Last year’s big DC Comics crossover on The CW teamed superhero actors past and present, crossing realities and creating mashups fanboys could only dream of. 2020 has been a bit of a wash, but some chose to do some creative things in their time stuck quarantine at home, and for the man long known as “The Bitter Script Reader,” he found himself challenged to create something similar… a Crisis on Infinite Teen Dramas.
Initially releasing the script in a 4-page chunk, “Bitter” as many knew him then ultimately posted the full script on his long-running and very popular blog… but that was only the beginning.
With the help of some major talent such as Greg Berlanti and Ben Blacker, “Bitter” assembled a cast of talents to bring the script to life — and in some cases, the original actors reprised their roles. A Zoom live read of Crisis on Infinite Earths drops Friday, October 29 at 5PM ET/8PM PT, and tickets (for just $10!) support two great charities: The Center for Heirs Property Preservation and the Hollywood Support Staff Relief Fund. You can buy your tickets here, and if you can’t make it by Friday night, you’re still good – the stream will rerun through November 8.
Also in the process, “Bitter” revealed his true identity to a world who might have always wondered who it was behind the screen: in his civilian life, he is Adam Mallinger, mild-mannered writers’ assistant for an upcoming TV show about a famous couple that worked at a great metropolitan newspaper. (What show? Keep reading!)
Adam has long been a friend of KSiteTV, so to say it’s been a blast to talk to him about this awesome project has been an understatement. We are all in for a treat! So, below, enjoy our interview with the not-so-bitter Adam about the teen drama event of 2020!
KSITETV’s CRAIG BYRNE: Anyone who has followed your Twitter feed knows that you’ve been a fan of teen dramas for a long time. Can you talk about the genesis of that?
ADAM MALLINGER: It’s kind of funny, because my mother was into these shows way before I was. I was a snob. I remember rolling my eyes at people on the bus in middle school who are all about Beverly Hills 90210 and I couldn’t have cared less. And then early in high school, I discovered “real shows.” I got into ER, Law & Order and Homicide around my freshman and sophomore year. I was into serious dramas.
I remember in my senior year of high school, I caught my mom watching this show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which I remembered as just being a completely ridiculous movie, and the idea that they would make a show of that was utterly insane to me. But she was like “it’s really, really good!” I do remember seeing a tiny little bit of an episode which struck me as, like, a rip off of a Lois & Clark episode that was a rip off of a Star Trek episode on TNG, so I’m like, “I’m clearly not gonna watch this at all,” and then, two weeks later, Entertainment Weekly and all the papers were calling Buffy “the greatest show no one’s watching.”
I think Dawson’s Creek launched that same year too, and there was all this hype about how Dawson was a teenager who wanted to be a filmmaker, and he was a gigantic Spielberg fan, which pretty much describes me at that time, and it was Kevin Williamson who had done Scream, and I’m like, “oh, this is interesting!”
I did not get into it right when it launched because I was still enough of a snob, but over that summer, after it had gotten all this hype over months, I remember kind of checking out reruns and going, “oh, this is actually pretty good.” And then that next fall I started college and everybody was watching Dawson’s Creek. Everybody was watching Buffy, and so that kind of cemented when I started watching those shows regularly.
It was during Season 2 of Dawson’s Creek, which was not great, and during Season 3 of Buffy, which is probably the best season of all… I just kind of got sucked in there. Dawson’s Creek, I got way into Season 3, which started very roughly, but about a third of the way through, the stories changed and the characters were being taken more seriously. It was it was more dramatic. You really got invested in this growing relationship between Joey and Pacey, and by the end of the season, it was just really masterful what they had done with that.
That happened to be the season that Greg Berlanti took over as showrunner. That didn’t mean anything to me at the time. I didn’t even know about it, but in hindsight, I think it was during Season 4, I was reading articles about what had happened the previous season behind the scenes and became aware of how this Greg Berlanti guy is the guy who, like, made that show. He took it from being the silly thing that I was mostly watching because identified a little bit with Dawson, and like everyone who was an 18 year old male at the time, I was legally required to have a crush on Katie Holmes. Season 3 was the year where I went “oh, this is really good. These characters were really interesting,” and it was Greg Berlanti who was mostly responsible for elevating it to that level.
There are a couple of decent episodes before the real change where he takes over. But it’s a Thanksgiving episode where Jen’s mother comes to visit. A lot of it is the drama about Jen and her mother, and then you also have a couple other subplots that air kind of boiling over and it gets really dramatic. But I was like “This is a really good episode! It’s really taking the characters seriously and has really deep stuff!”
I found out later that legend has it, that was apparently an episode that [Berlanti] rewrote. over a weekend because the actors did not like the first iteration of that story completely. It [allegedly] involved Pacey and Jen and their hook up pact, getting caught hooking up in school, the actors apparently revolted and stopped production and said, “we’re not doing this!” And so a swift rewrite was needed to be done. At that point, I think Greg might have been executive story editor on the show at that point. He turned that rewrite around, and it kind of shifted the course of the whole season.
So then Greg Berlanti created a show called Everwood and that kind of ties into this project.
It’s a huge part of this project!
Everwood was a show that I had not watched from the very beginning. It was just around the time I moved to LA. I remember it being hyped as this family drama and I had caught an episode or two here and there, but for whatever reason, I hadn’t really watched it regularly until towards the end of the [first] season when they did this episode on abortion. I watched that, and I was like “this is a really, really good show,” and I think that was the point where it clicked for me like, “oh, this is the Dawson’s Creek guy,” because that’s who [Greg Berlanti] was in my brain at that time.
It was a family drama as much as it was a teen drama, because you had three generations of a family there at one point. You had the new doctor in town from New York who was a genius brain surgeon, and his piano prodigy son, and their clash with the family doctor, and you had the girl next door whose boyfriend is in a coma and needs brain surgery from the most brilliant brain surgeon. It sounds soap operaish when I break it down like that, but I think one of Greg’s great strengths is that he takes these incredibly heightened premises and just makes these people so real that you get really invested in them. The heightened stuff around them is just a showcase for the humanity and the conflict in the relationships.
That was one of the things I remember responding to as I was rewatching every episode to get a handle on it, like “these characters are really, really deep, this is a really great show.” That show is probably one of my all time favorite shows, and when I go to write a pilot, one thing I always do is I go back and I watch the Everwood pilot because it has to introduce so many relationships. It introduces two to full families. It introduces a scenario. It introduces several main characters, and and their conflicts, and how all of them interrelate. The pilot is just kind of a master class and like story breaking, plotting, character writing emotion.
How surreal was it to be writing these characters now?
“It was a little surreal writing it. It was surprisingly easy. Those character voices came to me pretty easily because Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp were just so distinct in how they performed them, that when I was writing them, with Ephram and Amy, every word that came out of their mouth. I knew it was right if I could picture Greg Smith or if I could picture Emily VanCamp saying it. It was fun because once you start putting those characters on the page, they start talking to each other, and I kind of felt like I was almost observing instead of writing, The surreal part of it was when I sent the full script to Greg Berlanti, and he said “if there’s anything we can do to help, let me know,” and I said “do you feel comfortable making a few calls for some of these actors?”
It was decided that because I’m working on Superman & Lois and because Gregory Smith is working on Superman & Lois, that he was probably the best person to start with. We set up a call with Ben Blacker and Gregory Smith to figure out the next best step, and [Smith] says “you know, I haven’t Ephram dialogue in like, 14 years, but it felt right. It really felt like the show.” And that was surreal, to have “Ephram Brown” basically anoint me.
Then, certainly when we went to do the live read, and Greg and Emily are on there, and their scene comes up, and they’re bantering back and forth, and I’m like, “oh, this is so cool! Ephram and Amy are back together again! It’s like they never left!” And then there was that extra moment of, like, “you dolt! You wrote this this thing! These are your words they’re saying!” It was kind of an emotional moment. It was very surreal to see these characters come to life, and also to realize almost after the fact that “you did this, and they’re doing this for you. They’re doing this show and they’re saying your words, but they sound like the real people. You actually did it!” I don’t know if there’s a word for the emotions that were going on then, but it was very, very nice.
Were there any characters you were afraid of getting wrong?
There was some voices that I thought, “you know, you’ve got to nail or they’re gonna murder you.” The way this was written, it was written in batches of four pages at a time that I was posting to the Internet, at least for the 1st 18 pages. The first four pages I put out as a lark, and people responded to it, so I said “okay, I’ll write the next four pages” and I decided “let’s go to the Gilmore House!”
It was a decision that for about 20 minutes I was then rueing because it was like “why did I do this to myself?” Amy Sherman-Palladino’s dialogue is so distinctive that if you don’t get it, note perfect, you’re gonna get murdered, because people could say “Lorelai doesn’t sound like that! Emily doesn’t sound like that!” So there was There was a little bit of that [worry].
Can you talk about some of the actors who will be participating in this event?
We have a fantastic cast. First, Greg Berlanti was able to get us both the original “Ephram and Amy,” so we’ve got Gregory Smith and Emily VanCamp reprising their roles, and Ben Blacker got a lot of the other actors we have.
I think a great showcase for this is our new Gilmore Girls, Melissa Fumero from Brooklyn 99 and Isabella Gomez from One Day at a Time as Lorelai and Rory. I almost wish I’d written an entire Gilmore Girls script, because those two were so perfect in those roles. Melissa in particular, the first few words out of her mouth. You’re like, wow, she has nailed just the complete Lauren Graham. Not doing an imitation of Lauren Graham, but she’s playing it like how she would play Lorelai Gilmore. She’s got Lorelai Gilmore qualities without feeling like an imitation.
I think they should reboot the show with the two of them, definitely.
And then we’ve got Emmy Raver Lampman from Umbrella Academy and Vella Lovell from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, so we got some singers in the cast. Nick Wechsler, a friend of mine from Revenge who did another live read of mine – had to have him back, and so he’s playing Archie from Riverdale, and he’s got another sort of secret role.
The actors did one of two things when they were performing. They either did their best to kind of emulate the original characters and the original actors, or they went, you know, completely off on their own and just went wacky, and both approaches really work. I honestly think it works well that we’ve got about half the cast doing one, and half the the cast doing the other. For Nick’s second role, he just went way out there, and I think considering the character he’s playing, it will be a lot of fun. I’m very excited about that.
Matt Lauria from Friday Night Lights did Dawson Leery, and there’s a point where, since he’s playing Pariah from Crisis on Infinite Earths, who spends about half of Crisis crying. Matt gave us the Dawson Cry face, which is just wonderful.
Mark Gagliardi plays Kevin Arnold and he also does the Daniel Stern-ish voice, and the moment that I just relaxed on everything when we were recording is the first words we hear other than the action of the script is the Daniel Stern voice, and he nailed it perfectly. Not just the voice, but the cadence, the rhythm… just everything about it.
Autumn Reeser is back as Taylor Townsend. Taylor was not in the script that I had released. We did a couple of rewrites cause we had to take some characters out, and we tried to reduce the number of characters. One solution was that Ben [Blacker] and I both knew Autumn Reeser, so we were like “let’s get Autumn in this and let’s have some fun with Taylor Townsend.” So she’s got a brief part.
Then we’ve got Greg Berlanti in a very special cameo role as the Flash that I think a lot of people are gonna enjoy.
That’s not the entire cast, and I don’t mean to disparage anybody leaving them out… everybody did fantastic work.
There’s another beloved Arrowverse character showing up in the live read as well. Can you hint at who that might be?
If people have read the script because it’s out there, there are cameos not just limited to teen shows. And in one case, as I said, we’ve got Greg Berlanti as The Flash, and there are a couple of Arrowverse characters who show up, and one of them shows up via special arrangement with Marc Guggenheim, who did us a huge favor and got us…. I won’t say who it is, but you’ll know exactly what Marc did. But I think I think fans of the DC crossovers well, love this little cameo when it pops up.
In the cases where the original actors did not return, will be visual cues for who they are supposed to be?
There’s a great thing that our editor did. Every actor has got a caption below that says their name, their character’s name and a picture of the original actor next to them, and so that’ll help visually track, as some of these people are playing different parts throughout, so you’ll be able to remember and be like “okay, I get it.”
You know, we’ve talked about your love of teen dramas. You’ve also been a fan of Superman as long as I’ve known you. So, what have you been up to lately?
I’ve been working for most of the year on Superman & Lois as the writer’s assistant. It’s been a lot of fun being in the room. It’s basically the fourth room I’ve been in, so I’m used to working with a staff, and this staff is great. For most of the season we’ve been doing via Zoom, which is a bit of a challenge, but everybody who I have worked with is just great and [they] have such fantastic ideas. We’re really, really excited about the Superman stuff we’re doing.
I am under direct orders. I cannot give teases, I cannot give hints, cannot tell you anything that hasn’t been publicly released yet. It’s so fun to see people reacting to the stuff that is released. I cannot tell you anything about the show itself other than I think Superman fans are gonna love it. It’s the kind of Superman show I would love even if I wasn’t working on it, and so to be a part of that is very, very exciting.
Is it fun to work with a group of people where you can talk about Superman and Lois Lane at work?
Oh, absolutely. It’s known I’m the geek, but I don’t think you want eight people like me writing the show. I think what helps is that everybody is kind of like a different level of Superman fan. Everybody in there loves Superman, but not everybody has the knowledge I do. We all have certain common touchstones. All of us know the Reeve films. There are certain shows that all of us know. Certainly there are people who have history with the Arrowverse. But I am definitely, like, the ultra geek as far as “oh, this obscure character from the eighties or nineties, you know, this is this character’s deal.” So it’s fun to be able to go to work and have all of that knowledge I’ve accumulated over 40 years be an asset. Our Writers’ PA is exactly the same level of geekdom I am, so sometimes it almost becomes a race between the two of us.
I feel like it’s it’s gonna make for a really great show when you guys finally get to see it.
With all this knowledge you’re bringing to the table, are they going to let you write an episode?
Well, this is an exclusive, Craig. I cannot tell you what episode it is, I cannot tell you the plot, I cannot tell you anything about it… but by the end of the first season of Superman & Lois, you will see an episode with the credit “written by Adam Mallinger” on it. And that is very exciting to say, and I wish I could tell you more, but yes, I’m getting to live a 35 year dream of writing Superman and Lois Lane.
How does it feel to be revealed as the Bitter Script Reader?
It’s interesting, because I for years was afraid it was going to be such an anticlimactic reveal to people that I was never just going to do it just to do it. I was always going to make sure there was some bigger event that almost overshadowed it, just so I didn’t have to deal with people going “oh, that was it? That’s unsatisfying.”
I think the people most relieved in my life were the people who knew who I was, because they were finally relieved they weren’t accidentally gonna blow it.
I think that announcing with this did exactly what I wanted, which is this show is kind of the star and people are going, “oh, hey, we know who he is.” It’s more that I get to see them excited for this cool thing and that they get to be excited for me that I’m a part of this cool thing.
It’s nice to be able to reveal a few things and talk a little more freely because there are people who have worked for, like Jeff Lieber and Matt Federman, who I was always kind of talking around how great they were and my relationship with them as my show runners on NCIS New Orleans and Blood & Treasure. It’s nice to be able to like specifically say, “hey, these guys are great in a room because of this” or “hey, they taught me so much because of this.” I like being able to open my affection for some of the my previous mentors and co-workers. That’s freeing.
So, now, readers… what are you waiting for? Get your tickets for Crisis on Infinite Teen Dramas here, enjoy the show, and support some great charities at the same time! It should be a lot of fun. Our thanks to Bitter — err, Adam Mallinger for taking the time to do this interview!