June 10, 2007 Jill

I spent the morning on another of the scripts that went to pilot and got picked up for the fall season. Dirty Sexy Money by Six Feet Under screenwriter, Craig Wright, is coming to ABC and CTV. This one is much harder to discuss without spoilers because it’s very much about character, but I can give you some stats and structure.

The draft I read was labeled “network draft” and it was still titled with its rather bland original name “The Darlings”. I kind of love the new name even though the pilot only really delivers on the money and hints at the dirty. We can only assume there’s sex to come.

The script is 59 jam-packed pages plus title page. It with Act One (not a Teaser) and presumably the screenwriter believes that once he’s got you, he should hold onto you as long as he can. The act runs a full 14 pages. Act Two is nine pages, Act Three 11, Act Four is 14 pages, Act Five is a mere six pages and Act Six is a mere five pages, perhaps qualifying it as a tease.

The act breaks are a good deal less cliffhangerish than you might expect, but they are clearly tent pole moments in the story. Act One ends with the death of the protagonist’s father in flashback. Act Two ends with a flashback to the moment when he accepts the job that we already know he has. Act Three, again in flashback, drops the curtain on the job out of control. As Act Four ends, the reporter interviewing him in the present, accuses him of lying and he turns the tables by establishing that he knows she is lying too. At the end of Act Five it becomes clear that the reporter is a player in all of this in a different way and as the episode ends, the lead must decide whether to launch an investigation that will hurt the family his father spent a lifetime protecting.

There are a lot of characters to introduce and a lot of back story to present because this is going to be one of those arcing series in which many characters play out soapy storylines. The screenwriter uses a very clear structure to introduce the world, the people and the storylines that will develop over season one. The main through line has the protagonist (described economically as “pensive in a perfect suit”) being interviewed by a sly reporter. We hear what he tells the reporter and flashback to an alternate version of the events. Through the flashbacks we meet everyone we need to know, first in the 1960s and 70s and then over the last few weeks.

Book ending the interview, at the top and tail of the episode are scenes that set up what we can only imagine is an important continuing storyline about the possible murder of the protagonist’s father. Have I given away too much?

The stakes are money, fame and integrity. There’s very little jeopardy compared to Viva Laughlin and the lead seems to be a straight up good guy who for reasons we don’t entirely believe has given up a life of working for food banks and beleaguered nuns in order to keep a bunch of spoiled rich grown ups out of trouble. But there is mystery to the story, who are these people and why is our guy willing to abandon his own life to coddle them? It’s the momentum of the narrative that pulled me in and kept me reading. The voice is breezy and the script is full of easily digestible moments: we know what’s coming. The characters are familiar too: the political contender, Paris Hilton, the evil priest, the sexy ex and so on. This familiarity, the way the story seems to meet our expectations is part of what makes the script such an easy read. Also the characters are credible and all seem to have a depth of feeling; we might start to care about them.

There’s no action and no sex (although all the women are sexy and men good-looking), but there is something compelling about the lives of the rich and famous and the potential juice of the soapy storylines that are set in motion. If we’re lucky it will be a hipper, quirkier version of Dallas, if not, then it’ll be Dynasty rehashed. But I will be watching and I’m looking forward to seeing how the script lifts to the screen.