"Mirror Image" (Poisoned Pen Press) now at your bookseller's.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fallen Redwoods

Years ago, upon hearing of the death of iconic film director Stanley Kubrick, a friend of mine commented, "Well, that's another fallen redwood in a rapidly dwindling forest."

I was thinking about his remark the other day, in the wake of the recent deaths of two iconic crime writers, Robert B. Parker and Dick Francis.

With his 37 novels featuring private eye Spenser, Parker created a vivid character whose adventures not only were in the best tradition of the genre but also presented a wry picture of contemporary Boston society. The character's popularity was cemented even among non-book readers with the long-running TV series Spenser: For Hire, which starred Robert Urich.

Parker, who died writing at his desk at age 77, received the coveted Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for Best Novel in 1977 for Promised Land. The same organization named him a Grand Master in 2002.

Well-known for his mysteries set in the world of horse racing, Dick Francis was a former jockey himself and one of the most honored crime writers of all time. He earned three Edgar Awards for Best Novel, and was also subsequently named a Grand Master by the MWA. The salient feature in his stories was the fact that his heroes--men like Sid Halley--were depicted as completely ordinary, maybe even down-on-their-luck men. As in the best films of Alfred Hitchcock, Francis told stories about ordinary men caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Luckily, the current mystery and crime writing field still has plenty of redwoods standing--from Michael Connelly to Sara Paretsky, Dennis Lehane to Sue Grafton, James Lee Burke to George Pellacanos.

But make no mistake--with the passing of these two great writers, the forest is significantly thinner. (Though the genre is so resolutely healthy, among both writers and readers, that new shoots are popping up every day.)

By the way, if you're not familiar with either of these fine authors, you might want to pick up Parker's first Spenser novel, The Godwulf Manuscript, or Dick Francis' Whip Hand, to remedy that lamentable situation.  

Sunday, March 28, 2010

F. Scott Fitzgerald Was Wrong

The great American author F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, "There are no second acts in the American life." I think he was wrong.

To that point, here's a piece that ran last year in Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America. Though it's primarily about ageism in the entertainment industry, I think it speaks to the broader issue of ageism in general, especially in these difficult economic times.

What do you think?


"Now what?" says the 50-year-old TV writer, sitting opposite me in my therapy office. In the past two staffing seasons, she hasn't even gotten a meeting with a show-runner, let alone a job. As her bills mount up, and her teenager enters an expensive private school, this single mother feels she's beginning to run out of options.

"Now what?" says the 56-year-old screenwriter, whose phone has pretty much stopped ringing. His agent dodges his own phone calls and emails, and his network of contacts keeps dwindling, as former friends and colleagues either struggle with their own career problems or leave the business altogether.

"Now what?...a pretty constant question nowadays from veteran TV and film writers in my practice, sturdy craftsmen who've had the poor taste to get older in an industry that worships youth. Ageism, it seems, has joined death and taxes as an inevitability of Hollywood life. (Though it has spread, like a contagion, to most other careers as well: business, law, advertising, technology.)

Ageism. It's a pervasive issue among the writers that I treat. Wedded with the uncertainty wrought by changing technology and the nation-wide economic meltdown, ageism can seem like just another nail in the coffin of a veteran writer's career. The problem with complaining about ageism is that, like the weather, complaining about it and doing something about it are two different things. Perhaps, as our distinguished cover model Larry Gelbart once said, "The only way to defeat ageism is to die young."

Of course, everyone knows that the marketplace's preoccuptation with youth is ridiculous. Even a cursory look at who spends how much, on what, and where, reveals that catering solely to the young as consumers is financially short-sighted, artistically bankrupt, and morally suspect.

But aside from marketplace concerns, the really insidious aspect of ageism is that it's based on certain "givens" that rarely hold up under examination. To most people, "youth" implies a more imaginative, more subversive, less rule-bound approach to creative work. Yet the facts say otherwise. Most young (or new) artists are often quite conservative, retro, and derivative. The way an artist learns craft is by apprenticeship, by using earlier artists as models. We admire Neil Simon, so our first efforts are very Neil Simon-ish. We love Wilder and Diamond, so our early scripts reflect their same wry, dubious view of the human condition.

It's my belief that the more mature, confident and experienced a writer is, the more likely he or she is to break with convention, to explore more deeply the difficult and idiosyncratic nature of narrative and character. A brief overview of history's most accomplished artists reveals that the majority of their best work was done during their middle-age years.

That said, what can writers do about the reality of ageism in the current market atmosphere? My guess is, not much, at least in terms of affecting the way the powers-that-be operate. After all, myths die hard.

Do I wish things were different? Sure. But as philosopher Stephen Levine reminds us, "Suffering is caused by wanting things to be otherwise."

Do I yearn for a return to an earlier time, when creative artists weren't judged by how much hair (and how few wrinkles) they had, but instead by the depth and relevance of their work? You bet. But, as novelist John Fowles reminds us, "All pasts are like poems. You can derive a thousand things, but you can't live in them."

Am I outraged that studios, networks and production companies cravenly pander to what they think the young consumer wants, instead of promoting writing that takes advantage of a wide range of talents, ages and points of view--meanwhile, ignoring the incontrovertible fact that good stories, well told, appeal to a cross-section of audience types? Yes, I am. But as author and psychiatrist Thomas Szasz reminds us, "You can't build a big business on truth."

In other words, there's no cure for ageism. It's a fact of life. So then the question becomes: what can you do about it?

Right now, writers in my practice seem to be exploring three paths: in the first instance, he or she can accept the rigged rules of the game and write anyway. Truly. About the issues, people and events that inspire the writer. Maybe the marketplace will respond. Maybe it won't. Maybe the writer has to investigate markets that hadn't been considered before—the Internet, the theater, independent films. Maybe the writer tries a new medium: novels, short stories, even non-fiction. Or finds work developing video games, or writing gaming guides. Which suggests casting even a wider net, checking out things like desktop publishing, self-publishing, blogs and newsletters. Not exactly a development deal from Sony, granted, but some writers just need to have their work read. Seen. Communicated.

The second path is one that takes him or her away from writing, as they've usually understood it. They teach, or run workshops. They design software. They work for makers of industrial films, or educational foundations. One former TV writer/producer patient of mine now does videologues for a major hospital chain. One produces promotional material for a large charity. In these kinds of endeavors, they've found a way to use their narrative talents in the service of different forms of story-telling, albeit not in entertainment in the traditional sense.

The third path, much less common, is the path that angles the furthest away from a writer's prior career. In this case, the writer will simply choose to go into a totally different kind of work, unrelated to creative endeavor. The family retail business. The law. One writer joined his brother in a huge import-export concern. But even then, the creative itch can still demand to be scratched. "Maybe," this writer confided to me soon after making this decision, "I'll get to write the company brochure."

But whether writers choose to keep writing in the face of ageism, write in different forms because of it, or find other ways to survive and thrive, they'll manage to keep going. They will. I know. I've seen it, in my practice and elsewhere.

Despite conventional wisdom about the emotional fragility of the artist, most of the ones I know are made of pretty stern stuff, despite---if not because of---the difficulties they contend with daily. Not only do they wrestle with the demands of a fickle and arbitrary marketplace, they have to wrestle with their own demons as well, their own fears and doubts. Yet they do it every day. Scripts get written. TV shows and films get made. Mortgages get paid. Kids get sent to their orthodontists.

I was reminded of this fact recently, in a keynote address given by Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Shultz to an audience of dispirited, increasingly-unemployed journalists, most of whom are reeling from the quickening collapse of newspapers and magazines. She urged her audience to remember that they were first and foremost story-tellers, and that society would always need them. Speaking of the journalism industry itself, she said, "The business model may be broken, but you are not broken."

I think her words are equally fitting for Hollywood writers, whether working in film, TV, or online. Story-tellers all, they may be working in an industry whose business model is changing, but they will survive.

Fitzgerald may have said "There are no second acts in the American life," but I believe he was wrong. Hell, this country was built on second acts. And so, by the way, is show business itself. As the country seeks to re-invent itself in the wake of our current economic crisis, so does--and will--the entertainment industry.

Let's face it, every other story we tell is a comeback story. Hopefully, in the end, the struggle to outwit ageism will be a comeback story, too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

FYI: Today's blog

With the recent release of the film Shrink, starring Kevin Spacey as a troubled psychiatrist, a number of people have told me it reminded them of a Commentary I did for NPR's "All Things Considered" some years back. It concerned the villainous depiction of male therapists on TV and film.
For those who didn't hear it, or would like to hear it again, here's the link:
Feel free to weigh in on the subject, if the spirit moves you.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Practicing Therapy Without A License

In the recent book about writing creative nonfiction, Keep It Real (Norton; edited by Lee Gutkind and Harriet Fletcher), I provided an essay about the new prevalence among nonfiction writers and biographers to "play therapist" when describing their real-life subjects' inner thoughts and motivations.

I don't believe that a writer can't do this, but only that he or she needs to be extremely careful. For those of you who might be interested in this topic, here's a slightly revised version of that essay. As always, I'd love to have your thoughts.


In his nonfiction best-seller, The Devil in the White City, Eric Larson delves deeply and convincingly into the mind of the serial killer H.H. Holmes. In fact, making use of newspaper accounts, trial transcripts and other source material, he goes so far as to refute aspects of Holmes' own autobiography, written in prison before his execution.

Larsen even challenges many of the killer's descriptions of his feelings and motivations, inserting his own analysis of Holmes' state of mind.

In his notes at book's end, Larson makes a pretty compelling case for his justification in doing this. But this technique does raise a fascinating question for creative nonfiction writers.

What are the dangers of such "psychoanalyzing" when depicting the inner workings of a real person's mind? Is this not practicing therapy without a license?

It's a charge frequently leveled at nonfiction writers, especially those like Bob Woodward and Doris Kearns Goodwin, who specialize in "re-creating" the thoughts and feelings of historical figures. In the past two decades, biographers of famous individuals have been even more liberal--some would say audacious--in their attempts at psychoanalytic interpretation of their subjects. Hence, we've seen speculation that Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt were gay, famed child psychologist Bruno Bettleheim was a pathological liar and Adolf Hitler was sexually abused.

The point is, today's nonfiction writers delve more intimately than ever into the lives and subjective experiences of the real people they depict. And while this approach has always been a crucial component of the fiction writer's art, there's a specific danger involved when the people depicted actually exist: namely, that much of the authority behind the nonfiction writer's voice (and opinion) derives from the reader's belief that what's being described is "true."

Does this mean there are never circumstances when the thoughts, feelings and motivations of people you're writing about can't be creatively imagined?

Not necessarily. Narrative requires that people do things, and, in life as well as in fiction, people do things for a reason. Even if it's only a reason that makes sense to them. To be deprived of the opportunity to extrapolate what these reasons might be is to sacrifice much of what makes reading about these people interesting and compelling in the first place. 

The danger emerges when the nonfiction writer assumes a false sense of objective distance from the inner world of the person being depicted. Whether reading the person's journal, scouring contemporary accounts of the person's actions, or talking with family members and intimate friends about the person's character and habits, it's important that the writer remember that he or she also brings something to the table; i.e., a wealth of personal experiences, prejudices and intentions of one's own.

For example, if you're interviewing someone about the details of his failed marriage, your own relationship experiences create a filter through which you see, hear and draw conclusions about what the subject is saying.

In other words, whether doing research about events that happened before you were born, or as a result of spending the past two weeks living in almost continual contact with your subject, you're bringing so much of your own history and beliefs into the mix that it's presumptuous to assume you're "seeing" things in a completely objective way.

(To take an extreme example, it could be argued that Richard Pollack's biography of Bruno Bettelheim, mentioned above, is undeniably influenced by the fact that Pollack's younger brother was a patient who died in Bettelheim's care under suspicious circumstances!)

Is there a way for nonfiction writers to explore the possible feelings and motives of their characters that makes narrative sense, is psychologically astute and persuasive, yet still respects the limitations of what the writer can truly know? The answer is yes, if done with skill and a real awareness of these limitations.

Among recent examples, perhaps the best is Sebastian Junger's, The Perfect Storm. Without much real information about the ship captain's decision-making process, nor the manner in which the ship was lost, nor even a clue about one single event that actually transpired during the fishing trip, Junger managed to convey his understanding of the physical and psychological rigors of sword-fishing, as well as the various navigational choices available to the crew as the storm approached.

He also presented a moving and vivid depiction of what the experience of drowning might have felt like. This was all accomplished by clearly stating that what he was describing was based on conjecture, the experiences of other fishermen he'd interviewed, and the utilization of his own imagination.

This presentation invites the reader to go on a journey into Junger's created impression of what might have happened. What results has the ring of truth, rather than the solidity of fact and is perhaps the more powerful because of it.

In other words, rather than practicing therapy without a license, the task for the creative nonfiction writer becomes, as always, about simply practicing the art of good writing.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Recent (sort of) Q & A

In case you might be interested, here's a Q&A I did a couple years back with Wendy Burt, who runs a very nice site for writers. It was in conjunction with my PR efforts for my then-new collection of mystery short stories, From Crime to Crime. But it serves as a nice intro to those of you who don't know me (and, probably, an irritating self-serving puff piece to those who do!).

Regardless, here it is:


Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), I'm now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in creative issues. My patients are primarily TV and film writers, actors, directors, novelists, journalists and nonfiction book authors. My office is in Sherman Oaks, California, not far from where I live.

Currently, I write articles and reviews for such publications as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Lancet and others. I also blog on The Huffington Post, do Commentary for NPR's All Things Considered, and frequently guest on radio and TV interview shows.

My short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere. My latest book, From Crime to Crime (TallFellow Press), is a collection of such mystery stories. Prior to that, I published a nonfiction book, Writing From the Inside Out (John Wiley), as well as a sci-fi novel, City Wars (Bantam Books).

1. Tell us about your latest book.

It's a collection of mystery short stories, as I said, but somewhat unique in that most of the stories feature a group of amateur sleuths based on real people—a California therapist (me) and three of my friends. I like to describe it as Desperate Husbands Meets Columbo. 

There are also three stand-alone stories in the collection, one of which features a female police psychologist as protagonist. There's also a story involving a serial killer in Switzerland in 1904, whose path crosses that of a penniless patent clerk named Albert Einstein…

2. How did you get started as a writer?

Many years ago, in the early 70s, soon after I arrived in LA from the East Coast, I started writing spec TV scripts with another, much funnier guy named Mark Evanier. I'd also been writing jokes for Gabe Kaplan's stand-up act, so when his show Welcome Back, Kotter was looking for a new, young (read "cheap ") writing team, we were lucky enough to get the gig. Mark and I split up amiably after a couple years, and I went on to work on other TV series, and also started writing films. 

After a good, successful run as a Hollywood writer, I went through a kind of mid-life crisis, which took me all the way to the Himilayas…yes, cliché that it is, I did the whole Razor's Edge thing and lived in Nepal for months, trekking with sherpas, staying in huts and temples…Really an amazing experience. When I returned to LA, I went back to grad school at night (while still writing TV and film scripts by day), until, six years later, I got licensed as a psychotherapist and retired from show biz. I've been in private practice ever since (about 19 years).

Funnily enough, I write as much (if not more) now than I ever did—books, articles, reviews, etc.—and enjoy it much more, too.

3. What does a typical day look like for you?

Simple. I see patients from 9 AM to 6 PM, but write every day at lunch. If I'm on deadline, I write for a few hours in the evening. But mostly it's a daily task, at lunch, so I don't have time for procrastination! And as the saying goes, if you just write a page a day, at the end of the year you have a book.

4. Describe your desk/workspace.

I write at the same desk I've written on since I started as a young TV writer. It's an old public school teacher's desk, which I bought at a used furniture store in the early 70's for $100. It used to be in my house, but when I went into private practice I had it moved to my therapy office. I'm pretty superstitious about it…everything from My Favorite Year to articles for The New York Times to my mystery short stories have been written on it.

My office itself overlooks the intersection of Ventura Boulevard and Sepulveda Boulevard (right across the street from the Sherman Oaks Galleria, made famous by such "Valley Girls" as Moon Unit Zappa). Four stories up, with a whole wall of picture windows, I have a great view of LA smog most days…though after a rain, I can see all the way to the mountains.

5. Favorite books (especially for writers)

So many, it's hard to pick any five (or ten, or a hundred). So I'll just stick with good books for writers. Off the top of my head, The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, On Moral Fiction by John Gardner, and Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman. Plus Life Work by Donald Hall, Mastery by George Leonard, and The Courage to Create by Rollo May. I also think every writer should re-read The Great Gatsby once a year, for its clarity of language and exquisite tone. 60,000 perfect words, as far as I'm concerned.

6. Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you

1) Well, as I mentioned, I lived in the Nepal for a while…but prior to that I went to mountain-climbing school and ended up climbing Mt. Rainier and the Grand Tetons. Technical climbs, with ropes and pitons and the possibility of actually falling to my death. That's one.

2) I didn't know a soul in show biz when I got to LA, so I figured the only way to let people know I could write humorous material was to become a stand-up comic. Which I did. I became a regular performer at the famed Comedy Store, where I met, among others, Garry Shandling and David Letterman. (I don't know whatever happened to those two guys, though I hear they've gone on to do pretty well for themselves.) I was a lousy stand-up, by the way, but luckily Gabe Kaplan saw my act and hired me to go on the road and write material for him. He hired me with the encouraging words, "You're a crappy comic, but you write funny stuff." But, hey, it got me started…

3) The fact that I left a successful career as a TV and film writer to become a psychotherapist. It's either interesting or crazy, or maybe both, but  either way I'm glad I did.

7. Favorite quote

Novelist Peter DeVries: "I only write when I'm inspired, so I see to it that I'm inspired every morning at 9 AM."

8. Best and worst part of being a writer

Best? You get to communicate what's in your mind and heart to others. It's a way to combat the existential loneliness at the heart of the human condition.

Worst: The above-mentioned loneliness.

9. Advice for other writers

The same advice I was given by a veteran show business friend about any creative endeavor: Don't try to follow trends, or change what you write because you believe it will sell.  Just keep giving them you, until you is what they want.

10. Tell us a story about your writing experience. 

I went with my producer to a meeting, to pitch a film idea to a couple executives at a major Hollywood studio. It was a Friday afternoon, always a bad sign, but I gamely went ahead and started pitching to the two suits, one a male, one a female. After a few minutes, the woman excused herself to go to the ladies' room. I went on pitching. A few minutes later, the guy got up to return a phone call. Neither one ever came back.

Finally, after about 20 minutes of sitting anxiously and waiting, the producer and I got up and sort of wandered the now-abandoned hallways and cubicles (it was now after 5:30 PM). Turns out, we were literally the only ones left in the entire building.

Later, of course, we were told that each exec had just assumed the other would return and hear the rest of the pitch.  But at the time, the producer and I just figured they'd skipped out. As we drove out of the empty studio lot, I said to the producer, "Gee, they missed the best part of my pitch…" But I said it a lot more colorfully…

Where can people buy your book?

You can pick up my new book, From Crime to Crime, at most major bookstores, or by ordering it from TallFellowPress.com, or, of course, amazon.com.

For more info on me and my work, including my earlier book, Writing From the Inside Out, I invite you to visit my website, www.dennispalumbo.com. There you'll find blurbs about both books, numerous articles and interviews, and a link to my personal blog.

I also write a regular column for The Huffington Post, on issues relating to creativity, the media, and where both intersect with psychology. Just go to www.huffingtonpost.com and type in my name in the search box.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My Latest Huffington Post Blog

FYI, here's my latest blog from the Huffington Post:
Let me know what you think!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Envy: The Worst-kept Secret In Writing

Today I want to talk about envy. As I've found in my work with writers, it's probably the worst-kept secret in the writing life.

For those who are new to this blog, here's my one-line bio: Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (the film My Favorite Year; the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter, among others), I'm now a licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in working with creative people.

But I also still write. My work has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and just last year a collection of my stories, From Crime to Crime, was published. My first mystery novel, Mirror Image, will be out in August from Poisoned Pen Press.

The point is, whatever creative concern you're struggling with, I guarantee I've been there, done that. I've been stymied by writers' block, grappled with procrastination and been brought low by rejection. As well as most other thorny issues writers deal with on a daily basis.

Take, as mentioned above, envy. I'm thinking about a patient of mine, a novelist, that I've been seeing for some months. Despite the gains he'd made in therapy, he felt his work was continually undermined by his envy of other writers.

He told me he had to stop reading his Author's Guild bulletin, as well as publishing websites, because seeing the deals being made by other writers angered and deflated him. He'd grown increasingly self-critical about his work habits--normally a source of pride and satisfaction--since hearing rumors about a best-selling author's penchant for "knocking out a new thriller" every six months. It had reached a point where learning of a friend's having lunch with a potential new agent could trigger a depression.

None of these feelings were unfamiliar to me. During my former career as a screenwriter, it seemed as though envy was the unspoken constant in almost every conversation with other writers. The dirty little secret of the writing life. And, as I said, the worst kept.

For some, of course, hearing of another's success can be a spur to greater efforts. For others, the result can be a crippling paralysis.

It took me a long time to understand, and to accept, that envy is a natural by-product of the achieving life. Throughout our childhood experiences in our families, and then our schools, and ultimately in the adult world, we strive to achieve in a matrix of others who strive to achieve--such that comparison is not only inevitable, but often the only standard by which to measure that achievement.

With time and maturity, we hopefully develop the self-awareness (and self-acceptance) to measure ourselves by more internal monitors; to enjoy the expression of our creative talents for their own sake.

But we also live in the real world and need the validation of that world. For a writer in a commercial marketplace, that means enduring intense competition and the almost daily spectacle of others enjoying extravagant rewards in fame and money, all while negotiating the often gut-wrenching peaks and valleys of one's own career.

In other words, that means living with envy.

The key to surviving envy, as is the case with all feelings, is to acknowledge it. By that, I'm not referring merely to the fact that you're envious, but also the meaning that you give to it.
For example, if a writer sees envy as a sign of some kind of moral weakness or character failing--a view possibly engendered and reinforced in childhood--the effect on his or her work can be quite debilitating.

Equally harmful is seeing your envy as a disparaging comment on your work, a confirmation of a lack of faith in your own writing. "If I let myself feel envy," one patient told me, "it means I don't believe in the possibility of my own success."

Another patient bravely insisted that "envy is counter-productive." So terrified of anything that might derail his firmly held belief in "positive thinking," the meaning he gave to envy--as well as any other "negative" emotion--was of an insidious obstacle on the tracks of his forward momentum.

Only by investigating what envy means to us can we risk acknowledging it. The plain fact is, it's just a feeling, like other feelings---which means it's simply information, data about what's going on inside of us.

If nothing else, envy informs us of how important our goals are. It reminds us of the reasons we undertook the creative life in the first place, and challenges us to commit once more to its rigors and rewards.

Moreover, in my own case, I find that I'm rarely troubled by envy if I'm writing well, if I'm truly engaged with my current project. When I'm fully "caught" by what I'm working on, intrusive thoughts about the creative and/or career triumphs of others usually don't enter my mind. Usually.

So the choice is yours. You can deny your envy, or use it to re-double your efforts. You can talk it to death among your friends (also a great procrastination ploy, by the way), or you can suffer in silence. Or, hopefully, you can accept it with humor and self-acknowledgment, and perhaps explore what its meaning is for you.

But one thing I know. For a writer, to coin a phrase, nothing's certain except death and taxes. And envy.

Then again, that's just my opinion. I'd love to hear yours.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Next Great TV Detective...?

For classic mystery fans, the TV landscape is looking particularly barren nowadays.
What do I mean by that?
Well, in my view, with the end of the series Monk, television is suddenly without any classic, clue-based mystery character. What I'm talking about is the kind of signature protagonist, long a cherished staple in mystery fiction, who approaches crime-solving with a unique personal style, and who eschews forensics and fisticuffs in favor of utilizing what Poirot called his "little gray cells."
You know the kinds of character I'm talking about. The legendary writers Levinson and Link created two of them: Columbo and Jessica Fletcher, the heroine of Murder, She Wrote.
In the late 1950's, all the way through the 70's and 80's, the most unique crime-solvers on TV were private detectives: from Richard Diamond and Honey West to Harry Orwell and Charlie's Angels; from Peter Gunn and Mike Hammer to Thomas Magnum and Jim Rockford.
And of course, thanks to PBS (and its importation of British series), we've been graced with such print-to-TV characters as Agatha Christie's Miss Marple and the above-mentioned Hercule Poirot, as well as Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, and Inspector Barnaby of Midsummer Murders.
As these last two series demonstrate, even those who work in an official capacity (as police detectives) can possess the unique characteristics we associate with the best amateur or private sleuths. Think of Helen Mirren's Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect.
Or Michael Gambon as Inspector Maigret. Or Raymond Burr as Ironside.
But now, as we bid good-by to Adrian Monk, is there any detective, pro or amateur, to replace him? Maybe we should consider Thomas Jane, The Mentalist, or Brenda Johnson of The Closer. Possibly. But I'm on the fence.
In fact, the only character I can think of who meets the criteria we've been discussing isn't a detective at all: Dr. Gregory House. Though he does indeed solve medical mysteries, and his creator, David Shore, has tweaked the audience throughout the series with his misanthropic character's uncanny resemblance to Sherlock Holmes.
Where Holmes had Watson, House has Wilson. House's apartment address is 221 B
(same as Holmes' address on Baker Street). And on one episode, Wilson plays a prank on the hospital's young doctors by explaining that House once had his heart broken by a singular woman...named Irene Adler.
Regardless, are we witnessing the end of the era of TV detectives? Maybe not. HBO has a new series called Bored to Death, in which a struggling writer works part-time as a private detective. And David Shore is apparently developing a re-make of The Rockford Files (though it's hard to imagine anyone other than James Garner in the role.)
So. Do we need another new, 21st Century TV detective? And who should it be? Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch? Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta? Or someone
created specifically for the small screen?
What do you think?