What: When the seemingly upstanding Elliott Greene is arrested for embezzlement and sent to a Club Fed, life changes for his family. When Elliott’s wife Valerie arrives at Club Fed with a plan for his escape, things will never be the same again.
Who: Elliott Greene, husband of Valerie, and father of Elizabeth, Isabella, Taylor and Zach, never thought he’d be caught with his hand in the till of Sumacorp. After all, it was only $100K and it would never be missed, except… Someone at Sumacorp caught on and used Elliott’s minor embezzlement to cover up a much larger corporate theft, one that will be blamed on Elliott when they turn him over to the IRS, resulting in a 15 year prison sentence. Now granted, this is a country club facility, but he is away from his family none the less, something that is hammered home to him by his wife when, after dropping off the children at the home of Elliott’s Aunt Olivia, she pays him a conjugal visit in prison.
Valerie just lies there, lovingly takes his hand. Still heartbreak on her face. They lie there together, silent, staring up at the ceiling. Two people whose lives have ended, but they’re not dead.
Valerie: I keep trying to convince myself it will get better. That this is like when someone dies, and it feels so bare for awhile, like a big tree that we cut down in a garden. But eventually other things grow in and take its place, and the garden fills up again –
Elliott: (a little hurt) Oh.
Valerie: Except NOTHING’S GROWING! There’s just a big empty spot that won’t fill in! (anger and hurt and tears spilling over) I can’t even mourn you because you’re not dead! It sucks, Elliott. I don’t know how to fix it. (feeling every word) And the kids miss you, oh my God they miss you…
He starts so tear up.
Elliott: I miss them too.
Valerie realizes he’s crying. Pulls herself together.
Valerie: I’m sorry. I do this to you every time. I’m sorry. I know what this time is really for. (wiping her eyes) Okay, let’s have sex…
Elliott just looks at her like “are you joking?’
Elliott: You’re crying. You can’t have sex when you’re crying.
The hear sounds of people having very noisy sex nearby in another visitation room. The woman’s moans almost sound like sobbing.
Valerie: You were saying? (then) I know who that is. We got patted down together. She has gigantic boobs.
Int. Other Visitation Room – on those boobs
And yes, they are gigantic. And as they are knocked to the four corners of the earth by some old Enron looking Dude banging the hell out of her, on all fours, he suddenly stops, grabs his chest.
Enron Dude: Oh my God, Oh my God…
Stripper Girl: Me too, baby, me too –
And then he clutches his heart and falls over. She freezes for a moment, then…
Stripper Girl: Clarence?
And she turns, hearing nothing, and sees…
Clarence on the bed – wide eyed, dead. And she screams.
Int. Visitation Room – Same time
As Valerie and Elliott look up, hearing the scream.
Valerie: Someone’s been killed!
Elliott: It’s not that kind of prison.
He runs to the door, opens it to see…
Int. Hallway – Continuous
Chaos. Guards here and there. Calling medical. We hear “he’s dead”… “heart attack”… etc….
And Valerie pops her head out as well. They whisper.
Elliott: I think the guy next door died.
Valerie: It was the boobs.
And Valerie realizes no one is really paying any attention to them at this particular moment. An idea starts forming.
Valerie: (to herself) Oh my God ---
The idea is growing rapidly. It’s taking over her entire body.
Elliott: What? What is it?
She shuts the door. Grabs him by the shoulders.
Valerie: Elliott. This is a chance from heaven.
Valerie: We’re going to escape.
Elliott: No we’re not.
Valerie: Yes. It’s possible. But you have to do it now.
Elliot: You’ve lost it. I can’t do that.
Valerie: You can walk out of here. It’s white collar. It’s not wired like a real prison. People don’t leave because they’re afraid of getting caught and getting thrown back for a longer sentence in a real prison.
Elliott: (maybe we should pay attention to that) Yeeeaah.
Valerie: But for you there is no “longer sentence” – fifteen years. The kids will be ALL GROWN UP. Our family will be gone. (then) But you can go right now. Walk to the edge of the lawn. Sneak through the hedge. On the other side is a hill. Run down the hill and it meets up with a ravine that will take you into a nearby neighborhood. I’ll meet you on Orange Street.
As Elliott realizes his wife has been planning this.
Elliott: Oh my God. You’ve been studying this, haven’t you?
Valerie: Not really. (then) Okay yes. But not like we were really going to do it… It was more like a mental hobby. Like doing word searches.
But with Valerie as his guide, Elliot breaks out… well, it’s not exactly Sing Sing, so he walks out. His escape, however, has not gone unnoticed, as he is one of the lead stories on the evening news.
Reporter: …has escaped from the Federal Prison in Riverland. (then, laughing to co-anchor) What kind of idiot escapes from country club prison?
Walking out was just the beginning of the WTF moments, for first off he and Valerie must kidnap their children from childless, humorless Aunt Olivia who has been watching them for a few days and has always harbored plans to raise them hers.
And then, of course, there’s Agent Jack Sloane, FBI, who begins his investigation by interviewing former Greene housekeeper Flores Alvarez and her husband Alex, using the deportation-card as a threat unless he elicits their cooperation.
Flores sits with Agent Sloane at the kitchen counter. They’ve clearly been talking awhile.
Flores: I did not see Mr. Elliott very much. He was always working, working.
Agent Sloane: But you spent a lot of time with his wife, Valerie?
Flores: Yes. Mrs. Valerie was a nice lady.
Agent Sloane notices the photo (of Valerie and the kids) on the counter.
Agent Sloane: This is her?
Flores: Yes. That was at a beach house in Costa Rica.
Agent Sloane studies it a long moment, focusing in on…
Photo – Valerie’s face, Kind and pretty. And…
Int. Alvarez House – Later – POV through window
We are in the living room watching Agent Sloane walk to his car. Find Alex and Flores in their living room, looking out the window.
Alex: (perfect English) The Greene’s never looked at real estate in Costa Rica.
Flores: (also perfect English now) I have to protect them.
Alex: Where did you come up with the thing about Valerie being a Wiccan?
Flores: That was just for fun.
More sinister, however, is the search being conducted by the upper level executives at SUMA Corporation, all of whom have much at stake if Elliott ever discovers how they worked their pension scheme.
No Meaner Place: A throw-back to the screwball comedies of the 30’s with elements of the vintage television series “The Fugitive” (only if Richard Kimball was slightly dim and hauling along a family of 6, as well as a slightly demented buddy from the old days), the sinister underpinnings of “The Firm,” and a Federal agent’s obsession with an unobtainable, complicit woman (if Van Alden from “Boardwalk Empire” was played for laughs) you have an idea of what lay in store for the viewers of this sadly never-to-be-seen series.
Ehrin’s pacing, dialogue and ability to weave intricate threads into deceptively simple, hilarious plot lines is at the top of the heap. Always seamless, I would follow her writing anywhere (and have). “AKA” should have been a perfect fit for USA, if only USA had taken a leap on women writers (a leap they have only recently begun to practice). In some Universe (and I hope it’s not in a galaxy far far away) there is room for smart, clever writing that yields inventive television series. If there is justice, then an Ehrin series will be seen one of these days soon.
Life Lessons for Writers: Mother is the invention of necessity.
(Kerry has a lusty, infectious laugh, and throughout most of the conversation each of us laughed a great deal)
Neely: Kerry, I’ve long admired your work. But we only met for the first time when you worked on “Boston Public.” The smartness of the situations you write about must have resonated with David Kelley because you were hired on the writing staffs of three of his shows. I don’t think that has ever happened before or since.
Kerry: Is that true?
Neely: Pretty sure. There have been several who worked on a couple of shows, but none that I can think of who were on three. You did “Ally McBeal,” you went to “Boston Public” and…
Kerry: Actually I didn’t do “Ally.” I was supposed to do “Ally” and I got pregnant and had to leave.
Neely: Had you done anything on “Ally” up to that point?
Kerry: Nope. I got hired. And about a month later, before we started the room, I had to call and quit. It was brutal. It was horrible because I thought he was such a nice person. He had always been so nice to me; he had me for meetings every year. I really wanted to work with him. I thought “Ally McBeal” was an awesome show, but I was so nervous about being pregnant that I just thought it wasn’t fair to him. So I didn’t do “Ally.”
Neely: But shortly afterwards you did “Boston Public;” and then “Boston Legal.”
Kerry: …although I cosmically feel that I did do “Ally” (laughing) because I should have.
Neely: Your writing and sensibility were more “Ally” than anyone I can remember who worked on the show.
Kerry: I always felt very very connected to that show, sadly, (laughing) because I didn’t get to work on it.
Neely: One of the things I noticed about “AKA” was that David Eick was also involved in this project (see: "Them" by McNamara & Eick). How did that come about?
Kerry: He brought me that idea.
Neely: Was this when he was a non-writing producer?
Kerry: I think so, but I’m notoriously ignorant of people’s careers. So to be totally honest (laughing), I’m not sure what David was doing when we did this, but I liked him and he’s a cool guy. He was really fun to work with. I just thought it was such a crazy idea; it really appealed to me. It ended up being really challenging to write it in any sort of grounded way.
Neely: More specifically in terms of you, I would imagine that writing in a grounded fashion is a challenge because your mind goes in so many unusual directions.
Kerry: I think that’s just how… well, it’s really hard to see your own colors, so to me it’s just how the world looks. Whatever it looks like on the page, that’s what the world looks like to me. (Neely can’t stop laughing). So I don’t know if it goes in a lot of unusual directions or not. I have nothing to compare it to (laughing).
Neely: So he pitched this to you and you wrote it. Who did it go out to?
Kerry: Universal and I think USA. I’m not sure if it went out to anyone else after that.
Neely: Did either he or you have an overall at that point?
Kerry: I think we both did at that point.
Neely: NBC? Which is why it went there. Well what was the reaction? Did they get it?
Kerry: Yeah! I think everybody really really liked it. At the end of the day, I never know why people don’t make the things that I wrote. And probably no writer knows why. I mean I guess you could say that it was a very outlandish premise. It’s outlandish, but I sort of think that that’s kind of the charm. It’s a heightened reality. But the stuff that’s in there is real and grounded. It’s about the family, but it’s in this over-the-top arena. To me that’s perfectly viable (laughing); but, again, I can’t see my own colors so maybe it isn’t totally viable to network executives. I don’t know.
Neely: It beats the hell out of me. If I understood it, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this blog.
Kerry: I think maybe there was some concern because it was never, “Okay, I know what this show is going to look like every week.” It was very much built into the premise that it was going to change every six weeks or so. They were going to be in different places; they were going to have to move. You could maybe do a whole season in one place because they happened to do well there. But maybe that was a scary concept because audiences like to tune to what they know it’s going to be.
Neely: No. Actually it’s network executives that like to tune into something that they know where it’s going to be. (Kerry laughs) I think audiences generally follow something if the characters are good…
Kerry: …if they love the people.
Neely: And this was about the character, not the place or anything else. So I think it’s really a disconnect on the part of network executives who just are scared by the “new” no matter how often they say that’s what they want. It’s scary and this was a scary script.
Kerry: Is it?
Neely: Oh yeah. Because it just goes outside of the lines. You’ve got a picture that is presentable and a picture that’s familiar; and then you color it outside the lines.
Kerry: I didn’t know that (laughs).
Neely: Think about it. For me that’s what it was. So where did David (Eick) come up with this idea?
Kerry: I have no idea. David’s crazy (laughs). It’s part of his charm.
Neely: Do you remember what his pitch to you was?
Kerry: I think it was like a very basic concept of a white collar criminal who was on the run with his family.
Neely: Did he envision it as a comedy?
Kerry: I think he must have if he was talking to me. (both laugh) He’s a pretty funny dude.
Neely: Although seemingly about Elliott’s escape and the chain reaction it sets off, this is really about Valerie, the mom, leading her family to safety and managing the very complicated day-day of their new lives, which is somewhat akin to herding cats. I certainly identified with the Mom-on-the-Edge character because I was always a Mom-on-the-Edge (and I only had one kid – two if you count my husband). Are you a Mom-on-the-Edge?
Kerry: Weirdly, I don’t generally feel like I am because I’m very comfortable with anything that’s juvenile or immature. I think I’m very comfortable in any kid environment.
Neely: (laughing) Do you consider yourself immature?
Kerry: Yes. I do. Being in more grownup environments puts me more on edge. (Both laughing) But it’s funny because I hadn’t read this script in a long time and I read it this morning. Valerie is really interesting. She’s like a ticking bomb that’s been… I think what was really fun about it was that she’d never been challenged. Yes, she was on the edge because that everyday stuff will just eat your brain, but she was smart. She could think on her feet; she could go into different characters and ways of thinking about things. That’s such an amazing gift and she really got to use it. So it was like she got to start to blossom when she was challenged by this weird circumstance. I found her very fun to reread – much as I hate rereading my own stuff.
Neely: I’m glad you did reread it. So many of your pilots (both produced and unproduced) have been about families, usually dysfunctional and large, and mostly humorous. Do you draw from your own experiences?
Kerry: Yeah, oh yeah. Yeah. I think the basis of everything is your childhood family. Yeah, I definitely had a kind of emotionally out-of-control, very endearing, very loveable, very hapless family. (laughing) That’s definitely part of it. I was very connected to them, very devoted to them; and I still am. I’m an orphan and I’m still very devoted to them.
Neely: When did you lose your parents?
Kerry: I lost my mom last summer, sadly; and I lost my dad about 14 years ago. I have one sister who I’m very close to. She’s an amazing artist and lives in Denver, but she’s here all the time. She kind of lives both places.
Neely: You are so beautiful and warm – but you are also clearly quite warped. (Kerry laughs) To what do you attribute that - although you probably don’t think of yourself as warped.
Kerry: I don’t. But it was probably… My dad was really a unique thinker, and I think it was probably a combination of his genes… and my mom was very artistic, but also very structured, polite, gracious, a well brought up person. It was kind of like this total craziness of my dad confined within that structure; it just made my imagination go all over the place. I think the other thing is that I find a lot of humor in sad things. It’s not like mean humor, but there were certain sad issues in my growing up house. My dad had a drinking issue which definitely colored a lot of things. My sister and I have really bent senses of humor because sometimes all you can do is laugh at stuff to get through it. And also, when people are really emotionally broken down they are incredibly moving but they’re also incredibly funny (laughs). And I include myself in this. When I get slobbery crying weepy, you know, whatever it is, like “I lovvve you.” Whatever it is, it’s ridiculous! It’s really moving but it’s also ridiculous. Human beings are just kind of lame, but in a really endearing way.
Neely: So you grew up here in LA, right?
Kerry: Yeah. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. (more laughter)
Neely: So you are a Valley girl.
Kerry: I am a Valley girl. I am still a Valley girl. I left it for about 10 years. I went to UCLA. That’s as far away as I went. I’m a home girl.
Neely: Let’s dig a bit deeper into the direction “AKA” was going. Elizabeth, the sensitive daughter and voice-over narrator, inadvertently became the weak link when she accepted a Blackberry from her best friend Liam. It is this Blackberry that allows the “bad guys” at SUMA Corp. to track the family. Did Liam betray Elizabeth?
Kerry: No. Not on purpose. I don’t remember how that happened.
Neely: Was his father, who we didn’t meet… was his father, perhaps, a member of SUMA?
Kerry: I don’t remember. I don’t remember. There’s a couple of things in there that I couldn’t tell you the answer to. Like what Elliott knows that he doesn’t know he knows – I don’t know what it is either. (laughter on both sides).
Neely: Presumably you would have explored and have found out…
Kerry: Yeah, yeah.
Neely: …and then we’d have found out how Liam’s Blackberry got hijacked – maybe it was the signal.
Kerry: Gee, I hope so…
Neely: Like the original television series, “The Fugitive,” and I think you’ve already alluded to this, but will the family be moving on to new jobs and locations every week? I think you had mentioned that it would be every several weeks.
Kerry: I think the idea was for production cost reasons; you would want to get big chunks of time in different locations. And because you could pull out new characters, I would think that it would be something like every 6 to 8 weeks per location. Although it would be really fun to do one episode in one place where they have to get out fast. I don’t think there were any rules to it but you do have to beware of costs, like you do on any show, and work with that.
Neely: The idea that their first incognito reincarnation as the Garcia family (their new identity produced in East L.A. by a forger-friend of Flores) is on a working ranch in Texas is so wildly fish-out-of-water. You could obviously have been milked that one for a lot of episodes. Do you remember anyplace else you were planning on taking the Greene/Garcia family?
Kerry: At the time I did, but I can’t tell you right now where it was. I have a terrible memory. I forget things really fast.
Neely: But you also write a lot…
Kerry: … that’s the thing. I’ve written so many scripts since I wrote this one… let me think for a second and see if I can remember. I remember talking to David about a really suburban neighborhood and them getting jobs in convenience stores and Burger Kings (laughs) and stuff like that, but I can’t remember beyond that. I think in my head that I was thinking if I was one of those people I’d be trying to get out of the country. And I know you can’t do that immediately, but I’d be moving towards Canada or towards Mexico.
Neely: Canada might have worked. They could have asked for political asylum like Randy and Evi Quaid! And of course since everything is already filming in Vancouver so you’d have an additional cost saving.
I’m really interested in what the network chose that year instead, so I looked up what new one hour shows premiered during the 2008-09 season on NBC. Other than reality shows and “Law and Orders,” both of which permeated their horrible schedule, the show they banked on the most was “Knight Rider,” and we know how that turned out. Their other new one-hours were “Kings” and “Crusoe,” both of which, if memory serves, were turned into short order “limited series.” Of course some of the problem was that this was more comedic in nature and they clearly didn’t know how to allocate time for a comedic one-hour, although they were making a half hearted effort for “Chuck.”
Kerry: The next year I did “Bounty Hunters” and that was the year they picked up “Mercy” instead, which was written by darling Liz Heldens.
Neely: I love Liz Heldens (another Kelley alum).
Kerry: I adore her and it was actually down to our two scripts and then I found out that they had picked “Mercy.” I remember emailing her because, even so, I was so happy because it was her.
Neely: We have so much more to talk about and this seems like good place to break (as if there’s ever a good place to break). This conversation is
To Be Continued!