Peter, Paul, Mary…and HBO?

March 23, 2011

After the brilliance of the screenplays for both The King’s Speech and
The Social Network, the huge thud we experience at this time of every year seems all the more pronounced. That “thud” is the dull impact of movies invading theaters that are based more on the marketing of an idea, rather than an actual screenplay.Classic example from the past? How about Junior in which Arnold Schwarzenegger played the world’s first pregnant man? As a friend once said to me, “Stephen, that wasn’t even a concept movie. That must have come from a lunch  with too many martinis.”

So, let’s all sing along here to the tune of Peter, Paul, and Mary‘s classic “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”

Where have all the writers gone?

Long time passing.

Where have all the characters gone?

Long time ago.

Where have all the good scripts gone?

Gone to HBO, every one.

When will they ever learn?

When will they ever learn?

For that matter, what’s left of The Old Hollywood seems to have migrated to HBO as well. Truth be told, HBO is one of  the only 2 remaining production company refuges (the Weinstein Company being the other) where the written word is treated with deference and the people who write scripts are provided a safe haven from having to do a 6th rewrite on the 8th Saw movie.

The upcoming Mildred Pierce miniseries (starring Kate Winslet,  an Old Hollywood actress if there ever was one) on HBO looks like Old Hollywood at its best. If it is as fascinating as it appears, it will take its place with other brilliant and recent HBO script-driven classics like John Adams, Temple Grandin, If You Knew Jack, and others, not to mention The Sopranos, which must be considered one of the most brilliantly written series ever.

Elsewhere in today’s New Hollywood, writers have become so devalued that they make Rodney Dangerfield look like the most respected man in the world.

The Old Hollywood used to actually put promising writers under contract and spend years and valuable resources to develop their talents. Imagine that.

Just as the technological blizzard of email and texting has allowed and even exacerbated our growing inability to connect to each other as living, breathing, feeling human beings, so has the decline of the importance of writers accelerated the dumbing down of movies.

We audiences deserve much better than that…and so do writers.


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