Category Archives: Brushes with Hollywood

“The House on the Hill” – Introducing “Home: Stories From L.A.”

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The Stein House as seen from the Vilner House, Los Feliz. Photo by Bill Barol

September 9, 2015 – Here’s a Hollywood story best told by friend, shipmate, and fellow writer, Bill Barol, author of Thanks for Killing Me. He’s launched a new podcast series, “Home: Stories from L.A.” with this segment. Give a listen to this fascinating twenty minutes.

Stay tuned…

Always, always inquire further…

EvePosterOctober 3, 2014 – Recently, a very gracious and charming neighbor invited me to a cocktail party in her spectacular 1920s era English cottage (just down the street). I had heard through the grapevine that the house had been built by Suzanne’s grandfather who had some connection to Hollywood’s golden age, but had never bothered to inquire further. (Note to self: Always, always, inquire further.) “Some connection” would turn out to be a woefully inadequate description. As we toured the gorgeously appointed interior, libations and canapés in hand, I spotted a framed photograph of a man posing with Cecil B. DeMille and inquired if that was the grandfather in question. I was subsequently flabbergasted and delighted to discover that I was in the home of Victor Milner, Academy Award-winning cinematographer of the 1934 Claudette Colbert version of Cleopatra, and the man who shot one of my favorite films of all time, The Lady Eve, starring Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, and written and directed by the incomparable Preston Sturges. Well, we had a thing or two to discuss once that cat was out of the bag, including how my adoration of all things Stanwyck had led to my specifically working her into my novel, City of Whores, along with a reference to The Lady Eve. After Suzanne had read the book, she dropped off a lovely handwritten card (recall I used the words “gracious and charming” to describe her). With her permission, I’m sharing an excerpt. For those of you who’ve read the book, you’ll know the Dexter she refers to is the stage name of my protagonist. For those of you who haven’t, what is wrong with you?

The only thing better than a good book is one you can’t put down. Thanks for the many enjoyable nights I spent reading City of Whores. I particularly liked your style and the cadence of your phrasing, which when combined with the storyline was so riveting I felt as if I wasn’t just reading, but was really there.

Your characterization of Barbara Stanwyck was particularly apt. The kindness with which she treated Dexter was well known in my family. One day during a break in Lady Eve, my grandfather was talking to Ms. Stanwyck (who he affectionately referred to as “Missy”) when he received a telegram on the set. In it, he learned that his son, my dad, who was a pilot, had been in a terrible plane crash, and was in an ICU in Texas with burns throughout his body. At the time, the movie was already over budget, and the production was under a great deal of pressure to finish the film. It was pretty close to wrapping with only scenes of the principal characters remaining.

Barbara Stanwyck did everything possible to encourage my grandfather to leave the set and go to his son, but my grandfather was resolute about finishing filming. He knew if he left he’d be instantly fired, and might not get work on another film in the future if this happened. The next morning, however, when he came on the set, it was announced that Ms. Stanwyck was horribly ill. She stayed “sick” for 10 (ten!) days until my dad was out of ICU—making it possible for my grandpa to see him. What a lady. And that was only one story, albeit my favorite.”

I just adore everything about this story, and am both thrilled and a bit awed to receive such nice words from a lovely neighbor with Hollywood in her DNA. When I called to ask if I could share this on my blog, she immediately said yes, and told me she’d dig around for more stories and material related to her grandfather.

I fully intend to inquire further this time. Stay tuned…

Hollywood: Land of Missed Opportunity…

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August 10, 2014 – After surviving twenty-five years in television (with a few, brief and aborted forays into features), it would be difficult to avoid racking up a major regret or two along the way. Now, I’m the first to say What If and Would’ve, Should’ve, Could’ve might as well be cross streets on that dead end road known as Memory Lane, but every now and then, pangs bubble to the surface and linger, aggravated and aching like an old war injury. One of my biggest started with a phone call from my then agent, Mark Rossen, back around 1995 or so. He informed me that a Big Name Feature Director (“BNFD”) had an idea for a television series and had loved my writing samples so…could he set a breakfast? This being no ordinary BNFD, coupled with hearing that this Hollywood Legend had sparked to something I had written, filled my eyes with stardust so I readily agreed. Now bear in mind that this man’s career spanned from the early drama anthology days of television in the 1950s to multiple Oscar nominations as an artist who many call one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century. All these years later, he was still going strong, working regularly, and would continue to do so for another decade. Now, not only was he a BNFD, he was also a BFD, a household name, and a man whose work I didn’t just admire but revered. I arrived for breakfast at some forgotten eatery on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica to find Rossen and BNFD already seated and chatting over coffee. Mark stood as he saw me approaching, undoubtedly grinning like a jackass, and quickly made introductions: “Mark Perry, BNFD.” I shook the man’s hand in awe, told him what an honor it was to meet him, then sat down with them and self-consciously spread my napkin in my lap and took a nervous sip of water. Once we’d exchanged the usual icebreaking chit chat and ordered our food, BNFD spoke a bit about whatever he’d liked in whatever script of mine he’d read (probably at that time a Moon Over Miami, Picket Fences, Law & Order—or perhaps my unproduced pilot, Walking Trouble). My inner dialog was impossible to silence: “Holy crap—BNFD likes something I wrote enough that he wants to develop a pilot with me!” Finally, he got around to the pitch, which was so “ripped from the headlines” it was borderline docudrama.  The premise concerned a protagonist who was a well-known figure (maybe an actor or a politician but not an athlete for specific reasons to be revealed) who has been arrested, indicted, and tried for a particularly savage murder—one where every shred of circumstantial evidence pointed directly to the defendant. The pilot would begin as our protagonist watches the jury file into the box after a short deliberation and present the shocking verdict: not guilty. (Reminder: this was 1995, so it shouldn’t be hard to guess which headline this was ripping.) “I love it,” I said, “And what’s the series?” BNFD smiled as he explained, “It’s about his return to day-to-day living after being held without bail during his arrest and trail for well over a year. It’s about his reassimilating into his old life, where even his closest friends and loved ones can’t separate themselves from their serious, lingering doubts.” My initial silent reaction at the time was: “That’s it?” My “out loud” reaction was, “I love it. Really smart…” And then I’m sure I pulled a few vague ideas out of thin air to pitch back as we lingered over coffee, chatting a bit more about the idea and how to make it even more lurid than the O.J. story, then, since it’s industry law that you never commit to anything at the table (and try to never pick up the check), I shook Rossen’s and BNFD’s hand with a promise to “mull it over” and get back to him. (Of course, if this had happened today, I probably would’ve handed my phone to Rossen and insisted he take a picture of me and BNFD, or at least get a selfie, but it wasn’t so I didn’t.) Driving home, coming down from an exhilarating high, my thoughts eventually turned to his series idea. I could well imagine a gripping pilot and the first couple of episodes as our guy goes back to his family, his mistress, his job or whatever and the emotional and practical obstacles a man in his situation would face, but then my train went off an abrupt story cliff and I asked myself the dreaded question: “What’s the back nine? Hell, what’s season two?” And try as I might in the next couple of days, I just couldn’t crack it, so I finally called my agent and told him I didn’t think I was right for the job, had been thrilled to meet BNFD, but ultimately just couldn’t see the series. And that, I’m afraid, was that. With one phone call, I had walked away from a once in a career opportunity. Never mind that today there’s an excellent incarnation of a version of this premise done by people far smarter than I am. It’s called Rectify and it’s on Sundance TV. And my first cousin once removed is working on it to boot.

So here I am, a guy whose name is often preceded by the words “veteran TV writer-producer.” I’ve written countless hours of television, racked up a handful of nominations and awards, gained experience and staying power—not to mention a head full of grey hair. Heck, I’ve even written a critically well-received debut novel. I’m certainly older and like to believe a tad wiser as I look back and ask myself: what the hell were you thinking? This was a chance to work with one of the biggest directors of all time, a man whose work you loved, a man who had the jumping off point for a visionary TV show, and you were too young and too stupid and maybe even too lazy to realize that you might have found the answers to all of your questions through that thing that’s at the heart of pretty much every single television show in the history of the medium: Collaboration! In short, you might have had a chance to work with BNFD, and who the hell knows what the result might have been? 

BNFD died some eleven years later, after expanding his body of work with a few more astonishing credits and accolades (including an honorary Oscar months before his death), so any hopes of a do over are just that. Hopes. And if aging is the getting of wisdom, I can only second the words of George Bernard Shaw that still ring with a bittersweet ache in my ears: “Youth is wasted on the young.”  

You can read all about the BNFD here. Stay tuned…

Call Sheets 101…

Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 10.07.19 AM(Above: Patty Duke and real-life son Mackenzie Astin in NBC’s short-lived 2001 series First Years.)

June 18, 2014 – In the spring of 2001, I had one of the most fun and rewarding experiences of my television career, and true to the laws of this peculiarly mercurial industry, it was also one of my most short-lived. My fantastic writer friend who I’ve known since the halcyon days of The Wonder Years, the incomparably, impossibly talented Jill Gordon, had adapted a British series called This Life for American television for NBC. The show was a deft mixture of comedy and drama, with enough heart to bring the occasional tear to the eye―in short, firmly inside both my comfort zone and my wheelhouse. With an incredible cast including Sydney Poitier (yes, his daughter), Samantha Mathis, James Roday, Ken Marino, and Mackenzie Astin, the set up was a group of first year legal associates right out of law school sharing a Victorian rental in San Francisco while working for a powerful law firm headed by an insane senior partner portrayed by indie-favorite Eric Schaeffer. Despite being eviscerated by some particularly nasty reviews to rival those I received for my own series Push, I still stand by my belief that this show would have succeeded if the trigger-happy NBC executives at the time―all long gone from those jobs, it should be noted―had just given it a chance.

Network executives often don’t know when to leave a good thing alone, and such was the case with our little pseudo legal dramedy. First off, they made the number one mistake on the “List of Greatest Blunders You Can Possibly Make When Launching a New Prime Time Series”―despite a legacy of history demonstrating irrefutably that it’s a bone-headed move―by deciding to ditch the pilot altogether and air the first three episodes out of order. Never mind that a pilot generally introduces the audience to the characters and the world by design. So if you drop your viewers―and your television critics―smack dab into your second episode, they naturally are confused by the characters’ interpersonal dynamics, quirks, back stories, etc., and are prone to change the channel in frustration. Undeterred, the NBC folks decreed that we’d air the second episode as the first, and the third as the second. Fortunately for me, I got to write episode three, entitled And Then You Die, which guest starred the fabulous Scott Grimes from my Party of Five days.

Which brings me to episode six, which was titled There’s No Place Like Homo. The story centered mostly on Mackenzie Astin’s character, Warren Harrison, the well-spoken young gay man among the first year legal associates and college friends. In it, he was to receive an award for doing some pro bono work for GALLA, the Gay & Lesbian Legal Association, and desperately wanted his ultra conservative deep-in-denial parents to attend and share in his accomplishment. While drafting a final will and testament for his folks, Warren is trying to work up the nerve to tell them about the gay honor–only to be thwarted at every turn by his mom who pretends to have been diagnosed with cancer as a guilt-inducing means of keeping her son’s truth at bay. Until, of course, tensions finally boil over before the denouement. I was thrilled to again work with Timothy Busfield (the actor-turned-director who starred in thirtysomething and Revenge of the Nerds) who had helmed And Then You Die. Obviously, we needed a couple of powerhouses to play the parents, and were fortunate enough to cast the amazing Tom Bower as the dad, Roy Harrison. And I was both elated and starstruck when none other than Patty Duke, Mackenzie’s real-life mom, agreed to play the part of Evelyn Harrison, affording me the opportunity to work very closely with a Hollywood legend and honest-to-god Academy Award-Winner. I was not disappointed.

Patty Duke and Me2(L-R: Anna, yours truly, and Mac. Note: Anna’s in makeup for a flashback scene. Taken with a crappy early 21st century digital camera.)

The consummate professional, Anna (as she preferred to be called in person) nevertheless enjoyed chatting between takes, at one point explaining that as a professional actor, one of your single most important responsibilities is to know how to read the Call Sheet―each production day’s list of scenes to be shot, actors working, locations, special equipment requirements, etc. prepared by the shoot’s First Assistant Director. She said she made it a top priority when advising young actors, schooling them in what she referred to as “Call Sheets 101”: know your lines for the day’s scenes, be on time (if not even a bit early) for hair and makeup, be professional, don’t keep your colleagues waiting, etc. This, of course, made the shoot’s second day particularly interesting when her own son, Mac Astin, was forty-five minutes late for his first scene with Mama. Sadly, I don’t recall the reason now, and can attest to Mackenzie’s usually faithful adherence to his mother’s teachings, so this particular anomaly was especially surprising, and led to a great deal of good-natured mother-son taunting for the rest of the shoot. As a side note, another treat was that Mac’s brother Sean was hanging around the set for most of the shoot, shadowing our director, fresh from a long stint in New Zealand filming The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and he proved to be a very entertaining presence as well. In other words, this kid from Tucker, Georgia, was having a ball.

As Anna and I warmed to each other, I finally worked up the nerve to ask the question that had been eating away at me: “So…how do you explain Valley of the Dolls?” Anna gave me a look that included a sheepish grin and a self-deprecating twinkle in her eyes as she simply shrugged and said, “We didn’t know.” She explained how they all played it as if it were Shakespeare, and the rest, as they say, is infamy. I’m pretty sure that’s the moment I fell madly in love with the former star of a childhood favorite show with the preposterous but lyric-friendly premise of identical cousins.

By the time our second episode―er, our third episode in our second outing―aired, the writing was on the wall with the network. We were already shooting our eighth and final show (besides the pilot), and the ratings were abysmal―again, thanks to poor promotion, irresponsible and confusing scheduling, and the resultant bad reviews. We were notified that the next week, our third broadcast, would be our last. As devastated as I was by this news, there was one tiny silver lining which was brought to me by my friend Jill when she explained that the head of the network had loved the cut of There’s No Place Like Homo so much that he’d decided it would be the series’ finale and swan song. So episode two was first, three was second, and six was third. But at least my work with the legendary, professional, funny, generous and very, very kind Patty “Anna” Duke, got to take its small place in the history of broadcast television. Honestly, for me, it was a shining hour. And by me, I mean me alone, as I’m pretty sure I was the only person who actually watched the episode when it was broadcast. Maybe I’m delusional, but I’ll let the episode speak for itself. Below is the climactic scene in the Anna/Mac storyline, where the gloves finally come off, and both mother and son speak their respective truths to each other. Being on set that day was an experience I will always treasure. Apologies for the poor quality as it was ripped from an antique VHS cassette tape. Ah, the things that might have been.

Stay tuned…

Beyond perfect for the part…

ZeldaAndMBP001RZMay 28, 2014 – The best thing to come out of my year on David E. Kelley’s fantastic Picket Fences wasn’t the career cachet or even the Emmy statuette, it was my deep and lasting friendship with the incomparable Zelda Rubinstein. Zelda was a collector of people, and if she liked you, you were in for life. I count myself quite fortunate to say the first time I met her, she took a shine to me. One of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known, and one of the most wickedly funny, she would call from time to time and leave the most delightful ramblings on my answering machine. We’d see each other every two or three months, usually for dinner at one of her many favorite haunts were she was always welcomed like royalty. Suffice to say that what Zelda lacked in physical stature, she more than made up for with humor and heart.

In the ensuing years of my television career, I was always on the lookout for the right role for her on whatever show I was working on. I wanted her to guest star on Moon Over Miami, but we were cancelled before we found the right story and character. She would have been brilliant on Law & Order, but for the brief thirteen episodes I was on staff, the opportunity never arose. Same for so many series that followed: Party of Five, Time of Your Life, Pasadena, etc. I came close on a brilliant but tragically short-lived show called First Years, but it was shut down after only three episodes had aired.

At long last, just after the WGA strike in 2007, I got a call from a friend who was running the CBS Friday night hit Ghost Whisperer, asking if I’d come help out. As a random aside, this would be my third prime time show with Jennifer Love Hewitt. It ended up being so much fun, I stayed on for the end of the third season, and remained through the next two until the series was unceremoniously cancelled. It was a great creative departure for me, but fit right in with my love of horror movies and ghost stories. As one of our fifth season story arcs led inevitably to a big haunted house extravaganza, I pitched an idea for the character of the evil ghost of a spirit medium who’d been a presence there since the 1940s, a role that would be perfect—in fact, beyond perfect—for Zelda, especially when you consider that she was the inspiration for the part and it was created specifically for her. Our showrunner and casting director were thrilled with the idea, and so I ran it by Zelda one day on the phone. Madame Greta Hanson (a play on Hansel & Gretel because she lured the ghosts of children to the spooky old house she haunted) was a former fraudulent spirit medium who had scammed the families of executed prisoners into believing she could contact the spirits of their loved ones. Instead, she was unwittingly collecting a whole houseful of truly terrifying ghosts, only to become one herself when she fell down the stairs of the sinister old house, which, incidentally, had been the famous Chicken Ranch in the movie version of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and was within spitting distance of Boo Radley’s house on the Universal backlot, but I digress. Given Zelda’s mobility issues, I even suggested we’d put the character in one of those creepy old wooden wheelchairs. She loved the idea, and didn’t even balk when I told her that her character would have to say “Don’t go into the light” in homage to her career-making turn as the psychic in Poltergeist. “Oh, I’ll say it, honey,” she said with the delightful and ever present tone of mischief in her voice.

The episode was entitled Old Sins Cast Long Shadows (if you’re hardcore, go here), and as I was writing the script toward the end of 2009, Zelda had a mild heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. I visited her there, and she assured me the doctors were confident she’d be out in no time and ready to go back to work. But as the start date of production grew near, Zelda took a turn for the worse, at first losing her inimitable voice due to a tracheotomy, and finally slipping into a coma. I was bereft over the gravity of her condition, but learned the practical truth to the age old adage that the show must go on—only in this case, it would have to be with someone else as Madame Greta Hanson. The script was specifically written for a little person, but in the short amount of time we had, we couldn’t find anyone who could match Zelda’s diminuitive but powerful presence. Ultimately, we cast a wonderful actress, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, and she truly rose to the occasion and created a fantastic character, but in my writer’s eye (and heart), I could only see Zelda in the role.

Zelda went into the light on January 27, 2010, not long after the episode wrapped principal photography, and when it aired in March of that year, I watched through a shimmer of tears. The part was written specifically for her, and ended up being my own private tribute to my truly astonishing and beloved friend. I urge you to watch the promo…

…or hell, watch the episode, and just picture Zelda in the role. I’m sure you’ll agree that she was beyond perfect for the part.

Today would have been her 81st birthday. So happy birthday, honey. I miss you each and every day. Stay tuned…

Perfect for the part…

May 15, 2014 – A few months ago, a friend brought my attention to an article that appeared in 2012 in American Airlines’ magazine, American Way. It was a profile of a two-time Academy Award-nominated actor whose career was (and still is) nothing short of red hot. In the article, this actor mentioned a pilot in which he’d been cast early in his career, way back in 1997, explaining that he’d been fired on the third day of shooting because “…the producers decided he looked too young for the part…”

A little background: before Push was an acclaimed “novel by Sapphire” and the basis for the film Precious, before it was a 2009 movie starring Dakota Fanning, it was a short-lived, execrable TV series on ABC. I can report this with confidence, being its creator and show runner. I had developed the pilot with some very colorful Brits who were having their Fifteen Minutes with American television, not unlike the leads of Showtime’s brilliant Episodes. My wacky colleagues from across the pond brought me a concept for a sexy, soapy series about college-age Olympic athletes juggling their fierce competitive natures and the rigors of training with the day-to-day realities of university life, studies, love, sex, relationships, and all the difficult challenges already built into that transitional period from teen to young adult. I’ve never cared much for sports, and was surprised that the idea had been presented to me of all people, but as I began to read some biographical material about these young champions, I became fascinated with their psychological makeup, and saw the potential for a great series that would explore real characters and competition, both in and out of their chosen athletic disciplines. The script was well received by ABC and subsequently ordered to pilot with Ken Olin hired to direct. Thus began one of the longest and most painful ordeals of my career. The ensuing months of writing, shooting, and ultimately getting the series on the air the following year is rich fodder for a whole chapter in my memoirs―if not a full scale tell-all book of its own. So I’ll save the bulk of the lurid details for one of those, and get to the gritty.

Victor Yates was the anchor of the show’s ensemble cast. He was a talented gymnast whose career had been cut short by an injury sustained while competing on the high bar during the then recent 1996 Atlanta Olympics. In the pilot, he’d been hired to coach the male and female gymnastics teams at a fictional prestigious sports-oriented college in Southern California (it was a TV show, after all, not a documentary). The entire point of his character was that he was only a year or two older than the athletes he’d be coaching, and casting the role proved nearly impossible. We needed not only a good actor, but one with a body who could pass for a former gymnast, and quickly learned the truth of our casting director’s words: “God does not give with both hands.” After a seemingly endless parade of gorgeous but wooden young men, an actor finally walked in who proved the exception to those words. He nailed the audition, aced the test for the network and studio, and was whisked into hair and makeup.

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I want to go on record as saying I was really proud of the script for that pilot. And I was equally excited about the cast of mostly unknowns we assembled to play the swimmers and runners and gymnasts and divers. More importantly, I saw so much story potential which could easily fuel the journey to the coveted 100 episodes. And we had a lead who wasn’t just good, he was perfect for the part. Production began in March, 1997, and the second or third day of filming―the most expensive on the entire shoot because we were recreating the men’s gymnastics competition from the recent Olympics―I received a very disturbing call on my shoe-sized mobile phone. It was from one of the network development executives overseeing the pilot. I exited the huge pyramid shaped arena at the school in Long Beach where we were shooting, pushed through the hundreds of extras playing other athletes, coaches, judges, and, of course, the sold-out crowd, until I was finally outside where I could actually hear what was being said on the other end. Flabbergasted is as good a word as any to describe my reaction. Fury is another.

“Well, we’ve been watching all the dailies and I have good news and bad news. Which would you like first?” “The good, I guess,” I answered, apprehensively. “Okay, the good is that the show looks terrific. Ken’s doing an amazing job, and for the most part, the cast is fantastic.” “For the most part…?” “Yeah,” she replied quite casually, “we need to recast Victor.”

Now, never mind that “Victor” was the star of that day’s shoot where we were spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to film a flashback to his tragic accident at the Olympics. Our actor’s scene work in the previous days’ dailies had been spot on. He looked amazing in his gymnast uniform. He was not only handsome, he was a damn good actor to boot. I repeat, he was perfect for the part. Naturally, I protested and told the development exec that she had lost her mind. What could the network possibly find wrong with him? The answer was stunning: “He looks too young. In some cases, younger than the other athletes he’s supposed to be coaching.” “But that’s the whole point!” I argued futilely. “He should be their age. That’s his central conflict!” It was almost as if no one at the network or studio had actually read the script they’d bought, so I fought against this harebrained decision. I argued. I refused. I caved.

To make an already long story short-ish, I couldn’t fire him myself. Ken rose to that unpleasant task. An actor himself, he knew how to communicate the bad news to a fellow thespian and so he did most of the talking when we called our shining young Olympian into the producers’ trailer at lunch time. Me? I’m not ashamed to admit that I stood in the corner and quietly wept as we were forced to crush the soul of this talented young man. To his credit, he handled it with incredible dignity and maturity, and in his grace, won my lifelong admiration.

We scrambled to cobble together the rest of that day’s shoot, then had more frantic casting sessions over the weekend, ultimately finding a replacement that seemed to please the “suits.” The pilot had its problems as most do―and I certainly don’t fault the actor we cast as our lead―but I was more or less pleased with the result, all things considered. Of course, after those months of off screen drama, ABC didn’t pick up the show for the fall season, but once the dust had settled, I got the call that they wanted to retool and reshoot the pilot as a midseason replacement series. I was forced to recast most of the male roles―again, over my most passionate objections―and add a “vixen” character to slink around the women’s gym and stir up some soapy trouble (I have to admit, Jaime Pressly nailed it). By the time the show premiered, I had been fired for “being too difficult” (translation: I fought the network every step of the way trying to make a good show all the while they were screaming in my face that they didn’t care about character development or rich storytelling, they just wanted “Sex! Sex! Sex!” [actual quote] and “Melrose Place in Spandex!” [ditto]). Push was viciously skewered by the critics: “Like many a locker room, this show often stinks,” “Perhaps the more fitting title Putrid was already taken,” and the most succinct, “Laughably bad.” It’s premiere set a record Nielsen low in its time slot in the history of ABC, and my disastrous little show was mercifully cancelled after only two episodes aired. That summer, they decided to burn off the 8 episodes that had been produced, but when its re-premiere repeated its rating performance from the first time around, the show was abruptly yanked from the schedule. I’m now fond of telling people I created a show that was so bad it was actually cancelled twice. 

But back to our original Victor. Over the years, I’ve followed that young actor’s career, and swelled with an almost paternal pride tinged with pure vindication when he got the first of his two Oscar nominations. I’ve always believed that the show would have been an entirely different experience had we kept him in the lead. And now, should his people Google his name from time to time to see what the masses are saying about him, I hope they’ll find this blog post and tell him that it most certainly wasn’t the producers who fired him from that pilot. Far from it. It was the network. This producer was―and still is―a huge fan of an actor named…

PUSH

…Jeremy Renner. Though I’ll admit, getting fired from that pilot may have been the best thing that ever happened to him. Stay tuned…

Links:

Here’s the original American Way article.

Remarkably, the show still has a fan site that’s worth checking out.

Push on IMDB.

Hey, Boo…

May 3, 2014 – Turn up your volume and watch this. I’ll catch you on the other side.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird tops so many of my lists of favorites: novel, adapted screenplay, movie, title sequence, film score…to name the majors. I owe a debt of gratitude to my 10th grade English teacher, Miss Lee (coincidence, but no relation), for introducing me to the world of Scout and Jem and Dill and Atticus and Tom Robinson. When I finished the book, I started to second guess my dream of being a writer because Harper Lee had set the bar impossibly high. It’s a novel that stays in my “to read” pile on the night stand, and one that I often move to the top so that I can experience it yet again. And if the movie happens to be on when I’m flipping channels? There goes my afternoon. I still tear up at the court room scene when Scout is sitting in the segregated balcony, and is told to stand up when her father’s passing. I’ve also been known to reply to a greeting in an old lady voice, “Don’t you hey me, you ugly little girl!” So, with all of that said, I feel very fortunate that my professional path has crossed with the film twice, albeit in teeny, tiny ways. The first, way back in 1983, when I co-wrote and co-produced a documentary about the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP under the auspices of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution where I worked in the audio visual department. With the help of Julian Bond, we managed to get Brock Peters (Tom Robinson in the movie) to narrate, and I “met him”  when I had the privilege of directing his voice over work by phone from my office in Atlanta to a recording studio in Los Angeles. And yes, I was incredibly starstruck but managed to remain professional. The second time was more recently when I was a writer and co-EP on the CBS series Ghost Whisperer. First, I was thrilled to realize that the courthouse that dominated the Back To The Future town square set on the Universal Studios backlot (where many of our exteriors were filmed) still bore traces of its appearance in Mockingbird. Second, I was blown away one day while we were filming on Elm Street at the house the show’s protagonist lived in. I’m pretty sure it was our script supervisor, Suzan Lowitz, who told me that although the structure had been modified, we were standing on the porch of none other than Boo Radley’s house! Over the course of my 2.25 seasons on that series, I always felt an indescribably wondrous connection to Harper Lee and the indelible world she created every time I had the privilege of visiting that set. It was, as they say, almost like being there. Stay tuned…

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