Leverage: The (Leaked) TNT Pilot
Attention: No no NO spoilers ahead. (Well, OK, a teeny-tiny one! You’ll see why I couldn’t resist.)
There are so many things that can go wrong with a TV series.
The cast members who are chosen can wind up not being the performers they seemed to be in screen tests.
The writers can be in it just for the money and it shows in every line of dialog.
The director can be a hack who just points a camera.
And then there’s even the music. It can be totally inappropriate and as dull as muzak.
Television started out in the heights. Paddy Chayefsky, Rod Serling, Reginald Rose, and a handful of others took a new medium and defined it. But that definition was subverted by advertisers and TV went from The Twilight Zone to, god help us, The Fantastic Journey. Television fell into a comatose state in the 1970s, revived in the 1980s, leveled off in the 1990s. We are now in the late part of the first decade of the new century — and what will it bring?
To succeed, I think a TV show has to be surprising, delightful, exciting, and memorable. Several TV series of the 1980s were that, but there are really less than a handful I’d want to pay for as DVD boxed sets (or, truth be told, even watch as free repeats!). Because what it really all comes down to is the writing.
What is there in the writing that is not what comes out of everyone else’s mouth? Rod Serling’s dialog, for example, had a distinct style. So, in an entirely different vein, did the dialog of Jack Webb. And then there was Stephen J. Cannell, who specialized in really pushing things in just about every series he did.
I think if the writing can impress a writer, it will grab the attention of an audience, hold it, and sustain it over the course of a series. For years and years.
Now we come to the leaked pilot of Leverage. Does it fit into anything I’ve specified in this long preamble?
The funny thing is, people like summaries. They like something they can grasp without many words. That’s unsatisfying for, say, attorneys; imagine having to sum up a case to a jury at trial’s end with as few words as possible. All that prior effort, crunched down into, say, an advertising slogan. Sometimes it can work: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit!”
I was looking for an immediately-grasped summary for the leaked pilot of Leverage.
I didn’t have to do much work. It was put right in front of my face!
For you to see what it was, click below.
High voltage, baby!
The pilot is electric. It flashes like lightning! It throws off sparks!
The series has a main cast of five.
Do you know how difficult it is to introduce five characters to an audience? And to do four of them within the first ten minutes — in a way that not only keeps the momentum going, but really stamps them succinctly and memorably and forever in a viewer’s mind?
You need not just a script — you need an exemplary script — and you need actors and a director who can pull it all off.
Leverage has all that!
1) Say “Oh shit!”
2) Say “Did they really just do that?”
3) Literally laugh out loud!
4) Want to watch the entire series!
There are so many surprises here and so many lines of dialog that crackle with life that for me to cite even one of them would be a spoiler.
I can’t even show you the screensnaps I took of character descriptions because they even went after those!
Dean Devlin directs it all with style:
But he did one thing that I personally hated:
He made Chicago look good!
As for the cast:
Gina Bellman (please give wikipedia a free photo!)
Yeah, they are good — as in daaaaaaaamn good.
Each of them get spaces in the script to shine, and they all do.
I know it’s really, really going to stir up trouble, but I have to say I have an immediate favorite:
I can’t help myself. I’ve always had this secret (now no more!) fantasy of writing her —
— all grown up. Dammit, Rogers and Downey have just about beaten me to it!!
That’s almost a spoiler, but not really. You’ll see.
Will you see!
One final point: the music. There’s a classic series called Johnny Staccato (sometimes just Staccato). It had memorable jazz music. So does Leverage; it’s jazzy and noirish and stylish and memorable. It fits perfectly. It sets the tone from the theme visuals on excellently. (Unfortunately, I don’t know who did it. Leave a Comment with the name! I’ll update here.)
There’s very little American TV I watch because I know The Formula. So hardly anything surprises me. Leverage surprised me. And I know that should an episode slip through that doesn’t surprise me (hey, it can happen, Rogers!), there will always be the dialog and the rich characters to keep me gripped. There’s plenty of room with all of these characters to do many, many kinds of stories.
Leverage is going to appeal to a lot of people. Mystery fans, men who just want action and hot women, women who want to see manly men, and geeks. Yeah, the Net is going to be a-buzz with hype for it.
This is going to be one fun and stylish series. It’s one I’ll buy as a boxed set. And so will you!
Take a bow, everyone. You’ve made a series I — and everyone else — will be watching!
By the way, John Rogers has been blogging Leverage:Reference - Writing, TV, Video - Online, Writers - Living, Writing