“A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.” – Mark Twain


What: Lee Calloway, magna cum laude law school graduate and too smart for the room, has blown her final job interview in New York and must now try her luck in Atlanta, GA where an associate position allegedly awaits her at the firm of Kilpatrick & Cody.

Who: Lee Calloway, unemployable after 42 interviews, takes a last desperate leap when, despite the pleadings of her mother Ronnie, she accepts her estranged father’s offer of employment if she’ll join him in Atlanta at his firm. Lee, under the impression that Carter Calloway worked at the prestigious firm of Kilpatrick & Cody, accepts. Met at the airport by her roguishly charming father, without even time to take in her new surroundings, Lee is whisked to the Fulton County Courthouse...

Carter plows up the courthouse steps, Lee trailing behind.

Lee: The firm’s letting me watch trials on my first day?

Carter: I believe in throwing associates in the river right off. (casual) Your résumé said you like criminal law, is that right?

Lee: (nods) I interned with the Public Defender’s office last summer. That’s where I want to end up, eventually.

Pinky: (O.S.) John Carter Calloway.

It’s Pinky Kuhn, still a tall, cool drink of water at 40. Hot pants and a blouse that shows plenty of cleavage.

Pinky: You know a hard man is good to find.

And she kisses Carter big on the lips.

Carter: Hey, there. Pinky, honey, this is Lisa Mae.

Lee: Lee.

Pinky: Ronnie’s girl? Oh, my God!...

And to Lee’s shock, Pinky hugs her tight, plants a red kiss on her cheek.

Pinky: I’m the one right after Ronnie, baby – Carr’s second ex-wife. (hugs Lee again) It’s such a thrill to meet you.

As Lee stammers a hello, Carter puts an arm around Pinky’s waist, a purr –

Carter: You know, I sure could use a little pussy.

Lee: Carter!

Pinky pushes Carr’s hand away with a laugh.

Pinky: Me, too, honey – mine’s big as a bucket after two kids. (to Lee, a wink) ‘Scuse me, gotta go have my day in court.

And she saunters into the building, spike heels making her hips sway. Lee is appalled.

Lee: Your ex-wife is a prostitute?

Carter: Pinky? She’s a judge. Come on now – we’re late.

More surprises await Lee, none more shocking than to learn that her associate position is not with Kilpatrick & Cody but with her father at his new firm, Calloway & Calloway, created after he was fired by Kilpatrick & Cody. Further complicating matters, one of the Calloways has had his bar card suspended and the younger Calloway is expected in court to defend Randy Mitchum on charges of indecent exposure for expressing his affection in the cab of his pickup while parked at the local shopping mall – a conviction that will not only force him to register as a sex offender but will also trigger a third strike resulting in a very long prison sentence.  Caught dead to rights getting his knob polished, Lee is stumped as to what to argue. There’s always…

Carter: Calloway’s Law: when you’ve got nothing, argue the Constitution. Judges looove the Constitution, it’s like the Bible, or porn, they like just hearing about it. Calloway’s Law, works every time.

When in court defending Randy, Lee is getting hammered by the prosecutor, Win Williams, and being fined by Judge King for her colorful descriptions of Randy’s act…

Lee: You can’t send him away for a dime and a half because he got his bone smoked by his girlfriend!

Judge King: Five hundred dollars.

In the gallery, Carter tries to cloak his advice in a sneeze—

Carter: SshhhHearsay!

Lee: Tried it. You were in the john.

Judge King: Carter, you want to spend a night in a cell? Ms. Calloway, do you have anything else – that doesn’t involve filthy language – before I rule?

Randy stares up at Lee, desperate, pleading… Lee’s frozen, she’s got nothing…

Lee: The Constitution!

Calloway’s Law.

Judge King: Excuse me?

Lee: The First Amendment, Your Honor. My client has a right to free expression. This court cannot find him guilty.

An interested rustle in the courtroom.

Win: Your Honor, this is absurd. It’s not about expression, it’s sex.

Lee: You’ll recall that in State v. Pretty Kitty’s Titty City it was held that putting a… an object in one’s –

Judge King: Ms. Calloway!

Lee: -- Self as part of a sex show was protected free expression.

Win: That was indoors, not in broad daylight where you could give some poor old Baptist a heart attack.

Lee: (au contraire) That was commercial speech, which under the law gets less protection than… other forms of speech.

Win: It’s not speech. It’s not expression.

Lee: We all express ourselves with our bodies. What about dance? The message a body sends can be very clear. May I ask the Assistant DA to approach?

Win walks over, tentative.

Lee: Your Honor, is Mr. Williams claiming a kiss like this…

She pecks him quickly on the cheek.

Lee: Means the same thing as a kiss like this?

And she gives him a long soft kiss on the mouth. The courtroom goes dead silent. Win’s flustered.

Win: Ummm… I object.

Lee: Likewise, Mr. Mitchum’s… kiss expressed his feelings in a certain way.

Judge King: And what exactly was he trying to say?

Lee: I love this woman more than my life and I don’t care who knows it. (beat) But should it really cost him his life? We all know this prosecution is political. Should expressing his love really cost Randy everything? He may have used poor judgment, Your Honor, but it’s the First Amendment for a reason. It’s important.

And as unlikely as this argument may be, the Judge buys it and Randy is saved to infract another day.

And Lee is free to fight another day, and fight she will in all senses of the word. She will fight for her father who lost his previous job, his bar card and may lose his freedom for possible irregularities in his defense of the Apter Corp (Atlanta’s very own Enron); and she will fight her better instincts that tell her to stay away from Win, with whom she had a one night stand (alluded to in her “kiss” defense) and who will be the lead prosecutor in her father’s trial on wire transfer fraud. Not to worry, however, because the Carter Calloway defense brigade is jam packed with his fans, not the least of which are three of his five ex-wives. Arraigned in front of the aforementioned Judge King, coincidentally his best friend from childhood…

Judge King: Then Mr. Calloway, how do you plead?

Carter: What Mark Twain wrote of in Life on the Mississippi might well be applied to the Apter Corp. disaster: “It was without a compeer among swindles. It was perfect; it was rounded, symmetrical, complete, colossal.” (beat) It was a big old damn mess, is what it was.

Judge King: So what’s the plea?

Lee: Not guilty, Your Honor… Lee Calloway, Your Honor… co-counsel for the defense.

Carter: I live my life by a certain creed, Your Honor – also a Mark Twain observation, as it happens – “Never do wrong when people are looking.” Folks were looking – regulators were all over Apter Corp., some of them at my request. A mouse couldn’t have farted in a warehouse without it being known. (aggrieved) I deeply resent the implication in these charges that I’m stupid enough to do something like this.

And away we go!

No Meaner Place: Substance, humor (lots of humor), family relationships, the law… what’s not to like?  Gable writes masterfully and has found a fresh way in to a hoary genre. The question used to be “who has written a legal series” and has now become “who hasn’t?” The trick is always to use this arena to engage, ask as many questions as are answered, and entertain. She has found a way to flesh out her characters and has created that rare commodity of allowing character to create story rather than the more common story creating the characters. Never a fan of the South (and some may relate that to having had a father named “Carter” from Tennessee), Gable has lovingly painted Atlanta as a city that embraces its eccentricities, and Carter Calloway is nothing, if not eccentric. The family is Atlanta, the Courthouse, Calloway & Calloway, the ex-wives, and the formerly estranged daughter. Who wouldn’t want to pay a visit to this bracing, warm, fun and enlightening family?  Apparently this was not a journey that broadcast and cable saw fit to take.

Life Lessons for Writers: To quote Dick the Butcher in Shakespeare’s “Henry the VI, Part 2”: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Don’t you sometimes feel that networks and studios have substituted in the word “writers”?

 

Conversation with the Writer:

Neely: You have really captured these characters, but just as importantly you’ve made the legal aspects quite interesting – from Lee’s need to be the smartest in the room, as attested to by her failure to win an associate’s job at any firm in New York despite her high academic standing, to the importance of focusing on the seemingly minute details in a seemingly unimportant legal case such as Randy’s where a bad outcome will result in his placement on a National Sex Offenders’ list as well as an unjust third strike sentence due to his conviction on two previously minor offenses. Did you go to law school?

Ashley: Yes I did. I am a recovering attorney, as so many writers are. I went to Georgetown in Washington DC and practiced there for about two years and then I came out LA and practiced for another year at a law firm here.

Neely: What kind of law did you practice?

Ashley: In Washington, it was a weird kind of international litigation that is only practiced in Washington called “international trade;” and out here I did corporate, multi-media and entertainment law. So I was out there on the street defending the multi-national corporations.

Neely: So where did this particular pilot come from? Whole cloth, people you knew in an earlier life, personal experience?

Ashley: I wanted to do a law pilot because of my background and because I think it’s a really great area for a show; and I was intrigued about doing something more fun. I had been on “Family Law,” and “Family Law” was a grim, dark, not fun view of life. The job was great but the tone of the show was very dark, very plot-driven and I kind of wanted to go in a radically different direction. And I am a Southerner, I’m from Atlanta. I have a deep love/hate relationship with the South as most Southerners do. So that’s kind of how it sprang forth.

Neely: I have to say at the outset, I would never have guessed from your (lack of) accent that you had ever lived anywhere south of Manhattan.  You know, when I was reading this, I kept thinking of “Family Law” except this was funny. How are these two series related; how are they different (other than the fact that “Family Law” made it to air and this one didn’t and “Family Law” was grim)?

Ashley: I guess they’re related because they’re about the law, obviously. My own legal experience did not really prepare me to write a law show; but “Family Law” did prepare me. I learned much more about the nuts and bolts of various areas of the law just from doing research on that show. And I amassed files and files of interesting stories from newspaper articles and everything else. So actually, all the cases in “Calloways’ Law” are based on real cases.

Neely: Really?!

Ashley: Yeah. The dog custody dispute… everything. Getting the blow job and arguing “freedom of expression” is all based on real cases.

Neely: I would never have imagined that. Truth really is stranger than…

Ashley: I made up the argument of arguing “free expression” but the actual getting a blow job in the F-150 in the parking lot was based on a real case.

Neely: I have to admit that I had no doubt that that case actually existed; and if not yet, it certainly was a case waiting to happen. I noticed that your other credits, and they are impressive, were on shows that were not noted for much more than a scintilla of humor. Are you a comedienne trapped in a drama diva’s body?

Ashley: I’ve always been a funny drama writer. I’ve always enjoyed dramas, like the “Mentalist,” where I am now, that tell a dramatic interesting story but do it with humor. That has always been my bailiwick.

Neely: Let’s talk some more about “Calloways’ Law.” Where were you taking this series? I assume that Carter’s prosecution wasn’t going to last as long as the Enron prosecution.

Ashley: Exactly. It was going to last until the end of the first 13, or if I got a back 9 it would have lasted until the end of season 1. We’d have continued it with questions about whether he’d be reinstated to the bar. Can he practice law? And what was going to happen to his relationship with his daughter once he doesn’t need her anymore.

Neely: I hadn’t even considered that aspect. So it was actually going to involve a lot more in the area of family dynamics.

Ashley: Yeah, yeah. That interested me. At the time I was very interested in the father/daughter relationship.

Neely: How’s your father/daughter relationship?

Ashley: Fantastic. My dad is a lawyer and that’s what probably led into going to law school. He’s nothing like Carter! (laughs) I stress, stress, stress, he’s a quiet, gentle man; although he is very funny. My dad is the complete opposite of Carter. But I do think Carter and Lee had a cool relationship; there were a lot of colors to it in the way it worked dramatically.

Neely: How about your mom?

Ashley: My mom is also wonderful and not like any of Carter’s ex-wives. (laughs) I was very proud of her. When I was in high school she went back to school and got a Master’s Degree in Sacred Music and then became the music director of our church. I thought she was a very good role model growing up.

Neely: Then there’s a lot of “whole cloth” goin’ on here.

Ashley: Yes, there is.

Neely: What a great imagination. That’s fabulous!

Ashley: I think it’s lots more fun to make people up than to base them on real people.

Neely: (laughs) I guess it depends on who the real people are, but making them up is whole lot safer. I loved the device of the ex-wives and the hint that one of them, Beverly, was “evil.” I assume we would eventually have met Beverly. Please describe her.

Ashley: She is kind of the devil. She’s the only one of the ex-wives who really manipulated the crap out of Carter and she ended up having an affair with one of his legal partners. She put him through the ringer. Ronnie, Lee’s mother, was definitely the love of his life; but he really fell hard for Beverly, too. She broke his heart; and it’s hard to break Carter’s heart.

Neely: He seemed more the heartbreaker than the broken heart type.

Ashley: Exactly.

Neely: So it gave him an added dimension. Does Beverly still live in Atlanta?

Ashley: Yes she does.

Neely: How close did this come?  Who got it (both literally and figuratively)?

Ashley: I had actually written it just as a spec. A few years earlier, I had written a drama called “Sinner” that was very well received; but I had nothing in my repertoire that showed I could do comedy..

Neely: I’ve been a fan of your writing for quite some time because I had read “Sinner” and was very impressed.

Ashley: Thank you! Because I do like comedy in my drama, I wanted to make sure that I had a spec that highlighted that.  And I had been thinking about doing something set in the South for quite a while. So it started out as a spec and I was fortunate that people read it and really liked it and kept talking about making it. Although they never did… the bassssssss...

Neely: So it just remained a spec and it didn’t sell. Nobody came close enough to it to say “Let me buy this script and try to do something.”

Ashley: Exactly. I actually think that one of the reasons that I wanted to write it was the Southern thing, but that ended up being a pretty big impediment to its sale.

Neely: Really???

Ashley: The networks are kind of afraid of anything that’s too regional.

Neely: Did they read this??? (laughs)

Ashley: That’s what I said! But it did get a lot of interest and it certainly got me in a lot of doors. At one point, I think, all the networks circled it; but ultimately it didn’t sell.

Neely: The goal for “No Meaner Place” is not to do a “tsk, tsk. Aren’t you an idiot for not picking this up.” It’s more a hope that if it didn’t get made in the first place that someone will look at it again. I mean have you seen the shows that got picked up this year??? My God!!!

I read “Sinner” long ago and that was a really interesting pilot that skewered religious hypocrisy. What rounds did that one make?

Ashley: Trust me to write a script that could only appear on HBO. (laughs) The last taboo on television is God and treating faith in a serious, but not treacley way. On the first page of “Sinner” my televangelist is humping a hooker. But I wanted to treat the subject matter in a genuine way. Jimmy Dollar, the televangelist, really does believe in God and really does have a gift in spreading His Word; it’s just he also likes to bang hookers. It was really something I was passionate about. I wrote it and both Showtime and HBO took a look at it. I actually got a pilot deal from HBO out of it; but it didn’t go. That didn’t surprise me. It surprised me more that “Calloways’ Law” didn’t go; with “Sinner” it didn’t surprise me at all.

Neely: I love the whole concept of the blind script. “We love your script; we’re not going to buy it. Here’s some money; why don’t you write something else?” Or “Why don’t you write something else that we’ll pay for even though you’ve already written something fantastic that we won’t pay for.”

Ashley: It’s so true.

Neely: It’s so bizarre. On your blind pilot, did they tell you what they wanted from you?

Ashley: Funnily enough, it was another religious-themed idea that someone had come to them with. So they basically said, “We don’t want to make your religious-themed pilot, we want you to write someone else’s religious-themed pilot.” What they wanted me to write was a single camera half hour set in the world of a church, but not a televangelist; it was more about a mega church in Washington DC.

Neely: What happened with that?

Ashley: Not a darned thing. It didn’t go.

Neely: None of the networks, broadcast or cable, have cracked the religious hypocrisy barrier yet. And they probably won’t. To them, daring is vampires as a metaphor for prejudice (and the bloodier the better). It’s not tackling something head on. The papers are rife with examples of religious corruption that are so egregious that no one could possibly believe (spiritually or intellectually).

Ashley: So true.

Neely: I have sinned. Well, back on target… I really love “Calloways’ Law” and the wonderful characters. Chris Rich (“Reba”) was born to play the role of Carter Calloway. David Kelley wrote a similar character for him on “Boston Legal” where he played a smarmy lawyer, a counterpoint and agonist to the Alan Shore (James Spader) character. He really is Carter Calloway.

Ashley: That’s funny. I have a friend who was on “Reba,” so I’ll ask her about him.

Neely: There was another Kelley similarity that I don’t think you were aware of. A legal argument that the character of Eugene, a lawyer on “The Practice,” used when he had no other was “The United States of America.” Like “The Constitution”, this was his Hail Mary and worked to good and often hilarious effect.

Ashley: I watched “The Practice,” but I don’t remember that. What season was that?

Neely: It was interspersed. Probably in the earlier, lighter Eugene years – seasons 1 through 3, not the darker years at the end of the run. He’d get up in front of the jury and he’d go “And this is all about THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.  We don’t let that happen in THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.” Or at least something like that.

Ashley: That’s great (chuckles).

Neely: Tell me a bit about the trajectory of your legal career. College… major… law school (which we already know was Georgetown). Had you always wanted to be a lawyer and what kind of lawyer did you want to be?

Ashley: For college I went to Harvard and then went to Georgetown for law school. I think I became a lawyer because, growing up in Atlanta or maybe I’m just really stupid, writing for television was inconceivable. Writers were poor people who lived in garrets and were kind of an embarrassment to their families. You could do writing as a hobby but you needed a real job, like law, like your dad does or whatever. Being a lawyer’s not a bad gig. You get to work with smart people, you get to use your brain, you get to write stuff. That always seemed like an acceptable thing to do; but I’d always written fiction on the side. Then it was when I was in law school that I came to the stunning realization that “Oh my god! People write for television. And they get paid.” It was like an epiphany – “Oh! That’s what I’m supposed to do!” So from then on I was very determined to try to make that happen.

Neely: So this happened in law school, even before you took the bar?

Ashley: From DC, I took the California bar. I was hoping to get out to California because when I had that Road to Damascus moment I got a book from Borders on how to write television screenplays. Chapter 3 said that if you wanted to write for TV you have to be in Los Angeles. So that was one of the many lessons I took and tried very hard to make happen.

Neely: What did you major in?

Ashley: American history.

Neely: Did you take any writing in college?

Ashley: Yes I did, actually. Harvard offers a creative writing – fiction- class, and I took that. It was led like a workshop so I took it for a couple of semesters.

Neely: In terms of being a lawyer, did your father have anything to do with that?

Ashley: Certainly. I admire and respect my dad and he was a lawyer for many years at Kilpatrick & Cody in Atlanta, which is why I chose that as the firm that kicked Carter out in “Calloways’ Law.” So yeah, he definitely had an effect on my decision making.

Neely: What kind of law did he practice?

Ashley: He was a corporate attorney.

Neely: You know, Harvard has produced quite a number of writers who went to law school first.

Ashley: I know. They’re legion.

Neely: Ed Redlich, Paul Redmond, John Bellucci (Ed’s writing partner) – they all went to Harvard for either law or undergrad.

Ashley: No kidding!  Also Chris Keyser, who with his partner Amy Lippman, created “Party of Five.” He graduated from the law school but he never took the bar or practiced.

Neely: How many in your circle are ex-lawyers that write?

Ashley: I know a fair number. There were a couple of lawyers on “Family Law”  who became my friends. And actually one of them, his name is Chris Ambrose…

Neely: …Chris Ambrose was on “Family Law?”  I love his work.

Ashley: Yeah. He started out as a researcher and ended up doing a freelance script. I think that might also have gotten him bumped up to staff writer. But it’s funny. There’s a parking space across from my parking space at Warner Bros. that recently had been labeled Ambrose and I know that “Harry’s Law” is shooting across from us. So I shot Chris an email saying “This is a weird and random question, but you’re not working on ‘Harry’s Law’ are you?” And he wrote back that he was and that we should have lunch. He didn’t realize that we were lot mates.

Neely: I tried so hard to get Chris on “Boston Legal” in one of the last seasons; his specs were the best specs that I had read that year.

Ashley: He’s a really good writer. Bill Chais is another old friend from “Family Law.”

Neely: I know Bill! He worked on “The Practice.”

Ashley: Now he’s created a law show that’s on cable – “Franklin and Bash.”

Neely: I loved the original script for the first pilot he got picked up – “Head Cases.” It was revised substantially by the time it aired, and unfortunately not to the good.  When I was looking it up I noticed that Chris Ambrose also worked on that show.

Ashley: Bill’s a good writer and a funny guy, too.

Neely: So what was your first job in the industry?

Ashley: It was on the first season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

Neely: How did you get that?

Ashley: That’s an excellent question because I sometimes wonder that myself. I had written a “Picket Fences” spec, because I am a long time Kelley fan. It was a spec that dealt with zombieism as alternative medicine. A guy with cancer had his wife look up the recipe for how to make a zombie – the neurotoxins involved – and so she turned him into a zombie so he wouldn’t have pain with the cancer. Then of course on “Picket Fences” it turns out that they think that the wife killed him; but then it turns out that she turned him into a zombie. And is she allowed to do that? And then it ended up as a fight with the insurance company, so it wound up in court. I think the zombieism and maybe the audacity of the story was enough that Joss Whedon hired me and my then writing partner, Tom Swyden, as staff writers. That was our first break.

Neely: I didn’t realize that you had started out with a writing partner. At what point did you guys split.

Ashley: “Family Law” I think was the first job when we decided to work separately.

Neely: Where is he now?

Ashley: He’s still writing. He writes features as well as TV.

Neely: Best job? Worst job?

Ashley: My best job by far is “The Mentalist.” I love the show; the people are great. Bruno Heller is one of the best writers I’ve ever worked for. I have to say, I’ve worked with really great writers. Bruno Heller and Larry Gelbart are…

Neely: You worked with Larry Gelbart??!!

Ashley: I got to work with Larry freaking Gelbart!

Neely: On what? That’s effing incredible!!

Ashley: I am so lucky. He was my mentor. It was on my second job and he was godfathering a show on Showtime for his stepson Gary Markowitz (who’s a really nice guy). I think that Larry didn’t intend to be as involved in the show as he had to be. But the show started having some issues so Larry stepped in a little bit more; which sucked for Larry but was great for me because I got to work with Larry Gelbart. Larry is one of the big influences in my writing career and my life. He was my idol. “M.A.S.H.” is one of the reasons I’m a writer. It’s so great to realize that Larry was just as cool as you would want your idol to be. He was great in the room. He was the kindest, most generous writer I’ve ever met. We had a freelance script come in on that show – and it came in like crap – and he took so long to re-write it. I couldn’t figure out why. If he had just “page oned” it he could have knocked it out in a couple of days. But he was taking so much time because he was trying to preserve as much of her work as he possibly could; so it was taking him twice as long. I will never forget things like that; things that Larry Gelbart did. And for years after he would make phone calls for me during staffing season. He was just one of the most brilliant and wonderful people and I really miss him still.

Neely: What was the name of the show?

Ashley: It was called “Fast Track.”

Neely: I don’t think anybody could compare to him, but did you have any other mentors?

Ashley: Larry was my mentor but I have worked with a lot of wonderful writers who’ve remained friends and colleagues. I’ve been very lucky as far as the people I’ve worked with.

But short story long, “The Mentalist” is the best show I’ve been on. My relationship with Larry was very special to me but creatively, “The Mentalist” is very satisfying and that’s nice.

Neely: What was your worst job?

Ashley: Hmmm. There’s always been something good about every job. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve not worked with a bunch of assholes. So I don’t know. I would say, overall about my career, that the worst thing is that I’ve bounced from show to show so much. I’m a pretty successful working writer but “The Mentalist” is the first time I’ve been on a show for three seasons.

Neely: I hadn’t realized that.

Ashley: And last year, the second season, was only the second time I’d been on a show for two seasons because the shows I was on kept getting canceled. So, I would say that that’s the downside of being a television writer – you’re often having to look for a job every year. But even that has a bright side because I’ve learned so many different ways to run a show. I’ve seen so many different kinds of management styles, of writing styles, of everything, that I feel that that’s been really valuable. That’s the upside.

Neely: Has there been one particular show that you worked on that you absolutely loved that got cancelled after you started working on it?

Ashley: I liked a bunch of shows that I’ve been on, but I wouldn’t say loved, passionately loved. I think “The Mentalist” comes closest to passionate love.

Neely: How do you view the writing process overall? What is terrifying about it for you? What is gratifying? How do you write under pressure?

Ashley: TV is all about pressure. When you’re prepping the script, 200 people are waiting for the script on Wednesday and you’d better have it. That’s been interesting. But my law background helps with that. The law has deadlines, too. You have to get briefs and memos written in a certain period time. I’ve always been pretty good about deadlines. With writing, I’m not one of those people where it’s a traumatic, painful experience like giving birth. There are hard moments, especially when your scene isn’t working, but overall it’s fun to come up with stories; it’s fun to have characters say stuff to each other and it’s really fun to watch actors saying stuff that you’ve written. The hard part is when you’re staring at an empty marker board and you’re trying to think of anything to put on it. Coming up with the first initial kernel of the idea for me is the hardest part – and then making sure the story works. The other part about it is that television is so collaborative that it’s great to be working with people and if you run into a problem you can just sort of wander into their office and flop on their sofa and say “My act 3 isn’t working” and they’ll talk to you about it. I really enjoy that aspect of it.

Neely: You’re co-exec on “The Mentalist” right now, correct?

Ashley: I’m actually an exec now.

Neely: Excellent. Congratulations. I assume you’re ready to step into the shoes of a showrunner on something.

Ashley: I was ready, but I failed to set up my pilot this year. I’ll try again next year and see what happens.

Neely: Are you also developing right now?

Ashley: I was developing another legal show. I sold it to Warner Brothers but then we failed to set it up with a network. It’s really a network show; it’s not a cable show. So… back to the drawing board.

Neely: Why do you think it didn’t sell? Oh, never mind. Have you seen how many f***ing legal shows are on the air right now?

Ashley: That might be it. Also, my protagonist was a guy who had recently gotten out of jail and that was apparently a little scary for them.

Neely: Well leave it to networks… they’re always willing to take a chance.

Neely: What are you reading right now?

Ashley: I just started Water for Elephants

Neely: You’ll love it – you’ll be done with it tomorrow.

Ashley: I’m enjoying it so for. I hate to admit that I generally have kind of low-brow tastes. I enjoy reading airplane books like murder mysteries and stuff like that.

Neely: I adore Michael Connelly.

Ashley: Exactly! I love Michael Connelly. He’s probably my favorite, actually. He’s a really good writer.

Neely: Clearly you were a huge fan of TV because you were always thinking about TV even when you were in school.

Ashley: I really was. I think I owe it to Mom because she would never let us watch TV. So any time Mom left the house we would always turn the TV on and watch until we heard her car in the driveway and then we’d turn it off.

Neely: What did you like watching as a kid.

Ashley: “M.A.S.H.” I loved “M.A.S.H.” And also some of the great dramas that came out in the 80’s like “Hill Street Blues” and “St. Elsewhere.” They really took TV drama in new direction that was very exciting.

Neely: And besides your own show, what are you watching right now?

Ashley: I watch a ton of TV. It’s not just a job, it’s a hobby. Let’s see, I’m watching… “The Glades”  it’s fun; “The Event” continues to hold my interest; I love “House;” still love “Grey’s Anatomy.” What else?…

Neely: Any comedies?

Ashley: I don’t watch so many comedies. I watch “Modern Family” and “30 Rock.” And actually, just last night, I saw the pilot of “Raising Hope.” That was pretty funny; I might give that another try.

Neely: I like it because somebody finally gave Martha Plimpton a good role.

Ashley: I really like Greg Garcia’s writing. He writes lower middle class characters really well in a way that’s funny but not condescending.

Neely: He writes really good characters and it is character comedy as opposed to plot driven sitcom. You might try sampling “The Middle.” It celebrates the “average” (and sometimes the below average) with a setting in non-urban Indiana. This is not a family of high achievers and, even though people tend to forget this, there is comedy in the average and in the “I have met the enemy and he is us” kind of way.

Ashley: I’ll have to check it out, especially since it’s a Warners show.

Neely: As an accomplished “lawyer-writer” you will always be in demand. But one of these days soon, I’d love to see one of your original series get on the air.

Ashley: Me too.

Neely: I hope you’ll send me stuff to read, but I’ll definitely be watching.  Thanks for spending the time with me because I know how busy you are right now. So get back into post production and finish that edit.

Quote

"Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision."

- Salvador Dali

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