"When I read the pilot 'for Married with Children', it just reminded me of my Uncle Joe... just a self-deprecating kind of guy. He'd come home from work, and the wife would maybe say 'I ran over the dog this morning in the driveway'. And he would say 'Fine, what's for dinner?'"– Ed O’Neil (Youngstown native)

Part II

Neely: Last week we began a discussion of your fabulous, but unproduced pilot “Welcome to Youngstown.” This week I’d like to focus more on your own personal journey into writing and what has gotten you to this point, good and bad.

What do you think is your most unusual characteristic – as a writer, as a person? It’s like one of those yearbook questions.

Jack: (laughs) As a person, I’m a bad winner and a good loser. I’m an okay loser, but when I win, I’m just so competitive in games or sports, in everything. I’ll constantly let you know that I won. That’s an insecurity of mine; I’m not sure I can make sense of it. As a writer? I don’t know. I like hearing people talk and that’s why plays were always fascinating to me. I couldn’t get enough of the theater.

This is scary talking about myself. I’ve never really done that; it’s so personal. It’s easy to talk about characters you’ve made up; they come out of you somewhere. But Youngstown is personal.

Neely: Well one of the things that I’ve found is that everyone does have their own story. It’s interesting that writers have felt, and rightfully so, I suppose, that there hasn’t been an outlet for their own stories. For the ones they make up… absolutely. That’s what they do for a living; but personally, there hasn’t been a venue. I find these personal stories endlessly fascinating. I love getting where they come from and how they’ve gotten where they’ve gone.

Neely: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Jack: It was late. I did terribly in high school; I must have ADD or something. I never paid attention; I was never interested in school. How I got into college I’ll never know. While I was in college, my freshman year, I was in an English class and we were told to read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham and to write another chapter of it. So I wrote another chapter. My grammar was bad and my spelling was awful. I remember the professor coming over to me and saying “So your spelling’s an embarrassment, but this is what you should do for a living.” I thought he was just making fun of me. He had it all corrected and he read it aloud. And he repeated, “Really. This is what you should do. You hear people talk.” So that’s somebody who got behind me and suddenly everything in my life changed. I started writing, not very well because it took me a long time; but he influenced me. I thought maybe I could communicate that way.

Neely: Where did you go to college and what did you major in? Did you major in writing?

Jack: No. I received a Bachelor of Liberal Studies from Bowling Green State University with an emphasis in Political Science and English. After that I went to Drexel University in Philadelphia where I was the director of a residence hall.

Neely: You were a director of a residence hall? Were you going for a Masters at the same time?

Jack: No. I had worked in residence halls while I was in the dorm in college and there was a position available for a resident director. I applied for it right out of college and got it for some reason. So I ended up the head of this residence hall and worked there for a year. They gave you the summer off, kind of like a sabbatical, and I went to New York to study acting and directing with Lee Strasberg, because I wanted to get into the theater. I knew that that’s what I wanted to do so I took the train everyday from Philadelphia. At the end of the summer I quit my residence hall job and decided I was going to go back to New York and try to figure out how I was going to get into theater.

Neely: So it wasn’t even necessarily writing for the theater, it was just something in the theater?

Jack: No. I knew I wanted to write plays but I figured I’d better learn something about the professional theater first.

Neely: So what happened?!

Jack: (laughs) I did some acting in New York, some plays. I was studying at Strasberg and at HB and with Michael Schulman. And I hated it. I booked some work – some soap operas and some commercials. But I looked around. The other actors really seemed to belong there. I didn’t. Besides, even though I was booking little jobs, I wasn’t very good. But about that time, a play of mine, a one act, was done on 42nd St at the Intar Theater. Then because of that, someone commissioned me to write two one-acts for an actress. I did, and a producer saw it and asked me to write a story for a film. He wanted me to write it for two popular English actors. I wrote it and nothing happened. I got paid a minimal amount of money to write this story. I mean minimal. Two years later it turned out that the movie was being made on 44th St. But the producer never told me. An agent finally saw the script and said, “Do you remember that story you submitted? Well they’re shooting it.” I laughed and said it couldn’t be true. But the agent sent me the shooting script. It was true. When the producer wouldn’t return my calls, I went to the Writers Guild. The Guild said they’d look into it. They reviewed the story and the script and it matched and I won an arbitration. I got the money… but I never got the credit.

Neely: Why?

Jack: The WGA arbitrator said that Molnar wrote a play in 1903 with a similar story. I said I never read Molnar. I didn’t even know who he was. They said the arbitration was final and that was fine with me because I got paid a lot of money - at least a lot of money for me at the time. I’ve always been grateful to the WGA for that. I wasn’t even a member yet.

In one of those randomly related coincidences, I had a great moment when, one day, Vincent Canby came into the restaurant where I worked as a waiter. This was after he had reviewed the movie I had won the arbitration on (it was a shitty movie). He wrote in his review that it was strange that there was no story credit given. He had actually heard from a friend what I had gone through without knowing it was me. So I find myself as his waiter this particular night and at the end he asked me for a check and I said, “There is no check.” He asked why and I started to tell him that I read his review of that movie. He cut me off before I finished and said, “You’re the writer.” I nodded. He thanked me for the dinner and said he was glad I won the arbitration. A great guy.

After the arbitration, I found that I not only won for the script but because the producers had asked me to do something else and hadn’t paid me for that either, the Guild ruled that they had to pay me for the other work too. So, I’ve got these huge checks in my pocket and one of the producers gets on the elevator with me. And as he gets off on the ground floor, he turns to me and says “You’ll never work again,” and walks right out the door. Classic stuff.

That one act play was my first success and led me to getting an agent. I was in New York at the time but knew I needed to come out to California. I felt that I should give television a shot. I had another one act that was a comedy and it was being done in a little theater in Los Angeles on Robertson Blvd. So I came out to see it. While I was here, the agent sent my work to a producer who was doing sketch comedy for the “Dom Deluise Show.” This was in 1988 and they asked if I’d like to work on that show. I had no idea how to approach sketch comedy, but I accepted it, of course. It was wonderful because I worked with these old guys from the “Carol Burnett Show” and “The Smothers Brothers Show.” A fascinating world that’s gone now. From that I did “Dear John” and some other things. I also had a play that went to the Pasadena Playhouse after first being presented on NPR by L.A. Theatre Works, “The Play’s the Thing.” Not a great production, but then probably not a great play. But it was good for me. There was, however, so much of the play that I liked. It got great reviews except for the “LA Times,” so that meant death. But it was great to be in a big house like that. Nine hundred seats.

Neely: I’m so glad you allowed me to read the play, “In the Moonlight Eddie,” because I really liked it and would love to share one of the scenes here.

Synopsis: Gil, a washed-up playwright, finally has another hit on Broadway. Produced by longtime friend Max, and starring Abby, a once lushly beautiful leading lady, still beautiful but the lush now refers to something else entirely. There are two things marring what should be Gil’s unbridled happiness. The first is his worry about his son Eddie, recently returned from a “therapeutic stay in the country” because of a fall from a building that was interpreted as a suicide attempt; and the second concerns a dark secret about his current hit play.

In this scene, Eddie has moved to the balcony of his father’s apartment, a move that has everyone worried that he will jump. Abby joins him there.

Eddie: You know, you shouldn’t drink so much… My god, you really used to be a knockout.

Abby: I wonder if your father’d catch me if I jumped.

Eddie: I said the wrong thing… See, I had two thoughts running through my head at the same time. I didn’t necessarily mean that you look older because you drink… Now that could be the case, I know… I was just remembering how you looked ten years ago… You don’t look bad now, but I mean, you were extraordinary… See what I mean.

Abby: Did you really want to jump off that building, or did some girl try to push you off?

Eddie: I messed up again, huh?

Abby: Yep.

Eddie: I’m sorry… Do you want me to get you another drink?

Abby: No. I’ll survive… Eddie, do I make you nervous?

Eddie: Everybody makes me nervous.


Abby: So, come on Eddie… Tell me the kind of woman that would be special to you… besides the ones that say yes?

Eddie: I don’t know…

Abby: For instance… for me it was Gable. What a feeling it was to dream about him… Those eyes.

Eddie: I had one of those once… an actress…

Abby: Do you remember her eyes?

Eddie: When I was thirteen, girls didn’t have eyes… Her breasts are what I remember… I’m sorry, I -

Abby: There’s nothing wrong with that.

Eddie: But I never saw them. I just knew that they were perfect… And the way they moved when she walked. And the way she walked… Man. I remember when she was in a play at the Martin Beck… Funny, I must have seen that play ten times, but now I don’t remember the name, only the place… I’d wait outside and when she’d come out, I’d reach my hand out real quick, hoping she’d touch it. Sometimes she would, too. I didn’t want her to sign anything, I just wanted her to touch me… I’d make sure to put a little powder on my hands so she wouldn’t feel that I was sweating… Never worked. The powder’d always mix with my sweat and turn to a paste, every time… I even did it when she was in a play of my father’s. Each time I’d disguise myself so she wouldn’t recognize the jerk that left her hands all white.

Abby: (after a pause) Eddie...

Eddie: I can’t believe I told you that… The doctor told me to be honest with my feelings. That’s honest, huh? Sorry about your hands.

Abby: How grateful I am to know that the sticky white stuff was only powder and sweat.

Eddie: I think I’d better go back inside now…

Abby: Eddie… don’t go back yet…

Eddie: I think I’d better… I want to get my father off the street.

Abby: I’m flattered that you dreamed about me… I always wanted men to dream about me… Every man… See, I can be honest too… (pausing) I was pretty, wasn’t I?

Eddie: Oh man… But you’re still… you know…

Abby: Yes, I know… Eddie, with all the opportunities that you had to talk to me… How come you didn’t?

Eddie: Who wants to talk to the woman of their dreams? That’d mess it all up! You know what I mean? Not that you wouldn’t be great and all.

Abby: Sure… Hate to find out she’s a worn out old drunk.

Eddie: It’s not that. I just –

Abby: Forget it, Eddie. I understand… (A long awkward beat)

Eddie: It was… a… good talking to you Miss Norman… Real good.

Abby: Eddie?

Eddie: What”

(With her back to the audience, Abby drops the top of her dress for Eddie to see)

Abby: Your dream girl doesn’t look that bad, does she?

Eddie: Oh my…

Abby: Please tell me…

Eddie: Could you kindly remember that I’m getting over a nervous breakdown.

(Embarrassed, Abby pulls the top of her dress up.)

Abby: Oh, Eddie… I’m sorry.

(Eddie walks to the door, then stops and looks back)

Eddie: Miss Norman… My dream girl… she still looks great.

Neely: It’s such an elegantly constructed scene full of the past, present and future. What a wonderful calling card.

Jack: Because of Brenda Hampton, Aaron Spelling’s group came to see it, then hired me on “Seventh Heaven.” At the same time, people from CBS also attended the production, and I got to do a pilot for CBS. The pilot didn’t go but the script got me hired on the staff of Showtime’s “Resurrection Blvd.” I did that for three years. Have you heard of it?

Neely: Yes I have. It was Hispanic-themed, wasn’t it?

Jack: The Latino world was wonderful for me because I just wrote as though it was for Italians. The difference between Italians and Latinos is Italians can hold a grudge forever and the Latins know how to let it go. I learned from them, actually. It was a wonderful experience for me. And then from there I did “Street Time” and then a couple of pilots and then “Sons of Anarchy” for two years, followed by “The Walking Dead.”

Neely: Have you written any comedy since “Dear John” and maybe a couple of those pilots?

Jack: No I haven’t. I wrote another play and I have a romantic comedy feature I’m working on, but nothing for television. Instead, I got attracted to the cop field. Once I got into that world through “Street Time” I didn’t want to leave.

Neely: As an aside, I found it interesting that you worked on “Dear John” and then went to drama which parallels the careers of the three male leads who were on that show and are now more well known for their dramatic work – Judd Hirsch, Harry Groener and Jere Burns. It does make perfect sense because if you can get the timing down in comedy you can do anything.

Jack: I was always pretty good at hearing the melody in a line, if you understand what I mean. Served me well early on. I’ve gotten to work with great people..

Neely: Speaking of Harry Groener, did you get a chance to see him in “King Lear” at Antaeus this summer?

Jack: No but I heard about it.

Neely: It was one of the most phenomenal production I’ve ever seen – and in a 99 seat theater, to boot. A friend, Alan Miller the actor and director, said we should go see Harry Groener in “King Lear” because it was the best production of “Lear” he had ever seen. When I mentioned this to Paula Holt, a theatrical producer and a very good friend of ours (and apparently of yours also) she said we had to see Dakin Mathews perform “Lear” at the same theater because it was the best she had ever seen (same theater, same director, alternating casts and different interpretations). So we booked ourselves into a double feature on a Sunday. Dakin was phenomenal, and I’m a huge fan having seen him in many different David Kelley guest roles. And then there was Harry. The moment he stepped on the stage, it was the most transformative performance I’ve ever seen. With Groener, as Alan Miller had told me, you understood why his men would follow him to the ends of the Earth. His tragedy was that of a rash flight of anger and a bad decision that reverberated for the rest of his life and that of the Kingdom.  I couldn’t believe that I was watching Harry Groener, he of all the light farces performed at the Old Globe in the 80s and the many guest shots on half hour comedies.

Jack: I also saw him in something else and he was outstanding; but when I did the episode of “Dear John” he was already gone.

Neely: He was recently in the Bill Cain play “Equivocation” prior to its Manhattan Theater Club run.

Jack: As to theater and Paula Holt, Paula had recommended some directors and actors for me, and if I had listened to Paula at the time my play was being produced, it probably would have gone much better for me at the Pasadena Playhouse. She was exactly right, but at the time I really didn’t know what to do. It happened so fast.

Neely: Why haven’t you put it on again at one of the 99 seat theaters?

Jack: I don’t know. Every once in a while I get a notice from the publishing house that a little theater somewhere in the country is doing it..

Neely: Why not here? I want to see it now.

Jack: You know how it is… I can’t read anything I’ve written. It’s like I’m past it; there’s so much more I have to write right now. Or maybe that’s all a lie and I’m afraid to go back.

Neely: Well Paula will give you the best advice. Just ask her what she thinks.

Jack: Garry Marshall had initially agreed to direct it at Pasadena. Paula had sent it to him. I got on the phone with Garry and thought this was really going to work out. Then a film of his got green lit and he had to bow out. I think if Garry had done the play there might have been a different take on it. I don’t know.

Neely: Well he’s got his own theater now (the Falcon).

Jack: I know. Maybe I’ll send it to him again. It got great reviews – Variety, UPI, The Hollywood Reporter, all positive. Then Laurie Winer (LA Times) came and attacked me. And after that attack I couldn’t move. You know how that happens?

Neely: Yeah, sure.

Jack: I couldn’t figure it out. God, what did I do? What happened here? She was savage. It affected me at the time. Took me a while to get over it.

Neely: Well I think writers have thinner skins, even more than actors and certainly than directors.

Jack: It’s true. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

Neely: I think it’s fairly easy to explain. It’s far more personal with writers. When the writing is being attacked, you can’t blame a bad review on anyone else. With actors, they can blame the writer or the director; with the director it’s the actor or the writer; at the end of the day, it’s always about what’s on the page. For some reason, no one seems to notice when a good script has been screwed up by bad actors or a bad director; it always seems to be blamed on the writer as though magically gold will pour forth from the mouths of a bad actor if only the script were good enough

Jack: But that wasn’t the case here. This was clearly my fault. In the theater they give you the keys to the house. The playwright has the final say on everything. I didn’t have enough experience at the time to follow my gut. Not only did I settle for the young lead actor, but early on I wanted Charlie Durning and Pasadena talked me out of it. They said that Durning, who was so wonderful in it at the reading, was too old for the play. So Durning got upset with me. I saw him in New York a year later doing “The Gin Game” followed by “Inherit the Wind” He sees me and grabs my shoulder and says, “Too old, huh?” He had done the reading with Bill Macy (note: “Maude” and “Oh, Calcutta”) at the Westwood Playhouse and they just knocked you out. At the time I was trying to listen to the folks at Pasadena and I shouldn’t have listened; I should have said “This is what I want.” But I was so happy to be in a big house and I didn’t want to say anything because I was so worried they were going to find out I was a fraud and kick my ass out. You know how that is as a writer.

So I said, “Okay, we’ll do it your way.” It happened so fast and I’m sorry that it happened like that; but I learned from it. I wish I would have learned that lesson in a smaller house first. And I can’t blame the Pasadena Playhouse. The decision was mine. It’s on me.

Neely: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But let’s redo it, okay? Just give it another production, because honestly, you are clearly not done with it yet.

Jack: You’re right and I’ve gotten so many calls on it. The play has had some good readings with people like Rita Moreno, Shelly Berman, Holland Taylor, Durning, Annie Wedgeworth, William O’Leary. I’ve been lucky that the play attracts talent. That said, it still needs some work.

Neely: There you go. You’ve got your work cut out for you. I absolutely adore the theater and whenever anybody has a play, I want to see it.

Do you have any literary influences or books that you’ve read that have stayed with you in one way or another? Clearly you’re very literarily based.

Jack: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers. That was the first time I looked at people’s feelings; the first time I was exposed to that kind of thing. I saw it on paper and I couldn’t stop turning the pages. He was writing about all of us except he used this mute guy. It affected me so greatly that I remember thinking I wanna do that. This story, it just grabbed me. Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness, there’s something there, I don’t know what it is – that guilt inside you. If you commit anything that is against humans in an evil way, even if it’s minor, I think you suffer for it and have to go into that darkness sometime and deal with that. That’s what that book was about to me. Obviously they were hurting natives but it was that kind of evil. If you can combine that kind of evil with comedy on the other side, then your emotions are flipped and that’s what I always wanted to see. I always wanted to see funny people in those situations where it wasn’t just a sitcom; people really suffering from things. Maybe it’s that Italian Catholic thing, the guilt thing; not doing enough.

Neely: I understand that from the standpoint of someone who used to try to find euphemistic phrases to use when I went to confession.

Jack: Herb Gardner, “A Thousand Clowns.” I read it and then saw it in an amateur production and then saw it on television with Jason Robards. For some reason he grabs you when he says that he has to get back into society.

Neely: So melancholy and upbeat at the same time when Murray is willing to face the world again in order to keep his informally “adopted” son Nick, aka Raoul Sabatini (Nick was no more his real name than Raoul Sabatini; he just tried on names for size until he reached an age where he had to choose one). He has this wonderful little speech about why he’s willing to give up his iconoclastic independent unemployed existence if it’s the only way he can keep Nick.

Murray: I just want him to stay with me until I can be sure he won't turn into Norman Nothing. I want to be sure he'll know when he's chickening out on himself. I want him to get to know exactly the special thing he is or else he won't notice it when it starts to go. I want him to stay awake and know who the phonies are, I want him to know how to holler and put up an argument, I want a little guts to show before I can let him go. I want to be sure he sees all the wild possibilities. I want him to know it's worth all the trouble just to give the world a little goosing when you get the chance. And I want him to know the subtle, sneaky, important reason why he was born a human being and not a chair.

Jack: Just fantastic. The film affected me greatly.

Neely: It had such special meaning for me. On the one hand, I actually knew who Raoul Sabatini was because my father was always re-reading Scaramouche (when he wasn’t re-reading Kim). And more tragically, “A Thousand Clowns” marked the end of my first high school romance. We went to an unlikely double feature – a cheesy Rock Hudson war movie and “A Thousand Clowns.” I put up with the war movie but when my boyfriend fell asleep during “A Thousand Clowns,” I knew it was over (and the feeling was mutual).

Jack: As to other literary influences, my father was a salesman, so “Death of a Salesman.” I couldn’t get enough of it. I’m trying to think of others – I have them written down here…

Neely: (laughs) “…and I want to thank my mother and my father and God.”

This is so extraordinarily helpful because as I’ve mentioned in some of the other interviews, “If you want to write, read.”

Jack: It just helps you so much. It doesn’t matter if it’s a newspaper column. People have a point of view and hearing that voice, especially good writers… like if you read Maureen Dowd, you know her by her distinct voice.


Neely: Earlier you mentioned that one of your college professors said “You need to do this for a living.” He was an early mentor. Have you had any other mentors or supporters along the way?

Jack: I think that it’s anybody that loans you money. When I was in New York, working as a waiter and struggling as a playwright, it was anyone who handed me money and said, “Put your play up,” or read my work and told me to keep writing. There was a general manager, a producer in New York, Peter Neufeld. He provided an enormous amount of support. Out here, Paula Holt gave me the Tiffany Theater for an early reading of “In the Moonlight Eddie.” She also gave me a lot of advice. Still does. Dan Lauria and Richard Zavaglia did the reading that got me to Pasadena.

Then there are the television exec producers who took a chance early on… Greg Garrison, Bob Ellison, Brenda Hampton, Dennis Leoni and Robert Eisele. Eisele is still a mentor.

Neely: They showed faith in you.

Jack: Right. In a sense it makes you work harder. God, what the hell would I have done without them? More recently, Kurt Sutter, Jim Parriott and Chic Eglee. I learned from all of them.

Neely: So what are you watching on television these days?

Jack: “Breaking Bad” is the best show on television.

Neely: I think it’s brilliant but I have to admit that it’s a bit too hard to watch for me most of the time. But I do understand Bryan Cranston winning three Emmys in a row; more than “Mad Men” winning three in a row.

Jack: He’s that good. His final moments are huge. And you really have to give Vince Gilligan credit. And I have to say Matt Weiner’s stuff on “Mad Men” is just sensational. The Don Draper character is a classic character now.

Neely: I agree. He’s iconic.

Jack: Absolutely right. I think “Friday Night Lights” is a hell of a show. I don’t know who else to brag about but those are the shows that I like to watch. I certainly watch “Sons of Anarchy,” and not just because I worked on it. It’s really well done.

Neely: Tell me what you’re working on right now?

Jack: Two pilots for Fox, one for Fox TV and one for Fox 21 – two different subsidiaries.

Neely: I know and really like Jane Francis at Fox 21; she’s got great taste.

Jack: Jane Francis was over “Sons of Anarchy” and part of my deal with them was to do a pilot. So I’m doing that one, and the other pilot, for Fox TV Studios is based on a Danish series called “Lulu & Leon.” My exec on the show is Pancho Mansfield. We worked together on “Resurrection Blvd.” and “Street Time.” He was one of the reasons I wanted to take the project.

Neely: I’m assuming it’s bad luck or bad karma for you to tell me what they’re about.

Jack: No.

Neely: Great. What are they about?

Jack: “Lulu & Leon” is a story about a woman, Lulu, who has promised to marry Leon, who’s a thief, if he stays straight for five years. It’s been five years, she thinks he’s gone straight and he lets her know that the five years are up and they’re getting married that very day. They have this wedding in the backyard and everyone is having a great time and she’s wonderfully happy. Suddenly this beautiful, loving party scene is interrupted by detectives who come in and arrest Leon because he wasn’t clean like he said he was. And now, because she married him, all of Lulu’s assets are frozen; she’s left with nothing and she has to survive in a world that was his world. This buttoned up woman who was straight all her life has to deal with this crooked world.

Neely: It sounds so much more interesting and complex than the recently departed “Scoundrels.”

Jack: Yeah. I really like it. I’m lucky to have such solid material as a jumping off point. As I get closer to presenting the outline on the other project, I’ll share that with you. It’s about a good guy in a bad town who has to do bad things to get good things done. All in all, it’s nice when you’re excited about projects.

Neely: One thing that I wanted to ask earlier when we were talking about your Dad, but what’s your family like now?

Jack: My family is my wife and I and a big sensitive German Shepherd who needs a team of psychiatrists. I have a brother and a great group of cousins in Youngstown. My sister lives in Akron. We’re very close. My mother died a month ago and it’s tough on me because I never felt we got close enough. My father and I were very close.

I’ve been married to my wife Jackie for 20 years. Talk about someone who’s been supportive. Jesus. She tells me what’s crap and what isn’t. I remember telling Joe Allen – the restaurant guy...

Neely: (laughs) I know the restaurant; I didn’t know there was a Joe Allen.

Jack: Joe Allen was like a father to me because when I moved to New York and I was writing plays, Joe Allen offered me a house account. Anyway, I was telling him that I felt lucky when Jackie married me. “Do you think she’s lucky?” I asked him. Joe took a beat and then responded. “The Lindbergh baby is luckier than Jackie.”

Neely: (cackling) And I assume you’re still close to Joe when you go to New York.

Jack: Sure. We have a good time.

Neely: You have friends in high places.

Jack: Yeah, and they don’t let me forget it either (laughs). But they are good friends. Neely, let me say that I love what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. You have a very easy going, unpretentious style.

Neely: That is one of the nicest things anyone has said because if I came off like James Lipton of “Inside the Actors Studio” I would probably slit my wrists (or there would be others standing in line to do it).  I want everyone to enjoy this process and I think everyone has. I love writers and love writing.

Jack: Did you work on “The Practice” when you were with David Kelley?

Neely: Yes, but I was in Business Affairs at the time.

Jack: Do you remember an episode, a two-parter where there was a doctor and he was played by Christopher, um…

Neely: ...Sarandon. You mean the episode with the Presumed Innocent twist where the wife set up the innocent, but philandering husband?

Jack: You saw her smile at the end.

Neely: Oh that was brilliant.

Jack: That’s my wife! Jackie Hahn. And the truth is, she’d kill  you too.

Neely: I’ll watch my step. She was great! That smile was just the perfect capper to a great couple of episodes. I can almost always remember details from years past but have a hard time remembering who I had dinner with the previous Saturday (I’m pretty sure I should worry about that).

Jack: She had come out to LA after having done a lot of stage work in New York, off Broadway and off off Broadway. She didn’t want to be out here and she got that job and it changed everything for her. Suddenly she started playing a lot of bad guys and lawyers (note: not necessarily the same thing) on television. So it was great for her.

Neely: So that was her first TV gig out of New York?

Jack: Her first big one.

Neely: It was an absolutely pivotal role.

Jack: So that was great for her. I can’t wait to tell her you remember it

Neely: I remember it exactly. I’ve read every script David wrote from the time he started “The Practice.” I didn’t read many “Chicago Hope” scripts and I haven’t read every “Picket Fences,” but I’ve read every script since then. I remember that 2 episode arc so well. I thought Chris Sarandon did such a great job but the whole pay-off hinged on her smile.

Jack: It’s such deft writing. He’s just able to do it. There’s no board or anything, he just does it.

Neely: He just sits down and writes.

But let me say it again. Jack, I love your writing and hope to read more; and then see it on screen.  Good luck with your new projects and thanks for spending the time. I still hope that “Welcome to Youngstown” sees life on the small screen. And I want to see your play staged locally. Thanks so much for your time.


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

- Salvador Dali