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Joss Whedon

From Abrams to Whedon : TV’s most inventive minds

Friday 29 August 2008, by Webmaster

The very best programs on TV - the programs people become invested in for their emotion, spirit of adventure and ability to uplift - are invariably created by daring, inventive minds, many of them young writers who produce and supervise their own programs. If movies are all about the director, TV is about the writer. The writers who create TV shows often go on to become executive producers and show runners - bosses involved in every aspect of a TV series’ production. Alex Strachan profiles five of the most inventive minds working in television today. Every one of them is a writer, director and producer in his own right who has at least one new or returning program on TV during the coming season.

JJ Abrams

• Born June 22, 1966

• Creator and executive producer of Felicity, Alias, Lost and Fringe

Jeffrey Jacob "JJ" Abrams has a simple formula for his TV creations like Lost, Alias and his upcoming thriller Fringe, he insisted last month in an interview. "It’s this: What do I want to see? What show would I tune into to see?"

Fringe, a slow-burn thriller about "the blurred line between the possible and the impossible" focuses on a maverick team of scientific investigators poring over clues in the wake of a passenger jet’s landing with all aboard dead.

"It’s about that weird place where medicine and science meet real life," Abrams said.

That "weird place" - Felicity aside - is as apt a summation as any of Abrams TV projects to date.

Abrams has directed and written screenplays for feature films - Armageddon, Regarding Henry, Forever Young, Mission: Impossible III, Cloverfield and the latest Star Trek film are among his film projects - but TV remains his first passion.

"It’s such an amazing medium," Abrams said. "There’s this really weird thing that goes on where, when you’re lucky enough to get a pilot done and you’ve lived with that for a little while, you start to see the characters again when, later, you start working on the episodes. It’s this organic, ongoing process. When you have a story you’re excited about, and you’re telling it over the long term, episode to episode, it’s a real thrill. I just feel lucky to be doing this."

Joss Whedon

• Born June 23, 1964

• Creator and executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse

The Internet movie reference site IMDB has described Whedon as the world’s "first third-generation" TV writer: His father, Tom Whedon, wrote for PBS’s The Electric Company in the 1970s and the sitcom Roseanne, and his grandfather, John Whedon, wrote for The Donna Reed Show in the 1950s.

Whedon’s own creative vision is much darker and more fanciful than anything in The Electric Company, Roseanne or The Donna Reed Show, though. He flipped the time-honoured tradition of TV-series-based-on-theatrical-films on its ear in 1997 with the culture-defining teen-angst series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was based on his unsuccessful - with critics and audiences alike - 1992 feature film.

In another break from TV tradition, Whedon made the series much darker and more grim than the version that played in movie theatres.

Whedon’s new series, the Truman Show-esque Dollhouse, continues in a similar vein. It stars Buffy’s Eliza Dushku as a young woman who unknowingly is a human lab rat in an experiment involving erased identity and social conditioning.

"It’s about pulling back the curtain and seeing how things are made and how they work," Whedon explained last month on the set of Dollhouse. "It cuts to the heart of what interests me about the human condition - the idea that this young woman is stripped of her personality and has to rebuild herself from scratch. Not only her character but every character is, on some level, dealing with their identity. It’s part of why I’m telling stories in the first place."


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