An afternoon with Richard Wesley

On Wednesday, April 9, the University of Baltimore was graced with the presence of a special guest. Richard Wesley, who made a name for himself in the 1970’s by writing for acting heavyweights Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby, stopped by UB to talk about his time in Hollywood as well as his award winning plays. He also gave advice to aspiring writers on the inner workings of Hollywood.

Professor Wesley received his B.F.A and M.F.A from Howard University, which at the time was the premier Black university. Writers such as Toni Morrison, activists like Stokely Carmichael, and future Mrs. Huxtable, Phylicia Rashad, are all alums of the historic Black college. It was there that Wesley began to fully develop his skills as a writer.

His first play, The Black Terror, was influenced by the terror and turmoil of the 1960s and early ’70s. As a young man, Professor Wesley and many others of his time suffered from what he termed local PTSD. He felt that death was a constant companion, seeing great figures like President John Kennedy, Malcom X, and Martin Luther King assassinated while they were fairly young. He noted that much of the activism at the time was led by young adults, people between 20 and 40 years old.

Even though Professor Wesley wasn’t soon to forget all of the unrest that loomed over the 1960’s and early 70’s, he transitioned his writing from drama, to comedy. Sidney Poitier, who was at the time, one of the most profitable actors in the world, commissioned him to write a story. He came up with a comedic plot and titled it Uptown Saturday Night. Though Poitier was not initially slated to star in the film, the studio executives wanted him to be a part of it. The film was a major success in 1974. Professor Wesley was penned to write the follow up, Let’s Do it Again, which was more successful at the box office than its predecessor. It was one of the twenty highest grossing films of 1975. Wesley continued writing for films into the 1980’s, adapting Richard Wright’s classic novel, Native Son, into a film.

He wrote teleplays in the 1990’s including Murder without Motive (1991), Mandela and De Klerk (1997), and Bojangles (2000); as well as television shows Fallen Angels on Showtime, and 100 Centre Street for A&E.

Professor Wesley still writes plays, but he is also a highly respected professor and Chair of the Burton and Rita Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at New York University. He was also the Tisch of NYU Asia Chair. With all of his success, Professor Wesley was humble enough and kind enough to spend time with students from UB and to dole out some advice to the future writers in the room:

From his mentor Ed Bullens: Artists should know ideology, but artists should never be ideological.

From Professor Wesley: The prime time for writers in Hollywood is between 25 and 45. Screenwriters should be of note by 45. There are chances to still be a successful writer after that age range, but like so much of Hollywood, age is a factor. He says that writers should also form a production company, preferably before 45. It’s a way to stay viable in a constantly evolving industry; it’s also a way to develop young talent.

Wesley’s final note: Develop your ideas. Nurture them. And have integrity!

Shonda Rhimes dominates ABC’s fall 2014 line up with three series

Shonda Rhimes’ history-making streak continues to TV land ablaze! When she cast Kerry Washington in the lead role of Olivia Pope for “Scandal,” she made Washington a household name and broke barriers in the process. It was the first time in decades that a black woman was the lead character in a drama series. When the broadcast networks begin their new line ups in the fall, Rhimes will have three shows on one network (ABC) between 8 and 10 p.m. That’s a big deal, especially in today’s television landscape. With shows getting the axe after only a few episodes due to low ratings, it shows that the execs at ABC trust Rhimes enough to let her create a show and let it gradually build an audience. Many series creators don’t get that kind of trust, respect or space to grow their shows. The overall ratings of network television shows are down significantly from other primetime shows of the last ten to twenty years.

Rhimes’ first big hit, “Grey’s Anatomy” was around when shows still could accumulate more than 20 million viewers at a time. When “Grey’s” appeared as a mid-season show on ABC back in March 2005, it quickly gained a solid following and generated a good amount of buzz. At the time, the #1 scripted show on ABC—and most certainly the most buzzed about show on TV—was another ABC production, 2004 mega-hit “Desperate Housewives”. By the time both shows reached their third season premieres back in 2006, “Grey’s” had become as popular—I might argue even more popular—than “Desperate Housewives”. It garnered close to thirty million views for its third season premiere. The show moved to Thursday nights where it’s been ever since the fall 2006. While the show is no longer drawing twenty plus million viewers, it is still one of the most popular programs on TV; and this on demand world we live in helps the show maintain its popularity. It has long ago surpassed the once mighty “Desperate Housewives” in terms viewing and longevity (the upcoming season will be season number eleven. “Housewives”lasted for eight seasons.)

Again, “Greys'” numbers have slipped in years past, but not many shows get 20 million viewers these days. Network execs really only care about that coveted 18-34 (and maybe the 18-49) year old demo; in that area, “Grey’s” is still going strong. It’s no surprise, then, that the brass at ABC have enough faith that Rhimes can pull off a strong Thursday night line-up dominated by her creations. “Scandal”, which airs right after “Grey’s”, has taken off tremendously since its mid-season premiere in 2012. In that time, it has become a water-cooler favorite and has sometimes equaled or surpassed “Grey’s” in both ratings and demographics. When executives see this, they see dollar signs, which is why it only seems logical that they asked Rhimes to create yet another show for the fall 2014 season, “How to Get Away with Murder”, starring Oscar nominee Viola Davis. So, ABC’s fall 2014 Thursday line-up will look like this:

8 p.m.: “Grey’s Anatomy”
9 p.m.: “Scandal” (new time slot)
10 p.m.: “How to Get Away with Murder”

All the best to Shonda! Her creativity gives a boy like me some inspiration!

Scoop on ‘Two and a Half Men’ Final Season

It’s finally over. After twelve years of cast changes, offset meltdowns, and watching little Jake became big Jake, “Two and a Half Men” is ending its run! While most people thought it was long overdue (just look at the comments being posted online), network executives still saw the show as lucrative. Since it premiered in the fall of 2003, the show has only dropped out of the top twenty broadcast ratings one time (season-to-date ratings have not been published yet, but this may mark the second time the show was out of the top twenty.) When Ashton Kutcher joined the show in the ninth season, following Charlie Sheen‘s meltdown and tirade on creator Chuck Lorre, ratings rose again. In the last season the show has seen a decrease in viewership and loss of enthusiasm by fans for the characters.

I was never a huge fan of the show. My brothers used to watch it all the time and I would leave the room when it came on. I didn’t really hate the show; I just wasn’t interested in giving it a chance. They would tell me over and over how funny it was. I never intended to watch it, just like I never intended to watch “Family Guy”. After moving down to Baltimore and finding myself without cable, within the first week of only having basic television, I found myself watching the show and laughing hysterically. It was a piece of home. It made me think of my brothers, and what a great show to share with brothers! They probably didn’t want to hear that I missed them and I missed being home so instead of saying that, I told them that I now watch reruns of “Two and a Half Men” and that they were right (big brothers always love to hear that kind of crap), the show is pretty funny.

So I was prepared and somewhat caught up on Men just in time for the arrival of Ashton Kutcher in 2011. Initially, I thought the show was funny sans Charlie Sheen, but after a while, it just seemed dull. I stopped tuning in to the new episodes and just watched and re-watched the old episodes. I don’t know if Ashton Kutcher is just a bad actor or if the writing just started to go down after Sheen departed. What I do know is that a show that was charmingly vulgar turned into a show that relied on old sexual innuendos and dull writing with the hope from executives and producers that Kutcher would be enough of a draw. Even a likeable actress like Amber Tamblyn couldn’t keep me tuned. Whatever the reason for the show’s downfall, twelve seasons is a long run and any series that lasts for so long deserves a little praise.

The final season of “Two and a Half Men” begins airing this fall on CBS.

A new way to view cancelled soap opera series, All My Children, One Life to Live

There has been an explosion of excitement when it comes to programming on the internet. I remember one of the first times I heard about original content being produced on the internet, I thought the idea was absurd! I didn’t want to have to strain to watch a cheaply made show on the internet. A music video, yes; a clip of an old show on YouTube? Sure; but my initial opinion was that original programming was best kept on television. That was my crazy little brain not paying attention to not just where the internet was headed, but also the television itself. Now, there are smart TV’s that can be connected with internet, or the internet is pretty much built in. My love and respect for original internet programming was being reevaluated right around this time last year.

When ABC cancelled All My Children and One Life to Live on the same day in 2011, I was heartbroken. I was an odd little boy who would rather spend time with his grandmother watching the stories than playing outside. It may sound weird, but when my grandmother died, I quit the stories for a few years. She kept the dial to ABC all day long when she was alive. I couldn’t hear the theme music from General Hospital; every time I came across Erica Kane or Victoria Lord, I felt a heaviness in my heart. They reminded me of Momma. Eventually I started to watch again, but I noticed that the shows had lost something; the heart, the soul. Something was different. But I still watched much for the same way I stopped, Momma. When the shows were cancelled I felt like I lost her all over again. So many people who grew up like me felt the same way about their parents or grandparents who watched soaps.

I thought that there’s no chance that these shows will be saved. A few years before the cancellations of AMC and OLTL, the soap opera Passions had been cancelled by NBC. DirecTV picked up the show, airing it for thirty minutes for four days a week, with a recap day on Friday. It didn’t last long, so I figured once those shows went off the air that that’d be the end, no Passions treatment for these two old shows.

On April 29, 2013, All My Children and One Life to Live came back to life again on Hulu, Hulu Plus and iTunes. It felt like the shows were a hit on their new platform. They were high up on ITunes’ and Hulu’s top shows. The story gets a little involved here, and while the details are quite dramatic and soapy, they are also a little boring to people who don’t give a crap about the soap genre. (For those who want a little more detail on all the craziness and Soap Opera Network would be good places to start. Just type in either show, and then have fun reading!) Long story short, the shows went on hiatus in September and haven’t been on the air since. For all the fans, the back and forth has become tiring, and, at this point, I think it’ll be best to keep both shows in the past. At some point, with soaps—and life—we have to know when to move on and create new memories, new friends, and new television (or internet) shows.

One of the shows that had a little more success being re-packaged on the internet aired on primetime. Arrested Development was a critical darling on the FOX network for three seasons. It racked up all kinds of awards and accolades. But, after three seasons of ratings that didn’t match the critical success, AD was cancelled in 2006. After almost ten years off the air, it returned in a new body, and a new format; it premiered on Netflix in May 2013. In the spirit of binge watching, all fifteen episodes of the fourth season were released at once. The show did not suffer the fate of its daytime counterparts; the chances are good that the show will have a fifth season.

The internet is shaping the way viewers get their entertainment. Dead television shows have been revived. Even if they don’t have a long shelf life (All My Children, One Life to Live), the internet is proving that it is trying to go where television used to go. I never thought I’d say this, but there is a heartbeat there. These shows don’t have the budgets of networks, but somehow, audiences are catching on to the provocative, cutting edge shows that are finding their way onto the internet. I think it’s here to stay!

Season recap for the ‘Devious Maids’ fans who missed it

“Devious Maids” is back! The season two premiere picked up right where season one left off; and if your jaw dropped during the first season, it will be dismantled this season.

What I love about the series so far is the insane blend of melodrama, comedy, and satire. Sometimes, I want to watch a show that isn’t about saving the world from climate change or giving me tips on how to stay fit and active so I can live to be 130 years old. Sometimes, I want fantasy and laughter with a shot of sarcasm. I get that with this show. I think others want that, too.

One thing I that I find odd are the comments from some that the show is racist, or is only focused on stereotypes of Latina women. Executive producer Marc Cherry has a way of taking negative stereotypes and turning them into positives. Remember “Desperate Housewives?” Eva Longoria as Gabrielle Solis? She was wealthy and successful with a maid of her own. Longoria is now co-executive producer of “Devious Maids.” Also, I’m sure that Carmen and Marisol are college educated. Marisol was the one who figured out that it was Philippe (Stephen Collins) who killed Flora (Paula Garces) in the first season. I don’t believe Longoria would get behind a show that would mock her heritage; not even for a sizable paycheck.

This season, a few of the maids are moving into Beverly Hills mansions of their own. Ana Ortiz’s character, Marisol, is living in a classic Beverly Hills mansion with a devious maid of her own! Roselyn Sanchez’s character, Carmen, has also hit the Beverly Hills jackpot. She may become the next famous singer with her own mansion. For now, though, she’s playing the beard to Latin pop star Alejandro. I think that will change soon. I won’t give away spoilers, but let’s just say it looks like Alejandro’s (and quite possibly, Carmen’s) time in the limelight is fading…fast! If you thought Brenda, Dylan, and the rest of the gang from 90210 had issues, then the characters on this show belong in an insane asylum!

There’s no good or bad on “Devious Maids”—only vindictive and more vindictive! While not all of the maids get down and dirty, there are others who can be just as vindictive and cunning as their bosses. Those are the ones who are qualified to move up the ladder (Carmen and Marisol). Is that not at least partially true in our society? Many (not all) of the people who are in a position of power didn’t get there because they were painfully nice. They got there because they weren’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers and shatter some glass. So, if you want to make it in Beverly Hills as a maid or a mogul, remember this: if you’re rich, someone will want to kill you; if you’re a maid, someone will want to kill you. In the meantime, have great sex, throw back a few drinks, and enjoy the view!

“Devious Maids” airs on Sundays at 10 p.m. on Lifetime.

Lessons from a reality TV housewife

What’s causing the global temperature to rise? Well, it has to be the ladies of Bravo’s most lucrative franchise! Fans of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives Of …” have been swimming in the drama this past year. From Joe and Teresa Guidice’s financial woes; and brother’s in-law Joe Gorga and Joe Guidice’s husky brawl on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” to the hair pull of the decade given to Kenya Moore by way of Porsha Stewart on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” this has been a violent year for the franchise. “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” reunion, which aired this past Sunday, showed Kenya Moore, former Miss USA being pulled to the ground by Porsha Williams, ex-wife of football player Kordell Stewart. Network President Andy Cohen should be happy. “The Real Housewives Of…” brand has turned Bravo into a reality show heaven; but apparently even he wasn’t happy with what happened on Sunday’s “RHOA” Reunion: Pt. 1 (I still don’t understand two and three-part reunions, but whatever). Many fans of the show aren’t happy either. Here’s the short version of the melodrama:

For the better part of two years, Porsha and Kenya have been soap-like rivals. It had to do with a benefit that Porsha was throwing. She invited Kenya and called her (God forbid) Miss America. Kenya let her know that she was Miss USA. From there, there have been twirls in nightgowns, arguments in exotic locales, and the occasional truce that quickly reverts back to immortal hate between the two. They have constantly attacked each other, especially when it comes to their romantic relationships (Kenya says that Porsha married Kordell to help him hide his homosexuality, Porsha [and many of the other women on the set] believe that Kenya’s supposed African prince is just a figment of her pretty imagination…you get the picture).

At the reunion, Kenya, known for her theatrical props, upped the ante from last year when she opened up a fan whenever someone said something she didn’t like. This year, she had a scepter which was snatched by Porsha and thrown to the floor (but not before she Knighted Andy Cohen), when she had enough of Porsha’s babbling, she pulled out a megaphone, which wasn’t fully functional. **Note to self: Make sure all parts of a megaphone are put together before I use it to blow out someone’s eardrums** This is where the drama ensues: As Kenya is screaming through the megaphone, Porsha snatches it and stands up, Kenya stands up, they have words, and in the twinkling of an eye, former Miss USA is pulled to the ground by former Mrs. Stewart! Kenya surprisingly jumps back to her feet and threatens to leave the set if Porsha stays. Andy tells Porsha (who is clearly distraught that she was physical with Kenya) to take the rest of the reunion off. When season seven of RHOA begins, there may be no Porsha.

As a viewer, I was shocked, but not appalled by the situation. This is Bravo after all. This is the network that let brother’s in-law duke it out in front of family, friends, and trained family counselors (“Real Housewives of New Jersey”); it’s also the same network that allowed doctors’ wives to fight poolside at a birthday party (“Married to Medicine”). A part of me doesn’t get carried away with what’s right or wrong with reality television. I watch programs on PBS. I read novels. These shows are just for fun. Being college educated doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy reality TV and all the craziness that comes with it. It’s just another platform for aspiring actors and actresses. Just watch an interview with a reality “star”. When the interviewer asks what their long-term goals are, many will say that they want to act in film or television. What happened between Kenya and Porsha is nothing new. Fans of daytime can probably remember when Leslie slapped Monica on General Hospital, or when Alexis and Krystle fought in Alexis’ studio…then a lily pond…then down a hill…and also in a designer showroom, on Dynasty. Maybe some viewers feel that reality TV is actually a real depiction of life. If you want real life, spend some time with your neighbors or watch a documentary. Just remember, when you watch the Housewives of any city, “The Bad Girls Club,” or “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” that these people are getting paid to entertain you, should you want to watch. If you don’t want to see a former Miss USA dragged to the ground by a woman who had no idea that the Underground Railroad wasn’t actually a part of Amtrak, then you shouldn’t be watching reality TV.