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!

Advertisements

I get asked by a lot of writers who are in or are alums of the two network writing programs I completed (CBS and NBC) and by writers I’ve met in other venues about how to prep for staffing season. So I figured I’d share a little bit of my process and put it out there for folks who might be interested.

First let me say, grain of salt and all that. I’ve been through staffing three times, once without representation where I was up for one job I didn’t get; once with representation where I got unbearably close to three jobs and didn’t get any of them; and the third go around where — success! My reps and I finally got to have that fabulous “You got the job!” phone call. So this is just what I do. Maybe a different strategy will work for you. Mostly my message is: prepare. You have to be an active participant in building your career.

Since I’m getting ready to hit the trenches again, here’s a little peek into how I look at staffing, and if it helps you, great, and if not, you can feel free to give me side-eye since I can’t see you doing it.

Be prepared and have your samples ready. Samples are what get you the meetings that get you the jobs. Have samples you love and be ready to talk about them. And always be adding to your body of work. My current group of samples is made up of pilots, specs, and short stories. You never know what might work to get you in the door.

And really evaluate what kinds of material you already have when you’re deciding what to write next. Do you have samples that will service the different types of shows you might want to work for? You don’t have to write everything. Most of us have a “type” when it comes to shows. But if you want to make female-lead dramas an option and all your samples are male leads, it’s time to travel a different road. Want to write a sci-fi show? Have a sci-fi sample. Give yourself as much of an opportunity as you can.

Be a partner to your representative(s). I am blessed with agency and management representation from people who totally get me. I don’t generally have to explain why I like a show or a script or why I think I’m a good fit. But sometimes a script speaks to me that’s a little outside my usual box, and I know that even though it might not be the most obvious show to try to pitch me to, I have something to offer them. So I make sure to list what samples I think I have in my portfolio that might work if that showrunner is looking for a staff writer and I explain why I think I could sell myself for that job. And while returning shows are always harder to get at that staff writer level, have a list of returning shows that you’re right for, too. You never know when an upper-level writer might leave to go make their own show and an opportunity opens up at the lower level.

Know everything you can about what’s going on. It seems obvious, but you’d be shocked how often I ask writers about pilots they’ve read or liked and they aren’t familiar with who wrote them or what network they’re at. Know your game board. Read every trade summary you can find on what scripts were bought where… some only cover network buys, some cover cable, Amazon, and Netflix, too. You have to know where your jobs are so you can go out and find them.

Strategize your pilot reads. Once you know whose scripts made the cut and are being shot, take a critical eye to the list. There will be writers there you admire, writers whose shows you’ve loved, writers you just heard from another friend were kind of awesome; there will be shows you know you could write in your sleep because they fit your brand to perfection; there will be shows you know you have a strong sample for. List those shows and start reading and don’t stop till you’ve finished that group of scripts. Then list your favorites, let your reps know that if you got to be choosy, this is the group of pilots you know you’d love to work on, and get them any supporting info you can (see be a partner to your reps). You may not get meetings on those shows, but every bit of information you give your reps on what you like and why you like it will help them market you better to all the shows they contact on your behalf.

Once you do that, read the rest of the pilots. There will always be some you know you’d likely never get a meeting for… it’s not your thing, no samples that match, etc. But if you go on a general at Fox, the exec might ask you about that sci-fi skewing pilot you didn’t read because you knew you’d never meet on it… and you don’t want to have to admit you didn’t read it or fumble through a vague general conversation. The more you can engage the people you meet with, the more you make an impression on them, and that will always come back to you in a good way, even if it’s a few staffing seasons down the pike.

Always, always be polite and gracious to everyone you meet, from the gate to the actual executive or showrunner you’re going to talk to. Again, seems obvious. But I know people at the upper level and in executive suites who tune out on writers who don’t say hello and good-bye to their assistants or who act a little jerky to the security guards. You might be working with these folks soon. Be someone they want to see again.

Always be prepping. If you hear you’re in the mix for Show A and you know the creator of Show A worked on three shows you’ve never watched at all, go watch a few episodes to get a feel for what they’ve done. Sure, maybe you don’t end up getting a meeting, but if you do, you aren’t scrambling to catch up on that person’s body of work while also trying to re-read the pilot and come up with notes on story ideas or questions you want to ask. Watching more TV will never hurt you as a writer. Trust me, if it could, I’d be in perpetual pain because the sheer volume of TV I watch… oy!

And watch at least one episode of any show an executive covers before you go meet with them. That’s what they do for a living and you want to respect their hard work as much as you want yours respected. Sure, maybe you can’t be an expert, but when they mention they also cover Shows X, Y, and Z, you can have something nice to say or have a “Wow, I saw that finale. Interesting way to leave things” comment at the ready. That may not be the show you’re there to meet on, but a genuine interest in what those folks in Current and Development do goes a long way.

Be happy for all your friends who do get jobs. We’re competitive beasts whether we like it or not. It’s hard to watch people get that thing you want so badly. Sometimes you will literally lose out on a job to someone you’ve traded scripts with for notes or had Sunday brunch with. But the way I’ve come to look at it, any job I don’t get is a job that wasn’t meant to be mine. Pollyannaish? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. I mean, I’m writing a blog telling you folks how to go out and get jobs I might be up for! But too many people have helped me and given me advice for me to be unwilling to share myself.

So be happy for your friends, celebrate with them, and know that when you get your job, they’ll celebrate with you.

And finally… don’t give up. Two years ago, I didn’t get two jobs back to back right before Memorial Day weekend. It was soul crushing; I cannot lie. I gave myself a day to be miserable over it. Then I entered scripts in the Austin Film Festival to make myself feel better, like I was doing something to help my career. I made the finals with one of those scripts and ended up going to the festival and having a ton of fun. I also met some writers who have become friends. Making that cut was some much needed validation and it made my inner circle a little bit bigger.

Maybe that tactic won’t work for you, but whatever you need to do to pick yourself up when you don’t get the gig, do it. Have someone else help pick you up if need be! Because endurance wins this race. After I didn’t get those two gigs and another one a month later, I went to work on the pilot that did get me a job last season. And even though that show got canceled, I came out of it and went right back to writing.

That’s all you really have control over in the end. You keep writing, and you keep being sure the right job is going to come. And on the days you forget… ask someone to remind you. It helps, believe me!

Good luck!

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

So with one big life change behind me — moving out of the apartment that’s been home for a decade and into my friend’s house — it’s time for another. I gave notice at my job today and will be leaving closed captioning at the end of the month.

Obviously I do so with great hope that my next job description is “TV Drama Writer” but with plans already set as to what I will pursue to pay the bills if, God forbid, that doesn’t happen. (PLEASE, TV GODS. Seriously!).

So why now? Because I think you just know, deep down in your gut, when your life needs to change. You feel it, it nags at you, and finally, you have a choice… ignore it and stay stagnate or take the risk and change it.

My move is part of what’s allowing me to do that. Knowing I have a safe place to land and a roof over my head makes it easier to risk being unemployed for a short period of time, and while the rational, responsible, grown-up me is already doing minute calculations of just how many bills can get paid for how long without another paycheck… the part of me that knew it was time to do what was best for me is totally at peace.

I was also certain it was the right time and the right decision because no argument could make me doubt it. Sure, I’m a girl who likes nice things (See my numerous posts about shoes and massages on Facebook), and it could mean sacrifices ahead. Those cuts and slashes to my lifestyle could go far deeper than the trivial. But none of that seemed worse to me than NOT changing what I knew needed to be changed.

And thus… a letter of resignation is submitted, my agent and my manager are hard at work trying to help me find my gig, and I am unpacking and cleaning and getting yet another fellowship spec finished up and breathing deeply for the first time in a very long time because I know that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing.

So what will I take with me from this long road I’ve walked in the closed captioning biz?

Hours and hours studying some of the best writing on TV up close and personal. I’ve had the pleasure of working on shows from awesome folks like David E. Kelley, Mike Kelley, Shawn Ryan, and Andrew Marlowe to name a few, and I’ve learned so much from how each show runs, how it’s assembled, what changes are made from VAM to Final cut, and from seeing shooting drafts become completed TV episodes. I always joke that this job was a master class in pacing and dialogue structure, but one I got paid to take.

Post people work hard, y’all! Unsung most of the time and forgotten when it’s glory time by and large, these are some dedicated, smart, fun people. I’ve worked with some great ones and some not so great ones, but they’ve all taught me a lot about how I want my post production staff to run when I’m finally the showrunner. I’d tell you which show has the best post production staff in TV… but I don’t want anyone hiring them before I sell a pilot and steal them away from where they are now 😉

How much harder and longer can I work when I feel like I can’t type another word? A lot longer, and a lot harder… because no one’s deadline cares how tired you are or how sore your hands are. Get it done, get it out, get it on the air. Oh, and that power outage in Hollywood that meant “Ugly Betty” still had to be at the network by 6 a.m. Pacific even if we weren’t getting final video till 2am or later? Just one of the fun adventures of delivery deadlines.

In a larger sense, I take away some important truths about myself as well, perhaps none more important than an acknowledgement of my own strength, determination, and ability to do what needs to be done to balance my work life and my personal life… a lesson learned after allowing one to grossly overtake the other.

And I have learned that in the hardest of times, when I’ve been knocked down and have nothing to hold on to, I can find a way to stand up and move forward.

So forward it is… to what, we’ll find out in the coming days. But I’m fortunate to have friends and family willing to support me through it emotionally and spiritually, and while I may not be able to say I’m doing this without fear, I can say absolutely that I am doing it with total confidence.

One last note… my new roommate (aka one of my oldest friends in LA) bought this for our house. It’s kind of our mantra for the months ahead. Let the adventure begin!

wakeupsmiling

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!

Recently I got to see a screening of “Things Never Said,” by writer and director Charles Murray. Charles and I met when he came to speak at the CBS Writers Mentoring program during my time as a mentee, and those of you lucky enough to know him, well, you know how awesome he is. If you haven’t had the pleasure and you’re ever around when he gives a talk about writing in Hollywood, go listen, He’s a real dude and he’ll tell it to you straight.

I’ve been following his journey with this film for a while, and even got to go be an extra for a night of shooting. So to finally get to see the finished product was exciting, and not just because I was going to get to see what I’d been hearing about for so long, but because I knew what a personal accomplishment this piece of work is for Charles.

The film is a love letter to his mom, and it’s a strong, well-told story about the ability women have to change their lives. In this case, the woman in question is Kalindra, an aspiring poetess in a broken marriage trying to find her place in the world.

When you get a chance to see this film, and I hope it’s soon (Charles is working on finding a distributor for this little gem of an independent and keep your eyes peeled for some film festival listings), you’ll see some great performances, especially from Shanola Hampton (“Shameless”), Elimu Nelson, Omari Hardwick (“Dark Blue”), Tamala Jones (“Castle”), and Michael Beach (“The Game,” “Sons of Anarchy”), and I’d go on a lot more about their performances, but this blog isn’t really a film review. Just trust me… see it!

What this blog is about is what it was like to sit in a theater after months of hearing about this project and watch it become a reality. The totality of what Charles pulled off was inspiring in a way I’m not sure I can accurately describe. Because it’s not just that he wrote and directed a very good movie… it’s that he pulled together this super-talented, hard-working group of people who dedicated themselves to doing top-notch work on a bargain-basement dollar. And that happened not just because Charles has a talent for making friends… it happened because he never lost that young man’s dream of making a movie he wanted to make on his terms, even through years of struggling to get a break, through working his way up, and while creating a beautiful family along the way.

 It was a fantastic reminder that our dreams are what brought us to this business, and that it’s our responsibility to stay true to them, even if it means deciding to do it on our own, friends in tow, on a shoestring budget.

It’s a business full of business, to be sure… but it’s fueled by dreams, and I hope you all get to share in Charles’ very soon.

 Learn more at: https://www.facebook.com/ThingsNeverSaid

In the midst of staffing season, a little life reality check on what matters beyond having a job you love and following your dreams… family. My niece is getting married in less than two weeks, which seems impossible to me, and yet… here it comes.

You can imagine she’s heard a lot about being so young and is she sure and couldn’t they wait a little while because, well, that’s what folks say these days when you’re under 25 and getting married. And they’re good questions to be sure. But I have to admit, I didn’t ask any of them.

The truth is, I’m a little in awe of her. This beautiful young lady that is so much of everything good that our family had to offer is ready to jump into the idea of sharing her life. And sure, she’s young, and maybe that makes it easier because the baggage she’s carrying around is a little lighter. But she’s also hopeful and certain and confident. She’s all the things you’d hope someone would be when they decide to walk down an aisle and promise to love and cherish forever, because wow… that’s a lot to promise.

She has faith in love and a belief that things can work out. Not in happily ever after… so much as choosing to be happy and working to stay that way.

I’m a true-blue marriage-phobe to this point in life. Not because I don’t think it’s awesome… I know some folks who have great marriages… not perfect, but great, the kind of relationships that make you realize the effort you put in is worth it. But the whole faith in love thing is a little harder for me.

So yeah… I’m a little awed by her bravery and her strength and her heart. And I’m sure to be a crying mess when I watch my brother walk her down that aisle.

And I can’t deny, I’m hoping a little of that faith rubs off on me.

I mean, it certainly can’t hurt, right?