It’s been a busy summer for me. I just delivered MOVIE LAND, the 4th “Eve Ronin” crime novel, to my publisher for an early 2022 release. It was a breakneck 90 days from conception to delivery. I’ve written books that fast before (all 8 of my DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels and most of the 15 MONK novels), but I was younger and more foolish then. It’s nice to know I am still capable of doing it…though it helps that I’ve basically remained in pandemic lock-down at home. Typically, it takes me a leisurely five months to plot and write a novel. Now it’s back to work on the spec thriller I was writing in May…I need to cram a lot of writing into the next few weeks because I don’t have much time before I’ll be attending a whole bunch of events tied to the release of my 3rd “Eve Ronin” novel GATED PREY, which comes out in October. You can see some of the early reviews for GATED PREY (and my contribution to the new collection COLLECTIBLES) below along with some other exciting news.
One City / One Book Picks LOST HILLS
Each year, the City of Agoura Hills participates in the “One City / One Book” national literacy program to stimulate reading through group book discussions and other related activities. The community read is sponsored by the City of Agoura Hills, Friends of the Library, the Los Angeles County Library—Agoura Hills Cultural Arts Council, and the Las Virgenes Unified School District. This year they’ve picked my novel LOST HILLS!! I am so thrilled. I’ll be talking about the book, and signing copies, on Sept 30th at the Agoura Recreation center. The event is free, but seating is limited and tickets are required. Here’s where to get yours…
“Violent crimes and desperate criminals and homicide detectives, oh my! Lee Goldberg delivers an intriguing, fast-paced, satisfying novel…This is a series to keep an eye on if you’re a fan of police procedurals, formidable female characters, and stories with great pacing.”
Mystery Scene & Publishers Weekly Praise COLLECTIBLES
This week Mystery Scene Magazine singled out my short story “Lost Shows” in their glowing review of Lawrence Block’s new anthology COLLECTIBLES.
“This anthology’s true gem is Lee Goldberg’s ‘Lost Shows,’ a perfect, at times humorous story from an under-appreciated writer.”
Not only that, but Publishers Weekly also singled out my story in their rave review:
“Villainy, paranormal goings-on, and cold-blooded murder… Overshadowing everything, though, is Lee Goldberg’s Lost Shows, a delightful shocker about a fanatical collector of short-lived and unaired TV shows.”
“Against all odds, Goldberg not only ties up most of the loose ends, leaving just a few deliberately dangling, but links some of Eve’s investigations in ways as disturbing as they are surprising.The seamy side of California dreaming.“
Lots of Events Coming!
As I mentioned at the top, I’ve got lots of events lined up (with more to come). You can find them all here.
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’ve got lots of exciting news to share about the new books and movies that I’ve written that are coming your way over the next few weeks…
MYSTERY 101 AIRS ON SUNDAY
Set your DVRs! I co-wrote and co-created, with my good friend Robin Bernheim, the mystery movie/TV series pilot MYSTERY 101, which airs on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries on January 27th. If you’ve enjoyed my work on DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MONK, I think you’ll like this movie, which stars Jill Wagner as an English professor who specializes in crime fiction…and applies what she’s learned from the great detectives to solve murders herself. You cam learn more about the movie, and see some sneak previews and behind-the-scenes interviews here. If the movie does well in the ratings, you can expect to see more MYSTERY 101 movies later this year.
THRILLING REVIEWS FOR KILLER THRILLER
The reviews have started coming in for my new novel KILLER THRILLER, the sequel to TRUE FICTION, which will be released on February 12th.
“The pleasure here is watching Goldberg mock the thriller form while creating a first-rate one, boiling with chases, fights, sweaty-palm tension, snappy dialogue, and glamorous, exotic locations—this time, post-Maugham Hong Kong and its stunning outdoor escalators. It’s really a sophisticated exercise in metafiction: commenting on narrative while creating it.” Booklist
It grabs you from page one with brilliant wit, sharply honed suspense, and a huge helping of pure originality.” —Jeffery Deaver, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“Goldberg’s thrillers are some of the wittiest around, and his newest doesn’t disappoint…a meta-thriller that’s genuinely heart-pounding but also clever enough to keep you smiling and reading on.” Crime Reads
“Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg is an action-packed treasure filled with intrigue, engaging characters, and exciting, well-rendered locales. With Goldberg’s hyper-clever plotting, dialogue, and wit on every page, readers are in for a blast with this one!”—Mark Greaney, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“A solid thriller that moves fast and is tons of fun. It’s rare for a sequel to be better than the original, but Lee Goldberg’s Killer Thriller takes Ian Ludlow to new heights. Diehard fans of the genre should definitely check this one out.” The Real Book Spy
“A delight from start-to-finish, a round-the-world, thrill-a-minute, laser-guided missile of a book.” —Joseph Finder, #1 New York Times bestselling author
You can pre-order the book here. [https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B079L6Q5KS/lg-website-20}
Goodreads is giving away 100 copies of KILLER THRILLER. You can sign up for free here
SIGN UP FOR DISCOUNTS & DEALS
The imminent release of KILLER THRILLER means there will soon be some big discounts and special offers on my “backlist” titles like TRUE FICTON and THE WALK. Don’t miss out! Be sure to click “follow” on my Amazon Author page to be alerted to all the upcoming discounts and special offers on my books.
SEE ME ON THE ROAD
I’ll be hitting the road to spread the good word about KILLER THRILLER, starting on February 12th. You can find my tour/event schedule here.
I’m heading off next week to the Writers Police Academy, where I will be giving a talk on how to integrate research into your mystery writing…for TV and for books. In preparing my notes, I came across this old blog post about how I wrote the Diagnosis Murder books and episodes. It was great to read… because, after so long, it was as if I was reading something written by someone else. I think I gave some pretty good advice … so I’m sharing the piece again in case you missed it the first time or in the many magazines and books in which it has been excerpted or reprinted over the years.
I’ve just signed a contract for four more Diagnosis Murderbooks… and the next one is due in March. I have the broad strokes of the story…. but that’s it. The broad strokes. The equivalent of book jacket copy. I’ve still got to come up with the actual story. I’ve been able to procrastinate by doing research on the period… which has given me some plot ideas… but I’ve still got to figure out the murders, the clues, the characters and, oh yes, the story.
This is the hardest part of writing… the sitting around, staring into space, and thinking. This is writing, even if you aren’t physically writing. A lot of non-writers have a hard time understanding this. Yes, just sitting in a chair doing nothing is writing. A crucial part, in fact.
It can be hell… especially when you are on as short a deadline as I am. Everyone has their own method… this is mine:
Once all the thinking is done, I sit down and work out a rough outline… one or two lines on each “scene,” with the vital clues or story points in bold. It’s what I call “a living outline,” because it changes as I write the book, staying a few chapters ahead of me (and, sometimes, requiring me to go back and revise earlier chapters to jibe with the new changes I’ve made… like characters who were supposed to die in the story but don’t). I keep revising the outline right up to the end of the novel. I finish both the book and the living outline almost simultaneously.
While I’m still thinking, and while I’m outlining, and while I’m writing, I compile and maintain what I call “My Murder Book,” a thick binder that contains my outline, my working manuscript, and notes, emails, articles, clips, photographs, post-its…anything and everything relating to my story. By the time the book is done, the binder is bulging with stuff… including my notes on what my next book might be.
Now I’m in the thinking stage, which is why I have time to write this essay. What a great way to procrastinate!
In every Diagnosis Murderbook, Dr. Mark Sloan is able to unravel a puzzling murder by using clever deductions and good medicine to unmask the killer.
I wish I could say that he’s able to do that because of my astonishing knowledge of medicine, but it’s not.
I’m just a writer.
I know as much about being a doctor as I do about being a private eye, a lifeguard, a submarine Captain, or a werewolf… and I’ve written and produced TV shows about all of them, too.
What I do is tell stories. And what I don’t know, I usually make up…or call an expert to tell me.
Writing mysteries is, by far, the hardest writing I’ve had to do in television. Writing a medical mystery is even harder. On most TV shows, you can just tell a good story. With mysteries, a good story isn’t enough; you also need a challenging puzzle. It’s twice as much work for the same money.
I always begin developing a book the same way – I come up with an “arena,” the world in which our story will take place. A UFO convention. Murder in a police precinct. A rivalry between mother and daughter for the love of a man. Once I have the arena, I think about the characters. Who are the people the story will be about? What makes them interesting? What goals do they have, and how do they conflict with the other characters?
And then I ask myself the big questions – who gets murdered, how is he or she killed, and why? How Dr. Mark Sloan solves that murder depends on whether I’m are writing an open or closed mystery.
Whether the murder is “open,” meaning the reader knows whodunit from the start, or whether it is “closed,” meaning I find out who the killer is the same time that the hero does, is dictated by the series concept. Columbomysteries are always open, Murder She Wrote was always closed, and Diagnosis Murder mixes both. An open mystery works when both the murderer, and the reader, think the perfect crime has been committed. The pleasure is watching the detective unravel the crime, and find the flaws you didn’t see. A closed mystery works when the murder seems impossible to solve, and the clues that are found don’t seem to point to any one person, but the hero sees the connection you don’t and unmasks the killer with it.
In plotting the book, the actual murder is the last thing I explore, once I’ve settled on the arena and devised some interesting characters. Once I figure out who to kill and how, then I start asking myself what the killer did wrong. I need a number of clues, some red-herrings that point to other suspects, and clues which point to our murderer. The hardest clue is the finish clue, or as we call it, the “ah-ha!,” the little shred of evidence that allows the hero to solve the crime – but still (hopefully) leaves the reader in the dark.
The finish clue is the hardest part of writing a Diagnosis Murderbook – because it has to be something obscure enough that it won’t make it obvious who the killer is to everybody, but definitive enough that the reader will be satisfied when Mark Sloan nails the murderer with it.
A Diagnosis Murderbook is a manipulation of information, a game that’s played on the reader. Once I have the rigid frame of the puzzle, I have to hide the puzzle so the reader isn’t aware they are being manipulated. It’s less about concealment than it is about distraction. If I do it right, the reader is so caught up in the conflict and drama of the story, they aren’t aware that they are being constantly misdirected.
The difficulty, the sheer, agonizing torture, of writing Diagnosis Murderis telling a good story while, at the same time, constructing a challenging puzzle. To me, the story is more important than the puzzle — the book should be driven by character conflict, not my need to reveal clues. The revelations should come naturally out of character, because people read books to see interesting people in interesting situations…not to solve puzzles. A mystery, without the character and story, isn’t very entertaining.
In my experience, the best “ah-ha!” clues come from character, not from mere forensics – for instance, I discover Aunt Mildred is the murderer because she’s such a clean freak, she couldn’t resist doing the dishes after killing her nephew.
But this is a book series about a doctor who solves crimes. Medicine has to be as important as character-based clues. So I try to mix them together. The medical clue comes out of character.
So how do I come up with that clever bit of medicine?
First, I decide what function or purpose the medical clue has to serve, and how it is linked to our killer, then I make a call to Dr. D.P. Lyle, author of Forensics for Dummies, to help me find us the right malady, drug, or condition that fits our story needs. If he doesn’t know the answer, I go to the source. If it’s a question about infectious diseases, for instance, I might call the Centers for Disease Control. If it’s a forensic question, I might call the medical examiner. If it’s a drug question, I’ll call a pharmaceutical company. It all depends on the story. And more often than not, whoever I find is glad to answer my questions.
The reader enjoys the game as long as you play fair…as long as they feel they had the chance to solve the mystery, too. Even if they do solve it ahead of your detective, if it was a difficult and challenging mystery, they feel smart and don’t feel cheated. They are satisfied, even if they aren’t surprised.
If Dr. Sloan catches the killer because of some arcane medical fact you’d have to be an expert to catch, then I’ve failed and you won’t watch the show again.
The medical clue has to be clever, but it can’t be so obscure that you don’t have a chance to notice it for yourself, even if you aren’t an M.D. And it has to come out of character, so even if you do miss the clue, it’s consistent with, and arises from, a character’s behavior you can identify.
To play fair, all the clues and discoveries have to be shared with the reader at the same time that the hero finds them. There’s nothing worse than withholding clues from the reader – and the sad thing is, most mysteries do it all the time. The writers do it because playing fair is much, much harder than cheating. If you have the hero get the vital information “off screen,” between chapters, the story is a lot easier to plot. But when Diagnosis Murderbook works, when the mystery is tight, and the reader is fairly and honestly fooled, it makes all the hours of painful plotting worthwhile.
That, and the royalty check.
When you sit down to write a mystery novel, there are no limitations on where your characters can go and what they can do. Your detective hero can appear on every single page. He can spend all the time he wants outdoors, even at night, and can talk with as many people as he likes. Those may not seem like amazing creative liberties to you, but to someone who makes most of his living writing for television, they are amazing freedoms.
Before a TV writer even begins to think about his story, he has to consider a number of factors that have nothing to do with telling a good mystery or creating memorable characters.
For one thing, there’s the budget and the shooting schedule. Whatever story you come up with has be shot in X many days for X amount of dollars. In the case of Diagnosis Murder, a show I wrote and produced for several years, it was seven days and $1.2 million dollars. In TV terms, it was a cheap show shot very fast.
To make that schedule, you are limited to the number of days your characters can be “on location” as opposed to being on the “standing sets,” the regular interiors used in each book. On Diagnosis Murder, it was four days “in” and three days “out.” Within that equation, there are still more limitations – how many new sets can be built, how many locations you can visit and how many scenes can be shot at night.
Depending on the show’s budget, you are also limited to X number of guest stars and X number of smaller “speaking parts” per book. So before you even begin plotting, you know that you can only have, for example, four major characters and three smaller roles (like waiters, secretaries, etc.). Ever wonder why a traditional whodunit on TV is usually a murder and three-to-four suspects? Now you know.
Then there’s the work schedule of your regular cast to consider. On Diagnosis Murder, Dick Van Dyke only worked three consecutive days a week and he wouldn’t visit any location more than thirty miles from his home. Co-star Victoria Rowell split her time with the soap opera Young and the Restless, and often wasn’t available to shoot until after lunch.
On top of all that, your story has to be told in four acts, with a major twist or revelation before each commercial break, and unfold over 44 minutes of airtime.
It’s astonishing, given all those restrictions, that there are so many complex, entertaining, and fun mysteries on television.
Those limitations become so ingrained to a TV writer/producer, that it becomes second-nature. You instinctively know the moment you’re pitched a particular story if it can be told within the budgetary and scheduling framework of your show. It becomes so ingrained, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to let go, even when you have the chance.
I am no longer bound by the creative restrictions of the show. I don’t have to worry about sticking to our “standing sets,” Dick Van Dyke’s work schedule, or the number of places the characters visit. Yet I’m finding it almost impossible to let go. After writing and/or producing 100 episodes of the show, it’s the way I think of a Diagnosis Murder story.
And if you watched the show, it’s the way you think of a Diagnosis Murderstory, too –whether you realize it or not. You may not know the reasons why a story is told the way it’s told, but the complex formula behind the storytelling becomes the natural rhythm and feel of the show. When that rhythm changes, it’s jarring.
If you watch your favorite TV series carefully now, and pay close attention to the number of guest stars, scenes that take place on the “regular sets,” and how often scenes take place outdoors at night, and you might be able to get a pretty good idea of the production limitations confronting that show’s writers every week.
And if you read my Diagnosis Murder novels, feel free to put the book down every fifteen minutes or so for a commercial break.
Speaking of which, if there’s actually going to be another Diagnosis Murder novel, I better get back to work… sitting in my chair, doing nothing.
Some recent mail I received asking me questions I can’t answer because I don’t remember:
I’ve long admired your work on Diagnosis Murder, especially the fifth season. I emailed you about ten years ago asking if you had a floor plan of the beach house from Diagnosis Murder. You said you had one but misplaced it. I’ve taken it upon myself to draw a floor plan myself using footage from the show as well as from satellite images and the movies Lovelines and Malibu Bikini shop to help with the lower level. I’ve also found many photos at three different websites trying to rent or sell the house, but most of those are photos from a significantly renovated version of the house. I’ve tried to keep my floor plan of the house as close to the way it was on the show as possible, though I’ve filled in missing parts with photos of the current version of the house where I could. For the parts left completely unseen, like a few of the bathrooms, I’ve tried to come up with how they might be laid out. If I send you the floor plan I created would you be able to give me feedback?
It’s been over a decade since I shot Diagnosis Murder. I don’t remember anymore exactly how the house was laid out. Sorry!
Hello Lee , I just finished reading Mr. Monk goes to the firehouse. I wonder, where’s the ax (?) that being used to kill Sparky? Seems nobody search for the bloody ax to get finger prints or something.
Hope to hear from you bcause I couldn’t sleep thinking about this.
Sorry, but it has been so many years since I wrote the book, I don’t remember what, if anything, came of the ax or if it even mattered. It’s certainly not worth losing sleep over!
I have not yet read all the Monk books nor seen all the episodes, so I apologize if my question has already been addressed, but I wondered what you thought of something that occurred to me recently, and that is concerning Adrian Monk and the Wedding Ring.Reading how he reacted to Julie’s cast, and his insistence that she have two to be balanced, I suddenly wondered how he coped with wearing a ring on the third finger left hand, and not a matching one the right. I assume that Adrian takes the ring off when he’s completing his obsessive bathroom cleaning routines etc. but I’m sure he still wears it at other times – his love for Trudy is too strong for him to abandon it. He is wearing one on the cover of Mr Monk is Miserable.
So – how does he cope? Does he, in fact, wear an identical ring on the right hand? I’ve not noticed one. Knowing the character as you do, what do you think? If you have an answer I’d love to hear it. If you find it fascinating as I do and decide to write it into your next Monk book, please credit me in the acknowledgements for giving you the idea!
I dealt with the ring issue in one of the books… MR. MONK IS A MESS or MR. MONK GETS EVEN, I believe. But I may be mistaken about which one. The 15 tend to blur together for me.
I just learned that Ernest Kinoy. one of the most honored writers in TV history, passed away this week. I was fortunate enough to work with him on two episodes of DIAGNOSIS MURDER.
Dick Van Dyke really wanted us to do an “important” episode of DIAGNOSIS MURDER and felt we should get a “major” writer to do it (I suppose we could have been offended by that…the implication that we were doing mediocre episodes and were mediocre writers, but we chose not to take it that way). William Rabkin and I, who were the show runners at the time, were glad to do it. We saw it s a chance to not only work with a writer we admired, but also to get some critical attention. So we decided to aim high, to find an acclaimed, award-winning writer from the “golden age” that Dick would immediately recognize and respect…but that would be an honor for us to work with as well. Whoever we chose also had to be a writer with episodic experience, someone who wouldn’t have a problem working with continuing characters and delivering a story that worked within our franchise. That narrowed the field a bit. Our first pick was Ernest Kinoy but, to be honest, we thought he’d turn us down flat. After all, this was the guy who wrote Skokie, Roots, Murrow and Victory at Entebbe and classic episodes of such dramas as The Defenders, Naked City, Route 66 and Playhouse 90.
So we gave him a call…and to our astonishment, he was genuinely interested. We sent him some episodes of our show, as well as some issue-oriented story areas that we were kicking around. He immediately jumped on a notion we had about HMOs…insurance plans that require patients to use specific hospitals and doctors and that leaves life-changing medical decisions in the hands of bureaucrats who are more concerned with the bottom line than patient health.
Kinoy’s only hesitation was that it had been decades since he’d written an episodic teleplay and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to pull it off. He had no reason to worry. The guy was pro…one of the greats of our business.
He delivered a powerful story and a terrific script, entitled First Do No Harm, that stood out as the only episode of the show that didn’t have a murder. Yes, someone died, and Dr. Sloan investigates the death, but the perpetrator was a system, not an individual. The script captured the voices of our characters…but it was Kinoy’s voice that really came through. His dialogue had a unique cadence, one that Dick embraced. It was a real thrill for us, professionally and personally, to work with him, although it was long distance, by phone and fax.
We liked the experience so much that we invited him back to do a second episode the following season…another issue-based story, this one about assisted suicide…and it gave us the chance, as an added bonus, to reunite Dick with Kathleen Quinlan, his co-star in the film The Runner Stumbles, his most dramatic role. Dick relished the part and we relished working with such a gifted writer. It was the last episode of season 6, the final episode that Bill and I produced of the series, and it was a great way to go out.
The two episodes ended up being Kinoy’s last, produced credits. I hope he was as proud of the episodes as I am.
Last week, CBS picked up two series for next fall — CSI: Cyber and NCIS: New Orleans — that were shot as so-called “back-door pilots,” embedded in episodes of existing series. CSI:Cyber aired as an episode of CSI and NCIS: New Orleans aired as an episode of NCIS (which, itself, began as a back-door pilot as an episode of JAG).
A back-door pilot is a way to save money on making a pilot, a sample episode of a proposed TV series. Since standalone pilots that don’t lead to a seires cost millions of dollars, have no commerical value, and will usually never air anywhere, shooting them as an episode of an existing series allows studios to recoup their costs from the syndication revenue of a hit series. It’s a practice that has been going on for fifty years — The Andy Griffith Show began as a back-door pilot episode of The Danny Thomas Show.
The problem is, backdoor pilots usually end up being one of the worst episodes of whatever series is hosting them. That’s because the stars of the host series, by design, have to take a back seat to the stars of the pilot…and let’s face it, people aren’t tuning in to see the pilot characters, they are tuning in to see the characters they already know and love. Star Trek ended it’s second season with Assignment Earth, a back-door pilot starring Robert Lansing, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show ended it’s second season with a back-door pilot for a series with Bill Daily. Both pilots failed to sell.
The networks and producers can’t really disguise backdoor pilots — because they can’t function as pilots without being pilots, introducing us to the characters and franchise of the proposed show. But it’s a practice that has worked.
Some of hit shows that began as backdoor pilots (also known, some years back, as “nested spin-offs”) include Diagnosis Murder, NCIS, CSI: Miami, Maude, SWAT, Petticoat Junction, Laverne & Shirley, Barnaby Jones, Empty Nest, Knots Landing, and Stargate: Atlantis.
The many, many shows that have hosted one or more backdoor pilots include Magnum PI, Cosby, Spenser: For Hire, Star Trek, Vegas, Bones, Married With Children, Gunsmoke, The Practice, Charlie’s Angels, Barnaby Jones, NCIS, Ironside, Criminal Minds, Murder She Wrote, Smallville, House and The Rockford Files (which had four of’em!). Back in the day, anthology shows like Zane Grey Theater, Dick Powell Theater, and Police Story (which begat Police Woman, Joe Forrester and David Cassidy: Man Undercover) were often used for back-door pilots.
Bill Rabkin and I were the executive producers of Diagnosis Murder with Fred Silverman, the man who once ran CBS, ABC and NBC and was known as the “king of the spin-off.” Since Diagnosis Murder was a nested spinoff of Jake and the Fatman, which itself was a nested spin-off of Matlock, Silverman was a big believer in backdoor pilots and insisted that we do at least one every season. Diagnosis Murder tried at least six of them that I know of and they all went nowhere.
We personally did three of them, including Whistlers, basically a tame Lethal Weapon with women, and The Chief, starring Fred Dryer as the leader of the LAPD. Here’s the main title sequence for Whistlers:
and the sales pitch for The Chief:
We were very clever with how we structured The Chief as a back-door pilot…and it was the only one of the Diagnosis Murder backdoor pilots that actually had a shot getting picked up.
We wrote it as a tw0-hour, sweeps episode of the series…but crafted it in such a way that we could edit it down to one-hour and cut almost all of the Diagnosis Murder cast out of the show for internal sales purposes
Fred Dryer was great in the part…and newcomer Neal McDonough had real star power (since proven on Band of Brothers, Justified, Desperate Housewives, etc.). We were sure we were on to something. The two-hour movie was one of the highest rated shows of the week, #12 if memory serves, and when we had the one-hour version tested, the scores were among the best Fred Silverman had ever seen. Silverman was convinced we were a lock for the fall schedule.
Unfortunately, this was one of the rare cases where ratings and testing didn’t mean as much to the network as personality…nobody at CBS wanted to work with Fred Dryer (which begs the question, why did CBS let us cast him, and why did they pay the “pilot breakage” on his salary for the guest shot, if they had no intention of greenlighting a series with him in the lead?).
But Silverman wasn’t concerned. With the numbers and testing we had, and with Dryer’s successful track record with the hit series Hunter, he was convinced we’d have a sale in a matter of weeks with another network.
We took it to every network and pitched it face-to-face to their presidents (that was the power of working with Silverman), and every one of them had some personal reason for not wanting to be in business with Dryer…and seemed to take great pleasure in passing on the project in the room to his implacable face.
As it turned out, a couple of years later CBS did a very simlar show (The District) with great success and a star reportedly as difficult as Dryer reportedly was (Craig T. Nelson)…and NBC ended up reviving Hunter for six episodes and discovered, or so we heard, that Dryer was even more reportedly difficult than he’d ever reportedly been before.
Here’s a guest post from my friend Kate Goldstone, a big fan in the UK of crime shows, crime novels and everything noir, who has finally discovered Diagnosis Murder, the TV series that I wrote & produced…and the series of eight novels that I wrote based on the show.
I don’t know about you, but TV-on-demand has changed my life. Whoa girl, that’s a bit evangelistic, isn’t it? Yup, but its true. Instead of flipping in increasing desperation through millions of channels looking for something cool to watch – a worldwide phenomenon, I should think – at our place we dive right in and immerse ourselves in entire TV series (which is also available now on DVD!). And Diagnosis Murder has been a telly experience of epic proportions, all 178 episodes of it.
Watching the Diagnosis Murder complete series
Lee was the executive producer and principle writer of the Diagnosis Murder series, which made our adventure into medical crime drama even more exciting. We knew the writer/producer personally. We don’t usually have that kind of connection to the shows we watch. So what’s Diagnosis Murder about? As the plot summary on IMDb says:
“Dr. Mark Sloan is the chief of staff at Commmunity General Hospital. Even though his duties as a doctor keep him busy enough, he still finds time to help the police solve murders (Mark’s father was a Los Angeles police detective). He is assisted by young doctors Amanda Bently and Jesse Travis, as well as by his own son Steve, who took after Mark’s father. Together they solve some of Los Angeles’ toughest murders.”
Us Brits do it pretty damn well. The Scandanavians do it beautifully. But top quality US crime drama is something else altogether. You lot tell great stories. And watching a series back-to-back is a completely different experience from drip-feeding your thrill-starved imagination bit by bit, week on week. .
Watched in action consecutively, a series’ characters are more colourful, with more depth and subtlety. You don’t forget the plot, spending half the next episode puzzling over who did what, to whom, why, when and where, wondering “who on earth is that bloke?”. Freed from all that tedious brainwork, you can relax and enjoy the ride in its full glory. Fine detail assumes greater importance, backgrounds and landscapes have more meaning and relevance. It’s richer, deeper, broader, a million times more absorbing and lets you appreciate the programme makers’ skills to the full.
The only problem is, it’s like a good book – you can’t put it down. If I had a pound for every night we’ve crawled into bed far too long after bedtime, eyes gritty and stinging, with heads full of murder and mayhem, I’d be a rich lady by now. As it is, I’m just knackered. But boy, have I had fun.
Diagnosis Murder IMDb – Outstanding mystery medical crime drama
Watch the first few Diagnosis Murder episodes in a row and you’ll be hooked. It’s so popular there’s even a roaring trade in Diagnosis Murder fanfiction, some of it uncomfortably X-rated. There are literally hundreds of guest stars listed on the show’s Wikipedia page. And the stars of the show, including Dick Van Dyke, Barry Van Dyke, Victoria Rowell and Scott Baio of Happy Days fame, are developed beautifully throughout the series. The plots are satisfyingly twisty and turny, the science bits are fascinating and the stories don’t date. All the hallmarks of top quality crime fiction entertainment, and great fun.
“Diagnosis Murder is an excellent medical drama without all the blood of those other medical shows. Dick Van Dyke is classic. Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) is always interesting being the chief of internal medicine at Community General Hospital and still finding time to help his son, Detective Steve Sloan (Barry Van Dyke), solve homicides as an unofficial consulant to the LAPD. Every episode they manage to find themselves in the middle of a murder, and wittily solve it. It just never gets old. This is just purely a superb show. I’m am very glad that they decided to put Diagnosis Murder on DVD. Many more people need to discover the fascinating addictive show of Diagnosis Murder.”
But there’s more…there are Lee’s Diagnosis Murder books. Which means I am in heaven.
Diagnosis Murder novels
Lee wrote eight novels based on the Diagnosis Murder TV show. I’m currently working my way through them. And it’s another completely different experience. I was unable to get the TV actors out of my head as I read the first few chapters of the first book, The Silent Partner. I suppose that’s kind of inevitable when you’ve just watched 178 episodes in a ridiculously short space of time. But then I got lost in the reading, which is exactly what should happen when you enter a jolly good book. I’m developing my own images of the characters now that I am half way through The Death Merchant, the second in Lee’s series. They don’t look or sound like their TV counterparts. I’ve made them mine. That’s books for you.
Oddly enough, the TV series also dovetails cleverly with Lee’s Monk books, with two of the characters he created for The Death Merchant turning up out of the blue in Mr Monk Goes to Hawaii and Mr Monk and the Two Assistants. I love it when that happens, when two fictional worlds collide. It makes their reality seem even more alive, populated with comings and goings that are hidden from the reader or viewer, in the imaginary background. Almost uncanny.
5 Diagnosis Murder TV movies for bereft DM obsessives
Movies, books, TV shows. If that lot doesn’t fuel your obsession with classic TV crime drama, I don’t know what will. Give Diagnosis Murder a whirl. Just don’t blame me if you lose sleep because you can’t leave the TV remote alone, can’t put the books down, can’t walk away from the movies. With a bit of luck it’ll keep you off the streets and out of trouble for a few months.
What keeps you up nights?
Breaking Bad, Dexter, Deadwood, The Wire, Justified. They’ve all kept millions of us awake long past bedtime. What’s your latest crime TV series obsession, and why?
I am always amused when fanfic authors get upset when the creators and copyright holders of the characters they are writing about dare to assert their legal, creative and moral rights. A great example comes from this recent Wall Street Journal article about Amazon’s Kindle Worlds, which allows fanfic authors a platform to write, publish and sell books about characters and fictional worlds they didn’t create and don’t own.
To avoid copyright infringement, Amazon struck deals with several authors and entertainment companies. Amazon gives them a cut of royalties and the rights to use the new characters and plot lines in the fan-fiction material in exchange for licensing their intellectual property. So far, Amazon has acquired licenses for 22 fictional properties, ranging from the novels of Kurt Vonnegut, to the comic series G.I. Joe, to Alloy Entertainment’s popular teen book and TV series “Gossip Girl,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Vampire Diaries.” […]The move to profit from fan fiction has alarmed some writers and copyright experts who see it as a naked attempt to rob amateur writers of their intellectual property, before they have a chance to build an audience.
What irks some of these fanfic authors are the clauses in the Amazon Kindle Worlds contract that reminds them that, hey, you’re welcome to play here, but you don’t own the underlying rights, the creators and copyright holders of the characters do.
The move to profit from fan fiction has alarmed some writers and copyright experts who see it as a naked attempt to rob amateur writers of their intellectual property, before they have a chance to build an audience.
These same “experts” aren’t concerned when amateur writers nakedly rob authors of their intellectual property by writing and disseminating unauthorized fanfic based on characters and worlds the fanficcers didn’t create and don’t own. They are only concerned when the creators and rights holders have the audicity to exert their moral, artistic, and legal rights to “profit for fan fiction”:
“It feels like a land grab,” said Francesca Coppa, an English professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn., who writes “Sherlock,” “True Blood” and other fan fiction on the side. “Big companies are trying to insert themselves explicitly to get people who don’t know any better to sign away rights to things that might be profitable.”
No one is stopping Ms. Coppa or these writers from going out and writing their own, wholly original, legally unencumbered stories. Instead, these writers choose to write Vampire Diaries or Silo Saga fanfic instead… to utilize characters that don’t belong to them and then whine when the creators want to share in any profits that arise from the sale of those works. If there’s a “land grab” here, it’s not the creators and copyright holders who are making it… it’s the fanfic authors who think they should be able to freely use, and profit from, other people’s creations. The fanfic writers should be delighted and thrilled to have the chance through Kindle Worlds to actually sell their fanfic…instead of complaining that they can’t own the stories set in the fictional worlds that they didn’t create.
“Under the Amazon agreement, writers are giving away more rights than they would for something that is quote unquote original,” Ms. Tandy said. “Writers should be very careful that they’re comfortable giving away those rights.”
I love how Ms. Tandy puts quotes around original as if its a lesser form of writing than stuff based on someone else’s work…and implies that it’s unfair for the creators of original work to want their legal, creative and moral rights protected…and that fanfic authors of quote unquote unoriginal work somehow deserve greater protections. She has it all ass-backwards. Fanfic writers aren’t “giving away” more rights in this scenario, they are being granted rights they didn’t already have… to use and profit from characters they didn’t create and don’t own.
(I should mention my own novel franchise, The Dead Man, is part of Kindle Worlds and that there are presently four licensed fanfiction books based on the series, which I co-created with William Rabkin. I also wrote, as a work-for-hire writer for Penguin/Putnam, eight books based on Diagnosis Murder and fifteen books based on Monk, two TV series that I didn’t create. So I know what it means to write novels that I don’t own and, on the other side, to own a franchise licensed to Kindle Worlds.)
Here’s another guest post from my friend Kate, a big fan in the UK of crime shows, crime novels and everything noir, talking about her six favorite crime TV series that are now available in boxed set DVDs. I’d be interested to know your recommendations, so leave a comment…
It’s the season of goodwill to all men, when boxed set sales go crazy. I thought it’d be fun to explore six of the very best crime and investigation TV series, to inspire this year’s joyous boxed set shenanigans. If you’re not sure what to immerse yourself in, why not give one of these little beauties a go?
6 of the best crime and investigation TV series
Crime TV series don’t get much better than The Wire, a show series friends and family are probably sick to death of me banging on about. Sorry, sorry, but it’s just such a class act. How about I shut up about it and cover something a bit different instead… Sherlock Holmes, anyone?
Good old Holmes and his sidekick Watson are international stars, covered time and time again on film and TV. But my favourite and freshest take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-selling character is the recent series Sherlock, starring the marvellous Benedict Cumberbatch and my old friend Jamie’s brother Martin Freeman of The Office and The Hobbit fame. Here’s what Wikipedia says about it:
“Sherlock is a British television crime drama that presents a contemporary update of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes detective stories. Created by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, it stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson. Six episodes have been produced, the first three of which aired in 2010. Series two aired in 2012, and a third series began production in March 2013. The series has been sold to over 180 territories.
Gatiss has criticised recent television adaptations of the Conan Doyle stories as “too reverential and too slow”, aiming instead to be as irreverent to the canon as the 1930s and 1940s films starring Basil Rathbone, which were mostly set in the then-modern post WWII era. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock uses modern technology, such as texting, the internet, and GPS, to solve crimes. Paul McGuigan, who directed two episodes of Sherlock, says that this is in keeping with Conan Doyle’s character, pointing out that “in the books he would use any device possible and he was always in the lab doing experiments. It’s just a modern-day version of it. He will use the tools that are available to him today in order to find things out.”
The update maintains some traditional elements of the stories, such as the Baker Street address and Holmes’s adversary Moriarty. Although the events of the books are transferred to the present day, some elements are incorporated into the story. For example, Martin Freeman’s Watson has returned from military service in Afghanistan. While discussing the fact that the original Watson was invalided home after serving in the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–1880), Gatiss realised that “it is the same war now, I thought. The same unwinnable war.”
Crime TV shows don’t come much better than the epic classic TheSopranos and the boxed set is a six-series whopper, perfect for total telly immersion.
If you’ve been in outer space or at the centre of the earth for the past decade or so, you may have missed it. Otherwise you’ll know what I’m on about. It’s a cracking US television drama created by the seriously talented David Chase, about the life, loves and disasters befalling a New Jersey-based Italian-American mobster called Tony Soprano, played by the sadly-missed James Gandolfini. Conflict threads its way throughout the show, as Tony tries his best to balance the conflicting requirements of his home life and his career in organised crime. He’s one of those characters I love to hate. In many respects the man is a violent, amoral, fat fool. In others he’s a straight up gentleman and scholar. For me, it’s the stark contrasts that make it so compelling.
Here’s what one Amazon reviewer, Simon Brew, says about it:
A flat-out treasure trove of television, The Sopranos Complete HBO Seasons 1-6 boxset brings together every episode of a genuinely extraordinary series. Those that call it quite possibly the best show America has produced in the last decade aren’t far wide of the mark (although fans of The Wire could have an argument there).
To think The Sopranos all started from a simple sell: that a New Jersey mob boss falls into depression, and seeks out counselling to help him cope. And while early episodes followed Tony Soprano’s balancing act as he sought to keep this from his mobster friends, The Sopranos took this foundation and built upon it a collection of layered, intriguing characters from both Tony’s ‘work’ and ‘home’ families.
That’s only part of the reason for The Sopranos’ extraordinary success, though. Because the writers then seeded many delightfully intricate plotlines, that seemed to seamlessly weave between one another. The end result was that every character was important, and–crucially–there was a real sense of unease, as fans began to realise that The Sopranos could have a quiet run of episodes, and then suddenly take out a character you’ve spent hours engaged with.
It’s a fascinating cocktail. Ruthless yet emotional, violent yet intimate, brash yet insecure, the characters of The Sopranos are as three dimensional as television drama gets. It’s a tragedy it’s finished, but the six series in this box offer a stunning legacy, and a masterclass to anyone else in the planet looking to make a character-driven drama.
Another epic, the Dexter crime series on TV covers eight seasons, so is perfect for whiling away a few post-Christmas totally-fed-up-with-turkey days. Based on Jeff Lindsay’s books, it’s about a Miami police blood spatter pattern analyst and forensics expert who kills baddies in his spare time.
The character Dexter himself, played by Michael C. Hall, is profoundly affected by his mother’s murder when he was a toddler. So much so that he embarks on a murderous spree punishing the bad guys who he feels have escaped justice while trying his best to avoid suspicion. It’s quite a balancing act, pulled off via a deceptively mellow daytime facade. By day he’s a sweetie, by night he’s a serial killing monster.
I know it’s all a bit silly. The plots stretch credibility way too far, the ending of the final series has been slammed by reviewers, and I dearly hope there isn’t a real-life Dexter out there. Who says he owns the moral majority, after all? But it’s grand entertainment. Sometimes storytelling is about pushing the boundaries, suspending belief rather than sticking slavishly to realism. If you fancy a bit of escapist fun, give the complete boxed set a go.
My all-time favourite, I can’t resist including Breaking Bad in my top 5, even though it’s only partially a crime drama TV series. I love the way the makers don’t moralise one way or the other about crystal meth production and use, keeping moral judgements to themselves, letting viewers make up their own minds and allowing the storyline to stand up for itself. The characters are about as far from black and white as you can imagine, which is extremely refreshing. The main character, Walter White, played by the remarkable Brian Cranston, is about as believable as it gets. The story telling is quality on a stick, matchless and peerless. The scripting is unbelievably good. The acting is superb. And the storyline will have you on the edge of your seat from the start.
“Felina,” the last episode ever of the magnificent series Breaking Bad, was a kind of machine gun of narrative, knocking down all of those questions with auto-fire efficiency. (Well, almost all. Sorry, Huell!) It was not flashy. It wasn’t structurally ambitious, in the way other Breaking Bad episodes have been. It was not, in most respects, surprising. (Except for Walt’s laundering scheme with Gretchen and Elliott, I think I saw nearly everything predicted, at least in general terms, by people besides me in the last week.)
And that’s OK. Because what “Felina” was–as effective, satisfying series finales are–was true. It was true to the five seasons that preceded it, true to Walter White’s obsessions and pride, and true to what Breaking Bad is at heart: a Western. As in the song “El Paso,” the protagonist (I’m not going to say hero) rode back to town, faced his enemies, said his goodbyes, and died. A Western is meant to go out with a bang, and Breaking Bad went out with about 40 of them per second (plus a dose of ricin).
It’s a Western, though, in which we were following the man, literally, with the black hat. Having seen the trail of suffering Walt has selfishly left behind him, I didn’t necessarily want to see Walt end up triumphant, feeling like a hero. But as I wrote when this final run of episodes began, the definition of a “good” Breaking Bad finale was not whether it punished Walter White. It was whether the series stayed true to his character, to its themes, whether or not it was pleasant to see.
If you like your crime TV shows a bit more laid back, less in-your-face, you could always give Hercule Poirot a go, one of Agatha Christie’s best-loved detectives and a much gentler telly experience than the usual contemporary murder, mayhem and violence.
I thought a US viewpoint would be interesting, so here’s what ‘Mad Max’ from Florida has to say about the latest series, now available on DVD:
Ever since David Suchet indicated that he wanted to film the last five episodes, most lovers of Poirot have been waiting impatiently for them to be released. “Clocks” was aired in December 2011 in the UK but “Elephants Can Remember” was not shown until June 2013. A long hiatus, but they are now finally here.
Except for “Elephants Can Remember” which was on YouTube for awhile until it was removed for whatever reason, and which I really enjoyed, I haven’t seen these episodes yet.
I live in the USA but because I am so impatient to see them, I purchase UK DVD editions (it’s not a problem to get a DVD player that plays all regions/all codes). The US releases are just too delayed. I think ‘Third Girl ‘ and ‘Appointment with Death” and “Orient Express” from 2010 are now, finally, available. It’s ridiculous it takes so long for a US edition to be released.
So, I am thrilled that the final five mysteries are now finally released. I didn’t expect a DVD release until next year, since “Curtain” was just aired in the UK on November 13, but whoever rushed these to market should be congratulated. Poirot lovers thank you and I will wait with bated breath until the Amazon box shows up in my mailbox. A great review of all five episodes has already been posted so I will just enjoy them without further comment. Ciao from Florida.
Poirot isn’t exactly quintessentially English, he’s Belgian, but you get the picture. Classic British period drama-style whodunits with exceptional sets, costumes and scripting, and a charmingly eccentric feel. Perfect for family viewing, something that won’t shock the pants off your elderly aunties or scare the kids so much they have nightmares.
Diagnosis Murder is bigger right now in the UK than anywhere else, and for good reason. It’s a terrific mystery starring Dick Van Dyke as the chief of internal medicine at a Los Angeles hospital… and a genius when it comes to solving crimes, often assisting his son Steve, an LAPD homicide detective, in his investigations.
The series, which Lee wrote and produced, is known for its well-plotted mysteries, warm humor, and big-name guest-stars from classic TV shows. My favorite episode brought back Robert Culp from I Spy, Patrick MacNee from The Avengers, and Barbara Bain as Cinnamon Carter from Mission Impossible in a clever mystery set in the world of espionage. Wes Britton, author of the Encyclopedia of Television Spies, interviewed Lee about the show’s popular stunt casting:
It all began with one starring Mike Connors reprising his role as Joe Mannix. Goldberg recalled.
“The Mannix episode was such a huge hit – in terms of publicity and ratings – that we knew we had to do more like it. Not only that, but I am a major TV geek. I was reliving my TV youth by doing these shows. I think the first one we did after Mannix was TV cops (an episode with Fred Dryer, Martin Milner, Kent McCord, Angie Dickinson and James Darren), then TV spies, TV doctors (Wayne Rogers, Chad Everett, Jack Klugman, Bernie Kopel, etc.) TV SciFi (with George Takei, Walter Koenig, Grace Lee Whitney, Majel Barrett, Billy Mumy, etc.) and even a “fire” show with cast members from Emergency. We also did some bizarre `theme’ stunt casting shows . . . like one entirely comprised of people from various versions of M*A*S*H (Elliott Gould, Jamie Farr, Sally Kellerman, Loretta Swit, etc.) and another of just actors who’d starred in Garry Marshall sitcoms, another full of country music stars. We just wanted to have fun . . . and to indulge our love of old television. Plus the stunt episodes all got big ratings and tons of publicity. The public loved it as much as we did.”
Diagnosis Murder is television comfort food…not as old-fashioned as Poirot or as dark and edgy as Dexter, but hitting the sweet spot right in the middle. It’s good fun for the entire family. All eight seasons, including the pilot and the three TV movies that preceded the series, are now available in a boxed set .
Place your vote now…
It’s always fascinating to find out what other people like best and why, and there’s plenty to talk about in this massive and ever-popular genre. What’s your favourite crime series on TV? And which boxed sets will you be enjoying this Christmas?