Get Those Bad Guys!

by Janis Patterson

I admit it – I’m a crime-show junkie. Nothing makes me happier than to settle down after supper in front of the TV and watch the bad guys get it. Whether it’s real-life true crime (which can be very slow going and sometimes repetitious to fill out the allotted time slot, I know) or some scripted, fancily filmed TV series (which can be so fantastic as to be unbelievable) I love seeing the good guys triumph and the bad guys feel the full force of the law.

It makes a lovely change from real life. For example, several District Attorneys around the country have announced they will not prosecute theft crimes with a value of under $750 dollars; as one said, he doesn’t believe in prosecuting poverty. He said nothing about bad guys who are not poverty-stricken but just want to take other people’s stuff. Talk about a license to steal! This is just more reason to prefer TV justice.

All is not well in TV land, though. For the last couple of decades there has been a trend to water down the catch-the-bad-guys-and-send-them-to-jail storyline to a more biographical picture of cops as flawed human beings with wretched personal lives. I’m sure that is true in some cases, but if I wanted reality I would sit on my front porch and watch real life.

Another thing that bothers me is that about 20 years ago the focus of TV series shifted from a primarily masculine-oriented team to a female-led group where the woman is in charge while the male officers hang on her every word like adoring acolytes.

Now don’t get me wrong – I have every respect for women police officers. Real ones. They do a fantastic job and are an important part of law enforcement. They do not – like their television counterparts – constantly fluff their hair (in the middle of a gunfight, no less) or miraculously intuit the solution from the flimsiest of connections when no one else can see it.

Plus, I admit to a certain amount of personal prejudice. I would really rather watch a team of good-looking hunky men than a preternaturally gorgeous woman leading her close-to-incompetent male team around by their noses. And yes, I do know that not all real-life male police officers are good-looking and hunky, however competent they are. This is TV we’re talking about, remember? Other people’s fantasies and preferences might and probably will vary, and that’s okay.

However, my worst complaint about scripted TV series is what I call the ‘Moriarty villain.’ This is a seemingly unstoppable evildoer who has a pathological hatred of the protagonist who appears in a great number of episodes and escapes at the end of every one. The first case that comes to my mind is the infamous ‘Red John’ of The Mentalist. Another example is ‘Jack’ on the 20 year old Profiler – which I will watch anytime it comes on anyway, as I am a die-hard Robert Davi fan. Even the original (and infinitely superior) Hawaii 5-O had Wo Fat, though the producers were intelligent enough to get rid of him fairly early on. Pity far too many other producers weren’t so wise. Such indulgence is not only annoying, it is incredibly lazy writing and more than a little insulting to the viewers.

Of course, this is all TV, meaning it is both inconsequential and ephemeral. As well as very annoying. But I’ll still watch because… well, because I’m a crime-show junkie.

Here We Go Again!

by Janis Patterson

It never ends. Writers are the sitting ducks of the universe, and it seems that someone is always trying to figure out a way to profit off our work without fairly compensating us for it.

Back when I was a talent agent for film, TV and commercials everyone wanted to be an actor. No, the word should be ‘star.’ Everyone wanted to be a star. I had people come to me and ask me how much we would charge them to be in a film or television commercial. The concept that acting was a profession and that actors were professional people who deserved to be compensated like any other professional was totally alien to them.

And there were companies who catered to those warped dreams – at a price, however, and usually with either ghastly results or no results at all. I remember a movie, a western I believe, where the ‘producers’ charged everyone a horrible fee (size of role commensurate to their investment) to be in it and so financed the film that way. None of the ‘actors’ were professional, and the resulting product was so bad that it had to go direct to video, and even then many video stores wouldn’t carry it. But the ‘stars’ could always say that they had been in a movie. They were lucky; at least they got something however horrible for their pricey investment.

The point I’m trying to make is that in certain ‘glamorous’ occupations – acting, writing, modeling, et al – there is always someone wanting to do it so badly they will pay (in some form) to do it. If a professional stands up for himself and says, I am worth XX amount of dollars to do that, the sleazy producer/publisher/whatever says, Next! There’s always someone waiting to step in who will do it for less.

There is a reason for this diatribe. Some of my writers’ eloops are burgeoning with yet a new wrinkle in the get-the-writer dialogue. We have always had vanity publishing, where you give the publisher the manuscript and a great deal of money and in return you get a book, which may or may not have been edited. In the old print-only days you usually got a certain amount of copies delivered to your garage and you were now free to market them on your own. Pretty much the same thing today, except that your book will be added to the major etailers, with or without a print setup on POD. The publicity and actual selling of the book is totally up to you – same as it is becoming now with most traditional publishers, who take nearly all the money and each year seem to give less and less value for it.

Work-for-hire has always been with us too – the publisher gives the writer a book bible, an outline and a sum of money, usually fairly small. The writer does the book and that’s it. The writer does not hold the copyright, keeps none of the subsidiary rights, gets no royalties and usually isn’t even credited as the author. I personally don’t care for this business model, but as long as everything is honestly stated up front, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s up to the writer to decide if this is a step they want to take, and a lot of writers do.

However, a new and most unsettling wrinkle is appearing in our business wherein the writer writes a book and submits it to the publisher, who accepts it with a usually very small advance. Sound good? Maybe not. You have to factor in that under this new model the writer sells the book, the characters, the world, all rights and the copyright – and agrees that there will be no royalties and their name will probably not appear on the book/movie/whatever the purchasers want to make of it. Other than the ‘advance’ fee the writer gets nothing else on a book he created from scratch.

This is not illegal – to my mind it’s just immoral. What these predatory (and I chose that word deliberately) publishers are doing is reducing a creator to the status of a ‘content provider’ – an interchangeable link in a chain, just as if we were manufacturing widgets. And from what I’ve heard the payment isn’t that good. If the book is made into a film, the original story creator gets no money and no credit – all that goes to the publisher/producer.

Now there are some who have done this happily and for whatever reasons are content with their decision. I say, joy go with them if they had all the information and made a fully informed decision and that’s what they want. What does disturb me is that this kind of sale is creeping into a lot of publishing contracts from a lot of publishing houses. Maybe some sad day it will be the norm. After all, if a writer is so ‘stupid and greedy’ (to quote one of these publishers) as to want real and proportionate compensation and (gasp) credit for their work, there are always lots of other wanna-bes out there who would be happy for the chance.

After all, who could think of a writer as a professional worthy of their hire? Especially when there are publishers and producers who want all that lovely money for themselves? (Sarcasm in full mode here) Why pay a commensurate wage when there’s always a bunch of writers waiting in line for the chance?

My personal opinion is that the time is long past due when writers and actors and other creative types are recognized for what they are – professional creators. I can see where the ‘writers as interchangeable widgets’ mentality will utterly destroy the quality of creation books and movies and most especially the readers deserve. We have already seen a foreshadowing of this in some of the ungrammatical, illogical and downright rubbishy books that have proliferated in the world of self-publishing. (I love self-publishing; I self-publish myself. There are many great and wonderful books that have been self-published – but there is also an incredible amount of utter garbage, too.)

These publishers with their draconian contracts don’t seem to realize that without us, the writers, they wouldn’t have an industry. Or maybe they do – that’s why they’re trying to exploit us. And perhaps saddest of all is that there will always be writers who, in their determination to be published, will go along.

To me it only seems fair that as long as a project is earning money the original creator should get a fair share of it, because without the original creator there wouldn’t be anything for others to build on.