Neely: I’m a huge fan.
Kerry: I love Jason. So I think part of it is just that I have good chemistry with him creatively. We both tend to like to write about little tiny moments that to us don’t seem little or tiny. They seem like the whole point of everything. But I see that when his shows get reviewed, they’re described as these small moments. The challenge of shows like that is keeping them real and still keeping them engaging. I’m actually pretty good at that… generally.
Neely: I have noticed over the years that clearly the two of you understand each other. He seems to really trust you. It appeared to me that he left you in charge of “Friday Night Lights” when he moved over to “Parenthood.” I wasn’t surprised that he took you on “Parenthood” when it got picked up for a second season.
Kerry: Do you mean the 4th and 5th seasons of “Friday Night Lights?” We just had to get those done. That whole year, he was doing the first 22 episodes of “Parenthood” plus doing two seasons back to back of “Friday Night Lights.” And it all happened at once. Boom, there it is. I certainly wasn’t expecting to get hired on “Parenthood,” but was happy he asked me to join him again.
Neely: Rather unusual, I’d say.
Kerry: It was really unusual and I think we had also lost a couple of the writers right at that time. We lost Liz because “Mercy” got picked up; we lost David Hudgins temporarily because his show got picked up (“Past Life”). So we were down to a very narrow crew. We were feeling the pressure of that.
Neely: How could you not?
Kerry: I know. And I just wanted to help out as much as I could in that situation partly because I love Jason and partly because I just completely loved “Friday Night Lights.” I just loved that show. That show is like a real human being to me.
Neely I don’t know if you’ve toured the website, but one of the things that’s pretty consistent. There are two shows that keep coming up as favorites with other writers: “The Wire” and “Friday Night Lights.”
Kerry: I love “The Wire” too. But I just love “Friday Night Lights.” It’s a really dreamy show. It was a happy experience; it was creatively completely fulfilling.
Neely: Your career has spanned “Moonlighting” to the present with a few features in there too. It would appear as though you have had no down time. Do you do anything other than writing?
Kerry: (knocking on the wooden table) I’m afraid to say it out loud, like the gods will come and kick my ass because they’ll realize that I’ve been really lucky and happy.
Neely: How are you able to maintain balance in your life? I mean, you’ve got kids.
Kerry: Because I don’t do anything else but write. I literally have no life. (laughing) It’s either I’m working or I’m with my kids. My friends at work last year had a semi-intervention to get me to go out like once every two weeks. (both choking with laughter) Because I do not, literally, go out of the house.
Neely: How many kids do you have?
Kerry: Three – I have twin boys, which is like having 4. The twin boyness of it is worth an extra kid right there.
Neely: How old are they?
Kerry: The boys are 9 and my daughter just turned 13.
Kerry: Just on the threshold of …
Neely: …groan, groan, groan.
Kerry: So far she’s a super cool kid and I keep waiting. I know this is going to get harder. I was always really close to my mom growing up, so maybe I’ll get lucky. I don’t know. But I also totally understand what’s normal, so I’ll try not to freak out about it if it happens – if she and I suddenly start fighting all the time. But it’ll be hard.
Neely: Have you ever written for theater? I know that Jason loves that.
Kerry: No… but I really want to.
Neely: Why don’t you???!
Kerry: Because I don’t have time. (laughing) But, yesterday, I was just thinking, because so many of the people I’ve worked with this last year are playwrights… who started out as playwrights.
Neely: I’ve heard that Jason only meets with people who’ve been playwrights.
Kerry: They’re so good! Bridget Carpenter and Rolin Jones and Ron Fitzgerald… it’s like they’re so… I think Etan Frankel came from playwrighting too. So many of the people I work with are playwrights, so that kind of… I did start in theater in college, but I was acting. And then I went into playwrighting a little bit at UCLA. But then I got a job so fast out of college that I was just always working after that.
Neely: So what brought you to UCLA?
Kerry: (laughs) I was following my boyfriend. I started out in the theater department. That theater department was really competitive, pretty hardcore competitive, and I was not cut out for it. I don’t mind competition but I’m better at competition with writing where you can do it and then hand it over. Theater made you put your whole being out there. So after two years I retreated to the English department and only partied with the theater people.
Neely: Was it creative writing?
Kerry: No, it was just English Lit; critical lit. But I did take a year of playwrighting with David Rodes who was really great.
Neely: When did you know you wanted to be a writer? I think I know the answer to this one. You didn’t, did you?
Kerry: I didn’t. I always liked writing and was always pretty good at it. I think a lot of the good grades I got in my life came from being able to write, as opposed to having a super brain for memorizing. I wasn’t particularly good in math either.
I graduated college and was working at a bank (laughs). I had no idea what I was going to do. I probably would have gone into teaching, because I like teaching. I was still dating my first boyfriend, someone I’d met in high school. His dad was a writer and he read a paper I had written about Lewis Carroll. He said, “This is really good. You should try writing a script.” And I was like, “Okay.”
Neely: Who was he?
Kerry: Richard Matheson. He’s written a lot of iconic stuff. Amazingly talented.
Neely: Richard Matheson was one of the original “Twilight Zone” writers! He’s a favorite of a lot of the writers I’ve profiled.
Kerry: And he helped me get started.
Neely: And presumably, at some point or another, the boyfriend went by the wayside.
Kerry: Actually we’re still incredibly close. He got married and has a beautiful family. We wrote a movie together after we’d broken up. I wrote with him and my then boyfriend – who’s the father of my children. How’s that for interesting.
Neely: That’s quite a dynamic. Did you marry him, also?
Kerry: We did, yes. But we’re not together anymore. But I love him and he’s a really good guy.
Neely: Sounds like he’s a really good father.
Kerry: He is.
Neely: What was your first job, because you said you got one right out of college? How did that come about?
Kerry: I wrote an episode of “Fame” and “Moonlighting” wasn’t too far after that. It was kind of serendipitous. “Moonlighting” had gotten a pickup but it wasn’t on the air yet. They had gotten an order for 6 episodes and I think Glen (Gordon Caron) was doing most of them but he didn’t have a staff. So he was freelancing a couple of those episodes and I got in for a meeting; and it worked out.
Neely: What happened to the job at the bank?
Kerry: I had quit that a year. I told them I wanted to find a job where I could write more because I wanted to be a TV writer. And they laughed at me. (laughs) It wasn’t mean laughing because they weren’t mean people, but it was more like “Oh ho ho ho, Kerry.”
Neely: So that stimulated your quitting?
Kerry: No, I was going to quit anyway. But I did take my first check from my writing job in there and put it in the bank.
Neely: Ok, that’s poetic justice.
Did you have any mentors along the way – either college or on shows?
Kerry: Mr. Matheson, for sure. Craig Munson, my husband, who I’m not with anymore, he was definitely a mentor. He taught me so much about classic films, writing… he’s an English professor. He has always helped me, edited me, helped me work out stories. He’s probably the smartest person I have known; he’s definitely the most unique.
Neely: Where did he teach?
Kerry: At the time I met him, he was at UCLA.
Neely: Where’s he teaching now?
Kerry: He taught at Cal State Long Beach after that and he’s retired now… because I ruined his life (both laughing). I talked him into retiring because I wanted him to stay home and help with the kids, which he did.
Neely: Does he still?
Kerry: Um hum. He’s there every day. I see him everyday. We still love each other. We have a really weird relationship.
Neely: Is this one of those “can’t live with him; can’t live without him.”
Kerry: Um hum. Yeah.
Neely: So there’s no question about finding a replacement.
Kerry: No. I’d have to be hit by an oncoming train. It would have to come out of nowhere. I can’t go look for it because…
Neely: …you don’t have any time either to look for it or be hit by that oncoming train. So it sounds as if Craig is still stuck with you.
Kerry: He is, whether he likes it or not. (laughing) And I think that depends on the day.
Neely: What about people who got in the way or put up roadblocks (the names will be spared to protect the guilty).
Kerry: I feel that everyone has always been pretty decent and nice. But that can’t really be true. I think I try and let it go. I’m so easily hurt. And if I do get hurt I have to really feel it for a couple of days and then completely throw it away. Just completely let go of it because I just can’t think about it. So if someone did really screw me over, I probably forgot.
Neely: That’s a great trait. I wish I could learn that one.
Kerry: I suppose it depends on the level of screwing over.
Neely: I can guarantee you that when your kids do that to you, you’ll never forget it.
Kerry: That will hurt. I’m not looking forward to that.
Neely: (laughing) It’s inevitable. I remember when my son and I were going to a school event and he looked over at me and said, “Please don’t tell anyone you’re my mother.” I just burst into tears. Of course I was a really embarrassing mother which only contributed to my reaction of hurt mixed with realization. But you know they do have to divorce themselves from you in order to become independent.
Kerry: I know, I know… I know this, but it’s still going to be hard. I think I’m prepared, so at least I know not to make them feel horribly guilty about it. But I think they might anyway because I’m so pathetic.
Neely: If you handle it well enough, they will come back.
Kerry: At the end of the day, you want to do what’s best for them. That’s what’s such an amazing thing about being a parent, something that doesn’t exist in any other relationship. No matter how your child treats you, screws you over, doesn’t do what you want… you still just want the best for them, no matter what.
Neely: And you’ll come back for more.
Kerry: Yeah. That’s kind of amazing.
Neely: What have been some of your best writing experiences?
Kerry: “Moonlighting” was pretty amazing. It was a baptism by fire experience.
Neely: How long were you on that show?
Kerry: I did quite a few freelance scripts for them early on and then I think I went on staff the second year. I was on it til the bitter end. I loved all those writers; I really truly loved all of them. They were incredibly talented people in a really crazy hotbed creative environment.
Neely: Who were some of the writers you worked with on that show?
Kerry: Glen Caron, who I was completely in love with. Roger Director, who was awesome; Ron (Osborne) and Jeff (Reno) were fantastic; Charles Eglee, who’s also fantastic; that was the main group of us at the time. Karen Hall was there, but we only crossed for a month because she was leaving as I was coming in. That was an awesome job. But my favorite is “Friday Night Lights.”
Neely: What about the worst?
Kerry: I worked on a job for one day. It was a half hour show, quite a while ago. I was a lot more shy; I’m still kind of shy, because it takes me a while to get comfortable in situations before I shoot my mouth off. But it was a half hour comedy room, and I’d never worked in one before. I had really liked the pilot. I thought it was really smart and had a lot of ideas in it. So the first day we went into the room, I was thinking that we were going to discuss what the show was about – what we wanted the show to be about, where we were going to go with it.
So we’re sitting in there and people just start pitching jokes. “What if this happens? What if that happens? What if he decorates his house and it looks like Laura Ashley?” So they were doing this for three hours and I didn’t say anything. I was really nervous because everyone was really loud and aggressive in there. Somewhere around lunch I finally, very meekly, raised my hand and said, “Shouldn’t we be talking a little bit about what the show’s about?” The room went completely silent and everyone looked at me like I was a leper. I was looking at the showrunner and was totally at a loss for words because no one had understood what I was trying to say. I was sitting in this room full of strangers, suffering, and the showrunner looks at me for a long time and says, “I just wanted to see you drown.”
I kind of laughed and went to lunch and hid in the bathroom and cried. I got myself together and went and did the last three hours. I got in my car and called my agent crying, “Robb, you have to get me out of this job.” I was sobbing on the way home. “This was horrible. I can’t work here.” And he did. That’s one thing I’ve always loved about Robb (Rothman), he never questions if it’s a sound decision. He knows if I have a really strong emotional reason for either wanting to do something or not wanting to do it, he just supports me. So I didn’t go back to that job. That was my worst experience ever on a job.
Neely: How long has Robb been your agent?
Kerry: For fucking ever! He wasn’t my first, and sadly I don’t remember the name of my first agent because I was only with him for about a year. But Robb was my second and I’ve never left him.
Neely: Which is not an uncommon situation with Robb.
Kerry: No, it isn’t. He’s pretty unique. He listens and he makes me really comfortable. I know he really cares, for real, not pretending.
Neely: How about literary or filmic influences that seep into your writing?
Kerry: That’s an interesting question. I cut my teeth on Wuthering Heights. That was my idea of romance.
Neely: The book or the movie?
Kerry: Originally the movie, but shortly after, the book. Wuthering Heights is also one of those books that’s very funny. It’s so over-the-top and arch and insane, that it’s also actually very funny. So I do like that book quite a lot. And you know what movie I love? “Bottle Rocket.” I think so many times when I’m writing something or pitching it, I refer to it – “Kind of like a ‘Bottle Rocket’ feeling.” I really tonally identified with that movie. I love Wes Anderson. I can’t think of a lot of others. I don’t watch a lot of TV.
Neely: You don’t seem to have a lot of time, Kerry.
Kerry: I don’t, but even when I had time, I didn’t really. I would prefer to be out in the world. I loved to read when I was a kid.
Neely: Besides Wuthering Heights, were there any other books that you can recall that were influential, that really resonated with you?
Kerry: What was the name of that Czech author who wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being?
Neely: Milan Kundera.
Kerry: I remember reading him in my late 20s. He had a huge impact on me. But I have not read much of anything since I’ve had children. I love children’s literature. That’s been a constant with me forever.
Neely: What do you read the kids?
Kerry: We read a lot. I read a lot of the books that I liked as a kid; they don’t always like them.
Neely: Like what?
Kerry: Have you ever read any Raggedy Ann? Crazy fuckin’ books. (both laughing) Let me tell you, they’re like psychedelic; they’re trippy. And they were written by a guy who lost his daughter. There’s something under them that’s so sad. Even though they’re all happy and rainbows and these weird forests with pigs on the trees. They’re just like these crazy, interesting… like there’s a desire under it. I can’t explain it, but I loved those books growing up. My kids will have none them. They think they’re ridiculous. But my children love Harry Potter and I do too.
Neely: So you read that to them. I read all the Roald Dahl books to my son.
Kerry: We haven’t done that yet.
Neely: You’ve got to do the Roald Dahls. Especially since his sense of humor really dovetails with yours.
Kerry: Really? That’s cool. I haven’t read him in a long time. I don’t think I’ve read him since I was in grade school but I remember reading him in 3rd or 5th grade and really loving it.
Neely: It’s very dark and very funny.
Kerry: And kind of sweet too.
Neely: The children are always the heroes in those books and the adults, except for the occasional good parent, are pretty villainous.
Kerry: Yeah, they are.
Neely: But there’s so much humor laced all the way through. And it’s so literary. His children’s literature is not something most adults without children would take the opportunity to read and more’s the pity because they’re constructed the same as his adult short stories, which are positively brilliant.
Kerry: Which I also haven’t read. I should check those out.
Neely: Those you have to read. Alfred Hitchcock had quite a few of them adapted for his television show in the 50s and 60s (both the half hour and one hour shows). Dahl is a literary force. It shows through in his children’s literature. It’s always fun to find something that interests the adults and entrances the kids.
Kerry: I think that the really great kids’ books are really dark. Peter Pan is really dark.
Neely: Well, and Alice in Wonderland is…
Kerry: …really dark. And I love that about them. I think that’s one of the reasons I like children’s’ books. I feel like they walk a line – they have an adultness to them…
Neely: …like Wind in the Willows.
Kerry: I love Wind in the Willows. It’s like the sweetest book, it’s beautiful.
Neely: But it’s dark.
Kerry: It is dark. It is.
Neely: The lightness shows through at the end and the hero always win and the orphans get adopted, but there are trials to go through and I think that children really really identify with that. I don’t think…
Kerry: I think it’s real and that’s why.
Neely: They live in like a hyper-reality where the blacks are really dark and the whites are really bright. I think the best of children’s literature actually works on this principle. From a kid’s standpoint, the thing I think they grab on to is the black and white of it. In Peter Pan, as an adult you look upon Peter ambivalently because he’s incredibly immature and self centered, leading people into danger where he doesn’t need to.
Kerry: He’s bratty.
Neely: Yes. He’s spoiled and immature. But for kids, it’s adventurous and they can identify with that kind of fantasy – he’s no more mature than they are. But in the end, Peter triumphs, with the help of Wendy and the boys, and everybody goes back to their parents and the parents are transformed into being more understanding of their children. I think that that’s every kid’s dream.
Kerry: I would agree with you.
Neely: It’s the same thing with Alice in Wonderland. These are authors who really did understand and probably never left childhood.
Neely: My biggest mistake was when I stopped reading to my son because I thought he was too old. I was wrong because I was the one missing out.
Kerry: I know, I know. I try to get my kids to read to me now. It’s harder with my sons though. My kids do love those books. And that was probably the literature I loved best.
Neely: What are you reading to them right now?
Kerry: I don’t read to them right now because they’re all grown up. The boys are reading the third book of Harry Potter, which we sometimes read together. But generally, they want to read it on their own. And my daughter, she’s busier than President Obama. We don’t have a lot of time to sit around and read. We do spend a lot of time together, but it’s usually doing stuff she has to get done.
Neely: Do the boys talk to you about what they’re reading in Harry Potter? I only ask because I was recently engaged in a conversation with a former student who had sent out a quote by Harold Bloom maintaining that the demise of civilization was that adults were reading Harry Potter. We got into a heated discussion because that’s the kind of academia that is like a knife to my gut. So do they want to talk to you about Harry Potter?
Kerry: Yeah they do, actually. That’s pretty much my son Nicky’s go-to conversation. I’ll try to take him out horseback riding or doing something where it’s just the two of us and instead he’ll just go “I really like Harry Potter.” It always seems to go back to that. So, yeah, he does. But at the age of 9, it’s limited.
Neely: Are you going to try to steer him to something else after he’s finished Harry Potter?
Kerry: Well, it’s a big series. It was the first series my daughter read, too, and my daughter really didn’t like reading before that. My husband and I were terrified – I mean he’s an English professor and I’m a writer – it was, “Oh my god! Our children don’t like to read.” But for some reason, those Harry Potter books just kick started all of their reading careers. So she reads a ton now. She’s very literary. She’s read a ton of plays. She loves doing plays, she loves the theater. Theater is in my future.
Neely: I see it. I definitely see it. What about favorite TV – past and present; and not something that you worked on?
Kerry: That’s a really good question. I had such joyous memories of when I was little of watching “Gilligan’s Island” reruns with my sister. I don’t know why, but I loved that when I was little. I loved “Family Affair” reruns. As I grew up, I thought “Moonlighting” was the first adult show that I kind of just loved.
Neely: I loved that show!
Kerry: I really fell in love with that show. I’m trying to think of other shows that… Actually there was a show called “Crime Story.” Do you remember that? It was in the 80s and Tony Denison was in it. I loved that show for some reason. I had to watch it every week, which is very rare for me. I loved the David Lynch show, what was the name of it…
Neely/Kerry: “Twin Peaks.”
Kerry: I loved that; it was amazing. I can’t really think of anything from the 90s.
Neely: “Frasier” was probably my favorite.
Kerry: “Frasier” I did love. In fact my sons remind me of Niles and Frasier. (Neely cackles) They very much remind me of them to a frightening degree. So, yeah, that was pretty awesome. I can’t think of anything else. Now I just don’t watch TV.
Neely: Well you have been pretty busy since the 90s, for sure. Actually since the 80s.
So at this point I will say thank you for finding the time between your “Parenthood” script assignments and family obligations.
Kerry: My pleasure. Thank you for sitting down and listening to me.
Neely: I love love love this. And of course I’ve always loved you. Thank you.