Steve Cannell in Trash TV

I've been inundated with emails from people asking me about that Steve Cannell clip I posted yesterday. It was from a two-part episode of DIAGNOSIS MURDER entitled "Trash TV." It was actually Steve's second appearance on the series as Jackson Burley, a burned-out, action-adventure TV producer from my book MY GUN HAS BULLETS, which I wrote while I was working for Steve years before on a terrible series called COBRA. How's that for coming full circle? Naturally, my dream was to get Steve to play the part and we were thrilled when he said yes. You can find the scripts for both "Trash TV" and "Must Kill TV" here. Working with Steve on those three episodes was one of the highlights of my career.

I was able to find the entire episode of "Trash TV" on YouTube. One of Steve's best scenes is right after the main titles as he pitches Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) on his new approach to the "Dr. Danger" pilot.





The Answer Man

Dr. Doug Lyle, medical consultant extraordinaire, posts on his blog today a question I asked him a few years ago for a DIAGNOSIS MURDER novel and his very helpful answer. As it turns out, life imitates art:

Recently, Thomas D. went missing. He had last been seen leaving a party and did not turn up again for four days. This was when a state trooper found his car some 480 feet off the Taconic State Parkway. He was found some 120 feet from his crashed BMW suffering from a back injury and dehydration. He apparently been able to crawl out of his car, which was stuck in a marshy area, but was unable to get to the roadway. He apparently was taken to the hospital and is now doing well. This story reminded me of a question that I receive many years ago from Lee Goldberg and used in my book Forensics & Fiction

Writing Guest Shots for Actors

Dm-001 My friend Ken Levine has an amusing post — heck, he always has amusing posts — on writing episodes with a particular actor in mind for the key guest-star part. It's a very risky move. 

When Bill Rabkin & I were doing DIAGNOSIS MURDER, Fred Silverman and our star, Dick Van Dyke, always wanted to snag Mary Tyler Moore or Julie Andrews for the show.  And every season, Dick would run into them at a party or something, corner them about doing a guest shot, and they would always assure him that they would love, absolutely love, to do the show.  

So we would write an episode for Mary or Julie and they would always pass, without even reading the script, as we knew they would. They just didn't have the heart to say no to Dick's face, to tell him they had no interest at all in doing an episode of DIAGNOSIS MURDER. So we'd end up with Piper Laurie, Holland Taylor, Kathleen Quinlan, Stephanie Zimbalist or some other actress instead. It was the same when we wrote, at Dick's insistence, our annual guest part for Carl Reiner…who also always passed. We knew they would never do it…but Dick and Fred wouldn't give up. 

We also had to craft episodes for Dick's neighbors, George C. Scott and Rod Steiger, knowing damn well they wouldn't do the show, either. Scott got out of doing the guest shot brilliantly…he told Dick that he wanted to do the part, then asked us for such an outrageous amount of money that it simply wasn't possible. 

That said, we wrote an episode at Dick's behest for his friends Tim Conway and Harvey Korman and, much to our surprise, they actually agreed to play the parts…and were terrific. The funniest part though, never made it on screen. Tim Conway ad-libbed some hilarious stuff during Dick's reveal of the killer at the end of the episode…but the studio nixed it because it killied the drama. What drama? It was a flat-out comedy episode. (Yes, I am still bitter about it after all these years). Dm-002

On the other hand, Bill and I got a lot of press, and mighty big ratings, for our stunt-casting episodes, which we didn't write with particular actors in mind (with the exception of the MANNIX revival, but rather a TV genre — like TV spies, TV doctors, and TV cops. Our TV spy episode — with Robert Vaughn, Robert Culp, Patrick MacNee, and Barbara Bain as "Cinnamon Carter" — was especially memorable for me (and Larry Carroll & David Carren did a fantastic job writing it). 

But Bill and I also stunt cast out of sheer folly, just to amuse ourselves. For no reason whatsoever, we cast an episode only with stars of Garry Marshall sitcoms. For another, we only cast leading actors from different versions/spin-offs of M*A*S*H (we snagged Elliot Gould, Loretta Swit, Sally Kellerman, Chris Norris, Jamie Farr, and William Christopher). Those episodes were so much fun for everyone — the writers, the cast and the crew — and were far less risky than tailoring a role for a specific actor. And the network, the critics and the viewers seemed to like it as much as we did.

Scooby Doo, Where Are You?

William Rabkin talks on his blog about the animated and the live episodes of DIAGNOSIS MURDER that we almost did…and the reasons why we didn't end up producing them. Here's an excerpt from his discussion of our animated episode idea:

Then someone had the idea — and I’m pretty sure it was me, because I’d been watching a lot of Dennis Potter at the time — that we should team Dick up with the greatest sleuth ever to grace a television set… Scooby Doo.
After a long bout of giggles, the story fell into place almost immediately. Dick’s character, Dr. Mark Sloan, would witness a crime, but before he could get away the criminal would attack and leave him in a coma. While the rest of the team searched for his attackers, Dick would be solving the crime in a series of hallucinations… with the help of Scooby Doo. There was one little problem, of course — we didn’t really have a lot of money in our budget for animated sequences. Fortunately, Lee can pull up TV trivia faster than Google, and he remembered that an animated version of Dick had “guest starred” in a Scooby Doo episode back in the 70s. All we’d have to do was get the rights to the footage, then write new dialogue, with our supporting cast doing the voices for Shaggy and the rest.

I don't know whether the episode was Bill's idea or mine…but my memory of how we were going to use the cartoon in an episode is a bit different than his.  At first we considered having Dr. Sloan imagine himself in the cartoon…but realized he was too old to be a fan of SCOOBY DO.  It made no sense for his character. So we decided instead that his young protege Dr. Jesse Travis (Charlie Schlatter), while doing some sleuthing for Mark, would get bonked on the head and tossed of the Santa Monica Pier…and while unconscious, and fighting for his life in the hospital, that he'd imagine Dr. Sloan, himself, and the rest of the gang investigating a similar crime with Scooby-Doo (with Jesse as Shaggy, Steve as Fred, Amanda as Velma, and Jesse's girlfriend Susan as Daphne). Once Jesse awoke, he'd tell Mark the story and unknowingly give him the vital clue he needed to solve the real murder mystery.

It would have been ridiculously cheap and easy for us to simply revoice the cartoon with our own actors and dialog…and come out of it with an episode that was 50% animated and far less than our usual episodic budget (we could have used it in place of one of our dreaded six day shows — episodes shot over six days instead of seven — that we did each season to save money). As I recall, even Dick was excited about the idea…in retrospect, maybe it wasn't so much the idea, but rather the notion of having so many days off that he liked. Charlie was already doing lots of voice-over and cartoon work at the time, so he was also game for the idea. 

I still remember Bill & I writing the letter to Warner Brothers, trying to convince them to let us use the footage. As I recall, Fred Silverman signed the letter, too, and even made a few calls trying to convince the studio to grant us the rights.

Warner Brothers asked us for an outline, so we even went so far as to pick the clips we wanted to use and sketch out the story in broad strokes…but we weren't about to plot out the whole thing until we got the rights. Alas, it didn't happen, for all the reasons Bill goes into on his blog.

Here's a clip from the Dick Van Dyke episode of SCOOBY DOO…

Ripped from the Headlines

If I was still writing DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels, this would be the next one

The scars on Craig Buford’s abdomen hinted at the shooting that almost took his life 35 years ago in Denver.[…]But the shooting resurfaced last week when the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office ruled Buford’s Dec. 29 death a homicide, stating that it was caused by multiple organ failure due to complications from his wound.

The Word on The Last Word

I have been getting lots of emails about THE LAST WORD, the final DIAGNOSIS  MURDER novel. I would say that 95% of the response has been positive…the rest, well, far less so. Here’s a small sampling of some of them:

From Patrick Casey:

I finished reading "The Last
Word" last night and I must say that it is a spectacular book.  I enjoyed
how you brought back a lot of the old enemies of Mark, and giving him his
greatest challenge yet.  As I was finishing reading the last chapter of the
book at tear started to roll down, knowing that this is the end for the
characters.  The last line of the book is exactly what this series was
about.  Thank you for giving us fans a wonderful ending for this wonderful
TV show.  I hope that one day down the road you will revisit the books and
give us more of Dr. Mark Sloan and family.

From Patty Kavaitis:

I just finished it. It kept me so enthralled that
I literally could not put it down-read it at one go.  You
did not let us down, you kept the family together, and left the door
open for new adventures. Sweeney’s insidious plan was so intricate I
almost felt like pulling out pencil and paper to keep track of who did
what and who knew what–and to connect all the dots of the not so
coincidental connections…

From Betty:

If it wasn’t for Dick Van Dyke’s photo on the cover, I’d have sworn I
was reading bad fan fiction. ‘The Last Word’ lives up, or should I say
down, to its name by completely destroying the lives and careers of the
characters. I particularly hate the characters being subjected to the
state-sponsored kidnapping also known as wrongful arrest and
imprisonment; without the slightest hint of any form of redress at the
end. For me this book caused tears and a nightmare. This series could
have ended in style with *satisfactory* resolutions; including other,
positive reasons for Mark and Steve to decide it was time to quit
medicine and solving murders, respectively. And by the way, destroying
the characters means that the baddies win after all. What kind of a
message is that to send?

From TommyH:

I enjoyed The Last Word, and think you have done a great
job in taking the characters from the TV series and making them more 3
dimensional and interesting. While the TV show was entertaining, the
books blow the series out of the water, because they expand on familiar
characters/plot and make them more realistic. The books have improved
on the television series, and I just hope that The Last Word is not the
last book

From Maria:

I’ve just finished reading The Last Word.  This tied in very well
with #5 and #7.  I like the ending, which leaves you with so many possibilities
to continue the story in so many different ways, if so required/wished to do
so. Only one problem…I lost a few hours sleep in finishing reading it…>really a great read, great story and a great ‘ending’.

From William Simon:

I have to tell you (for what my opinion’s worth), you blew
me out of my chair.  You scared me at about the 3/4 mark; how the F***
was Mark going to get out of THIS jam?  Usually, I’m a little better
than average at figuring things out (a legacy from being raised on
Ellery Queen I suppose), but you took me by surprise all the way around.  My compliments, amigo.  A well done novel, a nice tribute, a fitting end
to the series.

From  Nwolynetz :

The critics were right it was tooooo dark.  I don’t think it was a
fitting end to the series, you made Dr. Sloan and his "family" and his
past exploits irrelevant. Your dimensions were way off.  I loved all of your past books but not
this one.  I have reread all of your other books more than once, but
will never reread this one.  Stop reevaluating your characters and keep
them as lovable as they once were. I have few authors I enjoy and you
have been one of them, please don’t disappoint me again.  Thanks for
giving me a chance to vent my frustration.

From Richard L. Moore:

I just finished THE LAST WORD and I do think, in my humble opinion, that it was a fitting end to the series. I enjoyed the book, couldn’t put it down as I had to keep reading to see what happened.  The ending was just great.

One of my all-time favorite emails

I got this email today from someone who read DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE LAST WORD and wasn’t too fond of it:

The reason why I like reading DM is because I enjoyed the television series.  I, too, did think your recent book was a little "dark".  I personally would prefer no changes and enjoyed reading about the one demensional tv character Dr. Sloan solving cases.  If I wanted to read a novel, I will buy James Patterson.

Another Word on THE LAST WORD

Moi_2Longtime DIAGNOSIS MURDER fan Chadwick Saxelid has read THE LAST WORD, the 8th and final book in the series, and didn’t find it a very pleasant experience. He says, in part:

With Diagnosis Murder #8: The Last Word author Lee Goldberg takes to the status quo of the series the way Godzilla takes to Tokyo.  He leaves no recognizable landmark standing, completely obliterating the status quo. […] This is dark stuff indeed and a major change of pace for the series.  […] This time around [he] takes the gloves off and does more than put Mark Sloan in a coma, he beats him bloody and senseless.  Watching Sloan rebound and regroup in an atypical manner completes the deconstruction of both the character and the series.  The Last Word truly is.

I certainly can’t argue with his overall take on the book, though I don’t think it’s any darker than THE PAST TENSE (#5) or THE DOUBLE LIFE (#7)…the other books in this "unofficial" trilogy. It was certainly my intent with THE LAST WORD — as well as PAST TENSE and DOUBLE LIFE — to explore, as deeply as I could, Dr. Mark Sloan and to make him more than just a one-dimensional TV character, a "doctor who solves crimes." Over those three books, and to a lesser degree in THE SHOOTING SCRIPT (#3), I was intentionally confronting/deconstructing the ridiculous conceits of the series in a backwards attempt to make the implausible, underlying concept more believable and, by extension, the characters more real. I know that sounds pretentious, but I like to think that’s what made these books read more like novels than simply knock-offs of a TV show…and why I was lucky enough to enjoy so much critical praise for them (even from Chadwick!).

If I ever decide to do more DM books, the resolution of THE LAST WORD opens the door to go in a new direction which…after being involved in four seasons of DM as a writer/producer and as the author of  eight books…I am ready to do. I think I have taken this particular format and these relationships about as far as they can go.

I’m curious to know what you think. Is THE LAST WORD a fitting end for the series? Or did I go too far?

Review Copies

I’ve received a limited number of review copies of MR. MONK AND THE TWO ASSISTANTS (July 2007) and DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE LAST WORD (May 2007). If you’re an established reviewer and would be interested in receiving copies one or both books, please send me an email as soon as possible at with the name of your publication/website and your mailing address. I can’t promise that everyone who asks for one will get one…but I will do my best.