Announced as part of NBC’s Fall line-up…but nowhere to be seen.
What: Larry Ackerman, bartender at Cicero’s, is too good to be true; true of heart anyway. A line so smooth that no woman can resist; until he’s set up by the girl friends of the woman he’s dating, who are also friends with the woman he lives with; make that past tense, as in lived with..
Who: Larry, forced to move in with his divorced sister Liza and her 16 year old daughter, Maia, stumbles into Liza’s knit ‘n bitch circle of single friends one evening. As he starts to exit, one of the women asks Larry’s relationship advice on behalf of one of the other women. Listening attentively and asking appropriate questions, he analyzes the woman’s most recent flirtatious encounter and comes to the conclusion that she made a number of fatal mistakes:
“Well, you did three things wrong. Your energy, your eye contact and if you said it [hello] anything like how you just said it to me I think there was probably some emotional inequity in there…The thing is, in all three of these areas, when you meet a guy, you never want to give him any more than he gives you.”
Larry has hit the jackpot. The women, with the exception Liza, are entranced and, recognizing that they are all prone to repeatedly making the same relationship mistakes, beg Larry to become their dating guru. Using his gift for good, not ill, he takes them in hand and promises to unlock the secrets of the male mind so that they can attract rather than repel the opposite sex. Larry has finally found his calling.
No Meaner Place: Like “Captain Cook’s Extraordinary Atlas,” I picked “The Man of Your Dreams” as a hit (sort of shows you what my track record at a network would have been). Warm, compassionate, funny, with well drawn characters and an interesting premise – what could go wrong? This is Sam Malone (“Cheers”) trading the superficiality of his good looks and charm for analysis and the good of someone other than himself. A few years ago this would hve been the perfect fit at NBC when they were looking for a successor to “Friends.” Still more perplexing is that this show was always mentioned as a sure thing for the 09-10 schedule. Not having seen the finished pilot, I just don’t know what happened; but on the page, this script had (still has) everything and I would still love to see it. This was certainly in the vein that NBC claimed to be looking for – a successor in the tradition of the “must see” NBC comedies. Lacopo, primarily a features writer, has strengths in all areas – character, structure, story, and dialogue. Straight out of The Total Woman (a reference for those of a “certain age”) or The Rules (for everyone else), Lacopo’s dialogue is sharp, funny and incisive. The journey would have been lots of fun as Larry would have taken the women down his seven stages of a relationship, turning the Kubler Ross seven stages of mourning upside down:
“Now, I’ve broken every relationship down into seven stages; The Courtship, The Romance, The Reality, The Struggle For Power, Re-evaluating The Relationship or what I call “I think I like your best friend,” and the final two: Re-Awakening and Acceptance.”
Have we come to a place where sitcoms can only be “joke, joke, punchline?” “Modern Family,” is showing that there is room on television for character in the business of funny. “The Man of Your Dreams” takes stereotypic characters – the angry single woman, the needy single woman, the stoic mom, the satyr behind the bar, among others – and gives them personality, depth, compassion and pratfalls. I love banana peels, comeuppance, and a good joke. Anyone else?
Life Lessons for Writers: There are no sure things, but there are sure-fire scripts. It’s been said before (actually everything has been said before) but “Let there be (more) Life.” Or was it Light?
Neely: “The Man of Your Dreams” was always on NBC’s Fall schedule and much ballyhooed in the Trades. At what point did you find out that it wasn’t on the schedule and how did you find out?
Jay: There was a single moment about three quarters of the way through my experience with “The Man Of Your Dreams” when I knew we weren’t getting on the air. We had just tested the show and the test results came back pretty favorably (particularly for a comedy). A lot of people were excited about how we’d done and between the test results, the interest from the foreign markets, the diversity of the cast and the contract the show already had with Anheuser Busch, we were all pretty optimistic. And somewhere around the time many of us were dancing in the streets someone, somewhere had a conversation with the head of the network where he said the words (I’m paraphrasing) “No. No. No. I love it too. We just need to change it.” Having done this for a while, I knew, even with a script order and with all the champions we had at the network and the studio, we were pretty much dead from that point on.
Neely: Uh oh! Any idea how he wanted to change it – or is that code for dead in the water?
Jay: The words “more of a sex romp” were used at some point, but I think ultimately it as a difference in sensibility between myself and the head of the network at the time. We just found different things funny and that’s tough to get past.
Neely: Was the show presented at the upfronts?
Neely: Going back in time when this was the network’s baby, who were your champions; who shepherded the show through development? What kind of notes did you get?
Jay: Vernon Sanders, Renate Radford, Erin Gough, Jane Wiseman, Katherine Pope, Jeff Ingold and I’m sure I’ve missed a few supportive and collaborative players. It was the one of the best development experiences I’ve had, due in no small part to my producers at Conaco: David Kissinger and Richard Schwartz. I felt they were all incredibly respectful of the process (producers, studio and network) and when I took a wrong turn (and there was a draft that did) they were smart enough to put me back on track.
Neely: I’m really confused though. This was an NBC Universal production for NBC network through Conan O’Brien’s production company. Unlike so many other shows that fit the new cable paradigm, this was meant for network – a rarity now-a-days. Not only did they screw themselves in terms of potential company profits (vertical integration at its best, or in this case its mismanagement) but they also probably pissed off Conan at a time that they should have been doing him favors (especially given that they cut off his legs when they put Leno on ahead of him).
Jay: I do not disagree.
Neely: Is there a second bite on this show?
Jay: There was some clammering. There’s always clammering, but at the time (and currently) it is out of my control. So I choose to invest my energy elsewhere. Too many stories to tell.
Neely: I think I’ll play my hand a bit, but I adore Constance Zimmer – she worked on “Boston Legal” and was fabulous; and I’m a huge fan of Christina Chang, who worked with us on a short-lived show entitled “girls club.” She’s a hidden treasure. Also, I’m a big fan of Jason Ensler. So after stacking the deck, how do you think the pilot turned out?
Jay: I told Jason (who I look forward to working with again in the not too distant future) when we were having a discussion after a long stretch in the editing bay that this pilot was a little over eighty percent of what I wanted it to be. In some ways it surpassed my expectations and in others it fell a little short, but as a creator, with all those sensibilities and all those pieces that have to fall into place, 83 percent is pretty amazing. I feel that that pilot accurately reflected what I put on the page and who I am as a half-hour television writer and I can’t ask for more than that.
I loved this cast. Michael Trucco (Battlestar Gallactica) played Larry. He was the only guy for the role and from the moment he went on tape in Vancouver there was no one else for the job. There were times in the editing bay when I was watching his performance (over and over again) and I would forget that I had written what he was saying. Constance- the same thing. Her performance was effortless (even at the end of the longest days) and she never missed a single note. She is, in the best sense of the word, a “Pro.” Rebecca McFarland was our last piece of casting as Sally and from the moment she opened her mouth she was cast. Christina so surprised me at her audition for Melinda. So quirky. So much good stuff going on between the lines and she only got better. Justina Machado was pitch perfect as Violet. So many great choices as an actress and, as Violet, she stole our hearts. RonReaco Lee played Mitch and there is no one else like him. He makes greatness where there is nothing on the page and he can make what is on the page even better than you imagined.
Neely: Where or how did you come up with the idea for the show? Are you a cad with the ladies?
Jay: First of all, how dare you. I had a blind script at NBC and went into Vernon Sanders office to pitch him an idea he passed on. He then proceeded to tell me the kind of show NBC might be looking for: a character with a really strong point of view at the center of the show and a cast of characters that that character might set out to change or help in some way. Kind of a “My Name Is Earl” without the need for guest stars. I cannot tell you how valuable it is, at least for me, to be given a bull’s eye to hit and Vernon gave me a bull’s eye.
David Kissinger, Richard Schwartz and I had a conversation, I think at our first meeting, where the idea of men and woman and relationships was brought up. When this idea started coming together in my head I loved the one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other-quality this idea had. I felt that every frame of this show would bring a smile to the audience’s face and I felt that it would be difficult to find a subject more universal than men and women struggling to understand each other. Somehow this notion, combined with my fascination with human behavior and my love of writing a possibly decent monologue came together in this character and this idea.
Comedy aside, I felt that women would watch if for no other reason then they were getting some fairly decent advice on men and men would watch because they couldn’t believe this guy was getting away with saying what he was saying to these women.
Cad? Nay. I’m a fan of the ladies. I find them fascinating and endlessly entertaining. I hope that comes across in my writing. Next question.
Neely: Do you know such a “Larry”?
Jay: Maybe I do and maybe I don’t.
Neely: How involved were you in the different stages of production, including casting and crewing up? Do you feel that your ideas during those stages were given careful attention? Any significant differences of opinion?
Jay: I was very involved. I felt valued and respected throughout the entire process (or at least until the powers that be did not pick us up). I also tried to make sure others had the same experience: allowing talented people to do what they have a talent for. I think hiring someone as talented as Jason (once you’ve made sure you share a similar sensibility) and then putting your thumb on top of them, so that the pilot can only be as good as YOU imagine it to be, is a mistake. I’ve had that experience on other projects and it makes people miserable and the product rarely turns out well. There were constant differences of opinion and many of them felt like they would make or break the creative success of the pilot, but if you are told you are not getting your way, you move on and you set out to beat the actor or the scene or the song you felt you could not live without.
Neely: Well onward and upward. Can you tell me what you’re working on now?
Jay: I’m currently working on a spec feature, which will most likely be the most successful motion picture in the history of time, and I’m looking forward to worthwhile collaborations in the television world
Neely: I’ll look forward to reading and seeing your next project.
Note on “What’s Your Story” by Jack Bernstein. This project is still alive and I hope I never have to write about it.
Next Up: My trip to Africa (seriously, I’m going to Africa) but when I return…”Soccer Moms” by Donald Todd