Thursday, February 15, 2007

Writers vs. Directors

When it comes to the above groups, TV gets it more right than movies.

In movies, the director rules the roost and gets the proprietary credit of the film, which is why movies always have the line "A film by Steven Spielberg" or whichever director is in charge. Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, et. al. are just as big stars as the actors they cast in roles, bringing in people to the theatres because of the strength of their previous work.

Most people couldn't name five writers in Hollywood if their lives depended on it, and if they could, it would be the likes of Quentin Tarantino or Woody Allen, the auteurs who direct their own scripts.

When writers and directors are in synch on a movie, the result is usually gold. When they aren't, it's almost always the writer who gets the short end of the stick and has his or her script drastically altered.

It's all different in TV. The writers serve as the producers of the show, plotting out whole seasons of how a certain series will develop. Since everything starts with the script - in movies or TV - this arrangement seems to make the most sense. The producer/writers of a series will then hire a director for individual episodes.

Sometimes, the writers assume directing duties themselves, such as J.J. Abrams on his series "Lost" and "Alias." On occasion, the director also has a role in creating the series, such as Tom Schlamme on "Studio 60."

I'm not really sure why I am bringing this up except for the fact that tonight's schedule has a couple of notable directors. "Buffy" and "Angel" creator Joss Whedon, in my mind TV's best writer, directs tonight's installment of "The Office" (NBC, 8:30 p.m.) For me, "The Office" remains one of TV's most fascinating shows behind the scenes, since most of the cast has written episodes in the past and several serve as producers of the show.

Meanwhile, on "Smallville" (CW, 8 p.m.), Michael Rosenbaum makes his directorial debut while also serving as the series' Lex Luthor. He follows castmate Tom Welling, the show's Clark Kent, who directed an episode earlier this season. TV provides an outlet for actors to broaden their horizons in this regard, something movies do far less often.

THURSDAY'S BEST BETS: "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC, 9 p.m.) continues its multi-part arc of a ferry disaster that has the hospital swamped with casaulties - including some of the doctors. It's preceded by "Ugly Betty," guest starring Lucy Liu. "Men in Trees" (ABC, 10 p.m.) also delivers a new installment.

Over on NBC, it's a full lineup of new comedies which sandwich "The Office." I'm hopeful for a better "Scrubs" (NBC, 9 p.m.) tonight; I found last week's extremely disappointing and depressing. A new "ER" will run at 10 p.m.

CBS has a full night with "Survivor: Fiji" kicking things off at 8 p.m., followed by a new "CSI" and a new "Shark."

A new "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.) follows "Smallville," while one of the last remaining "The O.C." episodes airs tonight (Fox, 9 p.m.)

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: I'm going to try to slip in an update over the weekend or Monday, but since I probably can't, viewers of intrigue should check out "The State Within," a three-part miniseries on BBC America which debuts Saturday night at 9 p.m. (Parts 2 and 3 air Feb. 18 and 24, respectively). Starring Jason Isaacs and Sharon Gless, it's a tale of intrigue involving both U.S. and U.K. diplomats set very much in the backdrop of the post-9/11 world.

Fox will run a new lineup of its animated comedy block Sunday night, beginning with "The Simpsons" at 8 p.m. ABC's night is highlighted by a new "Desperate Housewives" at 9 p.m., while NBC has a reality run with "Grease" and "The Apprentice." CBS delivers a new "Cold Case" at 9 p.m., set to the music of Bob Dylan, followed by "Without a Trace."

Also, the new "Amazing Race: All-Stars" (CBS, Sun., 8 p.m.) begins Sunday night. I pretty much hate the all-star formats of reality shows, but plan on writing about this next week after I watch the premiere before I judge it.

Finally, I tend not to mention repeats, but "Masterpiece Theatre" is re-airing "Prime Suspect 6" (PBS, Sunday, 9 p.m.), so that automatically gets a nod.

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