H’w’d’s pens hope for a deal

Top TV writers hold breath as deadline looms
April 12, 2001
By Josef Adalian, Michael Schneider
From Daily Variety

With writers and producers set to resume contract negotiations next week, the TV industry’s top scribes still seem to support their union — even if they’re worried about how things seem to be shaping up.

A Daily Variety survey of A-list showrunners reveals growing concern that time is running out for making a deal. While solidly pro-guild, most scribes want to avoid a strike, worried that webs are all too willing to go with Plan B: fall skeds filled with newsmags and “Survivor”-like reality shows.

“If my guild goes on strike, I have no choice but to support it,” said Bruce Helford, who this season will churn out nearly 100 half-hours as exec producer of “The Drew Carey Show” and several other laffers. “But I don’t want a strike. And I don’t think there should be a strike. This can be resolved.”

Dodging stop signs

Helford and many of his peers have been through previous work stoppages. Knowing the dire consequences, most desperately want to see one avoided.

“Law & Order” exec producer Dick Wolf said he’s dumbfounded that both sides have publicly drawn a line in the sand. “People should walk into a room, shut their mouths and not come out until they have a deal. It’s inconceivable when you’re $100 million apart.”

A fair number of scribes are still hopeful that a resolution is at hand.

“NYPD Blue” creator Steven Bochco, while quick to note his support for the Writers Guild of America, believes where the guild stands now isn’t necessarily where it will be a month from now. Ditto for the producers.

“If you listen to the guild characterize the issues, it’s ‘We’re being raped.’ If you listen to the producers, it’s ‘We’re barely surviving,'” Bochco says.

“From a negotiating standpoint, everybody takes positions now they’re prepared to come off from later. Somewhere between the two extremes, there’s a reality that will accommodate a deal.”

Bochco thinks that a deal won’t come together until the last minute.

“It’s a high-wire act,” he says. “Everyone wants to rattle the sabre; everybody wants to spin the spin to their own benefit as long as they can because they perceive that it gives them an edge. It’s playing chicken.”

Sizing up opposition

“Family Law” exec producer Paul Haggis added that the timetable for an agreement is tied to egos on both sides.

“It depends how much people want to hold out their peckers,” he said.

Wolf said that’s already happening; He’s particularly peeved by the public posturing from the WGA’s John Wells and studio exec Jeffrey Katzenberg.

“If there is a strike, this will go down as the Wells-Katzenberg strike,” Wolf said. “These two gentlemen have behaved irresponsibly. This is a labor negotiation.”

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” exec producer Joss Whedon isn’t hopeful about a settlement.

“Would I love to avoid a strike? Whoo, doggy!” he said. “I wish we could reach an amicable agreement beforehand. But sometimes you have to go on strike. I wish it weren’t that way.”

Phil Rosenthal, creator and exec producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond,” is frustrated by producers’ rhetoric that scribes are demanding the sun and the moon.

“People watch TV for two reasons: the writing and the acting. Yet those are not the people who get the lion’s share of the money,” he said. “Since there’s so much around, why can’t everybody play nice?”

“Just Shoot Me” creator Steve Levitan, working on the new Fox laffer “Greg the Bunny,” said he’s been satisfied with how the WGA has handled negotiations. He believes that there are serious issues at stake that need to be addressed by producers. Nonetheless, he wants to see a strike averted if at all possible.

‘What gets accomplished?’

“I often wonder why negotiators can’t just go into a room, lock the doors and not come out until they have a deal,” he said. “Ultimately, what gets accomplished in a prolonged strike, other than innocent people losing their homes and businesses?”

Alan Kirschenbaum, exec producer of CBS frosh comedy hit “Yes, Dear,” is similarly pro-guild and similarly perplexed at the lack of ongoing talks.

“I can’t understand why they’re not out there negotiating every day,” Kirschenbaum said. “It’s hard to understand why no one seems to be concerned with concluding this beforehand. These people are all businessmen.”

If there is a strike, Bochco warned that the dispute could take on a life of its own.

“People get backed in. People get angry. They lose sight of the issues, and it becomes about testicles,” he said. “At that point, there’s no telling what could happen.” 

Angels on the outs

By Michael Ausiello
From TV Guide Online

Joss Whedon — creator and executive producer of the WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel — has a bone to pick with 20th Century Fox, the studio behind Angel as well as the freshman smashDark Angel. Fox’s decision to pit Dark‘s sci-fi siren Jessica Alba against vampire sire David Boreanaz on Tuesday nights has resulted in a steep ratings decline for the Buffy spinoff, and Whedon’s out for blood.

 “The fact that they put [Dark Angel] on opposite a show that they produce, thereby hurting it, shows that they really don’t care,” Whedon tells TV Guide Online. “Their big picture is clearly so big that whatever I think and whatever I am doing doesn’t matter, and I resent that. But I am not the ‘Big Picture Guy.’ I’m just making my shows.”

 Marc Berman, TV analyst for Mediaweek, feels Whedon’s pain, calling Fox’s scheduling of Dark Angel “one of the less logical moves last fall.” In fact, he believes that both shows are suffering. “Although Dark Angel has carved a comfortable niche for itself, had Angel not been in the competitive mix, Dark Angel‘s ratings might even be stronger. By splitting the young adult audience, Angel is down and Dark Angel is probably not the real hit it should be.”

 Despite his frustration, Whedon insists that he has not asked Fox to move Dark Angel to another night next fall. “I don’t deal with that,” he says. “I have no control over that. I am not someone that can say, ‘Work your schedule.’

 “Ultimately I am not going to ask them to do anything,” he adds. “As long as I get to make my shows, the people who want to watch them will.”

 Adding another wrinkle to the debate — not to mention Whedon’s forehead — is Alba’s so-called alias. “I watch [Dark Angel], and her name is not ‘Angel,’ and she’s not an angel, so why the [expletive] would they call it that?” he seethes. A 20th Century rep was unavailable for comment.

 Female foes notwithstanding, Whedon points out that the “basic core [of Angel‘s audience] has stayed there.” But another menace looms: If 20th Century makes good on its threat to relocate Buffyto another network (it’s currently embroiled in heated renewal talks with the WB), Angel could lose its cushy lead-in. Whedon isn’t alarmed, though. Assures the auteur: “I believe Angel‘s audience will [stick with us] wherever Buffy is.”

What makes Buffy slay?

By Mim Udovitch
From Rolling Stone Magazine

The clothes? The attitude? The fact that she saves the world every week? Or is it the hot, sweaty sex? Behind the scenes at the coolest show on TV.

Sarah Michelle Gellar is having one her all-but-nonexistent moments off from filming Buffy the Vampire slayer, the eponymous heroine of which she is. She is sitting in a director’s chair over by the monitors, dressed, as Buffy, in a white sheer top over a black tank and pants. The show, although it has drifted from the original Valley-girl tendencies of the title character, consistently dresses in the rockingest clothes on television -courtesy of costume designer Cynthia Bergsrom, who seems to have the same heightened sense of awareness when it comes to catching small-designer-label trends that Buffy has when it comes to fighting demonic evil. (And as the Manhattan-raised and hometown-proud Gellar notes, “It’s very hard to be a show in L.A. and be trendsetting, because the fashions are in New York, and you’re competing with every other show that shoots out here. Not to mention that most actresses are all, give or take, the same size – we’re all between five-two and five-five, and between 95 and 125 pounds.”)

Gellar, 23, who has played the young woman whose lot in life is to battle monsters since the show debuted as a midseason replacement on the WB in 1997, has been here on the set since early in the morning and will be here until late at night. She has often said that the early assumption of adult responsibilities is something she shares with her character – a former child actress (she was discovered in a restaurant at age four), she has been a subject of public scrutiny at least since her actual high school years, during which she played Erica Kane’s illegitimate daughter, Kendall Hart, on All My Children.

Whatever their source, as Buffy and in person, she has a beauty contestant’s smile and the hypervigilant manner of a person who doesn’t trust anyone who hasn’t earned it, but nevertheless needs your vote. She has a physical charisma that in itself borders on a superpower. And at the moment, she also has a very realistic-looking carefully applied cut across her forehead. She speaks very fast, and her rapid-fire delivery has served her well when negotiating the sentences of Joss Whedon, the show’s creator, which tend to be long and to contain many clauses. She is considering the question: What makes Buffy slay? “I think it comes more naturally to her than she’d like to admit,” she says. “She says ‘Ooh, I’m always having to do what’s right,’ and, ‘Ooh it’s so hard,’ but really, that is her nature. The thing is, with this show, you can identify with so many of the characters. You really take an interest in what’s happening to each and every one of them.

“And it’s all in Joss’ brain. It’s amazing to me that one day he had this thought and now he’s created this empire, this entire lot. Like in a couple of days we start shooting the last episode of the season, and no one has any idea what happens. But Joss just keeps saying, ‘Don’t worry, I have it right here.'”

Joss Whedon has always liked to create imaginary worlds. When he was eleven or twelve, for example, he had one featuring hero Harry Egg, itinerant space traveller, and his androgynous demigod sidekick, Mouseflesh. Ten or thirteen years later, during which interval stuff happened – school, the writing of spec scripts and eventual employment on Roseanne- he had another idea. It was an idea that was more like an image, actually. “It was pretty much the blond girl in the alley in the horror movie who keeps getting killed,” he says. “I felt bad for her, but she was alway more interesting to me then the other girls. She was fun, she had sex, she was vivacious. But then she would get punished for it. Literally, I just had that image, that scene, in my mind, like the trailer for a movie – what if the girl goes into the dark alley. And the monster follows her. And she destroys him.

And that’s pretty much is what happens on Buffy. After three years at Sunnydale High School, Buffy Summers has just completed her freshman year at UC Sunnydale. She is a vampire slayer. In every generation there is one slayer whose burden and skill it is to fight evil – primarily, but not exclusively, in the form of vampires. Sunnydale is the center of an extra heaping helping of evil, because it is situated on a Hellmouth. If the Hellmouth were opened, the world as we know it would come to an end, and demons would rule the earth. Complications have ensued.

In the real world, Whedon, 35, is sitting in his office in a building in Santa Monica where much of Buffy, currently concluding its fourth season, is shot. He is wearing jeans, sneakers a corduroy jeans jacket and a blue and white striped shirt, an ensemble that makes him look like a hip-hop Dennis the Menace. A graduate of Wesleyan who grew up in Manhattan and went to boarding school in England before following in both his grandfather’s and father’s footsteps as a writer for television, thus forming a direct line of descent from the Donna Reed show to Buffy, Whedon was not himself a happy adolescent. “I was one of those kids who no one pays attention to, so he makes a lot of noise and is wacky,” he says. “But I was funny; I wasn’t totally annoying. I decided early on that my function in life was to walk into a group of people, say something funny and leave while they were still laughing. Which is pretty much what I did, only now I get paid for it.” (And in the case of Toy Story, which he co-wrote, Academy Award-nominated-for it. Other credits include Alien: Resurrection and Speed, as well as the 1992 feature Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

When he speaks, he tends to look off into the middle distance, as one whose habitual eloquence doesn’t make him any less habitually shy. He is also wearing a slightly pained expression, maybe because he hasn’t written the last episode of the season; maybe because, what with Buffy and it’s spinoff, Angel, he bears the weight of imaginary worlds on his shoulders; but probably because he had an emergency appendectomy earlier in the week.

“Then I wrote my little movie,” he continues, playing what appear to be imaginary arpeggios on the arms of his chair, “which was sort of fun.” And then they made my little movie which was sort of less fun but had a very small fun degree. And then this, which wasn’t my idea. After the movie, a TV production executive said, ‘This is a TV show.’ so I thought, ‘Well a TV show needs something to sustain it, and a California girl fighting vampires, that’s not enough. So I thought about high school and the horror movie, and high school as hell and about the things the girl fights as reflections of what you go through in highschool. And I thought, ‘Well that’s a TV series.'”

But just barely. “You try being a on a midseason replacement show on the WB called Buffy the Vampire Slayer and see how much respect you get,” says Gellar. Ten or thirteen episodes later, however, during which interval more stuff happened – stuff in the way of character and story development, of a depth and texture that the show’s title did not suggest- it was a whole imaginary world. And outside of The Simpsons, it was the coolest show on television; in fact, it was cool for the same reasons as The Simpsons – because it was writer driven; because it was increasingly ensemble driven; and because, at first glance, it was a genre so fundamentally silly that it could get away with murder. “You can get to the emotional truth almost by sleight of hand, while people aren’t really looking,” says supervising producer Marti Noxon. “It’s sort of like, ‘Here look at the shiny vampire,’ and behind that, there’s something really raw going on.”

And often there is – for one thing, people’s feelings get hurt on Buffy, and when they do, instead of the usual resolution in the last act of the episode, it resonates over whole seasons, and beyond. For another, Buffy is one of the most sexually blunt shows on the air and, for its family hour time slot, almost subversively so. You have only to look at the parallel suggested by the imagery of Sunnydale, the fictional town where the show takes place, being situated on a Hellmouth, a portal that has to remain sealed to avoid dire, world-changing results, to that it’s not a show that takes the consequences of sexual activity lightly.

“It’s something we deal with,” says Whedon. “Because it’s something that’s on people’s minds. But on a horror show, if you do something -anything-you are going to be punished for it. I’m not out to say it’s bad. And I’m not out to say, ‘Everybody go have sex now.’ the fact is, people do have sex, and sometimes it gets complicated, and that’s what we want to get at.”

Anyway, the characters, most of whom graduated from high school last season, have sex, and some of them have plenty of it, and that’s not even the subversive part. The subversive part is how intergrated the characters’ sexuality is – and not just on the obvious, symbolic level, where teenagers and vampires are united in being ruled by forces within them that they can’t always control. What really makes Buffy
subversive, especially in it’s depiction of female sexuality, is that where, say, Ally McBeal wants a boyfriend! or doesn’t! or, wait! she does! – and hats off to that show for examining the situation of the single woman who wants! or doesn’t want! a boyfriend from every conceivable angle, plus the opposite – the characters have sex with consequences, but they are not defined by that alone. They also have friendship with consequences, school with consequences, popularity with consequences, even endlessly repeating replays of Cher’s “Believe” with consequences, positive and negative.

(Except the Cher thing. That was just negative)

Special thanks to Angle Man for transcribing this article.

Wes alum finds fame with “Buffy”

From The Wesleyan Argus

By Liz Garcia – Consulting Features
April 13th, 1999

This Thursday, Wesleyan welcomes home Joss Whedon ’87, creator, executive producer and sometimes writer/director of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the most popular shows on television.

Whedon will screen an episode of Buffy in the CFA cinema and then answer questions. Word is mum on which episode specifically, but it is one Whedon wrote and directed himself and custom-selected for his Wesleyan audience.

Wesleyan is a hotbed for Buffy-worship. Fans here applaud the show for its humor, its intelligence, and its progressive presentation of female characters. The show, now in its third and darkest season, is about Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar), whose dynamic high school social life is rudely interrupted by the prophecy that she is the Chosen One, the girl in her generation who will have to defend the earth from evil.

Buffy moves to Sunnydale, Calif., the center of vampire and demon activity and attempts to balance her fate with friends, school, and a boyfriend who happens to be a 240-year-old vampire. It’s not easy being the slayer, and each show uses the premise, as a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of growing up, of discovering one’s true identity; a process which takes its toll on girls Buffy’s age.

Variety magazine called Whedon a Hollywood whiz kid three years ago, before he even went the way of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” the television series. A third generation television writer, Whedon started out writing a few episodes for “Roseanne” before becoming the whiz kid script doctor who saved “Speed,” won an Oscar for “Toy Story” and penned “Alien Resurrection.”

Whedon was a film major at Wesleyan and a student of Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film, Jeanine Basinger. Basinger remembers Whedon as one of her brightest students, someone whom she regarded as a peer. Whedon remembered working harder for Basinger’s classes than he had for anything, ever before.

His film education was eclectic; he cites Minelli, Hitchcock, Borsege and Keaton as influences, all studied in his classes at Wesleyan.

“Buffy is the product of my film classes, stealing from every genre I ever saw,” Whedon said in a phone interview in December.

An inspirational aside for all those hoping to succeed in film and television, Whedon referred to his senior thesis film as “an unendurable piece of shit.”

Ten years later, he won an Oscar.

While an undergraduate, Whedon made another film, a black and white post-apocalyptic Western with a woman doing the “man with no name” role. His focus in film studies was gender and feminist film theory and his television show is most telling of this.

“Buffy is a feminist role model because she counters the myth that to be a physically strong woman you have to be a manly woman,” said Meg Loomis ’99, head of the Women’s Resource Center. “[Buffy’s friend] Willow, too, is a role model because she’s the brains. The women on Buffy fulfill the qualities usually left to male characters.”

Buffy Summers is not the typical female action heroine. She is the polar opposite of Linda Hamilton. She’s tiny and so are her skirts and when she trains for slaying, it’s in designer work-out gear.

“Buffy the Lesbian Separatist will not be on the network anytime soon,” Whedon said, in response to the idea that Buffy’s sexiness and femininity negates her legitimacy as a feminist character.

“There’s something about strength that’s attractive and yes, she’s attractive, and the men in her life not only are OK with that they find it attractive,” Whedon said.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer doesn’t even beat time-slot competitor Judge Advocate General in the ratings. But, Buffy fans are hard-core, the kind that write their own on-line episodes like “What the Watcher Watches” by a girl who professes her love for the show supersedes any copyright laws.

And then there are the 100-plus web pages for Sarah Michelle Gellar: the official Buffy web site, the unofficial Buffy web sites, the calendars, the official episode-by-episode “Watcher’s Guide.” And then there’s the fact that Entertainment Weekly rated the show number one in television this year.

While the show’s expressive lighting and camera movement make it more cinematic than most sitcoms, Whedon cites several television programs as influences on Buffy. They are: “The Simpsons,” “because they can go from genre to genre”; “My So-Called Life,” “a documentary about me, Brian Krakow,” and “Party of Five,” the blueprint for Buffy’s heart-wrenching, tear-jerking scenes.

“Once Sarah [Michelle Gellar] was able to do very dark personal stuff and all of our actors were, we could go to the dark scary place where most writers actually live,” Whedon said.

One of the differences between Buffy and other prime-time sitcoms, particularly teen sitcoms, is that the former manages to elicit fans from a remarkably broad demographic; from teenagers to middle-aged parents to liberal arts college students. When asked who his intended audience was Whedon answered, “People. Me.”

“Obviously, I speak to myself and my generation because that’s who I am and that’s what I know but basically the idea was always to make it accessible to everyone,” Whedon said. “There are some people who won’t accept a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer in their lives.”