Thursday, March 01, 2007

Book Review: Hello, Lied the Agent

When I was visiting my parents in North Carolina a couple of weeks ago, an insider's look at the TV industry caught my eye.

It turned out to be one of the best book purchases I've made in recent memory.

"Hello, Lied the Agent" is a memoir from veteran TV writer Ian Gurvitz ("Becker," "Wings"). It's a laugh-out-loud account of his efforts to pitch potential pilots to the various networks. One was a vehicle for Julia Louis-Dreyfuss co-produced by the creators of "Cheers" and "Frasier." Another was a project written specifically for Daryl "Chill" Mitchell ("Ed," "Veronica's Closet"). A third was a deal involving comic Lewis Black ("The Daily Show").

Anyone who has ever wondered how some of the dreck that is currently on the tube gets there should pick up a copy, as Gurvitz goes through the year-long-plus process of trying to develop sitcoms with clueless network executives. You'd think pitching a pilot for a TV star as big as Julia Louis-Dreyfus from a veteran TV writer working with the guys who created two of the biggest sitcoms of all time would be a slam dunk.

Not so much.

At one point, Gurvitz gives details of all the network's offerings in 2004, and it's a fascinating list since even a TV junkie like myself couldn't even remember half of the shows listed there. For every hit that came out that season ("Desperate Housewives," "Lost") there are about five shows that seemed like good ideas but never found an audience and another 10 where the reader wonders what the networks were thinking.

Gurvitz shows how potentially good ideas are so dumbed down by studio executives that they aren't even worth doing. For the Mitchell project, the pilot centered around the actor as a smart-aleck judge forced to solve people's problems, which would have played to the wise-cracking Mitchell's strengths. After the development people got a hold of it, Gurvitz was forced to re-write the script over and over to make Mitchell more sympathetic and saintly, because the actor was handicapped in a motorcycle accident. After Gurvitz grudgingly put all the development notes into the script, the networks backed off because the show wasn't "edgy" enough.

Gurvitz gets his shots in at studio executives, agents and TV critics, and paints the role of Hollywood writer as so frustrating that you wonder why anyone would do it in the first place (I've been wondering that for the past five years myself).

The book is a highly amusing, quick read, and one that offers a great look inside the nuts and bolts of the TV industry.

AROUND THE DIAL: David Boreanaz ("Bones," "Angel") will provide the voice of Green Lantern in the WB's straight-to-video of "New Frontier," an animated version of Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel, arguably the best comic book written in the past five years. I know 98 percent of you won't care, but I think it's cool news, and this is my blog. ....

The CW is running a promotion where aspiring filmmakers can enter their own promos for "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.) Visit beginning today for more details. ...

Actor Vincent Pastore ("The Sopranos") has already dropped out of the next edition of "Dancing With The Stars," according to TV Guide. Shockingly, Pastore feels he is not up to the physical demands of the show. A replacement has yet to be named. ...

Al Gore's Oscar-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," will debut on Showtime on March 11. ...

Fox's new reality show, "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader," which airs another episode tonight at 9 p.m., pulled in 26.5 million viewers with its Tuesday debut, news that will make both me and Ian Gurvitz pretty depressed.

TONIGHT'S BEST BETS: Not a whole lot. With sweeps over, the networks have pulled most of their originial episodes, but if you are into reality TV, you're in luck.

"American Idol" (Fox, 8 p.m.) votes off four more would-be singers tonight (for more "AI" discussion, check out Amped, the Telegraph's music blog), which will be followed by what "Fifth Grader," which will no doubt be billed as America's newest sensation by the Fox promo people.

"Survivor" (CBS, 8 p..m.) is also new, as are "Scrubs" (NBC, 9 p.m.) and "30 Rock" (NBC, 9:30 p.m.) Everything else is a re-run. If you missed "The Black Donnellys" pilot on Monday, NBC is re-running it tonight at 10 p.m. in place of "ER."

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