Write On or Why I Got Lou Diamond Phillips to Sign a Script for a Show That Never Happened
I love television. I know that is heresy for an author to admit but I really do love it. I also love books, I’ve been reading obsessively since I was three, but along with that have a deep relationship with a lot of television. In fact I want to be a television writer when I grow up.
I know exactly where and when that desire started. I grew up in an area where going outside to play was in no way shape or form an option. That meant too much TV even though my parents did their best to keep it to PBS. At age four Mister Rogers Neighborhood was a standby for me and pretty much every other kid. I remember not being able to figure out how it worked. It was frustrating. I knew it wasn’t Mister Rogers’ actual house, but I couldn’t work out how the camera went through walls, or where the music came from. Then in one episode Mister Rogers told the camera guy to pull back. Suddenly you could see the set, the other cameras, and the crew. Even a guy sitting in front of a tape deck playing the music. I cannot explain how completely mind blowing this was for me. Total paradigm shift at age four. TV was something that was made instead of something that just happened.
As I grew up TV continued to be important. Yes I had favorite books that I stayed up all night reading but once my parents gave up on bedtime I would sneak out of my room almost every night to watch MASH (11:30pm, FOX, channel 2, Mon-Fri). When I was small my mom was working three jobs and I didn’t see much of her but once a week she’d make popcorn and we’d sit and watch Highway to Heaven together. Not sure why that show but it was our thing. Later, with my dad, it was Northern Exposure. That was our thing.
Through my adolescence, when life sucked, there was a list of TV shows, mainly science fiction, full of stories I could just lose myself in.
There is a lot of TV in the world that sucks. Flat plots, bad acting, and hack writing. And don’t even get me started on reality television. I used to work for a company that made that shit. Trust me when I say that watching sausage get made is more appealing. But there is also brilliance on that little screen. Some of the most solid writing in the late 20th and early 21st century has happened on television. Truly epic plotlines played out in 42 minute intervals, and moments of pure heartbreak delivered in seconds where a movie might need a whole scene and a novel could take a whole chapter. Don’t believe me? Go back and look at the Sorkin years of West Wing and tell me there wasn’t genius there. In Excelsis Deo, The Short List, Celestial Navigation, Two Cathedrals. Did you watch Babylon 5? Passing Through Gethsemane, The Hour of the Wolf, The Fall of Night. Show after show I could give you a list of hundreds of hours.
I’ve failed at a lot of career attempts either through lack of skill, opportunity, or certain important personality traits, but in between failing to become a movie producer and becoming a romance writing housewife I decided I wanted to write for television. In truth I wanted to do this the whole time but it was not something I had vocalized even to myself. Most TV networks and several production companies have writer training programs. A lot of these have the word Diversity in the title. They are a good way of staffing the writers’ rooms with cheap fresh blood. I wanted into one of these highly competitive programs badly. To get in I had to write a script for a show that was on that particular network.
I will admit the first few weren’t that good. I wouldn’t have let me in on those but as the polite rejection form letters came in I got better. However by 2008 I was losing hope. I decided to make a swing for the CBS writing program with a spec script for Numb3rs. I had a thing for procedural dramas and nerds so this was one of my favorite shows at the time even though it wasn’t particularly big. You can read the script here. I was unemployed at the time and in a bad headspace so the script is darker than the show ever actually got but I think it was the first truly solid TV script I wrote. I didn’t get in. I didn’t get into the next one or the one after that. The last spec script I wrote was in 2011 for Supernatural. By that point I was getting too old for the Young writers programs and was cluing into the idea that I wasn’t diverse enough for the Diversity ones.
I shifted my focus to prose and wrote the first draft of Empty Nests. I still want to be a TV writer when I grow up. With a toddler and trying to get a career as a novelist going my TV time is limited and I have to be picky about shows. Aside from my candy bar shows (Sleepy Hollow and Supernatural) I mostly go by the strength of the writing. If the writing isn’t solid it’s off the list. Even when it is solid I spend time thinking about how I might have told the same story or taken the show in another direction. And even though I know my current work is never going to get that Hollywood option I still have a cast list ready to go. One of the reasons I keep my fandom handles separate from my prose writing is because I still dream of working with certain script writers and never want to say ‘I love that show you did which is why I wrote a hundred twenty thousand word BDSM novel based on it’. Nope. I’ve had some embarrassing conversations in my day but that one might kill me.
Being at the bottom of the world means that for the annual geek fest, Armageddon, pickings for guests can be a little slim. We’re never getting any of the Avengers down here. The big name this year was Lou Diamond Phillips. He was probably invited on the back of Stargate Universe but he’s got 120 imdb credits so there’s really something for everyone. Credit 93 is for a reoccurring character in Numb3rs named Ian Edgerton, a sniper described as “the bastard son of Clint Eastwood and Yoda”, a character I used in that long ago Numb3rs spec script.
I could have bought a Stargate still for him to sign or even one from La Bamba but I’ve been thinking a lot on past and future writing these days so instead I printed out a copy of my spec script, plopped it on the table, told him what it was for, and asked him to sign it because somewhere in one of those infinite parallel universes someone different at CBS picked up that script and loved it. Somewhere in that universe I ended up in the Numb3rs writers room and ran around like a dork getting everyone to sign my first produced script. In this universe the script was never produced but Lou Diamond Phillips still signed it. He told me to keep working at my goals and wrote Write On above his name. I like to think that was probably the first time he ever signed a script for an episode of TV that never happened.
And you never know where life will take you. Hollywood is never going to pick up my
little gay romances but I’ve got a non-romance urban fantasy murder mystery in the work pile that might have legs. I even have it cast. Sophia Brown as the ex-Oakland PD detective, and Matthew Yang King as the FBI profiler. Haven’t cast the killer yet but I’m sure someone perfect will come up.