Can “Do Ask Do Tell” Become a Television Mini-Series? Or a Movie Franchise?

 

The script “Make the A-List” provides a layered treatment of the material from my “Do Ask Do Tell” book (particularly the first book and the earlier chapters) from the perspective a much younger character who is hedging his bets while trying to make it in Tinseltown. (Well, sort of.)  The characters Bill and Tobey are both protagonists of the story, more or less orthogonal, having effects on each other across time. Bill’s expectations, that come from decades in the past, motivate Tobey in action, and Tobey’s manipulations, with a bit of double entendre, help advance Bill, although perhaps in a new “resultant” direction more grounded in a kind of neo aesthetic realism.

 

The script is over 180 pages and would make a three hour movie easily, with all its flashbacks. And the script is episodic, broken into six parts, and related to conventional screenplay structure in a somewhat complicated way. Tobey probably passes the “point of no return” when he decides to encourage the law firm that he interns for to ambulance chase after Bill in order to give Bill more publicity. The resulting litigation helps promote both characters in diverse ways.

 

Nevertheless, the plot details seem episodic, quirky, arcane, and deal with matters not familiar to a lot of people. On the other hand, the idea of dramatizing what it is like for a young man to jump the hoops to make it in the movies certainly has to be appealing as a series, even exciting.

 

Has this been done yet? Not exactly. TheWB had a reality series The Starlet where Faye Dunnaway and others winnow down a list of female aspirants for an immediate spot in TheWB’s One Tree Hill and a future career. (“Don’t call us, we’ll call you.:) It’s easy to conjure up ideas for The Apprentice based on producing movies (at least one episode involved making a major commercial). But what about a 22-episode season-long series (or maybe a shorter series) on the concept?  If such a series were made, Make the A-List sounds like a winner as a title. It’s a no brainer, really.

 

The Do Ask Do Tell background story, where I am the protagonist, runs as a counterpoint, affecting the plot.

 

The Value of the Do Ask Do Tell story, and the drawbacks as a “stand-alone”

 

Most of the meat of this story concerns my William and Mary expulsion, followed by “hospitalization” at NIH (National Institutes of Health) in which a kind of reparative therapy was attempted by the government. There follows a long sequence of consequential episodes over many decades, all of them logical outcomes from this fiasco. These episodes include a psychological epiphany in the 1970s at the Ninth Street Center in New York City, involvement as a volunteer with fighting AIDS in the 1980s, and, most important, the underground involvement with the political fight to lift the ban on gays in the military in the 1990s (following Bill Clinton’s forlorn attempt). There are many other components to this tale.

 

The kernel of all of this has to do with not taking freedom for granted. Yes, I took on a tremendous loss with the William and Mary expulsion when I hadn’t “done” anything. Okay, my telling the Dean of Men, after being pressured, that I was (then) a “latent” homosexual was taken like saying I was an alien. I was expelled not even so much for what I was, but for the conviction at the time that my presence in the dormitory would interfere with the proper socialization (toward eventual courtship and marriage) or more “normal” men, most of all my roommate. (Yes, you’re right – they should have just separated us…)  This observation bears a close parallel to the objections made in the 1990s that allowing open gays in the military would undermine “unit cohesion.” Looking further, we see that freedom has often not been completely “rationalized.”  Many people take collective parts of their experience (especially family) as essential to their well being, in a world that is fundamentally adversarial; people like me represent a further threat to them. My life had meaning because technology allowed me to go my own way, regardless of conventional family or social connections and support. Generally, that kind of freedom has not been possible for most people, so common collective values remain important. 

 

And all of these events took place in close connection to history. I attended William and Mary during the Berlin Wall crisis. Setting some of the background story in Williamsburg also creates the opportunity to tap in to the history presented by Colonial Williamsburg, especially the concept of how our branches of government developed (as explained in the Old Capitol tour). A year later as a patient at NIH during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and as the only patient regularly allowed to go to college (at GW) during the day and see the President speak on television, I was the only patient who knew the gravity of what could happen. NIH would, two decades later, become a lynchpin of AIDS research and at one point I would try to volunteer for a vaccine trial.  Many events that unfolded during this period are shocking and somewhat mysterious and will be effective to dramatize. For example, the Dean of Men waited all afternoon in Wren Hall the Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving for me to see him. Why?  I knew I was homosexual, however never directly admitted it, and had to find out from other boys what homosexuals actually “do.” My roommate would claim that homosexuals take on hidden “super strength” in their quests, as if they were alien beings and a tribal enemy of “normal people.” At NIH, I would find out what the government really thought of my “condition” relative to that of other patients, and this was shocking. In graduate school (University of Kansas), I actually lived in a dorm again (rather than in an in-house room or apartment, as in Everwood below) just to prove that I could handle it. The psychiatric history would follow me, as I would redeem myself by taking the draft physical three time to go from 4-F to 1-A. I may be the only person during the Vietnam era who did that.

 

Even so, the story needs a hero. That I am not. I am, as it turns out, a somewhat emotionally detached observer.  In some sequences (particularly in the barracks in my Vietnam era military service) I might come out (pun., maybe) as a satirical “anti-hero” of the Catcher in the Rye variety.  A series needs a character with whom the audience will bond.  The most important links are Chapters 1-6 of the first DADT book, link from here.

 

How to structure the “Make the A List” Series

 

Tobey has done some smalltime modeling (upscale) and acting in college but has gone to law school to pursue entertainment law as the not so subtle “back door” into the business. A college roommate and Evangelical Christian, Patrick invites him to a pentacostal ceremony. Tobey realizes there is something to religion, being slain in the spirit, and it seems to give him new powers of concentration and “remote viewing” as well as physical robustness. Patrick informs him also of an opportunity in Texas to participate in making a Christian film directed my a drama professor Sydney..

 

Tobey travels there and is asked to read a scene involving reading of a will. His former girl friend Sheila is in the scene. She now works as a computer geek for movie production companies. (Ah – “The Geek and the Beau!”) They hook up afterward in the motel, alone, and Sheila tells him more about the role. He will play the supervisor of precollege (does that mean “pre-calculus”?) students on a Mormon missionary, and the themes will be like service, paying your dues, and proselytizing. Sheila also does some Google hacking on her laptop (yes, the motel has good wireless) and even real hacking (buffer overflows to be sure) into a university server, and tells Tobey that Syd was the roommate in Bill’s William and Mary fiasco 35 years before. Sheila has proofread Bill’s books and knows them, and Tobey had enjoyed a dinner with Bill after his speech at college. The speech and dinner had become a video (with Patrick’s help) that Tobey would use for his own auditions as part of a private portfolio.

 

Bill, however, had not been private, using passive marketing on the Internet to advance his books even if they could not make money. This became the “public space” or “blogging” self-promotion issue—a paradigm that had been created in the 1990s and that few people understood yet. (Think of passive advertising as the derivative of the log of spam!) They eventually meet with Syd, who also reveals that he had found the story on the Internet, had given up teaching as a result but used connections in the drama world to become a director in Christian film. The way that Bill has used a public space (the Web with search engines) to be read by millions of users without much capital is as revolutionary in changing things as, say, space travel. It poses ethical problems that no one can answer, because they depend so much on point of view.

 

At this point they “trick” Bill into coming (they send a registered letter that makes Bill think he is being served). Bill does, and at this point, the total W&M narrative is told by Bill, punctuated with Syd who also gives his take on what had happened 40 years before during the Cold War. (Now it is Post 9/11, Post-Katrina, etc.)  The flashback “orthogonal” narrative would probably take about 90 min and would occur around Episode 3. Afterwards, Syd would also offer Tobey the chance to star in a sports movie if he can go through some athletic performance hoops (cycling, hitting baseballs out of major league parks, a lot of travel). 

 

Sheila teases Tobey about what an acting career will really mean for him, and how it tracks back to Bill’s expectations of him. And this all loops back to another thing that happened at W&M, the mysterious hazing ceremonies called the Tribunals, which Bill skipped out on in defiance, but which Syd did not escape.

 

Tobey’s life now takes two tracks. He takes a summer internship at a law firm and ambulance chases a couple of clients who would sue Bill over the way he uses “public space.” This will get Bill the public attention in the major media that he wants but force him into a medical crisis and priority change (over several episodes).

 

In the meantime, Tobey goes around the country proving himself worthy of being in the sports movie. He builds up a following, and then deals with the possibility of supernatural and miraculous aspects to his own nature. (Several episodes. “A List” can take on a double entendre as “angel list”—but there are irreversible, non-commutative rules angels must follow in my paradigm; the abilities come on slowly, are partly psychic (remote viewing) and can be lost with a return to mortality). Finally, he discovers a right-wing plot to re-educate and redeploy the country’s population after a coming epidemic destroys the economy’s ability to function as it had before. In the process of reacting, he helps choreograph a “Bill of Rights 2” forum that Bill had proposed. But in the meantime, Bill has finally run out of luck and been unable to stay out of jail.

 

To bond with the viewing audience, Tobey must be (as Syd will call him at one point) “a pretty fine fellow.” While his ambulance chasing sounds like a symptom of “the cheating culture” the story will show that it is not and that he has Bill’s best interests in mine. He does not smoke, use illicit drugs, or engage in risky behaviors (DUI) as we normally perceive them in 21st Century culture.

 

The show would use classical music as well as current popular boy band and rock groups. The Schumann Second Symphony is particularly interesting to me as a leitmotif.

 

Comparison to other series

 

There are a number of television series with high school or college age or young adult protagonists. I have reviewed some of them at http://www.doaskdotell.com/movies/tsmall.htm  Comments here will overlap those of the reviews, but are intended for comparison with my proposal. Several of these shows run on TheWB.

 

The first of  these series to catch my attention was Smallville (The WB), which started in the fall of 2001. Although the characters are based on the Superman DC Comics, the show often has considerable drama with very real characters. The protagonist is a teenage Clark Kent (to become the Superman comic book character) crowing up in Smallville, Kansas (sometimes it looks like Massachusetts Street in Lawrence, where KU—where I went to grad school—is), with the nearest large city Metropolis (translate as Kansas City, MO, although the urban scenes obviously look like Vancouver). The Pilot is masterful screenwriting, starting with the 1989 meteor shower, which devastates the town. It is ironic that all of this was probably filmed shortly before 9/11. Then the show skips about 12 years to a 14 year old but socially mature high school freshman Clark (Tom Welling—and soon we find out that his “age” is arbitrary and doesn’t even honor the speed of light). Clark is “different” all right; he must use his powers in secret to avoid being whisked away by the government as a security threat.

 

The dramatic impact of the show comes from Clark’s discovery of the meaning of his powers, and of  who he really is. That process starts with a touching conversation with his father in the middle of the Pilot. But he is somewhat of a social outcast at high school. He is not “allowed” to play football or other sports, and when he appears to be competing for Lana (dating a football jock) he is hazed by being “crucified” in a corn field as a scarecrow. He is held in place by green kryptonite, and then rescued by Lex Luthor, who will be both best friend (almost to erotic dimensions sometimes) and arch enemy.

 

The kryptonite will pose a kind of puzzle about Clark’s character. When exposed to red kryptonite, he will act like someone on crack cocaine, giving up all inhibitions. In one episode, for example, he robs ATM machines, but he never pays the consequences. The other problem occurs when he “becomes” Jor-El, the conqueror he was born to be. It seems that black kryptonite can switch him in and out of this.

 

Most of the individual episodes create a “problem” based on some other Smallville resident being “infected” by moonrocks and Clark’s saving people from such a temporary villain. There is the suggestion that most people, when infected by powers, behave badly, but Clark, as long as he stays away from red kryptonite, is almost Christlike, a “good person” who will do things for others and expect nothing in return. Over the episodes, he exerts a moral influence on the other characters, even his parents, and finally comes into mortal conflict with Lex. The individual episodes usually have the “six part” screenply structure with the hero in mortal danger and then conquering his latest challenge. Over time, many of the episodes have become silly. But the thread of Clark’s gradual self discovery grows over the seasons, the most interesting episodes probably having to do with Dr. Swann, played by the late Christopher Reeve, who transmits a lot to Clark about his ultimate destiny. There many loose ends (such as his mother’s mysterious pregnancy, which aborts in an explosion when Clark destroys the spaceship). But the moments of self-discovery are tremendous. A few characters gradually learn his identity, and one character, Pete, wants to emulate him by driving race cars or else live through Clark vicariously.

 

Smallville uses classical and currently popular vocal music (Remy Zero “Save Me”) effectively. Classical repertoire has included the Mozart Requiem, various selections from Italian opera, and Tchaikovsky. Sometimes key episodes end with melodramatic orchestral music climaxes with an almost operatic effect. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a “Smallville” opera. In rare cases it alludes to John Williams’s Superman theme.  Some of the orchestral music is by Mark Snow, including a crunching triumphant march that is sometimes quoted in other settings (as on CNN – Clark, as an adult, is to become a journalist, like Chloe).

 

Season 5 gets off with a bang, and an alien attack, but Clark throws two of Jor-El’s henchmen inside the Schwarzchild Radius of a Black Hole, turning them into portraits with the tidal forces. The Clark loses his powers, but he will get them back.

 

Jake 2.0 (created by David Greenwalt) ran only a half season (2003) on UPN and gives us a young adult Jake Foley (Christopher Gorham) as protagonist. In an NSA lab accident, he is “infected” by nanochips and gets super strength. Jake is a very lovable character who uses his powers for good.

 

Everwood (created by Greg Berlanti) started on TheWB in 2002 and for a long time was the other really big youth-oriented series. A New York brain surgeon Andy Brown (Treat Williams) loses his wife in a car accident, and moves his son (Ephram, Gregory Smith) and daughter (Delia) to Everwood, Colorado. The widower’s family become engaged with the residents of the town, particularly when Dr. Brown is unable to save the life of another teen resident (Colin) injured in another car accident. But Ephram becomes the star, inasmuch as his a prodigy pianist, with his father’s gifts transposed to music. He struggles to get into Julliard, but also struggles with puberty and in the process gets an older girl (Madison) pregnant. Dr. Brown sends Madison away and hides the “Adam Bede” pregnancy from his son. When Ephram finds out, his career busts, partly because of Ephram’s anger over his father’s attempt to be right all the time and make decisions for him behind his back. This series is touching for me because I gave up the possibility of a piano career before entering college (leading to my William and Mary fiasco). Why? Partly because of the post-Sputnik Cold War environment that I describe, which somehow let a nerd like me escape conformity, despite the paranoia of the times. Ephram was quite concerned about performing as a man in a way that I wasn’t, but I might have been if I had gone down my best chosen path (music) first in order to be myself first.

 

Season 4 starts with a bit of irony: Bright (Chris Pratt), the world’s gift to women, takes in a gay med student (played by Justin Baldoni) as a roommate. I see some directions they can go if he wants to become a surgeon. 

 

Greg Berlanti’s shows tend to run several plotlines in counterpoint  (some of them a bit comical and frivolous), even within the same episode.

 

Jack & Bobby (created by Berlanti) ran only one season (starting in 2004) and gives us the story of two teen brothers raised by their radical mother and college professor. She was deserted by their father. Bobby, the younger brother and somewhat more sensitive, will become a president some day, and there are “reverse flashbacks” that describe Bobby;s acts in mid 21st Century as president, where he makes decisions that correspond to his teenage conduct and values. There was one particularly touching scene where Bobby (Logan Lerman) protects his mother from a suitor on a camping trip when he says, “you thing that I’m just a kid and that I don’t see things. Well I do.”

 

Seventh Heaven, Brenda Hampton’s series on TheWB in its twelfth season, gives us the large Camden family, an upper middle class minister with his wife and seven kids. The importance of family for its own sake is demonstrated in the show. In one episode, Mrs. Camden is disappointed that her oldest son, a doctor, does not “value” his family enough to be with them for Thanksgiving (he is saving lives in an emergency room). But the idea that blood and lineage and children is the most important thing to live for surfaces in many soap operas and series. On the other hand, the “family values” paradigm in shows like Smallville and Everwood seems much more geared to the ultimate progress and satisfaction of the individual.

 

Angel, was a series onTheWB about a “vampire with a (human) soul” (Angel, David Boreanaz) protecting LA from demons who try to make others into vampires (remember toe soap “Port Charles”?) The series (“Buffy: The Vampire Series”) has its own rules (as does Ann Rice), which provide quite a different paradigm from mine. There is a lot of cutesy comedy, as in one episode where Angel has become a puppet and where the monsters live inside a TV screen (layers of dominion and reality)

 

Reunion, on Fox, traces several high school friends through 20 years after graduation, in a sequence that starts with one kid taking the rap for another’s DWI vehicular homicide. But the show demonstrates how to build a series over many years. The highest-level perspective for the show is an ongoing homicide investigation which forces a policeman to track down several interlocking characters over twenty years, so most of the “real story” is in long flashbacks.

 

The O.C., on Fox, (“Orange County”) and “California” – the song) has a well-to-do family with a geeky son, Seth (Adam Brody) who, still in high school. creates a comic book sensation and sets a good example for an adopted “brother” Ryan (Ben McKenzie) from the wrong side of the tracks. Again, Seth is somewhat the “super kid.”

 

Supernatural on TheWB has two likeable law-school-age brothers played by Jensen Ackles (from Smallville, now an undercover cop) and Jared Padalecki traversing the country solving a supernatural family mystery. Padalecki’s character as a recent Stanford graduate looking for his bearings is effective, as he bears some comparison to Clark (above), doing things like reading an exorcism on a plane. Padalecki plays his part with great gusto, in one episode making us believe that a “kid” really can perform an exorcism on an airplane reading a ritual book out loud cold.

 

Surface, on NBC, has a premise (a new undersea animal with fantastic abilities and possibly alien) that we saw in James Cameron’s The Abyss. But what is interesting is how the unveiling of a government coverup involves the characters, with two appealing young teens Miles and Phil (Carter Jenkins and Edie Hassell) who hatch one of the eggs and raise one of the creatures in secret, bonding with the creature, potentially an important plot point. Again, the kids turn out to be the most important characters.

 

The 4400, on USA/Universal, has 4400 people abducted by a future civilization returned, unaged, to try to change the future. This presents a time-travel paradox. One of the most interesting characters is college-freshman-aged Shawn Ferrell (Patrick Fleuger) who runs the 4400 Center because of his healing gifts. Then there is Kyle (Chad Faust) who keeps on having blackouts. The premise—how we would react to something like this over the long term—is intriguing. 

 

Boston Legal on ABC has had interesting wrangles, such as gay parents in a custody battle in court on 12/6/2005.

 

Sleeper Cell, on Showtime, will trace a hidden sleeper cell in LA as it comes together to plot horrific attacks. The characters, some of them actually pretty likeable, come from various backgrounds within (even without) Islam, and have been offended for various reasons (a character’s relative had been inspected and killed because of circumcision). I’ve seen a similar concept developed in a screenplay workshop.

 

Numb3rs, on CBS, has the FBI employing two brothers played by Robert Morrow and David Krumholtz, the latter being a brilliant young mathematician and one of the most likeable young adult characters in modern television series. Charlie Epps (Krumholtz’s handsome characters) solves all kinds of crimes with mathematical theories. One of the most intriguing involved card counting in casinos.

 

There is more discussion of shows like this at this link.

 

 

Sundries:

 

Appropriateness of more adult content on a television series:  Of course, we all know that gay and lesbian themes have been used more in network television recently. They usually stay within certain cultural limits and assume a rather simplistic approach, with the more daring shows (Queer as Folk) showing only on cable networks where broadcast standards are more liberal.  There are a few items in my material that could be difficult to craft appropriately within the norms of conventional network television, which generally fits the PG-13 category of the movies. For example, dormitory or military barracks discussions about sexuality would be difficult to portray accurately, however valuable in educating a mature audience.

 

Why Do I Promote this Subject Matter instead of something else?: Simple, it is what I know, and what I experienced. I have lived it. I think that the cultural wars run at our deepest levels: how we decide what we value in ourselves and other people, what importance do we give family and blood relations for their own sake; should persons without children provide indirect support to those who do have children; are conventionally socialized people (with respect to monogamous marriage) easily disturbed or distracted by other cultural values?  Do we really believe that every human life has worth, or are some people “better” than others? Can we be honest about what we believe? I can’t let others tell me what my own “purposes” should be; I have to find them myself; but I do have to pay my dues. 

 

There are, of course, plenty of writers making a living with what other people want, which is to ratify other people’s own beliefs and values. Sorry, I like to challenge them.

 

A final overview note: I think that people who are “different” have the advantage of asymmetry and extra-dimensional perspective, at the loss of some more common, often kin-centered emotions. Many people dedicated to cultural “traditional family values” seem to believe that having “outsiders” brought into their system and forced to be judged by their rules is an important part of their socialization and sexuality. I am different; I do not compete very well by traditional socialization rules concerning male competition, fatherhood, and (biological) lineage, and I have discovered my own purpose because of certain twists that evolved over my lifetime, linking my own college expulsion to today’s issues, even including the military and national security. It seems like I would rather create characters in my mind than create them biologically. Is my life “purpose driven”?  By claiming that I can sense good and evil (rather than procreating an taking a chance), I create a paradox if I have to live up to my own teachings. Only if I can define my own purposes. I cannot choose circumstances but I must choose how I respond to them. But everyone must pay his dues, not just out of fairness and social justice, but because one cannot take freedom for granted indefinitely. Global things beyond one’s control can reverse everything.

 

©Copyright 2005 by Bill Boushka, all rights reserved.

 

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