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.
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.
Comedian Shelley Berman died yesterday. I never worked with him but we did spend an afternoon together.
Six years ago, I was having my car repaired at MBZ Motors in a dreary corner of the San Fernando Valley. I can’t remember why, but I was stuck there all day while the work was being done. There was no where else to go. I had my laptop with me and I was trying to write. Shelley Berman came in to have his Mercedes repaired and sat on the couch across from me to wait it out. I recognized him immediately (my Dad had his records when I was a kid and I saw him perform once — I believe it was in San Francisco) but I didn’t pay attention to him out of respect for his privacy. And I wanted to get some work done.
But it soon became apparent from the way he was talking to people in the waiting area, all of whom were relatively young, that he was very eager to be recognized and was greatly disappointed that nobody knew who he was. They treated him as an irritating old man they wished would just leave them alone (though, I must say, the staff at MBZ was incredibly friendly and respectful to him — they clearly had known him for some time). I felt sorry for him. He was an incredibly talented comedian and actor…and it broke my heart that it appeared to him that he was forgotten. So I spoke up, addressed him by name, told him that I knew who he was, and that I enjoyed his work on BOSTON LEGAL, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, and that my father had his records.
He broke into a big smile. Berman then went on to regale me over the next few hours with amusing and emotional anecdotes from his life — even sharing with me the heartbreak over the death of his young son (and tearing up as he told me). It was remarkable experience…and also a bit uncomfortable. There was something not quite right about his need for attention or how open he was with me, a complete stranger, about his life (I remember wishing I’d recorded it all). Now that I’ve read his obit, and learned that he passed away from Alzheimers, the strange encounter makes a bit more sense. But it was a memorable afternoon and I felt honored to have been his audience of one.
I am truly, deeply heartbroken to learn that Michael Gleason, co-creator of REMINGTON STEELE, passed away tonight. I can’t really collect my thoughts right now to express how much he meant to me…it’s not easy to type with tears in my eyes. He and Ernie Wallengren, who died way too young, were my mentors in the television business…and in so many other ways. I am the writer I am today largely because of Michael. And in some ways I am the man I am today because of him. He taught me about the business and, perhaps more importantly how to survive in it. He gave me my first staff writing job on a TV series. He brought me into the editing room and taught me how to cut a show, letting me look over his shoulder for hours, days, weeks. Not because he had to,, but because he was a natural teacher, a professor of television. Michael wasn’t a perfect person, he had his demons, and he knew that — and he often used his own mistakes, personal and professional, as hard life lessons for me. He was full of love and enthusiasm and boundless energy. Nobody. NOBODY, told a story like Michael Gleason. The stories were wonderful, but the real pleasure for me was the obvious joy he took in the telling them. He taught me so much, not just about writing and storytelling…but also how to *be* a writer, how to *be* a producer, and how to treat the people I worked with. I’ve tried to pay it forward, to follow his example, with the “new writers” I’ve worked with, to do for them what he did for me. Every time I pitch a story… hell, every time I *tell* a story, I hear Michael in my ear. I know that I always will.
I’m very sad to learn about the death of my friend Ed Gorman, who had been battling cancer for several years. We only met in person once… but we corresponded frequently over the years and spoke on the phone several times. He was a remarkably versatile writer, slipping easily between westerns, crime novels, horror and even political satire. But on top of that, he was a great friend to writers through his popular blog, his magazine (he founded Mystery Scene), and as editor at large for Five Star Mysteries and Five Star Westerns (published through Thomson/Gale). It is thanks to him, and his enthusiastic support, that my novels THE WALK and WATCH ME DIE (aka THE MAN WITH THE IRON ON BADGE) were published. I tried for many years to get film versions of his novels WOLF MOON and TROUBLE MAN off the ground but wasn’t able to make it happen. The best way to remember and honor Ed is to read one of his great books — and then spread the word about them to others so they can discover his talent.
I’m a sucker for TV books, even those about shows I didn’t watch or don’t particularly like…because, often, I can learn something new about the development, writing and production of TV series that I didn’t know before despite my own experience in the biz. Here are some short reviews of three recent releases.
I am not a fan of Lost in Space, but that didn’t limit my enjoyment or appreciation of this book one bit (though I have to admit I haven’t finished it). The book is a remarkable achievement that exhaustively covers every detail of the creation, writing and production of the show, relying on interviews, memos, scripts, letter, photos… the amount of material they uncovered and examined is incredible and, at times, overwhelming. And yet, it doesn’t feel like overkill and it’s never dull. The author has an engaging style that rises above similar books.
Each episode is examined in-depth, from idea, through all stages of production, right down to the ratings and critical reaction to the final airing. What makes this book even more special is that, unlike Star Trek, the authors aren’t following a well-trodden path…so much of this is new and fascinating information. Yes, this show has been examined before, in documentaries and articles, but never in such detail and, surprisingly, with such objectivity. The authors aren’t slavishly devoted fans… they don’t hesistate to point out how awful some of the episodes were.
This book is a must-stock for any library and a must-read for anyone interested in the business behind the TV business. You don’t have to be a fan of Lost in Space, or have ever watched a single episode, to benefit from this great book. I can’t wait for the volumes 2 & 3.
Cop Shows: A Critical History of Police Dramas on Television by Roger Sabin & others. McFarland & Co. I had high hopes for this book because I’m a huge fan of cop shows. I was expecting to glean some new insights into familiar and obscure shows, and new details about how these shows were made, the impact they had on culture, etc. What I got instead was a very scholarly, very broad series of superficial essays about individual shows that revealed nothing new…besides the authors’ opinions, which I don’t really care about. I was also dismayed by the sloppy errors, which made me wonder if they actually watched the shows they were writing about…or were simply lazy in their research. For instance, in their chapter on Hawaii Five-O, they make a passing reference to Stephen J Cannell’s unsold reboot pilot, which was shot but never aired. They say that Gary Busey starred as McGarrett. In fact, nobody played McGarrett in the pilot…and Busey was co-lead with Russell Wong. This information is easily found on the Internet and in other reference books. Later, in their short summary on TJ Hooker, they say “CBS picked up the show’s final season, which was a marked by grittier plotlines and a location shift to Chicago. .. the changes proved deeply unpopular with fans.” That is absolutely wrong. The final episode of the ABC season was set in Chicago, and was a pilot for a potential reboot, but when the show moved to CBS, they kept the original concept, setting, and storylines (going so far as to only use car chases from previous episodes instead of shooting new ones!). The only thing that changed was that Adrian Zmed was dropped from the cast. So not only are they factually wrong, but the conclusions they came to about “grittier storylines” and the audience dissatisfaction with them is total fiction. If that is an example of their academic rigor, I grade this thesis a C-.
Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything. by Jennifer Keishan Armstrong. Simon and Schuster. I totally get why this book has become an unlikely bestseller. For one thing, it’s about one of the most popular and beloved sitcoms in TV history. But most of all, it’s because the book is so readable…so entertaining…that it almost feels more like a novel about a show than a book about TV history. Even so, there’s lots of meat here for people interested in how the TV business works, how a TV series develops and evolves, and, most of all, how a series is written. What this book is really about is the writing of a TV series and, as a writer myself, I found it irresistible and fascinating. There have been other books written about Seinfeld…but none of them are as good, or as useful, or as educational as this one. You should also grab Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, her terrific book about The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
The good folks at the Classic TV History blog are doing God’s work. They’ve just done their second, in-depth interview with TV writer-producer David Levinson, whose many credits include THE BOLD ONES: THE SENATOR, SARGE, CHARLIES ANGELS, HART TO HART, NIKITA and scores of other shows. It’s a long, detailed, terrific interview filled with fascinating anecdotes about the writing and production of the various series that he’s been associated with over his long, varied career. It doesn’t matter whether you know the shows that he’s worked on or if you liked them — this is gold for anybody interested in TV history or in a career in television. I loved every word of the interview. Levinson has been around a long time and he’s got some great stories, like this one about an episode of THE VIRGINIAN…
Oh, this is good. By the way, I was a total asshole about this. This is my second season on the show as a producer. I’m like 27 years old. I’d done like four episodes the season before, and I wanted desperately to do a show about black cowboys. I talked to a writer by the name of Norman Jolley, and we’d come up with a really good story about a cowboy who had worked his whole life to save up the money for his son to go to college, and then he got ripped off. In order to get his money back, he falls in with a bunch of rustlers to steal the cows from John McIntire’s ranch, and bad things happen.
Nowhere in the script did it mention that the father and son were black. Just the character names.
Everybody liked the script, and I go in to see the executive producer, and he says, “Who are you thinking of casting?”
I said, “I want to cast James Edwards.”
There’s this long pause, and the executive producer – who, by the way, was the nicest fellow you’d ever want to meet: Norman Macdonnell, who had produced Gunsmoke all those years – looked at me and said, “Isn’t he black?”
I said, “He was the last time I saw him.”
Very gently, he explained to me that we had a primarily redneck audience and you just couldn’t cast a black man as the guest star in one of the shows. I said to him, “Well, listen, you’re the boss, and if that’s the way you feel, that’s what we’ll do. But I feel it only fair to tell you that I’m going back to my office and calling The New York Times and The L.A. Times to tell them about this conversation.”
He came up from behind the desk, and he was a big guy. His face was totally flushed and he looked at me and said, “You little cocksucker.”
I said, “Yes, sir.”
And we cast Jimmy Edwards. The show went on the air. There were no letters. Nobody fucking noticed that there were two black actors playing the leads in this show. But shortly thereafter I left The Virginian.
No surprise. But the real pleasure of the interview with Levinson aren’t dramatic moments like that but the meat-and-potatoes stuff about the making of TV. I strongly recommend the interview… and everything else on the Classic TV History blog, especially their incredible Oral History of THE SENATOR, which is better than a lot of TV books that I’ve read.
Actor James Franco made big news in the Hollywood trades when he began pre-production on a movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s BLOOD MERIDIAN that he was slated to write & direct. He got Scott Rudin on board to produce, lined up IMGlobal to distribute the film, and managed to cast Russell Crowe and Vincent D’Onofrio, among others. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Except that Franco, the distributors and the producers forgot one niggly detail: they didn’t acquire the rights to Cormac McCarthy’s book. The Hollywood Reporter revealed the embarrassing story earlier this month.
I was astonished. You’d expect something like this from amateurs…but from experienced professionals and a major international distributor? I can’t imagine how the movie got this far along without anybody in business affairs double-checking that someone had actually secured the rights to the book. What makes this even more unbelievable is that Scott Rudin produced the adaptation of McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN…and yet he was apparently unaware that no deal had been made with the author.
But that’s not all. It turns out that Franco shot 30 minutes of test footage several years ago, you might call it his own fanfic adaptation, with Luke Perry and Scott Glenn among the cast in an effort to snag the rights…but McCarthy didn’t bite. So did Franco just decide to make the movie anyway and hope that McCarthy would end up being okay with it? It’s mind-boggling.
“As writers–most of us not published by Hachette–we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want.”
But Doug, his co-signers, and the Author’s Guild haven’t shown that same outrage, or any concern at all, about booksellers boycotting books from Amazon Publishing, a practice that has been going on openly for years.
That’s a double-standard.
I believe that the Authors Guild, and guys like Doug and his co-signers, shouldn’t support one retailer’s right to carry whatever title they want…for whatever reasons they want…and not Amazon’s right to do the same thing. That was my point in yesterday’s post. Doug’s argument was disingenuous. This dispute is not about what’s best for either authors or readers.
My post sparked a lively and friendly debate on my Facebook page, where several people pointed out that booksellers aren’t going to stock books published by Amazon, a company they see as their competitor. Some people also pointed out that many booksellers feel betrayed by authors who signed with Amazon Publishing. Furthermore, some booksellers felt that authors who signed with Amazon Publishing showed a fundamental lack of concern for the future of the booksellers who’ve supported them for years.
I don’t think that’s a fair or accurate characterization. Many of the authors now published by Amazon Publishing were either dropped by their publishers (and thus radioactive as far as other publishers are concerned) or were offered terrible contracts that ultimately pay below minimum wage. Amazon Publishing has revived the careers of hundreds of mid-list authors who otherwise would be finished in publishing…or forced to take crap contracts that they can’t live on just to remain in print. I believe it’s wrong for any bookseller to see it as a betrayal if an author chooses to take an Amazon Publishing contract in order to continue supporting his family and to stay in print. By the same token, I can understand, emotionally and on principle, why a bookseller wouldn’t want to carry Amazon Publishing titles. I don’t resent any bookseller for making that choice.
And yet…there’s a double-standard among booksellers, too, about what constitutes “betrayal.”
Michael Connelly’s TV show BOSCH, based on his Harry Bosch books that booksellers have lovingly handsold for years, is exclusive to Amazon. You have to be a member of Amazon Prime, or rent episodes from Amazon, to watch it.
I haven’t heard any booksellers accuse him of “betrayal” or insensitivity to booksellers for taking his show to Amazon. In his case, making that choice wasn’t about paying his mortgage or saving his career. And I bet booksellers will continue to sell his Bosch books….and when tie-in editions of the Bosch books come out with actor Titus Welliver on the covers, bookstores will sell those, too, even though they will be promoting BOSCH, and drawing new viewers to an Amazon-exclusive TV show.
But those same booksellers won’t carry Amazon Publishing books by critically-acclaimed, award-winning mystery authors like Harry Hunsicker or Alan Russell or G.M. Ford.
Most Amazon Publishing authors are mid list. Michael is a huge, bestselling author, so they’d be taking a financial hit by not stocking his books…and would piss off their customers. Michael is also one of the nicest guys on the planet, who has supported indie booksellers for decades with in-store signings and drop-shipped signed books. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like and admire Michael. I certainly do. There’s enormous, well-deserved affection and admiration for Michael, so booksellers wouldn’t think of hurting his feelings by not stocking his books as a stand against Amazon. If anything, they have expressed nothing but happiness that Bosch is finally coming to the screen…though it’s exclusively through Amazon.
On the other hand, there’s Harry Hunsicker. He’s an award-winning, critically acclaimed novelist that booksellers enthusiastically hand sold.. and who, in return, has supported booksellers for years, both as an author and also as executive director of the Mystery Writers of America. And he’s also one of the nicest people you will ever meet. But most bookstores won’t carry him anymore, because he’s published by Amazon. The difference is, it’s easy to boycott Harry. Or Alan Russell. Or G.M. Ford. They are midlist. It’s not so easy to boycott Mike. He’s a superstar.
But if booksellers were to boycott Michael’s books because the BOSCH show is exclusive to Amazon, you can bet there would be widespread outrage from the Authors Guild, and all of the authors who signed that New York Times open letter today. But when booksellers boycott Amazon Publishing’s books, and hurt hundreds of authors, that’s okay as far as Doug Preston, his co-signers, and the Authors Guild are concerned.
That’s a double-standard.
I am not saying Amazon is right in the Hachette dispute, or that booksellers shouldn’t be able to choose what books to stock or how to price them. But I am saying that Doug’s stance, and Author United’s, and the Authors Guild’s, is hypocritical and disingenuous. And that booksellers who accuse authors of “betrayal” for signing with Amazon Publishing are wrong, too. It’s a complex issue, one that neither side can boil down to a simple argument…or simple villains.
A bunch of literary heavy-hitters have taken out a $140,000 advertisement/open letter, written by author Douglas Preston under the auspices of “Authors United,” that’s going to run in the New York Times tomorrow that sides with the publisher Hachette Group in their on-going business dispute with Amazon over ebook pricing. There are lots of points in the open letter that I don’t agree with, or that I believe are mis-represented, but one phrase, one example of hypocrisy, stood out and I had to call Doug on it. I believe it reveals what this dispute is really about. Here’s the letter I wrote to him:
You wrote in your ad: “As writers–most of us not published by Hachette–we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want.”
Does that same sentiment also apply to the brick-and-mortar bookstores, from big chains to indies, that refuse to stock paperback books from Amazon Publishing’s imprints Thomas & Mercer, 47North, Montlake, etc? If so, why don’t I see the same level of outrage from Authors United, or the Authors Guild, over this widespread ban, which has been going on for years and harms hundreds of authors?
The list of authors, many of them ITW and Authors Guild members, directly affected by bookstores refusing to carry Amazon-imprint titles includes Marcus Sakey, Kevin J. Anderson, Ray Banks, Alan Russell, Greg Bear, Ian Fleming, Ed McBain, Max Allan Collins, Stephanie Bond, Dana Cameron, Leslie Charteris, Diane Capri, Orson Scott Card, Sean Chercover, Deepak Chopra, John Connolly, Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, Peter David, Nelson DeMille, Aaron Elkins, Christa Faust, Stephen W. Frey, Jim Fusilli, Joel Goldman, David Hewson, Jonathan Maberry, Penny Marshall, Robert R. McCammon, Marcia Muller, Susan Orlean,Julie Ortolon, Tom Piccirilli, Daniel Pinkwater, Steven Pressfield, Robert Randisi, Christopher Rice, John Saul, Tom Schreck, Neal Stephenson, and R.L. Stine, to name just a few.
I have enormous respect for you and the authors who signed your ad. Many of them are also friends of mine. But the fact that you, and the other authors listed in the ad, are upset by the Hachette situation and haven’t shown any concern over Amazon Publishing titles being banned by bookstores speaks volumes about what the real issue is here.