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.

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