The Forgotten Desi & Lucy TV Projects by Richard Irvin. This is yet another terrific television reference book by undoubtedly one of the best authors/researchers/historians working in the field today.
 
This book is typical of Irvin’s work — find an overlooked corner of television history, exhaustively research the topic, and write an entertaining, fascinating, and revealing book that will help countless other researchers. So much has been written about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and even about Desilu Productions, but until now nobody thought the examine their failed television projects, the unsold pilots (produced & unproduced) that never made it to series and rejected concepts for specials that never got made. He not only examines the failed projects by the two different iterations of Desilu — the one run by Desi and the one run by Lucy — but also those developed by each of their independent entities after the company was sold to Gulf & Western (aka Paramount).
 
I’m a sucker for unsold television pilots — having written a book or two on the topic myself — so there was much to enjoy here and also much to learn, even about projects I thought I knew everything about. i thought it was interesting how often Desi used THE UNTOUCHABLES as a platform for shooting pilots…even ones that , had they sold, would have been set in present day rather than the 1930s. What’s the point of shooting a period pilot for a contemporary show? It’s no surprise to me the strategy didn’t work.
 
Irvin also looks at the half-dozen unsold pilots and series projects Gene Roddenberry developed for Desilu before and during STAR TREK. One of the fascinating revelations is that Lucille Ball almost starred in a movie about Fanny Brice before FUNNY GIRL was made.
 
All-in-all, this is a fantastic book that belongs in every television reference library…along with every other book Richard Irvin has written.
 
 

Face of My Assassin

I’m really excited about the release today of FACE OF MY ASSASSIN, a powerful crime novel in the tradition of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Carolyn Weston (who wrote the books that were the basis for the hit TV series THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO) & Jan Huckins. It’s a  lost literary classic that’s back-in-print for the first time in 60 years… and, unfortunately, it’s as relevant and provocative today as it was then.
 
I launched Cutting Edge Books specifically to publish this book and TALES OF A SAD FAT WORDMAN by Ralph Dennis because they didn’t fit in at Brash Books, the company I co-founded six years ago with Joel Goldman. Now those modest beginnings have grown into a more ambitious project to republish anything I like that has fallen out-of-print, regardless of genre, fiction or non-fiction, though at this point the titles have primarily been vintage paperbacks from the 1950s.
 
I’ve now got 50 titles in various stages of release and production for Cutting Edge…including novels by James Howard, Sterling Noel, Richard Himmel, Philip Race, Bart Spicer, John B. Thompson, Robert Dietrich, Norman Daniels, Ovid Demaris, and many others. The titles include my late mother’s fictionalized memoir ACTIVE SENIOR LIVING and THE STATUE OF LIBERTY IS CRACKING UP, a collection of essays she wrote with Marcy Bachmann about single parenthood and dating that was published in hardcover in 1978.
 
I am very, very grateful for the encouragement, advice and support from Paperback Warrior in this crazy endeavour and I look forward to hearing what you think of the books!
 

Fred Silverman, RIP

I’m sad to hear about the passing of Fred Silverman. Bill Rabkin and I worked closely with him for several years on DIAGNOSIS MURDER & a bunch of unsold pilots. We had our battles, but also a lot of fun pitching together, even when his ideas were TERRIBLE (the worst — G GIRLS, three female Feds working undercover as Vegas strippers, with actor Reggie Vel Johnson playing their boss. Fred was sure it would be the next CHARLIE’S ANGELS. We went to every network president with that horrible pitch and the reaction was either hilarious laughter or stunned disbelief).

Most of all, I loved talking TV history with him. He had an encyclopedic knowledge because, well, he was responsible for creating so much of the history I would ask him about. That aspect of our relationship was a dream come true for me. When I was a kid, I was a subscriber to Daily Variety… and I used to have a schedule board up on my wall and would try to second guess Fred’s scheduling moves and what shows would succeed or fail…I even tracked the pilots in development to try and figure out what he would pick up for the fall (that research became my book UNSOLD TELEVISION PILOTS)I wanted to either meet him or be him… I never thought we’d actually end up working together as producers.

I could tell a thousand stories about our time working together. And although we ultimately had a bitter falling out with him that ended our relationship, I still cherish the memories.
He was a true TV legend.

KILLER THRILLER Bonus Chapter

Killer Thriller by Lee GoldbergIf you’ve read my novel KILLER THRILLER, then I have a treat for you…  a bonus chapter that I deleted from the final draft of the book.
 
BIG SPOILER ALERT – Absolutely do not read this bonus chapter if you haven’t finished reading KILLER THRILLER or it will totally ruin the ending of the book for you.
 
Okay, you’ve been warned.
 
But it you have read the book, this bonus chapter will give you a little more insight into the final events in the story. It will also give you a peek into my writing process because I explain why I ended up deleting the chapter. Sometimes you have to cut stuff, no matter how much you like it, if it slows the momentum of the story.
 
I never throw anything away… I included the chapter in my opening of FAKE TRUTH, the third Ian Ludlow book, but ended up cutting it yet again. But I am still very fond of the chapter, which is why I am offering it to you today.
 
 

Mission Accomplished: Hardman is Back

I can’t believe this day has finally come — all 12 of Ralph Dennis’ HARDMAN novels are back in print in new ebook and paperback editions (and in audio for the first 4 titles) If I’d known how much time it would take, and how much money it would cost, I’m not sure that I would have embarked on the quest.
 
But I am so glad that I did. Not just because the books are back in print, but for the journey itself. If not for Hardman, I never would have launched Brash Books five years ago with my good friend Joel Goldman (with the invaluable day-to-day guidance of Denise M. Fields), and I never would have experienced the honor & joy of publishiing amazing new novels by Phillip Thompson, Leo W. Banks, Robert E. Dunn Phoef Sutton, Robin Burcell, Mark Rogers, Craig Faustus Buck, Michael Genelin, Warren Ripley, Gerald Duff, Jack Bunker, and Patrick E. McLean…as well as bringing back-into-print 80 other crime novels by some of the most talented and acclaimed authors in the business.
 
It’s a big day for me, but I’m just getting started. There are more of Ralph’s novels coming soon…and a lot more reprints and never-before-published new books representing “the best crime novels in existence.” It a brash claim, and one I hope to keep making for a long time to come.
 
 

Four Stars for Four Star

 Four Star Television Productions: A History of the Business, Series and Pilots of the Iconic Television Production Company: 1952-1989 by Richard Irvin. This is a terrific reference book about a ground-breaking and innovative television production company that virtually nobody remembers any more. And yet TV producers and studios are still strongly influenced by the way Four Star Television did business – specifically how they used their TV series as cost-effective platforms to create more shows.

Four Star Television was a partnership between actors Dick Powell, David Niven, Charles Boyer and producer Don Sharpe. The company began by producing anthologies and came up with the brilliant notion of making as many of those stories as they could into pilots – sample episodes of proposed series. The strategy worked brilliantly.

For example, their anthology Zane Grey Theater begat the western series The Rifleman, Black Saddle, The Westerner, and Johnny Ringo. Four Star applied the same spin-off strategy to their episodic series. For example, The Rifleman begat Law of the Plainsman. The series Trackdown spun-off Wanted Dead or Alive, which begat Stagecoach West. Episodes-as-pilots are now known as “backdoor pilots,” “planted spin-offs,” and “nested pilots.” Producers like Norman Lear, Aaron Spelling, Dick Wolf, Donald Belisario, and Greg Berlanti would follow Four Star’s example with great success.

Four Star also perfected “the wheel,” attracting big stars to do a TV series by only asking them to commit to three-to-six episodes a season, a concept that would be emulated later in shows like Name of the Game, The Bold Ones, Search, and the NBC Mystery Movie.

The book catalogs every Four Star series, and the concepts of every single “backdoor pilot,” sold and unsold, in fascinating detail. Irvin also charts the rise and fall of the production company, the business successes and missteps. He is, quite simply, the best TV reference book writer/researcher in the field today…consistently providing a treasure trove of information in an easy-going, entertaining, highly-readable writing style.

My only problem with the book is that it lacks a comprehensive index, something that’s essential in work of this magnitude and detail. It’s a baffling oversight, especially given the software tools out there that make this once incredibly laborious task a lot easier.

That drawback aside, this book is a fascinating, essential, and brilliant work of TV scholarship and should be a part of any television reference library collection.

What it Takes to Write Bestsellers

My brother Tod, also a novelist, and I sat down with the good folks at Thrive Global for a long, and very detailed Q&A to discuss what it takes in terms of skill, experience, and dedication to sustain a successful writing career and write bestselling novels. Here’s an excerpt:

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming a bestselling author? How did you overcome it?

Lee: I think it’s rejection and failure, which are inevitable in the writing business. Your manuscripts will be rejected again and again and again before they land a publisher. But some books simply won’t sell. Some of your published books will bomb and be savaged by reviewers. Not everything you write will be a winner or find the right audience. The key is not to become crippled by self-doubt and pain but to learn from the experience (Why was the manuscript rejected? Why did the book bomb?) and incorporate those lessons into your next book. The only way to overcome the failure is to keep writing.

Tod: Well, finding out what I was meant to write was a big part of it for me. When I was starting out, for some reason, I was averse to writing crime fiction and so I wrote these kind of quasi-literary books that even I wasn’t interested in reading. The public responded in kind! Once I finally decided to write crime fiction, everything sort of began to line up for me. But, too, as Lee said, self-doubt can be paralyzing. It’s odd. A coal miner isn’t paralyzed by self-doubt that prevents him or her from working, so talking about it as a challenge seems sort of silly in context. A job is a job, be it creative or physical. It’s what you do to make a living. I think once I began to think of writing as a job, as the thing that fed my family, these more ephemeral things began to fade away. Still, you have to write books people want to read.

You can find the entire interview here.

My KILLER THRILLER Playlist

I like to listen to soundtrack music while I write. In fact, I’m just sitting down now to start working on the sequel to my upcoming novel LOST HILLS and I’ve been listening a lot to THE QUINN MARTIN COLLECTION VOL. 1 and the soundtrack to the 1975 TV series ARCHER. Both albums contain a lot of Jerry Goldsmith’s best 1970s TV work.

Here’s the music I was listening to when I wrote my new release KILLER THRILLER, the sequel to the #1 Amazon Charts and Washington Post bestseller TRUE FICTION.

Enter the Dragon and Rush Hour by Lalo Schifrin

I’m a huge fan of Lalo’s TV themes (Mission Impossible, Mannix, Petrocelli, Bronk etc) and his two forays into “kung fu” cinema are pure 1970s action-score gold. A big chunk of KILLER THRILLER is set in Hong Kong and these soundtracks put me in the perfect frame of mind to write those scenes. (Yes, I know Rush Hour was made in the late ‘90s, but Lalo’s score was basically a reboot/homage of his Enter the Dragon work)

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation by Joe Kraemer & Mission Impossible 3 by Michael Giacchino

These are two pulse-pounding, soaring, propulsive, contemporary action scores based Lalo’s original themes …and evoke the foreign locales and over-the-top stunts of the Tom Cruise feature, putting me in the right frame of mind for writing the chases and fights in my book.

Hawaii Five-O by Morton Stevens

I love Morton Stevens, one of the best television composers ever (he also did the theme for Police Woman), and this classic soundtrack screams adventure, mystery and, of course, Hawaii to me. Although nothing in KILLER THRILLER is set in Hawaii, this soundtrack is always part of my playlist when I’m writing anything with action and colorful locations. It also creates a great tempo for writing punchy dialogue.

Goldfinger by John Barry

This is the iconic Bond theme song and is still the best of the Bond movie scores (though I am also a fan of David Arnold’s TOMORROW NEVER DIES score, which is essentially a contemporary rethink of Barry’s style and is also part of my playlist). GOLDFINGER immediately transports me to a world of intrigue and adventure…and puts me in a 007-frame of mind. Perfect for writing spy fiction.

The Bourne Film Soundtracks by John Powell and Moby

These soundtracks are the gold standard for the modern espionage tale…Powell’s score is dark and moody at times, thrilling and propulsive when the action reaches a fever pitch. Moby reworks his end titles / theme song Extreme Ways for each film in the series and hearing it always puts me in the mood to either see or write some kick-ass spy action.

The Wild Wild West TV Soundtrack by Richard Markowitz et al

I absolutely loved The Wild Wild West when I was a kid. If you don’t remember the show, it was a western take on James Bond starring Robert Conrad as superspy James West and Ross Martin as Artemus Gordon, his partner and a master of disguise. My sister and I used to pretend we were the two of them….I was always West, of course, and she was always stuck being Artemus. Even way back then, I had Wild Wild West music, recorded off the air on my cassette deck, playing when we were pretending to do cool stuff. Little did I know I was rehearsing for what I’d be doing decades later as a writer. Hearing the iconic themes and individual cues sparked my imagination as a kid and they still do today, putting me into the “let’s pretend and have fun” mode that I need to be in to write fiction. Although this is a “western” score, it’s still in the spy genre for me and is the perfect for writing about Ian and Margo.

Sweet Home Alabama

I had a great time as a guest of honor at two conferences in Alabama last weekend — Murder in Magic City in Birmingham and Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka. But things got off to an embarrassing start.

I arrived in Birmingham airport late on Friday. The volunteer who was picking me up texted me a message as I got off the plane  — “I’m the blond in the blue Honda Pilot parked outside of baggage claim.”

So I stepped outside, spotted the blond in the Honda Pilot, knocked on the window, opened the back door, tossed my luggage on the seat and climbed in.

We drove a couple of yards and she glanced at me in her rearview and said “Are you John Ballard?”

“No, I’m Lee Goldberg.”

“Then what the hell are you doing in my car?”

Lee in Wetumpka

“You’re a blond in a Honda Pilot parked at baggage claim.”

She came to a hard stop. I began to explain when another, identical blue Honda Pilot with a blond at the wheel drives up.

I said, “Oops, wrong blond.”

I apologized, grabbed my luggage, and hopped out. I felt like an oaf…but at least she saw that it was a genuine mistake.

Things went more smoothly after that, I am pleased to say. I joined Sue Ann Jaffarian (who arrived in her new RV), Matt Coyle, Stacy Allen, Hank Early, Carrie Smith,  JD Allen, Emily Carpenter, Christopher Swann, Toni Kelner, and many other authors to discuss mysteries, the business of writing, and our journeys into print. The first conference was held at a library in Birmingham and we stayed at a hotel that had a free soft drink dispenser in the lobby. Free-flowing Diet Coke. That’s  a perk I could get used to.

On Sunday, we were taken an hour or so away to Wetumpka, an adorable little town on a river that was nearly wiped off the map by a tornado a few months ago. We were greeted warmly by the Mayor, given our own library cards by the library staff, and then went out to speak to an enthusiastic audience. 

I had a great time. That said, during the signing, a reader caught me off guard with this comment:

“I keep falling asleep while reading the first chapter of your book so I jumped to the last chapter & it put me to sleep too… but I’m not giving up on you.”

I told her I appreciated her faith in me…

My Harrowing Addiction

I opened up to CrimeReads about my addiction to Ralph Dennis’ amazing HARDMAN novels and how it led me to launch a publishing company, Brash Books, with Joel Goldman. Here’s an excerpt:

My expensive, life-changing addiction began six years ago when a man approached me in a nameless hotel in a city I don’t remember.

“You’re really going love this,” Bill Crider said, almost in a whisper. “And I’m not going to let you leave here until you buy it.”

We were standing in front of a used bookseller’s table at a writer’s conference. I looked down and saw that Bill was holding a yellowed, brittle paperback out to me. It was entitled Hardman #1, The Charleston Knife is Back in Town by Ralph Dennis. The slug line across the top of the cover read “Brace yourself for broads, bullets, and bare-fisted action!”

It was obvious from the numbered title that it was one of those cheap, men’s action adventure paperbacks, a genre I knew well, having written, under the pseudonym “Ian Ludlow,” a series called .357 Vigilante in the mid-1980s for the same publisher that released this book. While there were some gems in the genre, most of them were hack work, badly written excuses for explicit sex and graphic violence that were sold in grocery store spinner racks nationwide. And a book called “Hardman”—wink, wink, nudge nudge—promised to be among the worst of them.

Bill must have seen the skepticism on my face so he smiled and said, “Trust me. You won’t regret it.”

This is how it often is with pushers. Have a taste, they say, it won’t hurt you.

And Bill was particularly good at pushing old paperbacks and forgotten authors. He was a kind, decent, warm man, an acclaimed author, and an expert on crime fiction. People trusted him. I trusted him…

I think you’ll enjoy the essay… and I strongly, enthusiastically, passionately recomment that you check out the HARDMAN novels.