Friday, October 23, 2009

Behind the Times: Why Bother? Blame Elliott Lewis.


First, let me apologize for my absence last week. I wasn’t felled by the flu, swinish or otherwise, nor was I writing new scripts, because I’ve resolved not to start another run of Times until the current new stories are done. I simply had nothing new to blog about. The new Times episodes are still in the studio, and I’m still waiting to hear them, just like you are.

Well, maybe not like you. I’ve got a little more invested in them. And while I’m looking forward to their eventual premieres, I have to tell you, I’ve been a little disheartened of late by the wait. And that there’s no way to tell if anyone has discovered the show through our earlier episodes. And that this blog seems to be an exercise in vanity (then, again, what blog isn’t?) rather than a useful promotional tool, judging by the number of responses my teasers on Wizard Universe and Newsarama have/haven't been generating.

As much as I love writing these podcasts, and writing about them, I actually found myself wondering, “Why bother?”

And this week, I was reminded of a reason.

This shouldn’t surprise you, but I listen to Sirius/XM’s Radio Classics channel quite a bit, sometimes for pure entertainment (Jack Benny is STILL The God of Comedy) and sometimes to listen to how they created dramatic shows back in the Golden Age; you know, for pointers. One of the biggest names in radio at that time was Elliott Lewis – producer, director, actor, he did damn near everything, and he did it beautifully. If you ever get a chance, check out his work as a director/actor on Suspense, or as Frankie Remley on the Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. Two totally different venues; he excelled in both. (Frankie will make you weep.)

So, that was back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Jump forward to the ‘80s, specifically 1984. I was not long out of college with aspirations of starting a scriptwriting career. (Stop laughing; you had dreams of grandeur once, too!) At the same time, a friend of mine wanted to go into business as a literary agent and asked if she could represent me. What the hell? Sure! So, I gave her a script for a show I knew was open to agented submissions, a show that remains one of my favorites to this day: Remington Steele.

Quick aside here: If you’ve listened to the Times story “Dashing”, you may already know that Steele played a big role in its development. But I had no idea how much of an impact this show really had on Times until… okay, back to the ‘80s.

Anyway, my friend submitted my script to MTM, the producers of Steele, and in a few weeks, she received it back with a letter, which I share with you here. (I’ve blocked her name out to protect her privacy, and to spare her the embarrassment of being identified as “Mister”. And I apologize for the scan quality. She kept the original; this is from a photocopy.)

Another quick aside: the story I submitted involved Steele’s shady past and an old mentor. I had no idea that they were going to bring in Efrem Zimbalist Jr. to play his mentor later that season, in a story that was nothing like mine, so no chance for a plagiarism lawsuit. ANYWAY…

When I read the rejection letter, I was only a little disappointed. I didn't even care about the misplaced apostrophe in my name. That last sentence -- complimenting the writing and the plotting with the encouragement to boot – really made me feel good. Like I might actually have a chance in this racket.

See who wrote it? Remington Steele’s Executive Story Consultant -- Elliott Lewis.

As it turned out, my friend and I ended up having a falling-out some time later, so there were no more submissions to Steele. Or, for that matter, to many other professional venues. What can I say? Video store-clerking, television ratings administrative fun, and the glamorous world of comic-book distribution & marketing were calling. And they paid.

Fast-forward to (finally) the 21st Century. Imagine me listening to Radio Classics for the first time while developing Times and hearing Elliott Lewis’s name, his performances, his credits, his reputation…and then realizing that this was the pro who liked my writing back in 1984. And the fact that he was a radio star of the first magnitude makes it even more special when I think of it today.

I wish Elliott Lewis hadn’t died in 1990. I would have enjoyed meeting him, showing him that letter, telling him about what we’re trying to do with Times, and thanking him. Since I can’t do that, I’ll thank you for bearing with me through this appreciation, and through the long wait for new Times.

In the meantime, if you have Radio Classics on Sirius or XM, listen to the master for yourself, or buy some of his work, and much more, here. You listen to those while we work on ours, which won’t be as good as anything Lewis did… but we’re trying.

-- L.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Music Behind the Madness


Well, not much news this week. SuperHuman Times is still being recorded, and other Prometheus projects are in the works, too. (You can hear all about it from Promethean God Steve Wilson in his update, posted just days ago here.)

In the meantime, I am bracing for the inevitable call from Steve asking me if I’ve chosen the stock music for whatever the first Times show will be. It’s an interesting arrangement we have. He directs the actors, but lets me choose the music for each episode. Most of the time, he goes with my picks, because he knows I’m a nut for movie soundtracks and understand how pieces can be used to complement dialogue and establish mood. It’s pretty challenging, but it’s usually fun, and we’ve experienced some great results with the Times shows. So, this week, I thought I’d pay a little homage to our various musical sources, not just for SuperHuman Times, but also for other Prometheus shows, because -- speaking as a listener -- the music in those has been pretty impressive, too.

We use two basic types of music: original compositions and royalty-free stock music. Times is almost exclusively scored with stock music, but The Arbiter Chronicles and many other Prometheus programs are scored with original material.

On the original side of the street, the work of two composers has been prevalent:

Scott Farquhar, a friend for many years, is one of the most gifted composers and teachers I know. He wrote many of the pieces heard in Prometheus’ shows from (I believe) the first Arbiter episode up to the most recent season finale. He is also an accomplished local stage actor and has played numerous roles in Prometheus show, from midshipman Carson on Arbiter to two great heels in Times – billionaire Everett Mackenzie in “Risk Management” and spoiled actor Trevor Desmond in “Dashing”. Scott has moved beyond Prometheus to other musical enterprises in the past year, but we’re still pals, and I don’t think he’ll mind if I tell you that you can find out more about him and his music here. I suggest you do so.

• The other composer Prometheus works with is a gentleman Steve discovered online named Kevin Macleod. I know nothing about Kevin personally, but I know that I like his music. A lot! It’s solid material that fits every mood you could want to evoke, and he charges relatively little for his services (but if you use any of his work, be generous). Check him out here, or listen to his music during episodes 2-6 of the Arbiter finale, “Contents Under Pressure” . (If you want to hear some of Scott Farquhar’s parting music, and hear the entire story, start here.)

As for the stock music, we (I) have been using two key sources for scoring Times:

Elite Video’s Movie Mania – Not bad for a bunch of tunes conjured by a synthesizer (as all of these are, to be fair). They cover virtually every scoring need and have the dubious distinction of being the collection that provides the theme to SuperHuman Times. Expensive, like most pro royalty-free stock, but worth it. – Another great place to get a wide variety of tunes. It may not look like much, having just recently consolidated its numerous packages into one convenient “box set” (127 CDs worth of cues in one place for $75 – not bad). They also have occasional specials where you can download selected sub-collections at low prices. I’ve bought several of their collections this way and I recommend them highly, especially the Cinema Magic series, which had great action cues for “Dashing”

So that’s our orchestra, to date. Bear in mind that we are a troupe of limited resources (read: we have real jobs, real salaries, and real expenses to deal with before we get around to making these things), so don’t be surprised if you recognize a specific piece of music from one episode/series to another. It’s a grand old tradition that dates back to radio’s earliest days. Who are we to deny that?

You’ll be hearing more of this music with dialogue very soon. Promise. Please stay tuned. Thanks!

-- L.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Thanks, Rod

Hi. Settle in; this is a long one, but the subject deserves the attention.

Fifty years ago on this date, Rod Serling led TV viewers into the Twilight Zone for the very first time.

Unlocking the door to that realm wasn’t easy, even with his formidable key of imagination. The odds were against the show succeeding beyond its first season. (These days, it would be canned after two weeks much less 26.) Even with Serling’s Emmy Award-winning reputation for creating some of TV’s finest hours, CBS, the network, the public – they just didn’t quite get what he wanted to do. Then, Serling’s “The Time Element” was broadcast as part of Desilu Playhouse. It could been a TZ story. The audience response to it was highly positive, and that helped Serling open the door to five years of wonder (and, for him, brain-breaking work writing most of the show’s stories and overseeing the whole universe).

Anyway, there was a great interview between Serling and Mike Wallace from the night before TZ premiered. Bear in mind that, at this point, Serling had written some of the greatest teleplays in what would become The Golden Age of Television. He was considered an "artist". (Many TV writers were at the time; times change, huh?)

The full text is transcribed at, and you can actually see it on the TZ DVD box sets, but I want to share these particular excerpts:

Mike Wallace: Herbert Brodkin, a TV producer associated with some of your earlier plays, has said this about you. He said, "Rod is either going to stay commercial or become a discerning artist, but not both." Now, has it ever occurred to you that you're selling yourself short by taking on a series which, by your own admission, is going to be a series primarily designed to entertain?

Rod Serling: ... I presume Herb means that inherently you cannot be commercial and artistic. You cannot be commercial and quality. You cannot be commercial concurrent with, have a preoccupation with the level of storytelling that you want to achieve. And this I have to reject. ... I don't think calling something commercial tags it with a kind of an odious suggestion that it stinks, that it's something raunchy to be ashamed of. ... The essence of my argument, Mike, is that as long as you are not ashamed of anything you write if you're a writer, as long as you're not ashamed of anything you perform if you're an actor, and I'm not ashamed of doing a television series. ...  I think innate in what Herb says is the suggestion made by many people that you can't have public acceptance and still be artistic. And, as I said, I have to reject that.

Did you get that? You can be an artist AND make a buck without "selling out." Serling proved it.

In doing so, he didn’t just raise the bar; he created an altogether different one that others would try – are STILL trying -- to reach. Very few have. Even Serling missed it a few times with some clunkers.  (“Cavendish is Coming”, anyone?) But he believed in what he was doing, he didn’t underestimate the intelligence of his audience, and he had their respect and affection right up to his sudden death in 1975. TZ earned him a decent five-year run and, although he didn’t know it at the time, one of the highest pedestals in pop culture history.

But most relevant to our discussion here: Rod Serling inspired boobs like me to create and share their own pocket universes with a mass audience on the Internet. Well, I know my audience doesn’t have much mass, but I still don’t underestimate your intelligence. (Especially if you actually listen to the show.)

I’ll close with a Serling closing from my all-time favorite TZ, Walking Distance. Whenever Martin Sloan goes back to the Homewood of his youth, I go back to the Wildwood, NJ, of mine -- and I still can't read this without choking up.


“Martin Sloan, age thirty-six, vice-president in charge of media. Successful in most things but not in the one effort that all men try at some time in their lives—trying to go home again. And also like all men perhaps there'll be an occasion, maybe a summer night sometime, when he'll look up from what he's doing and listen to the distant music of a calliope, and hear the voices and the laughter of the people and the places of his past. And perhaps across his mind there'll flit a little errant wish, that a man might not have to become old, never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth. And he'll smile then too because he'll know it is just an errant wish, some wisp of memory not too important really, some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind, that are a part of the Twilight Zone.”


This may be the first thing I ever heard on TV that made me say to myself, “I wish I’d written that.”

I still do.

Thanks, Rod. I won't even come close to "Walking Distance", but I’ll keep walking anyway. I'm enjoying the trip too much to stop now.

-- L.