Things I’ve Worked On: Show Bible for 9th and U

My best friend Erica and I are working on writing a TV show. The episodes are in constant flux, so it wouldn’t be productive to share one of those. But I think we’ve landed on the premise of the show, so here’s the show bible:

 

SHOW BIBLE

Summary of Show

The events of 9th and U are situated within an ongoing interview between Ann Walters, the host of a 20/20 type show, and the young co-creators of a new show called Voice of a Generation (VOAG). At the beginning of each episode, Ann Walters asks a question, brings up a criticism, or highlights other issues regarding VOAG, which prompts a flashback explaining the motivations or actions of the co-creators (think the format of Slumdog Millionaire). These flashbacks, which address a specific topic in each episode, also chronicle how the co-creators went from young Millennials in DC to writing their own television show and being interview by Ann Walters.

Pitch

The format of this show is a direct response to comments we received on an earlier draft of our script: that our show has to be about something, that we need a story that keeps people coming back for more, that we need to focus on one issue at a time, that we are being too “small” with our ideas. There seems to be this paradox regarding script writing: You’re encouraged to write about what you know, but then this “what you know” has to be bent beyond recognition into formulaic situations for the audience to understand it.

9th and U focuses on how two co-writers answer an interviewer’s questions regarding their show (VOAG) and writing process, with flashbacks to specific moments in their life creating the bulk of each episode. Thus, 9th and U is a comedy that exists in two realms. (1) it’s a traditional episodic sitcom that follows the lives of Erica and Zack and their diverse gang of friends, who are redefining what it means to fail at love, work, and friendship in Washington DC, and (2) it’s an anthology that takes on cartoonish narrative devices, writer hubris, other aspects of modern storytelling, and how all of this speaks to the way the world works. Some episodes are homages to the absurd and the beauty of well-told stories, whereas others are scathing criticisms of the way storytellers (and marketers, publicists, politicians, friends, foes, etc.) turn people into characters and underestimate the audience’s intelligence.

The two main characters, Zack, a 26-year-old white man, and Erica, a 26-year-old black woman, are best friends who are convinced that they are smarter and more self-aware than essentially everyone else. And yet it’s precisely their smarter-than-thou attitudes that get them in trouble time and again. Intersecting and supplementing the adventures of Erica and Zack are their roommates (Greg and Shannon), friends (Priyanka and L), and flings.

The simple premise is that it’s a self-aware sitcom–a story about storytelling–told by the two least self-aware people imaginable. We acknowledge that altogether this sounds like a brainy concept, so the million dollar question is what will keep people coming back for more. The answer is this: the show succeeds on all fronts. If someone wants a traditional sitcom, the show will be that. If someone wants to have a debate on Twitter about social issues, the show will provide that. If someone wants to watch their favorite storylines be retold by idiots, the show will do that. We don’t demand that the audience use their brain, but we do allow it. This is the best of the both worlds: You can feel smart about watching the show and in reality use as little brain power as desired. This points to another important attribute: it’s a show that has replayability, an important attribute in the world of DVRs and streaming.

9th and U aspires to read like 30 Rock in terms of pacing. More so than plot, the creators’ most fundamental maxim is density and humor first and foremost. We want this show to be rapid with jokes, in the spirit of shows like Portlandia, Broad City, Seinfeld, and 30 Rock. While the growing presence of dramedies like Transparent, Orange is the New Black and even Girls offers smart and resonating storytelling, they don’t provide the sort of unbridled joy that we believe our show will conjure.

Primary Character Bios

Zack: A 26-year-old scruffy white male. Zack and Erica met each other at Vanderbilt University in 2008 and have been inseparable ever since. Zack is very intelligent but feels as though he is owed a lot (manifesting as delusions of grandeur) and lacks much motivation professionally. In the flashbacks, Zack works as an administrative assistant at Erica’s law firm but is not married to a profession in corporate America. He’s a lovable pessimist, a schemer, and a goofball.

Erica: A 26-year-old, athletic, very put-together, black female. Erica and Zack met each other at Vanderbilt University in 2008 and have been inseparable ever since. Erica played tennis in college and has a very competitive spirit, which manifests itself in both work and play, often in inappropriate ways. In the flashbacks, Erica is an ambitious young lawyer at the firm MacBeth Lockhart Gardner in DC and aspires to be a big player in her field. She can be described as an optimist and realist, particularly in comparison to Zack, but she is not without her own idiosyncrasies.

Ann Walters: A very professional thirty something woman who is interviewing Zack and Erica about their show, VOAG. Ann Walters clearly has an agenda (and rightfully so) but attempts to hide her bias with journalistic maneuvers (think Katie Couric interviewing Sarah Palin).

Shannon: A  27-year-old, very skinny, Jewish female. Shannon is Erica’s roommate in the flashbacks. The two have an increasingly antagonistic relationship but are forced to live together because they both have mountains of debt from law school and neither wants to move out of their fantastic apartment. Zack and Erica both hate Shannon’s confrontational and erratic behavior but consistently find her a large part of their lives. She also works as a lawyer at MacBeth Lockhart Gardner. She’s a drama queen.

Greg: A 30-year-old, tall, very handsome, Latino male. Greg is Zack’s roommate in DC and second closest friend after Erica. He is a very normal, down-to-earth character in a world of exaggerated personalities. Greg works at the World Bank and is very successful at his job. He remains roommates with Zack because he travels often for work. Greg also happens to be right leaning politically. He’s a sage and charmer.

L: A 25-year-old, very short, half Japanese, half Colombian female. Short for “Leslie,” “Lisa,” or some other name beginning with an “L,” Erica and Zack can’t even be bothered to remember L’s name. L is very forgettable according to Zack but seems to be beloved by others, especially her best friend Priyanka. L has an edgy style and a cutesy doll-like appearance. L and Priyanka were Erica and Zack’s closest friends during college, but the two groups fell apart upon graduation. L and Priyanka moving to DC at the beginning of the series brings the four friends back together. She’s a nobody to Zack and Erica but a charmer and voice of reason to everyone else.

Priyanka: A 25-year-old, tattooed, hipster Indian female. Priyanka is beginning medical school at Georgetown in the flashback. She is very booksmart but offensively street stupid, which is manifested in particular by her appropriation of black urban culture. Priyanka and L were Erica and Zack’s closest friends during college but the two groups fell apart upon graduation. L and Priyanka moving to DC at the beginning of the series brings the four friends back together. She’s a bigmouth.

Episode Summaries

Season 1 Episode 1: The Jump Off. See Pilot

Season 1 Episode 2: Gaunt Girl. Ann Walters asks Erica and Zack to address the accusations of plagiarism, specifically of Gone Girl. Zack and Erica defend themselves by describing what they say actually happened. We begin the flashback with Erica’s roommate, Shannon, narrating the events of the episode, much like the film Gone Girl. We find out that Shannon has framed Erica for Shannon’s death because Erica kept moving the mail and changing the temperature in their apartment. Shannon ends up realizing she can’t afford a life on the run and returns home. At the end of the episode, neither Erica nor Shannon can afford to move out of their apartment, so their very tenuous relationship as roommates continues.

Season 1 Episode 3: Erica and Zack Go To White Chapel. Ann Walters argues that many aspects of the show are disingenuous and a blatant appeal to hip Millennials. In the flashback, Erica and Zack decide to go to New York for the weekend. They then proceed to try to get involved in some serious mischief but consistently end up doing good deeds.

Season 1 Episode 4: Bechdel Test Fail. Ann Walters brings up the intense focus of VOAG on dating and men. This flashback revolves around all the terrible relationships of the main characters and happens to fail the Bechdel Test, despite being a main cast of only girls. Erica is dating a guy who takes advantage of Erica’s competitive nature (e.g., daring her to stay in the relationship). Priyanka is dating a jerk who has no right to act that way given how little is going on in his life. L is dating a boy who is clearly unfaithful. 

Season 1 Episode 5: [Verb] your Enthusiasm. Ann Walters talks about the smallness and specificity of VOAG, especially the characters’ tendency to make every situation into an obnoxious dilemma. Shot as an homage to Curb your Enthusiasm, the flashback focuses on Zack dating a person in a wheelchair. However, when they go to dinners, his date spends too much time in the bathroom, and Zack can’t deal with looking like he’s eating dinner by himself (because they take the other chair away to make space for the wheelchair). Erica plays the role of Jeff, and Shannon plays the role of Susie.

Season 1 Episode 6: The J’accused…! Ann Walters discusses the odd relationship between Zack and Erica. In the flashback, we find out that Erica asked Zack to write a letter of recommendation for her admission to the DC Bar. Erica receives word that she must defend herself in front of an ethics committee set up like Judge Judy because they believe the letter of recommendation was a forgery (Zack’s letter was extremely positive, to the extent that it was unbelievable). Erica brings Zack as a witness, and they must defend their friendship. Erica portrays the case as a grave miscarriage of justice, reminiscent of J’accuse …!” by Emile Zola.

Season 1 Episode 7: How to Lose Friends and Insult People. Ann Walters discusses how mean spirited the characters and the jokes in VOAG often are. In the flashback, Erica and Zack struggle with the dilemma of wanting more friends but hating practically everyone, especially the friends they already have. They opt to join a bunch of meetups but still find themselves unhappy because they misunderstand the premise of all the events they’re attending (e.g., Zack joins a “pick-up soccer league” but “pick-up” means hooking up after the games rather than spontaneous games). They decide to make their own very specific meetup and are surprised when the only people who attend are their old friends.

Season 1 Episode 8: Game, Set, Screw you. Ann Walters discusses the strange phenomena of characters always getting in bitter fights with one another but for some reason continuing to be in each other’s lives. In the flashback, Erica and Zack play a game of ping pong that turns ugly, leading to an epic showdown between the two both on and off the court. Zack and Erica are both master manipulators and bring their A-games to the table. For example, Erica lays lawyer traps for Zack, and Zack resorts to the ultimate defense, a grown man crying, which makes even his most bitter enemy uncomfortably sympathetic.

Season 1 Episode 9: The Tragedy of MacBeth Lockhart Gardner. Ann Walters finally pays a compliment about VOAG: its frequent allusion to great pieces of literature. In the flashback, we find out that this is just a coincidence. This flashback follows the storyline of MacBeth but in the vein of the Good Wife. Erica is competing with Cary Iagos over a permanent position at their firm. During a meeting, the three partners of the firm tell Cary that he is going to be more successful than Erica, but confusingly they give the job to Erica. Zack, who is an administrative assistant to Erica and wants to be a secretary to a partner, plays the role of Lady MacBeth and schemes to get more higher ups fired so Erica can move up the corporate ladder. Erica ends up partner but her department is in total disrepair in the wake of her and Zack’s scheming. Meanwhile, Cary has gotten a job at a competing firm and started to poach all of Erica’s clients, leaving Erica with no business.

Season 1 Episode 10: Finale. Ann Walters discusses the self-destructive ways of both the characters of VOAG and Zack and Erica themselves. In the flashback, in the wake of decimating MacBeth Lockhart Gardner, Zack and Erica decide to abandon the idea of 9-5 jobs and instead try to get into the business of writing a tv show. The flashbacks finally catch up with the present and reach the point in time at which the interview is taking place. We find out that the interview is not part of a 20/20-like show but instead is a final project for Ann Walters’ college class. Further, Zack and Erica have not written a successful TV show but a mildly successful YouTube series.

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