Indie filmmaker Kevin Smith had a cult following and a thriving career, but when he was jeered by TV Guide, it all came crashing down. That is, until he found redemption — and TV Guide critical praise — with the new dark hit Reaper (tonight, 9 pm/ET, CW). Here, he shares his experience of the highs and lows.
October 2005. After 11 years of being a filmmaker, I was feeling pretty OK with where I stood career-wise. Never the author of blockbusters, I was nonetheless able to carve out a niche for myself in the movie biz. And that niche led to an invitation, from time to time, to dabble in the medium I've long considered my first love — television.
Ah, sweet TV: my longtime baby-sitter, surrogate parent and sometime best friend. Indeed, long before I knew what a film was (and some will tell you I still don't), I'd spent endless hours bowing at the altar of the 13-channel god, consumed by Batman reruns, Saturday-morning cartoons, game shows, Uncle Floyd, The Electric Company, Zoom, The Magic Garden, Captain Kangaroo and a host of other kid-friendly programming, all fed to my New Jersey-based, wood-grained, monolithic television set by New York stations, circa the early '70s.
So when TV occasionally came calling, I'd heed her siren song and do guest spots and correspondent pieces (as well as one short-lived animated version of Clerks, my first feature) on and for various programs — if for no other reason than to fulfill the secret dreams of an obese TV baby who'd tune in to Wonderama on Sunday morning after church, wishing he could see himself in the audience croaking along to "Kids Are People Too" with Bob McAllister. Me? A fat kid from the Garden State, invited to become, in a small way, a part of the TV set? It was always a no-brainer to say yes.
And suddenly, TV turned on me.
Well, not TV itself, but TV's bible — the tome of record (and easy crossword puzzles with hints like "Mary _ _ _ _ _ Moore"), TV Guide. I was the recipient of the dreaded Jeer.
"Jeers to Kevin Smith for flushing what little hipster cred he had left by doing a guest spot on Joey. It was bad enough when the indie director (Clerks, Dogma) started making short films for the ultrasquare Tonight Show with Jay Leno. But this is the second cheesy sitcom cameo Smith has done after Yes, Dear last year. Even his recent gig as (what else?) a clerk on Veronica Mars can't restore his cool now."
I'd been shunned by TV's voice in print — that which helped me navigate the crowded waters of prime time with its half-hour segmented grid for many a decade. With the crimson judgment of the mighty Jeer, TV Guide had cast me out from the Garden of TV-den, shaming that porky youth for daring to blight home screens nationwide by fulfilling his long-held whimsies of seeing himself on that box that'd meant so much to him. I was a broken man with little to live for.
Then, some two years later, despite TV Guide's best efforts to see me off into that good night, TV came calling again, this time to direct the Reaper pilot. Here was a show so thoroughly in my wheelhouse, I had to double-check the front cover to make sure I hadn't actually written it myself: Slacker Sam, on his 21st birthday, learns that his parents sold his soul to the Devil before he was even born and that he is now an indentured servant to Hell. It was one part Clerks, one part Dogma and one part Ghostbusters, with healthy dashes of Twin Peaks and X-Files mixed in. In many ways, it was the sum total of everything TV had taught me over the years: Make 'em laugh, make 'em love the characters and always... always keep 'em entertained.
But did I dare venture back into the medium that I'd been dismissively dumped by? Was I not still branded with that scarlet Jeer? Would TV break my heart again?
Rather than hide from TV any longer, I opted to jump in and take the reins of the Reaper pilot, bringing what I could to an already strong script. The cast and crew and I did our damnedest (pun intended) to construct an hour of television so unique (yet familiar) and fun and frivolous (yet engrossing) that TV would have no choice but to embrace us, cradling our pilot to her bosom.
And the reward for our efforts? The CW picked up Reaper. The pilot generated big laughs (with, not at) and bigger buzz, as well as a sweet little groundswell of support for the little show that could. TV had indeed deemed us worthy — at least for 12 more episodes.
But the most rewarding aspect of the Reaper experience?
"Terrifically entertaining... fantastically wacky... " — Matt Roush, TV Guide.
So, if you'll allow me, I'd like to take a moment to light a candle rather than curse the darkness, and offer a Cheer of my own, to Reaper — because without it, I might've never had the chance to redeem myself in the eyes of TV Guide. And at the end of the day, isn't that the truest validation we all spend our lives thirsting for? Not the love of a partner or the respect of our peers — but the OK from a weekly television periodical?
Then again, my priorities may be a little dopey.
Go dance with the devil, Reaper-style, in our Online Video Guide.
The Oct. 1 issue of TV Guide features an in-depth preview of Heroes, featuring Hayden Panettiere, Ali Larter and the newest hero, Kristen Bell. Plus: Inside Jerry Seinfeld's return to television on 30 Rock. Try four risk-free issues now!
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