Ben Zion parks his minivan in front of a modest duplex. He walks up to the front door and knocks. Greg, a built man in a karate gi, answers.
Ben Zion: I’m sorry. I think I have the wrong address.
Greg: Are you Ben Zion?
Ben Zion: Um, yeah.
Greg: I’m Greg. Crystal’s husband. Nice to meet you.
As they shake, Ben Zion tries to hid his shock.
Greg: Lemme guess. Crystal failed to mention she was married?
Ben Zion shrugs. As Greg laughs, Crystal enters. Between her clip-on ponytail, varicose veins, and the cavernous lines that show through her spackled on foundation, she’s more cougar than kitten.
Ben Zion: (V.O.) She also failed to mention that she was my mother’s age. I just assumed she’d be young. But, like most things I assumed about this world, I was wrong.
Crystal: Hey, hon. I gotta grab my bag.
As Crystal grabs her purse, a white parakeet flies into the living room. Crystal jumps back.
Crystal: Jesus! You scared me!
Just then, Dakota, Crystal’s eight year old tornado of a son, barrels in after it.
Dakota: Mom! Jesus escaped!
Crystal: I can see that.
Greg: Don’t worry, D. I’ll get him.
As Greg chases the bird.
Crystal: Let’s go, kiddo.
Dakota grabs his back pack. Ben Zion looks confused.
Ben Zion: Where’s he going?
Crystal: Coming with. Greg has karate and I couldn’t get a sitter.
Ben Zion looks hesitant.
Ben Zion: Listen, Crystal. I don’t care how much you’re paying me, I’m not taking a child to—
Crystal: (cutting him off) Relax, hon. He’s not going to my appointment. What kind of mother do you think I am?
EXT. Chuck E. Cheese – Later
Ben Zion pulls into the parking lot of Chuck E. Cheese. Crystal hands a twenty to Dakota.
Crystal: have fun, sweetie. See you in a couple hours.
Neely: It’s truly a pity that some of your hilarious expositional passages would never have made it to the screen. I adored the initial description of Reggie (note: see Part I). But even funnier was this scene where we meet Crystal the aged hooker, I mean call girl. I loved the way you set this up for shock value and then diffused the situation. But mostly, I loved the Chuck E. Cheese reference – the scene of some of my worst mothering experiences.
The set up and delivery is wonderful, and yes, we’d see a lot of that on screen, but your exposition was priceless.
Eric: Thank you.
Neely: I have to say that you both have seemingly come out of nowhere. You were story editors on “Supernatural” last year.
Eric: We started as staff writers for half the year and got bumped to Story Editors for the back 9.
Nicole: Janitors 6 months before that.
Neely: That’s really very complimentary (not the janitor part). I think you must know that because it so very rarely happens. They usually want to keep you at the lower pay level as long as possible.
Eric: Yes they do. (laughs)
Neely: You also have some other interesting credits. When I told my husband that you had been writers on John Waters’ series “Til Death Do Us Part,” he went bananas. (Eric laughs loudly) My husband is a neuroscientist, and I’m ashamed to say that it was his favorite show. Our son and his girlfriend gave him the DVD for Christmas a couple of years ago…
Eric: That is so hilarious.
Nicole: Is he a big John Waters fan?
Neely: Oh yeah! So am I, but I guess my threshold is slightly higher than his. And he made me watch every episode again! (Eric laughs) I mean, I had to watch it the first time; I had to watch it again! I actually should hate you both for that. (Eric and Nicole laugh). You have got to tell me how that job came about.
Eric: It was a dream come true for us. I have always been obsessed with John Waters. Like growing up on the south side of Chicago, I felt a personal connection to him because… what’s her name?
Nicole: …Edith Massey.
Eric: Edith Massey, who was in “Polyester” and “Pink Flamingos,” had a brothel in Calumet City in the 1940s or something; it was crazy. So I always felt this personal connection to John Waters; like somehow we were soul mates because Edith Massey had a brothel in my hometown. Anyway… sorry… I was always obsessed with his films and we heard they were staffing for this show. It turned out that at one point early on we had written a TV movie for the production company that was producing his series. So I called them to say, “You have to get us in to meet the showrunner! Like Nicole and I will do it for free.” So we got to meet with the showrunner and we hit it off. It was amazing…
Nicole: …one of the best experiences of our career…
Eric: (overlapping) It was so, so great.
Nicole: …because we were in a room full of the most amazing writers. And now, the showrunner and his wife, who were two of the writers on the show, have a pilot at USA; another writer went on to write for “Pushing Daisies” and “The Gates.” It was just a great room, a lot of great people and…
Eric: …and John Waters was incredibly nice. He’s fiercely smart, with a wicked sense of humor; totally laid back…
Nicole: He wanted to be an actor on the show.
Eric: Yeah, yeah. He basically wanted to be Vincent Price.
Neely: Which is what he was.
Eric: Yes, exactly. He was obsessed with him. He wanted to wear the velvet smoking jackets, one of which I actually have (I was given one at the end of the shoot). But, I mean he’s like just a really really astute business man, too. He’s smart and he has his finger on the pulse and he’s just incredibly funny; he’s definitely not a dummy. (giggles)
Neely: I was really perplexed when it disappeared. I mean, really! How high was the bar set at TruTV…
Eric: (laughing loudly) I know.
Neely: …that they didn’t renew this?
Eric: Right! And the ratings were actually great!
Neely: I’m sure! So what happened?
Eric: Basically they decided that the mandate for the network was “true TV” so there was going to be nothing scripted on it; it was going to be all reality based. But it’s kind of a misnomer anyway because this was all loosely based on real life spousal murder cases, so it did have that kernel of truth at the core. But again, maybe they just didn’t want to do scripted.
Neely: Like any of us believe that reality’s not scripted.
Nicole: I think that the drawback of television is that networks don’t keep shows on long enough to give them a chance. I don’t think this show had a chance.
Eric: Yeah, I don’t know. But I remember after the first episode aired, Nicole and I had gone on some of the message boards because it had garnered a lot of attention from…
Nicole: …crazy John Waters fans.
Eric: …crazy John Waters fans…
Nicole: …crazy Court TV fans…
Eric: …a cult following. And somebody had written that the writers should be lined up at dawn and shot. (Nicole and Eric laugh) Which again, we took as a compliment. At least there was a strong reaction. They weren’t indifferent; they wanted to murder us. So we were like… great! (laughing)
Neely: Well, truth be told, (quietly) I liked it too. (Eric and Neely laugh). I’d rather be the intellectual of the family but… Nah. It was fun.
How long have you guys been working as a team?
Nicole: Oh, gosh… for fourteen years.
Eric: Mmm hum… So we met when we were 4 and then started writing right after that.
Nicole: (overlapping) And we’re just… A lot of people have said, “Oh. Young writers! You’ve come out of nowhere; you have a show on the air!” Believe me, we’re the overnight success that took fourteen years.
Neely: Well, where did you meet and what propelled you to work together.
Nicole: We both went to Northwestern University. Eric was having lunch with a mutual friend, who is also a Northwestern person, and I crashed their lunch. We hit it off instantly and about 3 months later, Eric called me and said, “I want to write my first screenplay.” And he said, “Will you do it with me?”
Neely: So you had come out here first.
Nicole: I came out… uh… we came out at the same…
Eric: I’m two years older than Nicole, so I lived in LA two years prior to her. And she came out right after she graduated.
At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in the business; I was doing production, I was auditioning, I was just trying to put my feelers out to see…
Nicole: …just to not go to med school.
Eric: Yeah. And I decided I wanted to be a writer, somehow. I guess maybe it made sense because I felt like I was always a storyteller, but I just never had written anything, at least not creatively.
I knew Nicole was a screenwriter and I called her and said that I had an idea for a movie. The reason I called her was because, at the time, she had this big curly red hair (note: the Nicole who came to this conversation had straight, dark brown hair) and I got a good feeling from it. I can’t tell you what it was, but I felt she was a lucky redhead and this is who I’m fated to write with. And fourteen years later, it’s come true. But now (laughing loudly) she’s no longer a redhead.
Neely: You really had red hair???
Eric: Big, curly red hair!
Neely: And is that what your natural hair would be?
Nicole: (softly) No. I don’t know, it could be. Who knows? (everyone laughs) I have no idea. (Neely laughs, but then Neely doesn’t sport the same color she did in college either.)
Neely: At what point did you know you wanted to be writers?
Nicole: I knew in high school. I went to an arts school and I was a theater person. I wanted to be an actress and we had to keep a journal in our acting class. I didn’t want to create an acting journal, so I just handed in my real journal and my teacher said, “We have a writer in our group.” It was just the encouragement of a teacher saying “You are a writer; you can write” that made me think I was one. So I have pursued it ever since.
Neely: Is that what you did at Northwestern?
Nicole: I studied theater, and then the second half of school I went into their film writing program.
Neely: (to Eric) Clearly you wanted to be in the business but you didn’t know what aspect. So at what point did you know or think you wanted to write?
Eric: I guess in retrospect, I knew from a young age, because I felt like I was always a storyteller. And on top of that…
Nicole: …because you made films.
Eric: Well, yeah. My sister and I did, ever since we were 8 or 9 years old. It was at the onset of at-home video cameras. My dad bought like this huge one back in ’82 that probably cost a thousand dollars and had like 12 components. He would film my sister’s and my movies. We were obsessed with low budget horror films. And I was the writer, director, producer and star, of course, of all of them. And my dad was the cameraman. In retrospect, I guess it just made sense from a very young age. I loved drama and I loved to capture it on film.
Neely: What did you major in at Northwestern?
Eric: I was pre-med.
Neely: That’s right. I wasn’t listening. So what brought you both out here. I mean you…
Nicole: When I was in the film writing program we had a teacher who came out from LA for the semester and she taught a course in TV and said, “You know the TV shows you love to watch, people write them. So let’s practice writing spec scripts.” I had no idea that this was a viable option. I loved it. I loved being able to take one of my favorite TV shows and create my own story using the characters. The second I graduated, I said I wanted to go to LA; I want to try and do that.
Neely: And Eric, what brought you out here?
Eric: Well, it was definitely the entertainment industry. Having grown up in Chicago, nothing is more glamorous and foreign than Los Angeles. For me, it was- “I want to move to Hollywood; I want to be in the sun and be around movie stars.” And it’s so great! (Eric laughs)
Neely: So what was your first job when you got out here?
Eric: I was a PA on a Sony movie called “Beverly Hills Ninja.” It was the second to the last movie that Chris Farley made before he passed away. It was insanity. It was filmmaking 101 because all of the players were out of their minds. I was like, “Wow! Is this really what I want to do?”
Nicole: My first job out here was as a secretary at the Wall Street Journal. Not very glamorous.
Neely: Arghhh. Well it’s just not… Well, most people who want to write or write in the industry try to find some kind of job within the …
Nicole: I tried. And my problem, one that I didn’t realize until much later… I went up for several jobs at production companies where I had to do script coverage. But I didn’t realize that you shouldn’t be completely honest when you do script coverage. I’m extremely judgmental and opinionated, so I’d read something and write it up: “This is terrible! No one should make this movie!” (lots of laughing) Not realizing that they owned it and were going to make it. So… I immediately joined a temping service and was sent to the Wall Street Journal. I was quite happy there… for awhile.
Eric: Nicole was blacklisted before she even started (laughing).
Neely: Well did you have a plan of action to break in?
Eric: No, honestly we didn’t. The first thing that we had written together took us 9 months. At that point I was waiting tables at Jerry’s Deli and Nicole was a celebrity assistant. We wanted to quit our jobs and become writers, but we had these crazy schedules. So for 2 hours a day we would sit down and write. I didn’t even have a computer; Nicole had her MacBook. Since this was the late 90s, her laptop weighed like 15 pounds. She would sit and type and we would discuss dialogue.
It took us almost a year to write our first feature, which was called “Suicide Blonde,” a neo-noire set in Dollywood. (laughing) And we threw it out there and we got repped by Endeavor off it and also got a blind script at MGM from it. It just kind of seemed like Kismet - that this was what we were meant to do.
We worked in features for 5 years – consistently worked but didn’t get anything made. Then we jumped over to TV after that.
Neely: So basically, after that first script, you were making your living as writers.
Eric: Yeah… as writers.
Neely: Were you able to quit your job at Jerry’s?
Eric: Oh yeah.
Neely: Nicole, who was the celebrity you worked for?
Nicole: I believe you quoted her earlier in this interview… Bette Midler
Neely: Did you really? What was that like?
Nicole: It was fun; it was interesting. My interaction with her was sparing because she lived in New York at the time. But she would fly back into LA and be a whirlwind. It was fun.
Neely: So basically you had the advantage of being Bette Midler’s assistant without having Bette Midler there? How did you get that job??
Nicole: Through a friend; another Northwestern alum. She worked for her production company.
What about that blind script? Did it go anywhere?
Eric: It did not, but it did go through a number of different incarnations. There was a photographer named J.P. Morgan that MGM wanted to develop something for him to direct. He had a very specific sensibility. I think he released a book of photography called The Slanted Lens in which everything was either literally askew or figuratively askew. He just chose very strange…
Eric: … and subject matter. And he wanted to do a movie about jackalopes. We didn’t even know what they were. I mean, they don’t actually exist but we didn’t even know the urban legend of jackalopes. They wanted to do it in the vein of “Edward Scissorhands” so we went in and blindly pitched something. Really, how the fuck do you do something like this? And we got the job. And it was a great lesson…
Nicole: …a baptism by fire…
Eric: …a baptism by fire and a great lesson that you shouldn’t accept jobs just for the money because it will turn out disastrously. If you can’t relate to…
Nicole: …any part…
Eric: …of the story or the character, you’re never going to root yourself in it and it’s never going to be organic. That was a big lesson for us as writers. Unfortunately we learned it on our first job.
Neely: Well it’s good you learned it then rather than later.
Eric and Nicole: That’s very true.
Neely: You have a Lifetime Movie of the Week credit. What was that.
Nicole: That was called “I Do But I Don’t.” It was based on a book and was essentially “The Wedding Planner.”
Eric: But set in Chicago. (all laugh)
Nicole: It starred the now infamous Denise Richards. It was a fun job, a really fun job. We wrote that and an Oxygen movie starring the illustrious Jennifer Love Hewitt at the same time. We were much more invested in our Oxygen film because of the subject and story…
Neely: And what was that story?
Nicole: That one was called “Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber.” It was a lot more fun. But I have to say, I think our Lifetime movie turned out to be a much better experience and product.
Neely: And which one of those two had the John Waters producers?
Eric and Nicole: It was “I Do But I Don’t.”
Eric: The Denise Richards picture.
Neely: Have you guys had any mentors along the way or people who helped you when you least expected it?
Nicole: Yes! In fact I was just talking about one of them today. A producer named John Symes. He used to run Paramount TV and he became an independent producer. He gave us our first sitcom job. He bought a half hour multicam from us. It was at a time when… I don’t know… we were new and inexperienced and he really believed in us. He said, “this is funny writing and you’re good people. I’m going to help you.”
We just received the most beautiful note from him about “Ringer” and how he knew all along that we’d be huge successes. He was just someone who, whenever we felt like we weren’t doing the right thing, that our voice wasn’t commercial enough, we weren’t going to make it in this business, he was someone who said “Stick with it because you have a unique voice and you will go far and someone will understand it one day.”
Neely: What do you think was the biggest roadblock that you encountered?
Nicole: I think… I think we did forgo commercial success in trying to write to a certain audience. Most of the time we just wrote what we wanted to whether it was politically incorrect or no one understood it or it was funny to us but maybe not funny to others. I think that’s a problem sometimes. I think there is something to be said about writing to the masses. It’s tough for us.
Neely: One of the writers I profiled, I think it might have been Howard Rodman, said that his advice was always to write in your own voice, write what you believe in. Don’t write a knockoff of something else because the studios all have a hundred writers that can already write that bad knockoff, but what they don’t have is your unique voice. So as hard as it might be to make it, you guys have made a living at it.
Nicole and Eric: Yes.
Neely: And you’re about to make a really great living at it (laughs); but you have been making a living at it.
Eric: There have been tough times. I mean there were times when we had gone through three year stretches without being able to get a job and where we truly thought that this was the end of the road because we couldn’t afford to pay bills. We wanted security and Nicole wanted to start a family and I just wanted to pay my bills and be able to have a functioning car. It was really really scary. It’s like Nicole said, for some reason we couldn’t wrap our brains around writing something commercial and we always had to do what was true and organic to us. That didn’t always pay the bills. Luckily, people are now listening to what we have to say.
Neely: With a script like “Meat Market,” I think they’ve always noticed you.
Nicole, you’re married. Is your husband in the business?
Nicole: He was in the business and now in the video game business which is not that far off.
Neely: And you have a kid?
Nicole: Yes. So now my husband is a stay-at-home-dad (laughing). I have a beautiful 15 month old daughter named Olivia.
Neely: Congratulations! That’s great!
Nicole: I have pictures.
Eric: Of course you do! And so do I! I’m the godfather.
Nicole: Eric is the godfather and she is our lucky charm.
Neely: (looking at the i-phone photo of Olivia) That is so adorable! (everyone laughs)
Are you active in their family?
Eric: Oh yes. Very active.
Neely: I’m a broken record with this particular question, but what are you reading right now?
Eric: Embarrassingly enough, nothing. I have so much reading to do with work that I’m not reading anything. The free time that I have, I watch “Real Housewives of Orange County” or “Real Housewives of New Jersey” or “Mob Wives.” (everyone is laughing) And truly, that is maybe the only 40 minutes a day that I have to unwind. The rest of the day is staffing, meetings, casting, reading material for the staffing…
Nicole: …you are reading.
Eric: I’m reading scripts but no books or memoirs or anything like that.
Neely: Any scripts that have really jumped out at you?
Eric: Yes! There was one guy, his name is Rockne O’Bannon, and…
Neely: Oh my god. I read that script and just did an article on him recently…
Eric: …It was called “Cult”…
Neely: Yup. That’s it. Here’s the link to Part I of the article - "Cult"
Eric: And hands down, I was like “this is the most genius fucking thing I’ve ever read.” So of course we called our showrunner and said we need to get this guy on the show. He totally thinks outside the box and it was so interesting and I’d never seen anything like it. And it’s so obvious, I can’t believe no one has ever done it. But they told us we were too late because he’s developing for SyFy. But it was, hands down, the best script I read and we read hundreds and hundreds of scripts.
Neely: I couldn’t agree more. I’m a real fan. That script was unbelievable.
What was the last book you read?
Eric: Why don’t you answer first because I have to think about it.
Nicole: It’s funny. I, too, have just been inundated with scripts but I’m normally a voracious reader and I just got a Kindle, which is the best thing ever. I just bought Eric Larsen’s new book, In the Garden of Beasts. I was a huge fan of Devil in the White City. But the last book I read was called Room by Emma Donoghue (I believe that’s her name) and it was an amazing book to read as a mother because it’s about a woman who’s kidnapped and she’s impregnated by her kidnapper and she has the child and they’re imprisoned in this room. It’s told from the voice of the little boy who’s been in this room – the only world he’s known for the past 5 years. It’s about his world and getting out of the room; it’s an unbelievably powerful story. To read it as a mom… it’s amazing.
Neely: You really do go to dark places! As a young mom I probably would have avoided books like that especially since it sounds based or influenced by the real life case in Germany.
Nicole: Yes. Yeah. Actually so was an episode of “Supernatural.” That’s a horrible, fascinating story. Still it’s a book I highly recommend.
Neely: So Eric. Did you come up with something?
Eric: I read a lot of Chuck Palahniuk. I read his latest which I’m totally brain farting on the title (Damned). But I love him. I also bought one of William Peter Blatty’s latest novels. It’s about a haunted house and again, I’m forgetting the title (Elsewhere), but I’m obsessed with him and The Exorcist; so I consistently read him when he comes out with a new book. It’s quite good; it’s creepy.
Neely: And I’m sensing a “creepy” theme here, because Rockne O’Bannon’s script is really really creepy.
Eric: Yah, it is.
Nicole: We like creepy.
Eric: I love creepy. I do.
Nicole: I had a “Rosemary’s Baby” baby shower that Eric gave…
Eric: … that I threw for her (Neely cackling). Show her the pictures. Do you have them?
Nicole: I don’t think I do.
Eric: It was amazing! We had black roses – I’ll show you a picture (Eric pulls out his cell phone) – everybody had amulets that they wore; the nametags were anagrams of your names (Neely can’t stop laughing). It was amazing. And, yeah, people were quite offended by that too; but Nicole and I thought it was hilarious.
Nicole: They were really annoyed.
Neely: That actually is soooo inspired. (Eric laughs)
Nicole: It was beautiful, too. I mean, the cake was amazing.
Neely: Oh my god. Who made this? Hansen’s?
Eric: Hansen’s! I went in and I showed them the picture and said, “Could you do this?” And they looked at me and asked “What’s the occasion?” And I was like, “Baby Shower.” Can you do black frosting?
Neely: I love it and I bet you did too.
Eric: She lovvvved it!
Neely: What are you watching on TV right now?
Eric: “Mob Wives,” “Real Housewives of New Jersey,” “Real Housewives of Orange County.” I love really lowbrow reality TV. I’m obsessed with it and it’s basically all that I watch.
Neely: (gulping) Do you watch “Jersey Shore?”
Eric: I did the first season. Even for me, that was too too low brow, so I stopped watching, although I am obsessed with Snookie. I feel like I make my living in scripted, so that’s the last thing I want to watch. Go figure.
Neely: No, no. I just interviewed somebody who does drama and he only watches comedy. It’s the same thinking I’ve gotten from a couple of people – it just seems like work.
Neely: Although you may be taking this a tad far.
What about you? What are you watching?
Nicole: I am watching “United States of Tara.”
Neely: …not for much longer.
Nicole: I love that show. I was so sad the other day when my husband said, “Guess what? It’s not coming back.” It’s been great this season and I’ve stockpiled them and have been watching them at night. Eric does reality; I do scripted, but I run the gamut. I’ve been catching up on “Big Love,” another favorite show of mine. I love… a guilty pleasure is “Gossip Girl” and “Beverly Hills 90210;” the season finale of “The Office,” which was great. I also love… I do love a little reality. I love “Housewives” too. And I love Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” I’m obsessed with that show.
Eric: I like all the TLC programming too, like “Sister Wives” and “Extreme Couponing” and “Toddlers in Tiaras” and anything that’s slightly subversive. You know, “Hoarding.” I love all that shit. It’s so interesting.
Neely: My son has threatened to show me “Hoarding” if I don’t start deaccessioning.
Eric: It’s crazy; it’s completely crazy. We’ve tried to work a couple of hoarding storylines into a couple of things we’ve written but we’ve yet to manage to get them made but… eventually.
Neely: Are there any particular literary influences on your writing? And to tell the truth, I hear the name Stephen King a lot more often than I hear William Shakespeare.
Eric: I think like Chuck Palahniuk or Agustin Burrows. To me they seem to write in similar veins and arenas and they’re piqued by the same types of things that we are.
Nicole: I agree with Chuck Palahniuk but not Agustin Burrows. At the beginning of our conversation I told you I love your name (note: see Part I). I’m obsessed with Jacqueline Susanne and I think she started it all. I think Candace Bushnell is a pretty good rip-off of her. Susanne is the original soap opera writer as far as I’m concerned. And I definitely like to take a cue from her.
I love reading novels because I think every book I read does inspire a lot of what we write.
Eric: And John Waters, too. I mean to a certain extent we’ve been influenced by his aesthetic and his sensibility.
Neely: If you were going to choose one, or at most two, genres that resonate with you, what would they be?
Eric: I would say horror…
Neely: I saw that one coming.
Eric: … and comedy.
Nicole: I would say horror and camp.
Eric: I consider comedy camp. I think noire also resonates with us. Our new show is a noire. We’ve always loved it. It’s a difficult genre to write, though. It is. It’s not easy to write noire.
Neely: I would agree – it’s not. Otherwise people would succeed at it more often.
How about favorite TV shows from the past?
Eric: “Facts of Life,” “Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island” - I was obsessed with that one growing up… “Donnie and Marie.”
I also loved the horror anthology stuff when I was growing up, like “Dark Shadows.” I loved “Tales from the Crypt” and “Tales from the Dark Side” and “Twilight Zone,” all of it.
Nicole: I just had this very conversation with my husband. Like if I had to pick my favorite TV show, it would be impossible. So I think we narrowed it down to 5, which were “The Larry Sanders Show,” “Arrested Development,” “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City,” and then that last one… I mean, I can’t…
Neely: I don’t think you’re going far enough back.
Nicole: … “St. Elsewhere” and “Thirty-something” and then I’ll stop there.
Neely: Are there any films out there that you’re anxious to see?
Eric: Yes! I want to see “Insidious;” I don’t even know if it’s in the theater anymore. I want to see “Bridesmaids” because I’ve heard nothing but great things.
Neely: It’s wonderful.
Eric: I’ve heard that. I love Kristen Wiig. I think she’s so funny. I want to see “Thor.” I like comic book movies, I do. And it’s Kenneth Branaugh… like how can it be bad, right? What else do I want to see? Ohhh. The new Javier Bardem movie called “The Skin I Live In” or…
Neely: The Almodovar movie?
Eric: Did I say Javier Bardem? Yes. Yes. Is he in it? No, I think it’s Antonio Banderas. But I watched the teaser/trailer and it looks insane and I was loving it. I posted it on my Facebook page because it just looks like the most subversive, crazy thing ever. So I love that.
Neely: What about you, Nicole?
Nicole: I have a child. I don’t go to the movies. (laughing) But I do want to see “Bridesmaids” if I can get a babysitter. I just rented the remake of “Let the Right One In” called “Let Me In” which I rented because I loved the original movie. But I actually couldn’t tell you what else is in the theater. That’s pretty bad. And I used to see every movie.
Neely: There will come a time…
Nicole: I know. I’ll get it back.
Neely: I did see “Bridesmaids.” I was on a panel with a very pregnant Annie Mumalo, Kristen’s writing partner on that film. I just loved it. It’s like a male gross-out movie except with women and except that the characters actually have depth. I think what resonated on “The Hangover” (the original not the remake – I haven’t heard anything good about the new one) was that there was some character depth to those guys. You really understood who they were and because of that, why they were doing what they were doing. It was a subversive character-based comedy. And “Bridesmaids” is that in spades.
Nicole: I loved the movie “Knocked Up.” I always say there are romantic comedies that can be, instead, smart. They don’t have to be dumbed down, they can be really smart and well done and be your favorite movie, and that’s one of them.
Neely: Well… I understand you guys hit the lottery this year. Not only did you get a pilot picked up to production, but it also got picked up to series. I also have to point out that you are probably the only artists, a category that would include writers, directors and actors, that have ever benefited from vertical integration. CBS commissioned “Ringer” and then handed it off to the CW where they also had a financial stake. CBS recognized that the sensibility of the show would resonate more on the CW with their demographic. AS a bonus, you have a greater chance of success on the CW than you ever would have had on CBS.
CBS actually saw fit, rather than just throw you aside, to put you someplace else that they owned. Generally, vertical integration only works in the favor of the network/studio. And in this case, it worked to their advantage, to be sure, but it also worked to yours. Give me the scoop on “Ringer.”
Nicole: I have to back up really quick because I’m brain dead and have a child. One of my all time favorite shows is “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” so this is a dream come true. “
The very short version of the very long story is that Eric and I wrote “Ringer” on spec two years ago. We hadn’t worked in a while, we needed a fresh sample and we kept pitching our ideas to people – “should we write this, should we write that.” Everyone seemed to have a reason to turn down our ideas. They’d say, “No, don’t focus on that. Cop shows aren’t selling” or “shows about magicians aren’t selling.” And we really wanted to write a noire – we wanted to do a neo-noire. Since we started writing together…
Eric: “Suicide Blonde” was…
Nicole: We just said “Damages” was able to do it as a TV series, let’s try writing a spec. And we went into isolation and did not tell a soul what we were working on. Our representation kept calling and saying, “Have anything new?” And we’d say, “Not yet.”
Eric: They’d say, “Are you alive?”
Nicole: “Are you alive?” And we’d say, “We’re thinking.” And we banged this out and gave it to everyone and they said “Oh my god. This is a show. Let’s try and sell it.” For two years we pounded the pavement. We had fabulous producers – Brillstein Entertainment – who totally championed the script and supported us. We could not sell it to save our lives!
Eric: We came very very close to selling it to a cross-section of different networks. We made it all the way up to Bob Greenblatt where we sat down and pitched the series directly to him…
Nicole: …at Showtime.
Eric: That’s right, at Showtime. Then we also came very close to setting it up at Fox; and then, ironically, at the CW, but when Dawn was president. At the time, Sarah Michelle Geller had not come on board yet. But those are three very different networks with three very different mandates; yet somehow, it fit into their programming, or so they thought. Ultimately it didn’t because they didn’t buy it. But we made it very far along in each of those instances.
Then we just kind of put it on the back burner because we needed a job and the “Ringer” spec had gotten us our job on “Supernatural.”
About half way through the year on “Supernatural” our agents called us to tell us that CBS was interested in it. We thought, “Really?” It just didn’t seem like the most organic fit at CBS. Apparently it was for that exact reason why CBS was interested. It turns out that every year they’ll take a chance on a wild card show, and this year “Ringer” was the one they were interested in.
We had already talked to Sarah Michelle Geller and Sarah had taken a meeting with Nina Tassler at CBS. Everything seemed very fortuitous because she came on board, CBS bought our spec and picked it up to pilot immediately. It didn’t go through the development process. We just got to shoot the pilot that we had written, which is every writer’s dream – not having to compromise. You write things for a reason and they serve a purpose. We didn’t have to dilute the vision at all; it was a dream.
Richard Shepherd, who had a deal at CBS, came on board as our director and was so fantastic and visionary. He really championed the project. I mean the whole process - it truly was a dream come true because we had Sarah Michelle Geller starring, an Emmy-winning director on board, and the president of the network championing it. We shot it in NYC this past winter and it turned out amazing.
Neely: How did you get Sarah Michelle Geller attached? The reason I ask is because I seem to remember her saying, after “Buffy” that she didn’t want to do television again.
Eric: Yeah. I think she took something like an 8 year hiatus and she eventually realized that she loved the medium and wanted to come back to it. She was just looking for something that was worthwhile. Brillstein Entertainment were our producers and they’re also a management firm, so they leaked the script to Sarah. Sarah asked to meet with us; we sat down with her and pitched her where we wanted to take the series. The three of us hit it off famously. I mean she’s so smart and talented, she has amazing instincts. It just felt like it was a right fit for everybody involved.
Neely: I try to read all the pilot scripts and I also try to make note of the level of the writers who have gotten pilots picked up. I believe that you are probably the TV writers with least amount of series experience to get a pilot into production; although I now know that you have a lot more experience than what shows up on the various databases.
I loved the noire aspects of “Ringer.” Switched or stolen identity was a really popular theme in 40s and 50s noire. Bette Davis actually played identical twins twice! I love the campy Bette Davis film called “Dead Ringers’ where she played twins (one good and one evil) and again in “A Stolen Life” where the good twin murders the bad twin who had stolen the love of her life. Then just the whole stolen identity theme is fabulous and almost always rife with irony – “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (although I prefer the original French version “Purple Noon”) and a delicious episode from the first season of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” called “The Long Shot” starring Peter Lawford and John Williams.
But I’m guessing that much of the appeal to Sarah Michelle was the opportunity to play an adult, and a sophisticated one at that.
I’m really happy that this is going on the CW. It’s not that I watch the CW (usually not my demographic) but Richard Hatten, who I profiled a few weeks ago ("Boston's Finest") had a pilot in contention at the CW at the same time and he said that if you get picked up to series on the CW, you’ll probably be on the air for at least two years because they give their series a chance to develop, something that wouldn’t have happened at CBS.
Eric: That is correct.
Neely: So what’s next for you two or is it too early to say.
Eric: We’re focusing on “Ringer.” It really is all encompassing. We’re co-EPs on the show and co-creators together; the onus is on us to maintain the voice of the show. We hired a fantastic staff, we have an amazing showrunner, great producers and like the most impressive cast on the planet. It’s Ioan Gruffud and Kris Polaha and Nestor Carbonell, Mike Colter and Tara Summers, and obviously Sarah Michelle Geller. So it’s just a really really great group.
Neely: Tara’s wonderful. She was on…
Eric: …from “Damages.”
Neely: …and “Boston Legal.”
Neely: I love her! Please say hello to her for me.
Eric: They’re all incredible and they elevate the material. We are so lucky.
Neely: Well so am I to have gotten to catch you both on your rapidly ascending arc. Thank you so much for spending the time with me; it’s clear you won’t have much time in the near future. Can’t wait to see your show.
“Ringer” Tuesdays at 9:00 on The CW.