Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Change of Plans

John McFetridge

My post this week was going to be about this Saturday's episode of The Bridge on CBS, "The Unguarded Moment," which I co-wrote with Dannis Koromilas but I heard today that the show has been canclled and no further epiodes will air. I'm not sure if the episodes will be available on the CBS website or iTunes.

So, while it would have been a lot easy to make sense of my mess of a post if there was an episode of the show to go along with it, here it is anyway:

The Bridge was my first experience writing for TV and it was a creatively ambitious show – it wasn’t a police procedural with a murder victim in the opening scene and an arrest just before the end credits (or, usually, just before the final ironic insight from the lead detective) but rather it was (or was originally to have been) about the inner workings of a big city police department, the politics, ambitions, compromises, corruption -- all these challenges faced from the point of view of a beat cop who gets elected union president.

This point of view opened up all kinds of new areas for a cop show to dig into and for mainstream networks like CBS and CTV that would make them a little... well, let’s say nervous.

And there were a lot of bumps on the road. The set-up lends itself best to a serialization but CBS wanted as episodic a show as possible. This led to a lot of rewriting and changes from the original plan.

“The Unguarded Moment” (the title is from a song by Dannis’s favourite band, The Church),

was written to be episode eleven or twelve out of thirteen but CTV aired it fourth and CBS had it scheduled to be fourth (these numbers are a little confusing because at first a two-hour TV movie was made and then the series was commissioned and the movie was split into two one-hour episodes – with a few new scenes added to make the split work better -- but then both networks ran them back-to-back as a single episode) probably because it was one of the most stand-alone episodes.

Or at least it was one of the ones it was easiest to rewrite into a stand-alone.

A restaurant owner fed up landering money for a drug dealer stages a robbery that goes wrong when a cop is shot. It becomes a hostage taking and our hero, Frank Leo, takes charge.

Sounds simple, but it went through many, many rewrites.

In the first incarnation, the bad guys bringing the money to be laundered were SWAT cops (connected to the larger corrupt police conspiracy that was played down when the show became more episodic) who stole it from big-time drug dealers and the restaurant owner, a woman named Cassandra in our draft, was in over head with these guys (we tried to imply an uneasy history here) and wanted out – but she wanted to keep the million dollars so she staged the robbery so she could at least stall the bad cops while she took off to Cypress. It gets even more complicated when those SWAT guys are at the hostage-taking and just want to burst in and kill everyone so they can keep their secret and get their money back.

Frank, of course, suspects all is not what it seems and has to save the injured cop being held hostage and root out the bad SWAT guys – who may even come after him.

But by episode ten we’d had an awful lot of bad cops on The Bridge so it was decided that we wouldn’t have any in this episode. And we wanted the episode to be more stand-alone. The robbery is still staged, though to be honest, when the gentleman drug dealer (now no longer the SWAT guys) comes in and says he only deals with hash because with hard drugs you have to deal with people with, “bad attitudes and guns,” I’m not sure why the restaurant owner (now named Ella St. George) doesn’t just say, “well, okay, thanks for the money,” and get on the plane to Cypress.

Anyway, there’s a staged robbery, an injured cop being held hostage by some bad guys and Frank Leo negotiating to get him out.

And I’ve heard a rumour that the ending of the CBS version is very different from the ending of the version aired on CTV last March.

(well, now I guess we may never know what that alternate ending was.)


David Cranmer said...

Sorry to hear THE BRIDGE has been cancelled. It seems like networks just won't take a chance on edgy shows anymore. Three of my favorites of recent memory (FIREFLY, DEAD LIKE ME, and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) vanished long before their expiration date.

My wife and I are big, big fans of THE CHURCH.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

I missed watching it Saturday. Sorry.

It seems that CBS picked it up only to force it to fail. Probably a little network politicking going on, and THE BRIDGE was low show on the totum. Who debuts a show on a Saturday? During the Summer? Doomed from the start. That's sad.

Steve Weddle said...

Looks like you can buy three episodes on the iTunes

jedidiah ayres said...


Dana King said...

I saw all the aired episodes (Thank God for DVRs; as Ron said, who debuts a show on summer Saturdays), and it appears the changes requested by the networks were the show's undoing.

I remember when John first told everyone about THE BRIDGE. I was jazzed. I'd read enough, and seen THE WIRE, to think a show that dealt more with police bureaucracy and politics than with crime would make a great show, especially if it showed things from the bottom up, and how the system supposedly devised to enhance police work too often inhibits it.

The problem is, that doesn't lend itself well to an episodic format. From what I saw, the creators of THE BRIDGE needed to cram a a self-contained story as well as elements of the continuing story lines into each episode; the result seemed, to me, to be a sense of rushing. Frank Leo came to some conclusions quicker than seemed likely from how things were set up, but he had to, because that's all the time they had.

I still think it's a great show idea, but it might need someone like HBO, Showtime, FX, or AMC to do it justice.

John, it seems from what I've read that you consider your time working on the show as good experience, and having read LET IT RID, it certainly didn't hurt your writing any. Let's all hope the exposure you got in the industry will lead to more oportunities.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sorry to hear of the cancellation. Summer Saturdays is such a bad night for TV.
I'm sure you will make good use of the material and experience in a novel down the road. There are just so darn many similar shows on TV right now, it's hard to get people to watch.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

I agree with Dana - sounds like the show needed a different format - more HBO or FX. And ditto what the rest said - who expects a Summer Saturday Night new series to actually spike ratings? I hate when networks set new shows up to fail.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, it really didn't seem like a CBS show, but when the producers had the chance to see it on a major network, they took it.

It's interesting that we can see the effect the network choice would have on the content - I wonder if that's true with publishers, too?

I've decided to no longer try and chase a big NY publisher (well, I say itlike that but the truth is after two publishers and three flops it isn't exactly my choice ;) but I'm happy with it.

I don't think we've gotten to the point in publishing were the big ones aren't willing to take many chances (the way it seems it is with network TV vs. cable) but I wonder if we tailor our work a little bit for mainstream publshers more than we realize?