This is not a dead site!

Just a quick post to let the world know that this is not a dead site! But it is at the bottom rung of a long ladder of priorities.

For more up to date access to all that is Gray Jones, visit:

Twitter: @GrayJones
IMDB: imdb.me/GrayJones
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/grahamajones
YouTube: youtube.com/GrahamAJones
StaffMeUp: staffmeup.com/profile/grayjones
TV Writer Podcast: tvwriterpodcast.comFacebook
Chuck vs the Podcast – chuckpodcast.com

ABC123Songs (YouTube channel for young kids):

 
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ABC123Songs YouTube
ABC123Songs Website

You can see why I don’t have much time to blog! 😉

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TV Writers vs. Early Pickups [updated May 26]

Gray Jones (me) with Chuck co-creator Chris Fedak
Gray Jones (me) with Chuck co-creator Chris Fedak

Time to dust off my blog.

In case this is the first time you’re visiting, I’m a reality TV editor / writer located in Toronto, Canada. I have a great love of scripted shows, and in particular of NBC’s Chuck, about which I host one of the world’s leading podcasts, “Chuck vs. the Podcast.” I have met all of Chuck’s writers personally, shared meals with them, seen where they work, and personally interviewed all of them at least once (except for Josh Schwartz – still working on that one).

On to the network news this week…

Overall, I’m incredibly excited.  Most of my favorite shows are back — in particular, “Chuck,” “V,” and “Smallville” all could have been axed because of low ratings, but their respective networks have thankfully considered more than just the Neilsen numbers.

The only sad omission for me was “Heroes,” but that was not unexpected. It wasn’t just the ratings… As happened with “Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles,” my Monday night TV group had gradually lost interest in Heroes long before the ratings declined. That said, I followed it to the end, and would be very happy if NBC tied up the series with a 2 or 4 hour TV movie, as has been rumored.

Also, I have a long list of new series that I’m eager to check out. “The Cape” (NBC) looks promising, and not just because of Summer Glau. “Undercovers” (NBC), about a spy couple, created by Josh Reims and J.J. Abrams? Oh, yeah! I loved the quirky movie “Outsourced,” and am eager to see what NBC can do with this story in series form. I’m a sucker for superheroes, so ABC’s “No Ordinary Family” is a no-brainer for me, particularly since my favorite TV writer, Ali Adler, will be involved.

But isn’t Ali Adler one of the key writers for Chuck? Ay, there’s the rub.

In fall 2009, it was announced that Scott Rosenbaum, one of the senior writers and executive producers for Chuck, was selected by ABC to become the new showrunner for V, starting with the 5th episode. Great call, by the way – with Skeeter at the helm it has quickly become one of my favorite shows.

Then, on Thursday of this week, we found out that another senior writer and executive producer, Matt Miller, would be leaving Chuck to be the showrunner for another WB-produced show, “Human Target.” Great news for Human Target! But for Chuck?

Well, at least we have senior writer and executive producer Ali Adler… oops! On Friday, Ali broke the news that in the void before NBC announced Chuck’s fate, she had accepted ABC’s offer to write for No Ordinary Family. She says it was very tough, and she will miss her Chuck family and the devoted fans.

One other Chuck writer was in a similar position… Phil Klemmer.  When Chuck’s demo ratings dropped to 1.9, renewal wasn’t looking very good. It was a very hard decision to make, but when a job offer came from another show (NBC’s “Undercovers”), he had to go with the “bird in the hand.”

Gray Jones (me) with Chuck writer Phil Klemmer
Gray Jones (me) with Chuck writer Phil Klemmer

Before we continue, please read this enlightening article by Nellie Andreeva on the effect of early pickups on writing staffs.

So should we fault the writers?

Let’s consider the landscape, particularly for a writer on one of the many shows in the bubble range. Even a critically acclaimed or well-rated show can be canceled or have its budget cut. In pilot season, writers take home stacks of pilot scripts, trying to get a sense of which shows they could aim for if they lose their job. When the time comes, they will have to think very quickly, because if they make the wrong decision, they could A) take a job on a show that only lasts a few episodes, or B) wait too long and miss out completely. If the latter happens, they may have to wait as much as a whole year for the next viable staffing season.

Not only that, but when a writer is offered a job on another show, there is a long line of other writers waiting to take that same position. There is usually a ticking clock on the offer, and if that clock runs out, the job instantly goes to someone else.

Writing salaries may seem high, but so is the cost of living in Los Angeles. These writers have mortgages, car loans, health care costs, and mouths to feed just like the rest of us. Imagine going a year without work? It’s not like these writers can go on Craigslist or look at job websites to find a job.

A case in point is Chuck. It was one of the last renewals to be announced. With two straight weeks of 1.9 ratings and strong new pilots getting buzz, renewal was never a sure thing. NBC could not promise jobs to the writers before announcing their decision. Should these writers have waited for the upfronts on May 17th? By then, the clocks would have run out on their offers long before, almost all of the staff positions would have been filled, and they would’ve had at best slim pickings.

I’ve got a family to support. I know what I would do in that situation. Wouldn’t you?

So should we fault the networks?

Well… I’ll let you decide this on your own. As for me, I try to look at the positive. Chuck could have been canceled completely! Is that what we would’ve wanted? And who knows what goes on behind closed doors. If NBC had been pressured to an early decision, that decision might easily have been “No.”

Where the magic happens - Chuck writers room
Where the magic happens – Chuck writers room

So where does that leave us? Let’s consider three things.

Firstly, new writers can bring much needed freshness to the table.  My favorite episode of Heroes was written by a writer’s assistant who had never written an episode of TV before. Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc had only written a few episodes of the short-lived “My Own Worst Enemy,” and yet their first and second episodes of Chuck, “Chuck vs. the Tic Tac” and “Chuck vs. the Honeymooners,” are two of my favorite episodes of season three (“Honeymooners” is in my top 5 for the whole series).

Secondly, it is part of a TV writer’s job description to write within the style & tone of a series and the voices of the characters. In order even to get the job, they have to show spec scripts that demonstrate these abilities.

Thirdly, the TV writing process is very collaborative, and has many fail-safes. First, a whole room of writers discuss the arcs of the characters and mythology for a season, and ideas for the various episodes. Then, they work together to “break” the stories into acts, sequences, scenes, and even beats within scenes. Next, individual writers are assigned to write drafts, and these drafts are brought back into the writers room for critiques and rewriting. Along the way, all the executive producers have a hand in running the room, which includes shaping and rewriting, giving notes on drafts, etc. Finally, there is the all-important showrunner pass, where the executive producer acting as showrunner will go through the script to tweak the dialogue so that it is consistent with the way the characters have spoken from the beginning. And that’s before the network and talented directors and creative departments weigh in. Then there’s a read-through with the cast, who can offer even more suggestions.

Do individual writers have strengths and weaknesses? Absolutely. However, if you look back at episodes of a well-written show, you will find that each writer can write for each character, and even experienced writers have stronger and weaker episodes. Once the collaboration is complete, the average viewer (stress “average”) can tell little difference between episodes written by different writers.

Do I have favorite writers? Yes. I will certainly miss Ali Adler. However, as Chuck fan Nicola Burke said, “LeJudkins. Dare I say it, they could be the new Ali 2.0.” I don’t think Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc could replace Ali, but I can honestly say I’m just as excited now for a “LeJudkins” episode as I am for an Ali episode.

The next generation - Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc
The next generation – Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc

I’m sad to see these writers go. But I’m eager to see what new writers will bring to the table. And most of all, I’m ecstatic that we have more Chuck to look forward to.

Let’s keep up our support more than ever! If you want to ensure this doesn’t happen again, the only thing you can do is help get the ratings up. Please watch live, and tell all your friends to do the same! During the hiatus, let’s host viewing marathons, use social media, buy lots of copies of the three seasons on DVD to loan or give to our friends and family, and get as many new eyes on the TV as we can for when Chuck returns this fall!

The cup is half full. Actually, from my perspective, it’s a lot more than half.

– – – – – – –

[updated May 15, 2010, 7:15pm with details about Phil Klemmer]

[updated May 26, 2010, 4:15pm with more details about Phil Klemmer (NBC “Undercovers”)]

[Click here for a fun interview we had with Rafe Judkins and Lauren LeFranc on the podcast.]

Follow me on Twitter: @GrayJones

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2-page feature on Gray in Toronto Star!

Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski
Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski

“One Toronto podcaster didn’t just
talk about his favourite show.
He may have saved it from the axe”

— Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010 edition of Toronto Star

Gray with Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez
Gray with Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez

I’m incredibly pleased to confirm that in today’s Toronto Star, the front page and sixth page of the entertainment section are devoted to Gray, Chuck vs. the Podcast, and Chuck’s return for season 3!

“On the outside, it looks to be about spy stuff but it always ends up
being about the relationships,
at work and at home.”
— Gray Jones

A web version with fewer photos is available online here, for fans who don’t have access to the physical newspaper. However, most bookstores in Canada sell the Toronto Star, so if you have access, I urge you to buy the paper and see the full article!

Gray on Chuck set in L.A.
Gray on Chuck set in L.A.

“Hosted along with Mel and Liz, the women behind the expansive and exhaustive Chucktv.net website…”

Mel and Liz, ChuckTV.net, and Wendy Farrington all got mentions in the article. Plus, they interviewed Chris Fedak, both to comment on the podcast story and for a separate piece on Chuck season 3.

Enjoy!

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L.A. Day 14 – Home safe!

Just in case any of you are superstitious, I couldn’t leave by L.A. blog at day 13.  😉
I have to mention the wonderful family I stayed with in Santa Clarita — Ron, Cheryl, Michael, and Luke.  Luke graciously slept on the living room floor for my whole 2-week stay, so I could use his bedroom.  I offered to pay for a car rental, but they wouldn’t hear of it — they lent me their Honda Civic hybrid for the whole length of my stay, and I know I logged a lot of miles!
Throughout my stay they took care of all of my needs, including lots of yummy dinners, sightseeing, and laid back time together.  They even let me introduce them to the first couple episodes of Chuck…  I imagine they’ll all be hooked now.  I had to leave them with something!
After getting packed up and carefully distributing the weight of all my video, audio, and computer gear in my luggage, I headed out with Ron to an “authentic” Mexican restaurant.  Of course he treated me — how could he break an L.A. trend?
I hope when I have guests to Toronto I can treat them as well as I’ve been treated on this trip.  I honestly feel I’ve been treated like a king!
This wraps up my amazing L.A. adventures…  thanks for reading!

Just in case any of you are superstitious, I couldn’t leave by L.A. blog at day 13.  😉

I have to mention the wonderful family I stayed with in Santa Clarita — Ron, Cheryl, Michael, and Luke.  Cheryl was my wife’s roommate for 3 years, but she got married to an American and moved to California long before I met my wife.  It was great to finally get to know them.

Luke graciously slept on the living room floor for my whole 2-week stay, so I could use his bedroom.  I offered to pay for a car rental, but they wouldn’t hear of it — they lent me their Honda Civic hybrid for the whole length of my stay, and I know I logged a lot of miles!

Throughout my stay they took care of all of my needs, including lots of yummy dinners, sightseeing, and laid back time together.  They even let me introduce them to the first couple episodes of Chuck…  I imagine they’ll all be hooked now.  I had to leave them with something!

After getting packed up and carefully distributing the weight of all my video, audio, and computer gear in my luggage, I headed out with Ron to an “authentic” Mexican restaurant.  Of course he treated me — how could he break an L.A. trend?

I hope when I have guests to Toronto I can treat them as well as I’ve been treated on this trip.  I honestly feel I’ve been treated like a king!

This wraps up my amazing L.A. adventures…  thanks for reading!

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L.A. Day 13 – Ball is rolling – and Jeremiah S. Chechik

It’s a little sad…  my last day in L.A.  As most of my other days here, I had appointments fall through, but good news on other fronts.

I was unfortunately not able to make a personal meeting happen at WB.  However, I had an encouraging phone conversation with a WB publicist, and she assured me that she is working the case with her bosses.  As many other people have been asking, she wanted to know “when will you be back in town?” — I guess sooner than I thought!

NBC and Chuck’s parent company Wonderland Sound and Vision both have copies of my pitch, so I’ll be working all three of these companies when I return to Toronto.

My time with actor Mark Christopher Lawrence also fell through, as he was in San Diego, and I couldn’t swing the time to drive down there and be back for my coffee appointment with Chuck director Jeremiah S. Chechik.  Mark was really nice on the phone though, and said we’ll get together for sure the next time I’m in town.

The highlight of my day was definitely having coffee with Jeremiah Chechik (who directed National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Benny & Joon, among others).  We met at the Urth Caffé in Hollywood, and from start to finish he was charming, interesting, funny, and very excited to talk about his life, his work, and the industry in general.  He also happens to hail from Montreal, Canada — he was surprised to find out Ali Adler is from his home town.

Jeremiah happens to love Twitter — when his Chuck episode airs in March, we plan to have an interactive interview where you can twitter your questions for him while the interview is in progress.

Tomorrow I’m off to Toronto…  I may not be blogging for a few days, but I’ll try to give an update on any loose ends from my L.A. trip toward the end of the week.  Also, I should be starting a pretty busy podcast release schedule beginning next week.

Thanks for following along with my L.A. adventures!

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L.A. Day 12 – Podcast Awards nominations open!

My time with Zac’s agent unfortunately fell through, as many appointments here do…  She’s being very helpful, though, and is giving me input on my pitch.

I had another down day, so after church and a yummy lunch of chicken wings, I decided to get my suitcases packed up so I will have less to do on my busy Monday and Tuesday.

Ratings update…  we’re currently #6 overall (all categories) out of 69,000 podcasts worldwide, thanks to you!


Our next task is the Podcast Awards — nominations open today, and we could definitely use your nomination and your vote!  A win in this contest will help both my pitch and also my U.S. visa application.

To nominate us, please click here and carefully follow the instructions.  DO NOT nominate us for both Best Produced and People’s Choice, as that will disqualify your nomination.  Take your pick of the two — by the time everyone has nominated, I’m sure we’ll have nominations in both.  You can also nominate us for ONE sub-category — i.e. one of the top two, and one additional category.  You only get to submit the form once.  Lastly, please quote the name of the podcast as exactly “Chuck vs the Podcast” (i.e. no period after the “vs”).

Thanks!

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L.A. Day 11 – Calm before the storm

My day today was pretty uneventful — I had no appointments, so I spent some more time working on my pitch, and doing some gift shopping.  It’s hard to believe I’ll be back in Toronto three days from now!

Tomorrow I will be getting together for dinner with Zachary Levi’s agent Tej Bhatia Herring.

Monday morning I aim to finally do the WB studio tour.  At some point in the day I plan to pitch to WB and/or NBC…  I’m still waiting for a time to be set up.  I’ve also tentatively set up to get together with actor Mark Christopher Lawrence and also one of Chuck’s directors, Jeremiah S. Chechik…  However, my pitches will have to take precedence.  No matter what happens, it will be a very busy day!

If you haven’t had a chance to vote for the podcast yet this month, I ask that you please do so, and spread the word to other Chuck fans…  every vote will count when I pitch to NBC and Warner Bros.

Thanks!

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L.A. Day 10 – Writer Phil Klemmer, ratings milestones

It was another great day! After I said “hello” to Kevin Mock and Scott Pellet, Ali Adler took me around to meet some of the writers I hadn’t had a chance to meet yet. Ali “voluntold” them that they must have interviews on the podcast — because everyone else has!

And guess what else I found out today?  Ali is Canadian!  Her IMDB profile incorrectly says she was born in the US, and I guess it never came up in our podcast interview.  I’ve told her that when she comes to visit family in Toronto that she simply must come over for dinner.

Then it was time for lunch with Phil Klemmer.  He gave up a free sushi meal to dine with me at the WB commissary.  We drove over in one of the fun WB golf carts, and walked past Clint Eastwood’s car to get to the cafeteria.

I hope you’re not tired of me saying this by now…  he paid for my meal, and is a super nice guy.  I know, I know, that’s the way I describe all the people I meet here…  but it’s the honest truth.  We talked about our kids, living in L.A., Chuck’s future prospects, our favorite shows, and all sorts of stuff in between.

After visiting Warner Bros, I turned my attention toward my pitch to become a full time podcaster, as described in my previous blog post.  I posted a call for votes at chuckpodcast.com and on this blog, and sent out a few emails.  Guess what?  We have already hit bigger milestones than ever before — #1 in the TV & Film category (usually we don’t beat all the film ones), and #7 overall out of 69,000 podcasts worldwide.  Thanks so much for your votes!  And please keep them coming, because I’ll need as high a rating as possible when I present my pitch to WB.

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Please support Gray’s WB pitch by voting and spreading the word!

Gray with Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez
Gray with Zachary Levi and Joshua Gomez

If you haven’t been following my amazing L.A. adventures, I urge you to read from Day 1 and be prepared for awesomeness!

Everyone here at WB and NBC are impressed with what we have been able to accomplish with the podcast. At director Norman Buckley’s urging, I am preparing a pitch to Warner Bros to hire me to be a full time podcaster, for Chuck and 3 or 4 other shows.

This would be a huge boon for Chucksters, because I would be able to get far more behind the scenes content, better contest prizes, and video interviews with any of the guest stars and regular cast and crew. I would also be able to release podcasts far more often. Most importantly, this would certainly help gain new fans, and increase Chuck’s chances at getting a season 4.

I am asking that all Chuck fans please support my pitch by voting for the podcast ASAP at Podcast Alley. Please use Facebook and Twitter to spread the message to your friends, family, and fellow Chuck fans.

To vote, click here to go to Podcast Alley, then click on “VOTE” in the “ACTIONS” box in the upper left part of the page, and follow the instructions to complete the vote. If you register for the site, you avoid annoying confirmations every time.

Thanks so much for helping us stay the #1 TV podcast in the world since December 2008!

– Gray.

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L.A. Day 9 – Night at the Roxbury with Scott Krinsky

Earlier this week, Chuck director Norman Buckley suggested that I pitch to the studios to work for them full-time, doing podcasts for several shows.  I love the idea, so I spent the morning preparing my pitch, and spoke to an NBC publicist around lunchtime.  He said that he would forward my info to some others at NBC, and suggested I try Warner Bros as well.  I plan to do that tomorrow.

Then, in the evening, I had a chance to attend Chuck actor Scott Krinsky’s standup comedy routine at a Beverly Hills cafe, called the Roxbury Cafe.  It is a small, intimate place run by a friend of his.

There were a number of comics, but in my opinion Scott definitely had the funniest routine.

Afterward, we sat together and shot the breeze…  he’s a great guy, very humble.  We talked about standup comedy, his favorite Chuck moments, living in L.A., the podcast, and lots of other stuff.

And, of course…  when I went to pay the server, he told me that he had already covered my meal.  These Chuck guys are incredible!

If you are ever in L.A., you should definitely plan to check out one of his shows.  If you need to find out upcoming dates, just send an email to mail@chuckpodcast.com.

Tomorrow I will likely finally try for a WB Studio Tour, and then meet up with Chuck writer Phil Klemmer for lunch.  It looks like I will not be meeting Yvonne Strahovski — dems da breaks.

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