her last chance

November 28, 1995

November 28, 1995

 

The conference call was about "Her Last Chance" - and Patti LuPone said yes.
The conference call was about “Her Last Chance” – and Patti LuPone said yes.

This was an exciting time. I loved the fast and furious pace of television versus the plodding development process in features. Most of my television credits are stand-alone MOWs (Movie of the Week), a 90s network staple. TV movies unfolded in seven acts, to accommodate six commercials. Ideally, all six act breaks were cliff-hangers, to ensure viewers didn’t channel hop when the ads started.

Me with Rita Hayworth
Me with Rita Hayworth

“Malibu Shores” was my only series experience. As co-producer, I worked long office hours with producers John Eisendrath and Joel Feigenbaum. After decades of writing at home on my own timetable, this was a shock to my system.

Malibu Shores

As staff writer-producers, we wielded more power than the directors we hired on a per-episode basis and the actors consulted us when they wanted to change a line.  John and Joel insisted I veto the first request, to experience the thrill of saying “no” to a script change.  That said, we could not say no to Aaron Spelling, broadcast Standards and Practices or the NBC executive in charge of the show.

Malibu Shores 2

In his novel Artistic Differences, Charlie Hauck compared producing a television series to chapter 37 of Moby Dick. I quote him below, slightly abridged. I highly recommend his book to anyone interested in staff writing.

“It’s exactly like chapter 37 of Moby Dick. Captain Ahab finally spots Moby Dick. He has a shot at him. And he gets a boat down in the water, a skiff or whatever. And he’s got these Asian guys rowing the boat. They’re not his regular guys – these are some kind of hotshot whaling experts. Anyhow, all these guys are rowing the boat. They really know what they’re doing…they’re Joe Whaler. And Ahab is standing in the back with this harpoon that he’s been sharpening for three years. And Moby Dick is flopping around, like, two hundred yards away. And all of a sudden, these sharks surround the skiff. They’re everywhere. And the sharks start taking bites out of the paddles of the oars. And the paddles are getting smaller and smaller, and it’s getting harder for the guys in the boat to row, and the whale’s not going to stay there forever, right?

But the thing is, the sharks don’t want the oars. They want the whale, just like Ahab and the Asian guys. But the sharks, who want the whale as much as anybody else, they’re the ones who make getting the whale impossible. You see?

And here’s the analogy. The whale is the television show. The hit series. Like, if it goes into syndication, everybody connected with it makes fifty million dollars. And the people in the boat, they’re the writers and producers. They’re the ones trying to get the whale, who know how to do it. And the sharks, the guys biting the oars, they’re the network guys, and the production company executives and the agents and everybody else who, when they don’t know how to get to the whale, decide, somewhere back in the swamp ova of the human brain, well, Jesus, I should do something, why don’t I try to sink the boat? And that’s exactly what it’s like trying to produce a television show.”

Artistic Differences_edited-1

 

April 26, 1996

April 26, 1996

Malibu ShoresUnfortunately, this was the first and last cast party for Malibu  Shores – eight episodes aired on NBC at 8 PM Saturday nights before we got cancelled. It makes me feel a little bit better (but not much) that our time slot was referred to as the “Tower of London” – where shows were sent to await execution.

Malibu Shores TV

Pull the plug

Malibu Shores TV - OFF

This was my only experience on staff at a TV show. At first, it was a huge shock to my system – we were expected to work in the Aaron Spelling offices from 9 AM until midnight or beyond (plus weekends) if necessary. Eventually, I adapted and grew to love it right around the time it ended. The time pressure could be as exhilerating as it was exhausting. It was gratifying to see what we wrote produced as soon as copies could be made instead of enduring the uncertainty of casting-contingent MOWs (also referenced above).

Charisma Carpenter
Charisma Carpenter

For the millions who never saw a moment of Malibu Shores, Charisma Carpenter was cast as the ultra-bitchy queen bee popular girl. She played the part perfectly – no one came  close to her reading in the casting process – which was truly a testament to her talent for acting. In person, she was delightful, friendly and unassuming.

Charisma Carpenter, Queen Bee
Charisma Carpenter, Queen Bee
Keri Russell
Keri Russell

Keri Russell was also terrific in the lead role, which she also nailed with a sensational audition.

Star-crossed Malibu Shores teen lovers Keri and Tony
Star-crossed Malibu Shores teen lovers Keri and Tony

I love to watch her brilliant, nuanced performance on The Americans today and remember the beautiful sun-kissed teen she played on Malibu Shores.

 

January 8, 1996

january-8-1996

Charlie, John Rowell, Gale Ann Hurd, Martha Coolidge on Paso Finos at Castaic
Charlie, John Rowell, Gale Ann Hurd, Martha Coolidge on Paso Finos at Castaic

 For a few years during the 90s, John and I got very involved with Paso Fino horses. In yet another example of what happens when I forget who I am, I love the image of myself riding a horse – my very first childhood idol was Annie Oakley – but I am not much of a horsewoman. I believe you can tell a lot about someone’s personality by the way they ride a horse. My friend Martha Coolidge and my husband both approached it as an exciting challenge, a test of strength and will – the harder it was to ride (dominate) a horse, the more they liked it.

Linda Fefferman, Martha Coolidge, Eva Gardos at the Agua Dulce ranch
Linda Faferman, Martha Coolidge, Eva Gardos at the Agua Dulce ranch

I approached it in a timid, more cowardly fashion. My attitude was, if I’m super nice to the horse, maybe the horse won’t throw me.  This meant I came loaded with apples and carrots to buy their affection and rode with a mind-set of “please go this way, please don’t go too fast.” As anyone with the slightest knowledge of horses can confirm, my approach does not work. The more hesitant I acted, the more nervous the horse became, making a mishap all but inevitable.

Petting a horse in the hopes it will like me
Petting a horse in the hopes it will like me

Luckily, I connected with a larger-than-usual Paso Fino named Ramon – a gentle giant – steady as a rock.  To ride him, all I had to do was avoid a full-blown panic attack. Ramon coped with any and all natural obstacles, the epitome of calm. (I’m told before he came to Agua Dulce he was a trail horse in the Sierras and saw it all – a possible explanation for his steady nature.) Soon other nervous riders caught on to the advantages of riding Ramon and he became a much-in-demand horse.

Feeding horse treats in the hope it will like me
Feeding horse treats in the hope it will like me

As a writer, I was every bit as nervous as I was as a rider but there was no Ramon to carry me safely home. Every assignment brought new challenges and I never felt certain I could meet them.  Although I know a fair number of writers, the nature of the profession is such that I never observe them at work. Consequently, I don’t know how many – if any – write from my swamp of insecurity.  I suspect there are quite a few.

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