Saturday, January 07, 2012

Natural Born Filler

the firm tv

The arrival of television's "Second Season" this month also marks the return of the overblown hyperbole machine known as Network PR.

As new series debut, the same people who mere months ago insisted "The Playboy Club", "Pan Am" and "Prime Suspect" would forever alter the television landscape are back declaring that every member of the new crop will have an even greater impact on the popular culture.

It always amazes me that those watching Entertainment News and Gossip never get tired of hearing that everybody the latest flavor of the month star or celebrity is working with is "brilliant" and a "genius". Nor do they seem to catch on to the continual disconnect between the sizzle and what's passed off as steak when it's finally delivered.

What's more, nobody every gets rude and says, "Why should I even listen to you idiots anymore after the lemon you sold me last time?"

I guess at some level we all really do want to believe we're not being toyed with and that our search for thoroughly satisfying entertainment will at last be rewarded.

And I suppose newspapers who can't afford stories written by actual journalists anymore can still attract advertising by filling up pages with unedited press releases.

But still…

Among the filler pieces I came across this week was an interview with best-selling author John Grisham hyping the upcoming premiere of the series version of his 1991 novel "The Firm" which spawned the successful 1994 film version starring Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman.

Of course, Cruise and Hackman are not in the TV sequel, nor is its plot the one that fans of Grisham's book or the resulting Robert Towne scripted film may recall.

In this version, brilliant Harvard lawyer Mitch McDeere emerges from a decade in witness protection after exposing his mob-connected law firm and suddenly finds himself partnered with another firm who ("Oh no, it's happening again!) are apparently also up to no good.

I guess Harvard Law doesn't offer a course in conducting "Due Diligence".

And you'd figure a guy who's really smart might realize that the Witness Protection Program is there because there really are people who don't forgive and forget.

A few years ago, I wrote a pilot that had me hop-scotching the USA to interview real people in real Witness Protection. They weren't the nicest folks I've ever met. And none of them liked the places to which the Federal Marshals had dispatched them for their own safety. But not one was dumb enough to think bygones would one day be bygones.

Now, I have no idea whether "The Firm" is or is not good television. It might well be the kind I hate and a whole lot of other people really like -- or vice versa. I'm led to believe its "Canadian" although few of the creative 'above the line' appear to be legitimate frostbacks.

But in a world where "The Tudors" and "The Borgias" are "Canadian" with even fewer bodies on staff who might have once attended a hockey game or bobbed their heads to "Nickleback", I guess that's possible.

No. My beef is with the bullshit.

Despite a number of reviews which can best be described as tepid at best, John Grisham insists "The Firm" will (unlike his last TV foray "The Client") be a hit, also stating that he's a big fan of all the other lawyers turned writers or producers staffing the show and has been having great fun watching the characters come to life on set.

But you gotta wonder if that's what he really feels in his heart. Or at least the heart we've been led to believe he wears on his sleeve.

julliet one

Those who know Grisham's history might recall that he once took on an Oliver Stone movie called "Natural Born Killers" after a pair of copy-cat teens brutally murdered one of his close friends claiming they'd been inspired by the movie's mayhem.

Grisham wrote a scathing essay in a magazine he published demanding a First Amendment (Freedom of Speech) exception be made so that those involved in the film could be called to account.

"The notion of holding filmmakers and studios legally responsible for their products has always been met with guffaws from the industry. But the laughing will soon stop. It will take only one large verdict against the likes of Oliver Stone, and his production company, and the screenwriter, and the studio itself, and then the party will be over! Once a precedent is set, the litigation will become contagious, and the money will become enormous. Hollywood will suddenly discover a desire to rein itself in. The landscape of American jurisprudence is littered with the remains of large, powerful corporations which once thought themselves bulletproof and immune from responsibility for their actions. Sadly, Hollywood will have to be forced to shed some of its own blood before it learns to police itself".

Grisham's displeasure with those in any way associated with "Natural Born Killers" was so great that he personally stopped the studio filming his next novel "A Time To Kill" from hiring "Killers" star Woody Harrelson.

And yet, he now seems positively tickled to death that Harrelson's co-star, Juliette Lewis, is part of the cast of "The Firm".

Odd when you consider that for several years, the death of his friend had caused Grisham to forbid his publisher from selling the film rights for any of his books to a Hollywood Studio.

Or maybe time heals all wounds. Eventually we all realize we need to forgive and forget. At least that sentiment might explain the inexplicable "The mob's probably over it by now" premise of the series.

And perhaps, like a lot of writers, Grisham's characters are based on his own self. Maybe like Mitch McDeere, he sometimes just goes along to get along.

If not, he might've noticed that Executive Producer John Morayniss sat for many, many years atop the Writers Guild of Canada's "Unfair Engagers" list.

Now, I don't know what producorial faux pas or Guild misdemeanor Mr. Morayniss committed to earn this ignominy. But it meant Canadian screenwriters were forbidden from being contracted by him for a very long time and it became somewhat of an industry joke that the thing never seemed to get settled.

You really wondered what the poor bastard could've done, given that other Guild Grievances were being dropped without serious penalty (literally by the hundreds).

But around the time The Firm's production company (Entertainment One) came along, he finally disappeared from the list. I asked my Guild rep what had happened, but never got an answer.

Maybe at the heart of Grisham's gushing over "The Firm" there's a lawyer's implicit understanding that we all deserve the chance to one day freely return to society. Maybe he's just happy he dodged his own bullet because no parent blew away their kid's rapist and claimed they were inspired by "A Time To Kill".

Or -- he's just another guy with a 275-Million-copies-sold gift for fiction moving some product. Which -- kinda flies in the face of the image constantly painted of a man with a passion for truth and justice.

And that leaves me feeling "The Firm" might not be what it's being cracked up to be. Meaning in a few short months the hyperbole machine will be back, once more promising me something else it likely won't deliver.

No comments: