In the Same Vein

It’s Paley Festival time here in LA, which is like my Christmas, birthday, and prom all rolled into one.  The Paley Center for Media puts on a series of panels on different TV shows, with the casts and creators present to answer questions from a moderator and from the audience.  I go to a few every year; it’s around my birthday so the tickets are my present to myself.  I’ve been to some amazing ones (all three Pushing Daisies, especially the one with the writers, Fringe last year was fun because of the dynamic between Joshua Jackson and John Noble, the one on the X-Files tied to the movie release was fascinating because it was mostly writers and directors and they spoke pretty openly about how grueling the show was to produce), and some less thrilling (the Dollhouse panel managed to make me dislike the show more, the cast of Gossip Girl is nowhere near as witty as their characters).  This year I went to Lost last week, Vampire Diaries this week, and Glee is next week.

Lost was interesting, but heartwrenching.  Not because of the panel or what they revealed, or mostly didn’t, but because it was mostly the writers and they talked about how their writers’ room works.  It was like hearing the Land of Oz does exist, and how wonderful and perfect it would be for you, after years of trying to get there and doubting you ever will.  My dream is being on the writing staff of a one hour drama, getting to work with other writers and making up stories all day.  I’m still trying, and at least I’m writing again, but I keep my spark of hope sheltered safe and deep in my heart, trying to keep it from blowing out.

Vampire Diaries was amazing.  Much like the show, I had reservations and kept my expectations low, and was then blown away.  Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, the creators of the show, were there, which would have been enough for me.  I’ve been a Williamson fan since Scream, and cried like a little girl at the finale of Dawson’s Creek. He’s the reason I was willing to give the show a chance.  The trailers looked pretty awful and corny, and I hadn’t been that impressed with the lead actress when she was on Degrassi. I watched each episode thinking, OK, this is the week it’s going to fall apart and suck.  And it never did, it’s gotten better, deeper, more intricate.  The writers are chewing through plot faster than even Josh Schwartz, but, unlike him, it’s not leaving the stories thinner and thinner.  And no one has ended up fighting in a swimming pool.  The writers keep revealing more detail, more backstory, more complications, and they all serve to build the characters.

I haven’t read the books the series is based on, but Williamson was open about having departed from it.  Reading the books, he decided it was about the town of Mystic Falls, this weird little place with a history of the supernatural.  And he built the series from there. Fans of the books are reportedly happy, so they must not mind the changes.  As I’ve already mentioned, I wish Alan Ball had taken that route with True Blood and taken the whole world of the books and developed new stories from it.  Williamson and Plec seem like a perfect team for this show.  He hates Twilight, she loves it.  He loves True Blood, she doesn’t watch it.  They joked about the actress who plays Elena, Nina Dobrev, having to call Williamson to tell him she couldn’t say a line he’d written because it was exactly like one from Twilight, which he hadn’t seen.  They also received a call from a director of one episode pointing out similarities with an episode of True Blood, which he had also directed.  I guess there are only so many ways to have a girl in a love triangle with vampires.

The show looks amazing every week, well shot, good art direction.  Williamson talked about some of the choices they had made to get that, things like leaving out the part in the book where the vampires could turn into animals because the effects would be cheap and look bad.  Also the reason he cut the fog that followed the brothers- fake fog looks fake.  Listening to a writer/producer talking about working within tight budget restrictions and not complaining but instead using it as a challenge to make a better show was refreshing.

And then there was the cast.  After the disappointment of the pretty people of Gossip Girl, I wasn’t expecting much from this beautiful trio.  Again, I was wrong to doubt.  Ian Somerhalder is as funny and charming as he is gorgeous, Paul Wesley as well, and Nina Dobrev was their straight man and long suffering little sister.  They told stories, and you could tell that these were people who enjoy each others’ company.  They talked about calling the writers when they had questions about how to play their characters, and there was clearly much mutual respect between the two camps.  There was a neat tangent when they started talking about the vampire makeup and ended up talking about how the makeup and especially the teeth change their behavior and attitude.  Somerhalder talked of enjoying scaring people on set, even when he wasn’t in a scene.  And Wesley and Somerhalder were very good natured about doing scenes shirtless.  Williamson said they’re actually trying to keep Wesley’s shirt on in more scenes, so as not to be gratuitous, which was greeted by boo’s from the audience.  He gave us two thumbs up and said he agreed with us.  Since Sawyer doesn’t take his shirt off on Lost anymore, we’re having to go elsewhere for eye candy.  From having seen this week’s episode with Somerhalder shirtless, I highly suggest tuning in.

Before the panel, they showed us the episode that will be showing this week, a brand new one that hasn’t aired yet.  I think it was the Veronica Mars panel where they did the same thing.  Both times, it was such a different experience to watch a TV show with a theater full of people.  It feels so communal, with everyone laughing, gasping, squealing, at the same time.  That last would be when Somerhalder appeared shirtless, the crowd went wild.  It’s not like watching a movie, because people are more willing to interact with the program.  And because these are characters we’ve been watching in our homes for an hour every week so we feel we know them.  Plus, these are people who love these shows, who have stood in line in the rain to get in, have flown across the country or even across the world to be there.  It’s a theater full of people with a common passion, and there’s an energy from that.

After a good Paley Fest panel, I come out knowing that, however hard it may be, I do want to be writing for TV, to create characters and stories that can move people like that, cause that kind of devotion.  I still don’t have the map to Oz, but I know there’s a great reward waiting if I can find my way.

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March 8, 2010. Tags: , , , , . TV Shows.

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