What: Ed Conlon, recent Harvard graduate, chooses the blue of a cop’s uniform over the ivy of academia.
Who: Ed, Colt McDowell, Bobby Moran, Sofia Pujols, and Andre Crowder celebrate loudly and enthusiastically at O’Toole’s bar on the night before they will enter the NYPD in the Bronx. Testosterone plus estrogen equals a sexy evening, and when Colt, beautiful and 26, loses a bet to Ed, she hops on the bar and begins a gyration that will remain a memory for all. As of the next day, they no longer play cops and robbers – they are cops and they will be going after the robbers. Divided into patrol groups, Sophia and Andre, both seething with an unspoken tension born of former love lost, are teamed with Colt. Ed unfortunately is at a disadvantage as Sgt. Nunez has pulled his partner Bobby for other work. Bobby made an arrogant mistake, one that will not be his last, by parking in Nunez’s spot.
Bobby: So, you guys ready to mount up and catch us some bad guys? Hunh? Toss us some perps? Pinch us some mopes?
Ed: You parked in Nunez’s spot.
Sofia: You parked in Nunez’s spot???
Bobby: (eyeing the precinct exit) Wasn’t marked. I didn’t know.
Andre: I’m you, I start running now
Bobby: Screw that. If this is gonna be my first and last day as a cop, I’m gonna make the most of it.
But just as he’s about to step onto the street, a hand taps Bobby’s shoulder. It’s... Sgt. Nunez.
Sgt. Nunez: Officer Moron? License plate KMV M21?
Bobby: Moran. Y-y-yes sir.
Nunez motions to the street. Bobby sees his prized Z28 being towed to who knows where.
Nunez motions Bobby back inside.
Sgt Nunez: I’ve got a job for you, Moron.
They walk away. The group watches in disbelief.
Ed: And then there were four.
Ext. Precinct parking lot – Moments later.
Bobby sits in the driver’s seat of Nunez’s squad car. Nunez is in the passenger seat. Bobby is a complete wreck.
Sgt Nunez: Drive. It’s the one with the ‘D’.
Bobby’s hand literally trembles as he puts the car into drive. He steps on the gas and the car jumps forward. Nunez shakes his head and points Bobby out of the parking lot.
But Bobby’s a basket case... So much so that as he heads up the street, he drives through a red light without noticing.
Sgt Nunez: Gimme your license, Moron.
Sgt Nunez: Your license. Now.
Bobby: License? What for, Sarge?
Sgt Nunez: You ran a red.
Bobby: I did?
Sgt Nunez: You did. And I’m writing’ you a ticket.
Bobby: (utter disbelief) ...A ticket???
And Bobby’s day doesn’t get much better. The other rookies, intent on making that first collar, make their own series of mistakes. The learning curve for this group of self-sure post adolescents turns out to be very steep and dangerous, both physically and politically.
As Andre, Colt and Sofia finish dinner...
Crack-Crack-Crack! Gunshots outside the restaurant somewhere. Pulses race! No. Fuck no! Hearts pound! Andre grabs his radio. Shouts into it –
Andre: Central, post 44. 10-10. Shots fired 10-10. Shots fired. In pursuit.
Night! Night in the Bronx! Our guys explode out of the restaurant. Crack-Crack! More shots! - - They tear off in the direction of the gunfire, Andre leading the way. Colt trails.
Radio Dispatcher: (V.O.) African American male. 6 feet. Grey hooded sweatshirt. Nikes. Claremont and 1-6-3.
On another street.
They race down the street in the vicinity of the shots, accompanied by the urgent crackle on their radios.
They race across streets... through traffic and honking cars... the seat building up... their lungs ready to burst. They disappear down-
A poorly lit block.
Hyperventilating, their equipment jammed holsters rattling away. They tear across the street, almost getting hit.
Colt gets caught behind a truck. She smacks its side, frustrated, then dodges around it... ending up a block behind.
Sofia and Andre hear shouting now and screaming! They see something.
Someone running. Dark. Can’t’s see. A flash of something in his hand. A gun! He cuts behind a building.
Andre cuts behind a building. Jumps a fence... Lands and stops!!!
His POV – A black as night alley
He stares down it, barely able to breath. Sofia files in behind him, lungs screaming for air.
Andre removes his gun... walks forward. Sofia does the same.
And now, peering around, their chests pound! Their adrenaline is through the roof... The sweat pours off their faces.
Andre spins. Fires his gun!
Crack! Thin silence...
They walk over to the victim, stunned, guns drawn. Andre kicks a garbage bin aside, to –
Sofia: ... Jesus...
Colt runs into the alley, out of breath.
Colt: What happened?
Sofia looks down. Colt shakes her head, while Andre stares on, incredulous.
Sofia: Andre killed a pigeon.
Colt: ... I think you have to report it. (off their looks) You fired your gun.
Andre: Report it? For killing a New York City pigeon? Come on.
Yet report it he must, even though his pride demands he fabricate a more esteem-saving story, one whose confirmation will depend on ex-lover Sofia. The psychological effect on the confidence of this man will soon yield dire results.
A different kind of horror awaits Ed – the kind of humiliation that occurs when one believes, too readily, the stories woven by petty criminals. Ed will soon be known, not just to the higher-ups of the precinct, but also to the upwardly mobile in the DA’s office. All of the rookies will come to understand the expression “No good deed goes unpunished.”
No Meaner Place: Conlon’s autobiography Blue Blood was a rapid and engrossing read filled with fully developed characters and innumerable interesting stories and anecdotes. Like any adaptation, the difficulty always lies in what to keep and what to delete. In the case of autobiography this task is made even more difficult because of the first person focus. Tolkin more than rose to the task by beginning with Conlon’s rookie season and developing characters who could stand side by side with him in focus and importance. “Blue Blood” should have been the prime choice of its season, and yet, despite excellent writing and character development, as well as a decent network fit with NBC (who desperately needed a hit), didn’t make the cut.
Interestingly, the script described above was what was delivered to NBC but not what NBC wanted. Instead, Tolkin was sent back to do what, in essence, was a page one rewrite – one that brought the action more to the front, but left most of the character development standing on the curb. As well written as the NBC draft is, it has sacrificed character for story. Tolkin’s opening choice was to establish the rookies, their character and their interactions in a social setting prior to their induction into the NYPD. The audience instantly knows who these people are and are on board as they enter their first assignments, allowing us to sweat with them, laugh with them and fear for them. We are engaged with them. The NBC draft opens as follows:
Bronx back alley – dusk
Narrow, with dangling fire escapes and an endless amount of garbage. It stinks. If Manhattan is the good china, the Bronx is the everyday crap. Suddenly –
BAM! A back door crashes open. The perp, 19, built, explodes out into the alley. Slam goes the door behind him, then –
Boom! The cop, a rookie, male 25, drenched in sweat, rockets out after him.
The perp races across a street, dodging traffic. Brakes screech and horns blare, as the rookie follows in his wake.
The perp cuts down another alley and leaps up to one of those hanging fire escapes.
The rookie jumps up after him, exhausted, ready to puke. Climbs. Grabs the perp’s ankle. Tugs!
The perp falls back, taking the rookie with him, off the fire escape…
Hard into a mound of overstuffed hefty bags. Bam, the bags explode sending garbage out in every direction.
The perp jumps up. Bolts. The rookie follows.
The perp leaps onto the hood of a truck, up its windshield, and onto the roof of its cabin.
Rookie follows, chasing him across the truck’s roof. Then off the roof into…
A second story apartment, crashing through the window.
They roll around the kitchen floor, as an Hispanic couple looks on frozen.
Bam! The apartment door crashes open and into the stairwell. Movers block their way down, so up to –
The rooftop – Six stories up
They run across the rooftops, going from building to building, until up ahead there’s –
A 15 foot gap between buildings. The perp jummmmmmps… and lands on the other side. The cop jummmmmps… and…
Comes up short! Short of the rooftop and slams into the wall, missing the roof’s edge. He reaches up, desperately grabbing a hold of some piping… but it’s slippery… and he’s losing grip fast!
The rookie reaches back for his cuffs and cuffs himself to the pipe. Relief! Then –
Snap! The pipe gives way under his weight and down he goes falling six stories. Just before hitting the ground we –
As a scene, this is spectacular; the kind you want to see introduce a movie… or actually almost anything. The fact that it has nothing to do with the story that follows sets an unrealistic expectation of what this show will be about… or not. For it would appear that what NBC wanted was not what they originally bought. Tolkin and Fox sold them a character piece about a group of disparate young people trying to make their way in a hostile world; making mistakes – some hilarious, some not so much. NBC wanted the cops and robbers and the traditional action franchise, unwilling for story to develop out of character.
This is not to say that the NBC version was not well done, because it was. It just wasn’t as compelling from the standpoint of long-term character development and interaction. In this rendition, the audience would come to expect these rookies to be super heroes with giant chips on their shoulders. Further, unable to wait for the significance of Ed’s Harvard education and the elite friendships he formed at that institution to play out in more subtle ways, the audience will be hammered with the fish-out-of-water aspect of his joining the NYPD (as if we would have been unable to grasp that concept on our own).
So, in the end, I am doubly confused. Why didn’t NBC recognize the diamond that they were presented in the first place; and second, when presented with what must have been exactly what they asked for, why in the wide wide world of sports didn’t they pick this up? There was certainly enough distance between this pilot and the end of “NYPD Blue” that it shouldn’t have been a problem. Was this the one year that cops were less desirable than docs or shysters? Clearly, in the last two years, the overabundance of cop shows, particularly those featuring rookies, would indicate that this is no longer a problem; the redundancy is staggering, What a pity that there was no call to put forth the original (original) upon which so much of recent cop fodder has been based. Especially sad, now that cop shows are in such demand, is that no one has seen fit to revisit the original Harvard-educated rookie blue blood.
Life Lessons for Writers: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; originality is the most flattering form of sincerity.
Neely: I loved Conlon’s book which, as you well know, chronicled his entire career. Had you read it or was it on your radar before you got the job?
Neil: No. I had just finished a pilot with Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo about real estate agents. We had a great working relationship and they asked if I’d like to look at the book. And after looking at it, they asked what I thought about it. I don’t know how much of it I read initially but I told them that I thought we could make a really great rookie cop show – patrol cops. It was a great challenge and the book was so amazing that I felt honored to even have something to do with it.
Neely: I read these two different drafts. Were there others?
Neil: I think I wrote about 25 drafts, although maybe only 5 official ones, but at least 19 more between myself and the producers – back and forth, and changing this, and trying that. Sometimes I forget what the draft was that you were talking about. I sometimes forget whole scripts after I’ve left them – just completely forget what the scenes were, what was going on. Somehow I just leave it and go on to the next one. In this case, it was interesting that you had that earlier draft. I went back and you were 100% right; it’s much better than the NBC draft.
Neely: Quite honestly, the NBC draft was pretty ordinary but it was very well written. I don’t think, though, that it was what you set out to write.
Neil: It’s not at all. I have to say, though, when I looked back at a lot of the previous drafts, many of them had an opening action scene that was his nightmare. Instead of him waking up in the Hamptons (as in the NBC shooting script), he was waking up in his apartment, so that you saw how he lived. There always was an itch to have a jolt of an opening scene, but I remember when I wrote the bar scene, I like felt that was the best way to open the pilot. I loved him sitting at the bar playing “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and answering the questions. Everyone else was off working on each other and he was just over with some guy saying “Ed, how do you answer that; how do you answer that?” When we took this to NBC, they were in the midst of getting “Knight Rider” off the ground.
Neely: Yes, that was a real high point in their development slate.
Neil: Right. So they wanted to lighten up what was a considerably darker script and the way they wanted to do that was to take the Ed Conlon Harvard side of the story and emphasize it as more of a different world. In fact, in writing the script and going over that first scene in the Hamptons, I could never quite grasp it. It was never about anything that I wanted. Having Ed wake up with his girlfriend (in the Hamptons after his action-packed nightmare) was always awkward; I could never write the scene because I couldn’t feel the scene in any way. I could never get the girlfriend’s character down. Lucky for her because now she’s a lead on “Royal Pains.”
Neely: Why I loved what you did in terms of opening it in the bar was that you found their “home.” Not in terms of them congregating in the bar, but finding a place that introduced their characters and their interactions. By “home” I mean that you have to have some place where you meet the characters; you set the stage where you know them – their home. You did that with the bar scene; you created that home ground. What I found especially interesting and effective was that the home was established before they graduated. Joseph Wambaugh has always emphasized that cops don’t go to “cop bars” and this wasn’t a cop bar; this was a bar populated by people who were young, healthy, and were hanging out in this particular instance.
Neil: Yeah. They often don’t hang out together after they go off duty – they find their own niche somewhere.
Neely: Exactly. But you have to set up a situation someplace in the beginning where they establish who they are and what their relationships are, or a hint as to what they will be. It wasn’t in the NBC draft. There was no home; there were no established or understandable relations; just hostilities. Those hostilities seemed to come out of nowhere. That had to have been an NBC note.
Neil: The hostility was meant to be Andre’s bitterness toward Ed because he ditched his Harvard degree to become a cop, as if he was slumming in some way. It really got to Andre because he wanted to be the alpha-dog and there was no way he could be that as long as Ed was walking around with a Harvard degree, tough as anybody. One of the notes was to make more conflict and make it more difficult for Ed to become part of the gang.
Neely: That’s such a shallow note because it didn’t have to be forced; it would have come about naturally. The Sofia-Andre hostility in the earlier draft is much more organic than the other. An Andre-Ed hostility – it’s normal; their backgrounds are oil and water. It would eventually have come out organically. All of them, whether they ended up calling him “Harvard” or ended up resenting or understanding his other life, would have had that conflict because none of them would have understood why he would have left a Harvard degree on the sidewalk and go be a beat cop. I can understand that those more obvious hostilities play better if those cops don’t get along; but I didn’t think it was about that. You wrote a really great character piece within a hostile exterior world. Your conflict is already inherent, so I essentially disagree with all of the NBC notes.
Neil: I understand that it’s the process. When you’re sitting with them and they tell you that they want the script “over here” and “here’s how we want to do it,” you go “Of course.” Otherwise you don’t get a pilot and you don’t have a shot. Who knew where it was going to go after that first episode anyway, although the second and third episodes were written. They were heavy on Soho and the art world. We had a lot of fun with it, but I was never really comfortable with the direction NBC was going – it didn’t ring true. I have to emphasize, though, that it wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t true to what I set out to do.
Neely: Because the book had been pitched to us at Kelley, I was exceptionally interested in what approach the person who did write it was going to take. I loved your approach. When I read the NBC script (and if I had only seen the NBC draft, I still might have wanted to write about it) I felt the writing was excellent but the approach was ordinary; it’s been seen before.
Neil: I agree about the set-up. But honestly, 85% of the scenes were pretty much the same, but it’s that 15% that made such a difference. I went back and looked at it, and the way we handled the Andre/Sofia thing was so different. I can’t even remember where the jokes came from when he was interviewed (about the pigeon) and the whole thing being a scam. I don’t remember where the impetus for that came from and how it came around. It’s so different. I remember writing the scene where his phone is buzzing on the table knowing that he’s going to have to lie; it was a lot of fun. I just don’t remember where the shift came and why we did it. I personally liked that part of the change in the script but it’s so different from the first one. The first one was really darker and more realistic.
Neely: The non-comedic interview in the earlier draft set up his ambivalence a lot more than the anger provoked by the fake department psychiatrists. I do get that it was funny when Andre was interviewed by the fake shrinks…
Neil: …it played huge, by the way. It’s different. But I have to say, when I went back and read the earlier draft that you read, that draft is superior on every level. It’s less over the top.
Neely: Who were your development execs on this?
Neil: The producers I worked with, Gina Matthews and Grant Scharbo, are really smart and work really, really, really hard. When you work for them you’d better be ready to do a lot of rewriting. The vast majority of the development was done with them; some was done with Patrick Moran and Jen Salke – and they were great.
Neely: Those were your 20th development people.
Neil: Yes. I don’t remember who it was at NBC. When we went to our first NBC meeting with Ben Silverman with Rat (Brett Ratner), which was a trip because everyone likes to talk to Brett for half an hour before getting down to business. And Ben was completely enamored with Brett. The meeting started and Ben said to me “I really like your book.” And I said, “I didn’t write the book; I wrote the script.” So he goes, “Oh yeah, yeah. I heard the script is great – at least that’s what they tell me.” That’s a true story.
Neil: Another thing that they said in the editing process much later on was “Do you think there’s any way in which we could make him come from a really good family in Connecticut? Like he’s a real blue blood.” That was one of those moments where I went, “Okay, we’re not on the same page here.” It all comes down to the “Catch-22” of being in the business. You have to, not so much sell your soul, well actually sometimes you do have to sell your soul. And even if you’re working for Ben Silverman, it’s your job to do…
Neely: …what Ben Silverman wants. Steve McPherson was the classic example of this because he only kept people who completely agreed with him and you’ll see that this year in their development slate on TV, which so far is dreadful.
Neil: Not a lot of great shows.
Neely: There are some things that aren’t too bad. I’ve learned to accept less and be really surprised by something of great quality. I wouldn’t say that anything has yet shown up as great quality but I have been surprised by some things.
Neil: Did you watch “Lonestar?”
Neely: Yes, and it's a pity. I think their structure got in their way. In soap opera, character is played a certain way. I guess the audience was either not in love with the characters, or already knew where it was going and didn't care enough to follow. From the writing standpoint, it was quite well done.
Neil: I just sold a pilot yesterday and my executive at 20th, it’s her show. She was just talking about how quickly it went from high anticipation and great reviews to suddenly plummeting.
Neely: Why do you think that is? I thought it was a pretty classy soap.
Neil: I thought that Kyle Killen was really crafty in how he wrote; beautifully written prose, very layered. There was an article in the Trades recently trying to figure out why it didn’t catch on.
Neely: In watching the shows that are premiering now and that premiered over the summer, I was struck by a couple of shows that have gotten on the air that bear “striking” similarities to Blue Blood. My husband actually made me take out some of the scurrilous things I said about them in an earlier, pre-conversation draft I wrote. The New York Times review of “Rookie Blue” loved a particularly descriptive line of dialogue in that show where a grizzled veteran states that “rookies smell like fresh paint.” I distinctly remember that as being a line in the book.
Neil: If I was going to do Ed’s book over, I was going to take Ed at every stage of his life and make him a cop, using his experiences; and then cut through the station from rookie, patrol cop, detectives, undercovers, to lieutenants – just cover the book that way. Just do the 4-4, but cover the 4-4, Ed’s precinct, from the lowest guy to the top guy. So you’d see detectives, you’d see patrol guys, you’re seeing everybody, all with his flavor and humor. Ed did this really great piece in Harper’s on TV and cops, with a page or two about his experiences on the making of the Blue Blood pilot.
I recently called Ed and asked him if I could re-option the book in order to attack it in a completely different way and he told me that someone else had optioned the book. It was someone named Callender, and I presumed it was probably Colin Callender at HBO. I kind of left it at that.
Neely: So if it’s Colin Callender, and I don’t know any other Callenders, you definitely need to call him, although he hasn’t been an executive at HBO of a couple of years. I had heard he set up his own production shingle when he left HBO. He may already have a writer attached but I was always impressed with him. If it’s HBO, they’re great people to get in business with.
Neil: I bet they are. I’ve not worked with HBO but I’m hoping to move in that direction. I’ve written a draft of a small, fun half hour – a glamorous, dirty little comedy – but haven’t had a chance yet to focus on it. You can be a bit more honest on HBO than you can elsewhere.
Neely: My only quibble with HBO, and to a certain extent with Showtime, is that they have started to lean toward edge for edge’s sake. It used to be more about quality writing and production with adult themes. The quality at Showtime is certainly challenging HBO. In January Showtime will premiere “The Borgias” which was one of the best scripts I’ve read this year.
Neil: Even if HBO has the option, it’s such an endeavor to go back in and hack away at the book and try to pitch a story and come up with something. Traditionally, I’m more of a spec-type thinker. If I had been able to get the book myself I would have been much happier trying to come up with my own take than with someone else on the book – figuring out what to do with it. It just complicates it a bit more.
Neely: Did this pilot get beyond the meetings and get made?
Neil: Hell yes! This got made. Logan Marshall Green was Ed, and he’s amazing. He’s now one of the cops in “Dark Blue.” Vincent Piazza was Bobby and he was the greatest kid you ever met in your life. He plays Lucky Luciano in “Boardwalk Empire” now. Laurenz Tate was Andre and he’s amazing.
Neely: I love Laurenz Tate. He’s been outstanding in every feature he’s made. He was your “name” actor.
Neil: The two girls were great, Kate Levering, now on “Drop Dead Diva,” and April Hernandez who had never done anything and was terrific. The pilot was terrific, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Look, if I’m NBC and I have a John Wells-produced show on the one hand and a Neil Tolkin-produced show on the other hand, who’s ultimately going to get the nod?
Neely: Which John Wells show did they have that season?
Neil: It was “Southland.” We were both competing at the same time. So what’s the cop show you’re going to go with if you’re not sure… Anyway that’s my theory. You say “no” to John Wells who’s been at your network for all those years?
Neely: It rises above theory and in the end NBC still shot themselves in the foot. “Southland” got decent numbers and then they dumped it, or in this case, sold it down the river. I can’t even remember why they sold it down the river.
Neil: I think it didn’t get good enough ratings and it cost too much.
Neely: Yeah, but there must have been something else they wanted to put on. I was going to say that no one is so stupid that they’d take something even remotely viable off the air for something unproven, but… never mind.
Did you talk to Conlon about how you envisioned the series?
Neil: Earlier, when you said that you loved Conlon’s book which chronicled his entire career – I have to tell you, I read it in something like galley form, I didn’t have the book – maybe it was a photocopied version – and I remember that I would read it for 20 min., maybe a half hour or 45 minutes and I’d only gone 10 pages, it was so dense. I was underlining lines in every paragraph. It was impossible to skim because Conlon is a genius writer. It was a really long but engrossing read.
Neely: Well it is a long book.
Neil: But detailed and when you’re looking for stuff, you’re underlining. And in everything I underlined, I was going “there’s something here and there’s something here. There’s a quote here; and this is a great story. I’ve got to use this and this and this.” And a half hour later I’d only gone 3 pages. I just remember that all my pages were yellow marker-highlighted.
Conlon and I didn’t really have any discussions. I had adapted a book previously and the author had been a much bigger part of the story in the sense of having to clear things with him. I had a quick nervous conversation with Conlon over the phone where I pitched him the general idea of what I was going to do with the book. He has a thick New York 2-packs-a-day gruff voice – intimidating as all hell. I used to have my friends listen to his answering machine message. So I pitched him for like 10 minutes about what I wanted to do and he was excited as hell and loved it. He just said in that voice “That’s great. What’s next?” His classic line would have been “When are we shooting it?” because everyone always figures that we’re already shooting it. “First I’ve got to write it, Ed.” And that was it. Along the way he read drafts. Ed is not a really outwardly emotional guy but you know how he’s thinking. He helped us along the way and gave us lines. He never butt in; never gave us any trouble. He knew the process. In the end, I think he was really happy with it. One of the things he said was that he showed his cop friends and none of them ripped him which was proof that it actually captured the highs, the lows, the group sensibility, the isolation, and the challenge of being a rookie cop. That was nice.
Neely: I understand that cops are an extraordinarily difficult group to please. They generally hate everything. I remember that one of the only cop shows that they really liked was “Barney Miller.”
Neil: They also loved “NYPD Blue” because they felt it was the first show that really captured the personal lives and the emotional devastation of being a cop. That’s the one they all talk about. I don’t know that any of them watched “The Wire,” but that would have to rank up there. It is a ridiculously great show; it’s so special.
One of the oddest things about Ed okaying things for us was that he acknowledged that he really didn’t remember the rookie years that much, so he became a conduit and set me up with rookie cops. I remember listening to Ed talk about watching rookies and seeing how innocent they were and where they were going to go with their lives. There are only about 9 pages in the book about rookies, which is kind of a shame because it would have been nice if there’d been a hundred pages on that subject.
Neely: It’s been almost 5 years since I read the book so you’ll need to refresh my memory. Besides Ed, obviously, were all the other characters in the book as part of his rookie season? Also, did Andre die?
Neil: Yeah, Ed was a character, obviously, and I think Bobby represented his buddy John Timpanero, and then everyone else was made up. They came out of interviews I had with other cops. It was a lot of manufacturing, which is a bit of a shame because the book had so many fantastic characters that you would have visited eventually in the series.
Neely: And this is why you have to find out who optioned the book. Call his agent! The book is like one of those Native American archeological sites where every layer represents a different strata of society.
Neil: I think that’s the way you play it.
Neely: Were there any creative stumbling blocks in writing this pilot?
Neil: There weren’t any creative stumbling blocks. I pitched it almost word for word and Fox bought it at the table. I had really worked on it before hand. The stumbling blocks were in trying to figure out who Colt was, and trying to reduce the sentimentality. It was a really easy process until we got to NBC… and then it just started to… By the way, I’ll take that abuse for a pilot any day of the week.
Neely: In the class I teach at USC, I devote a whole evening to showing a movie – “The TV Set” – and if you haven’t seen it, you need to see it. It’s a horror story about making a pilot. Jake Kasdan wrote and directed it, and I’ve heard that his inspiration for this film was his negative experience at NBC working on “Freaks and Geeks.”
Neil: That was such a great show. I’m amazed that it didn’t come back in some way.
Neely: The film documents the hell you go through. When I ask my class for their reactions, generally the MFA students found it horrifying and the BFA students found it hilarious.
Neil: The pilot process is an amazing process. It’s a miracle that anything turns out great, it really is.
Neely: “The TV Set” really highlights why pilots rarely turn out great. It’s a wonderful movie with a frighteningly hilarious Sigourney Weaver playing the network head from Hell.
But back to “Blue Blood.” Was Andre going to die?
Neil: No. He comes back with post-traumatic stress disorder and he’s an absolute wreck who causes false arrests; but he’s fun.
Neely: I’m relieved because, after all, how can you kill Laurenz Tate?
Neil: That’s for sure. But I never would’ve because Andre was a great character. Besides it gives you great places to go when you have PTSD and you’re a cop on the streets.
Neely: I loved that you really don’t know at the end of that first draft.
Neil: Funny, but a lot of people asked me if he was going to die at the end.
Neely: In the NBC draft it was clear that he doesn’t.
Neil: Why? Because of the tone of the show?
Neely: The tone of the show and the kind of “come to Jesus” moment he has with Ed…
Neil: Amazing that you get that from that one snippet. Interesting. Why did we even listen to NBC?
Neil: …they write the checks.
Neely: That… and your misfortune that Ben Silverman was in charge at the time.
Neil: But if Ben Silverman hadn’t been in charge, they might not have taken it. That’s the other side of the story, because Ben loved Brett (Ratner) and Ben wanted to make a certain kind of show with Brett. Look, at one point I’m sure that NBC thought they were going to get “Rush Hour.”
Neely: As far as I know, everybody wants to be in business with Brett Ratner. If NBC hadn’t picked it up, someone else would have. What’s interesting to me is that this should always have been an FBC show.
Neil: Believe me. You know what FBC picked up instead? The Anthony Anderson post-Katrina detective show (“K-Ville”). We were devastated. We were devastated because the version you read was so tight and so worked up and so strong and so focused – and then they… I don’t know. Certain people over there had more power and wanted that show. It literally went down to the last pile of scripts. It was a fight til the last script was chosen and we were left on the “other” pile.
Neely: Who knows why some decisions are made?! Picking up “K-Ville” was a noble gesture, full of good intentions. But the road to, where is that again, is paved with good intentions.
And once again, we’ve got lots more ground to cover because I want to talk about the journey that got you here, so… We’ll continue this conversation next week.