchalant about looking for it. They taught me a lot, kept it loose, and got the job done with incredible dedication and class.

And then on the last day of my shoot, we got the news. “Ironside” had been canceled. On top of that, the final day of shooting on my episode was it… we were “done” done.

It broke my heart to be sure… I was working at this amazing job, making TV, surrounded by some of the most generous, talented people I’d ever met, and now we had to say good-bye.

Our final night of shooting rolled past midnight and into my birthday. The crew gave me a cake and sang, and I told them I couldn’t think of anywhere better to be celebrating, and it was the absolute truth.

My first job as a writer lasted just shy of five months, but I got some serious bang out of it. I got to write an episode, see it produced, and even though we’ve officially ended, I’m still getting the chance to sit in on post and watch the final product come together. It’s been amazing, and I don’t think there are words enough to tell you all how incredibly full-up with goodness I am after this experience.

It took a village for me to get there. So thank you to all the friends and family who kept me going; thanks to Brant, Toochis, and Steven; thanks to Carole, Jeanne, Janie, Karen, Jen, Julie Ann, Stacey, Stacey (yep, there’s two!), Bruce, and Deepak. My village is pretty damn awesome!

Thank you to Blair, Brent, Pablo, Neal, Spencer, and Kenny for being such a great cast… And thank you to all the fantastic guest actors who kept me mesmerized during my shoot, especially Lou Diamond Phillips and Robert Forster.

Thank you to our amazing production staff and our crew for making magic happen under the gun…

Thanks to Brandon, Andréa, Rob, Helen, and D.J. for always being around to share a laugh or answer one of my rookie questions…

And thank you, thank you, thank you to Ken, Mark, David, Rob, Judi, Mick, Talicia, and Brian for being the best first “writers’ hallway” cohorts a girl could ever ask for.

Somehow, someday my episode will be something people can see. When I know how, I’ll let you know.

And now… on to show number two, wherever you are.Image

The TV Gifts I Got This Fall

November 29, 2012

Fall is always a busy time for TV viewers, with the onslaught of new shows competing for our hearts and attention. It’s especially so now that cable shows are usually lingering into the fall or having their own premieres, making our DVRs want to implode from overuse. It’s extra busy for us baby writer types who have to know what’s happening on every show on every network in case we get called in for a meeting with someone who works on it!

Amongst my returning faves, I’ve been especially thrilled to see that my top new show from last year, “Person of Interest,” continues to just get more and more incredible every week, and that the big hook-up on “Castle” has only made that already fabulous show even more fantastic and fun.

There are numerous new programs I’ve been enjoying, and a large slate of returning and new shows coming in 2013 that I’m super excited about (“Justified,” “Southland,” “Dallas,” “The Americans,” and “Monday Mornings,” I’m looking at you! — Wow. How much of my time is TNT going to get?) But there are a few gems from the fall that I wanted to take the time to blog about quickly for those of you who haven’t checked them out.

“Elementary” — CBS, Thursdays, 10 PM — I had read this pilot and really enjoyed it and was very pleased with all the casting before getting to see it. But what has truly made me fall hard for this show is the pacing. The bits and pieces of character reveal we get of Sherlock (Jonny Lee Miller) and Watson (Lucy Liu) each week are weaving together intriguing people that I already care so much about. In fact, the way in which we’re getting to know this small group of main characters, Aidan Quinn’s Gregson included, reminds me a lot of “Person of Interest” last year and the way I became so invested in the characters so quickly because the core of who they were was revealed through actions and responses to situations early on in the storytelling.

Of particular note was the confessional scene in which Sherlock admits his addiction to Gregson, which not only revealed the depth of Sherlock’s respect for the NYPD captain, but also Gregson’s insight into who Sherlock is. It’s also been great to watch Watson come into her own as an investigator, both on the cases of the week and when it comes to peeling away the defenses Sherlock has mounted to keep his emotional self safe.

“Vegas” — CBS, Tuesdays, 10PM — This show had a unique writing challenge from the start. Michael Chiklis’ mobster Vincent Savino and Dennis Quaid’s Sheriff Ralph Lamb were both such strong characters, keeping them from being in a constant state of tense standoffs was clearly going to be key to the way the show played out. But as they’ve interacted, both needing and hating one another, a grudging respect has grown between these two men which infuses their scenes with an energy that has numerous layers beyond that initial tension. Their humorous and informative exchange over a bottle of scotch this past Tuesday told you more about this relationship and where it stands than pages of exposition could. And the end beat, with a report of a body being found and, off of Lamb’s look, Savino quipping “don’t look at me” is a sample of the humor working its way into the dynamic of this odd duo.

But the biggest surprise of “Vegas” is the women. Oh, these ladies! Such a mix of personalities and yet they are all strong and smart and destined to be pained by the men they love (or want to love.) Maybe it’s the fact that the show is set in the ’60s, maybe it’s because of the overuse of clichés I’ve seen in mob movies, I’m not sure, but I didn’t expect the healthy dose of savvy these ladies bring to the table. Mia’s (Sarah Jones) business smarts and cool exterior are sure to be tested by her attraction to Deputy Jack Lamb (Jason O’Mara), especially with her volatile mob boss father Rizzo now in charge of the casino; A.D.A. Katherine O’Connell’s (Carrie-Anne Moss) affection for and understanding of Ralph has been clear from the start, and she brings out something in him that always adds nice color to Quaid’s portrayal of Lamb.

And the most unexpected revelation… mob wife Laura (Vinessa Shaw). After responding to Vincent’s honest admission that he needed her to make his Vegas dreams come true, Laura not only moved to town but became a full partner to her husband. She just helped him engineer a mob-backed mayoral victory for a candidate that had zero chance of winning at the start, and her honest but clear response to meeting Vincent’s former mistress revealed a great deal to us about this marriage and both husband and wife.

“Last Resort” — ABC, Thursdays, 8PM — Yes, my heart is already grieving this show, which will not get extended beyond its original 13-episode order, but while you can, I encourage you to watch. Andre Braugher is, well, Andre Braugher, which means he’s amazing, but the constant ability of this show to push characters into game-changing situations to reveal bits of them to us has kept me enthralled from the pilot forward. Most refreshing? That Navy wife Christine (Jessy Schram) is not some poor victim being manipulated by the government but is instead smart enough to have figured out on her own that she was being played and brave enough to from an alliance with Washington insider Kylie Sinclair (Autumn Reeser) in order to do what she can to help save her husband the rest of the crew aboard the U.S.S. Colorado.

I especially love the scope of what creators Karl Gajdusek and Shawn Ryan tried to do with this show and how the characters are able to reveal themselves at the most unexpected times. I literally jumped out of my chair when Admiral Shepard killed to try to save his daughter’s life, and the way Scott Speedman communicates X.O. Sam Kendal’s conflicted feelings about his captain continue to express how torn he is between friendship, duty, and just wanting to go home. I will be here till the end, and I will miss it when it’s gone.

“Major Crimes” — Returns to TNT for Season 2 in 2013 — While technically a summer premiere, MC wrapped up its run this fall, and before it comes back next year, if you didn’t get a chance to see it, I highly recommend catching the reruns on TNT.

No one was more worried about the idea of a spin-off of “The Closer” than I was; my love for that show runs deep and my pride in the spec I wrote for it (which helped me get into two network writing programs) remains high. But creator James Duff pulled off a major feat here. Not only did “Major Crimes” have to debut immediately after the finale of its mother ship, with no time in between to help the audience transition, it had to take largely the same cast and acclimate us to a new standard operating procedure in the unit, with new leadership and new agendas all over the place.

This succeeded for me largely because all the differences between Mary McDonnell’s Sharon Raydor and “The Closer’s” Brenda Leigh Johnson became the tools by which we saw the unit work through the same feelings we were having and allowed us an insight into Raydor outside of work that humanized her greatly. When Flynn (Tony Denison) has to point out to the former I.A. captain that you need to refer to homicide victims by name or the other detectives take it wrong and criticizes one of her former policies, which has complicated their case, Raydor not only takes in the critique, she ends up turning it into a moment to win some respect from Flynn when his advice helps her solve the case. And her refusal to allow disgruntled Provenza (G.W. Bailey) to retire because she knows she needs his expertise was handled beautifully, allowing us to see how much she has learned about this team and how they tick.

The added storyline of Raydor fostering former street hustler Rusty Beck (Graham Patrick Martin) provided some hugely emotional moments in the first season, none of which was more palpable than her having to let him leave for a weekend with his biological father, the choked back desire to warn him to be careful instead coming out as “have fun” when you could see she just wanted to run and grab him and not let him go. The squad, too, have all become family to Rusty… watching Flynn, Buzz, and Provenza, for instance, talk through how to handle his first dinner with his biological dad was a great chance to see how this group have all become invested in his well-being. And the finale scene with the entire squad signing off on Rusty’s paperwork (watch it; I don’t want to ruin the build-up) was a great way to end this first year of the show.

What are some of your favorites and why? Share in the comments, and if I haven’t seen them, I’ll try to check them out!