What: Julia Scott, second generation cop, finds herself in league with an anonymous vigilante as she hunts bad guys on the crooked streets of Chicago.
Who: Julia Scott, an exemplary detective who graduated first in her class at the academy is willing to give up almost anything for the Job, even her life which would truly be following in her father’s footsteps, as he died on the job. Partnered with best friend Taylor Sanchez, they are perfectly in sync.
EXT. Chicago Waterfront – Night
Decaying brick warehouses loom on the dark piers. The full moon slices the landscape into tiger stripes of cold blue light and harsh black shadow.
Julia and Taylor, panting, are in hot pursuit of two bad guys. This has been a long chase.
Taylor: Next time you have a hunch, tell me to wear running shoes.
Julia: You said you needed to lose weight.
As the two bad guys separate –
Taylor: You want the big one? Or the other big one?
Julia: Big one.
And off they go, in different directions.
EXT. Cargo Stacks – Night
Julia moves slow and quiet through a maze of giant cargo crates. She turns a corner to find her quarry.
Julia (calming) I’m Detective Scott, Chicago PD. Come out with hands up.
But then she sees: Bad Guy has a hostage: a homeless man.
Bad Guy: Drop your radio and your gun.
Julia: Look, let him go and –
Bad Guy: Do it, cop!
Bad Guy is on something, sweating like bad dynamite. Julia can’t – won’t – screw around with the homeless man’s life. So she does what the Bad Guy tells her; sets her radio and gun on the ground.
Bad Guy: Kick ‘em over.
Julia kicks the gun and radio away from her.
Julia: Okay. Now let him go.
Bad Guy does; the homeless man runs off. But now Bad Guy smiles, like being alone with Julia was his plan all along. He advances, gun pointed straight at her.
Bad Guy: You got one minute to say goodbye to anyone you ever loved. Start now.
Julia: Take it easy. This doesn’t have to turn into a murder rap. Let’s figure out a way for us both to go home tonight.
Bad Guy: You’re wasting your minute…
Bad Guy pushes Julia against the cargo crate, presses the gun to her face. He’s enjoying himself.
But an air of calm comes over Julia just when most of us would be begging for our lives.
Julia: I don’t need a minute. If you’re going to kill me, do it.
Bad Guy: I don’t think you mean that.
Julia: All the people I love know I love them. So go ahead…
This isn’t turning out to be as much fun as Bad Guy hoped. Couldn’t she fall apart just a little?
Julia: The cops will never stop looking for you. I’ll die tonight. But you’ll die in jail.
Bad Guy: Is this you being brave?
Julia: I’d rather die fast than spend my life in a cage.
Bad Guy not liking this at all. He starts to pull the trigger. Julia wills her eyes to stay open, staring him in the face, no matter what… Suddenly they hear;
A sound like a growl – and then a dark shape engulfs them. We can’t tell who it is or where he came from, but his moves are fast, efficient – and lethal. A second later, Julia finds herself looking at Bad Guy on the ground. And he’s dead. Totally disoriented, she looks around – and catches a glimpse of who just saved her life.
It’s a man – tall, muscular and covered in shadow…
Their eyes meet. And in the shadows, his eyes are all she can see. They glow with animal energy… He turns away.
Julia: Wait-- !
But before she can say another word, the man disappears into the night. As he does, Julia makes out one final detail of his face: a jagged scar running down the side of his neck.
Julia stands alone. We circle her as she looks around, a sleeper waking from a nightmare, knowing she should be dead.
Julia had heard rumors of a vigilante operating within the city limits – someone dropping major criminals on the doorstep of the CPD; but when her boyfriend, ADA Christian Holt mentions forming a task force to apprehend the vigilante, she wonders how her savior might be connected.
When a mother is abducted outside a Laundromat, Julia gets another chance to feel that connection. Called on her cell phone shortly after the abduction is radioed in, Julie recognizes the voice of the man who saved her on the docks. He has inside information on who the kidnapper might be and asks to meet with her because the crime is eerily similar to a series of kidnapping/torture/murders that occurred several years back. She needs to check out a man named Mark Sewell, convicted of those crimes but recently released from jail.
Julie is conflicted. Sewell, she discovers, was recently released because the cop who brought him to justice, Angus Martin, was dirty. Martin’s partner on the force was Jack Holt, Christian’s father and now the number two man just below the commissioner; and it is to Jack that Julia goes for information.
Jack: Fact: Angus and I were a helluva team. Highest clearance rate in Chicago. Fiction: he was dirty from day one. For the first ten years of his career he was the best detective on the force.
Julia, genuinely puzzled:
Julia: So what happened?
Jack’s face clouds. This is a very painful subject for him to relive.
Jack: It was the worst night of my life. Angus showed up on my doorstep with little Brandon, two in the morning, terrified. Practically incoherent. He tells me Mary’s been murdered… (takes a minute to gather himself) And then he starts rambling about how he’d been poking around and discovered some kind of corruption and how it was the cops that killed her – I mean, it was insane stuff, especially coming from him. (deep breath) I kept telling him to calm down. He wouldn’t. He said he knew about stuff he wasn’t supposed to know about – a “murder-for-hire” ring within the Chicago Police Department – and these corrupt cops were after him now. And he begs me to look out for Brandon – no matter what. Then before I could stop him, he storms off. It was the last time I ever saw him.
Julia: It turned out he was the dirty cop, right? He was the one running a “murder-for-hire” ring.
Jack: (nods) I guess that somehow he must have crossed his mob partners, and after they killed Mary, he knew it was just a matter of time before they’d get to him and Brandon. Everything he told me that night was a lie. But bringing Brandon here saved that kid’s life. It was the last decent thing Angus Martin ever did. (beat) A week later his body washed up in Lake Michigan. Guess they got to him after all.
On the one hand too much doesn’t add up, and on the other too much does. She deduces that her savior and informant is the not-so-dead Angus Martin. Angus has chosen to work through Julia because he senses someone who will not give him up. All he wants is to clear his name and reveal the corruption that sent him into hiding; Julia will be that conduit. Together they solve the abduction; together they will clear Angus unless… Jack Holt can put a stop to it.
No Meaner Place: Hatem’s story and characters are extremely well developed. As to procedural elements meshing with the underlying story, there are endless crimes to solve in the naked city. Julie and Taylor are, after all, police detectives. That the basis is the exposure of corruption and its highly placed perpetrators only adds more interest. Hatem’s pacing is swift and the juxtaposition of light and dark elements contributes to the colors and layers that are exposed.
Generally I am perplexed as to why such a many-layered pilot doesn’t get picked up to series; but in this case I have a few suspicions, all of them related to timing. During the last pilot season there were two other very similar, in one case almost identical, pilots, each picked up to series. “The Cape” by Thomas Wheeler was an NBC fantasy–based cop show with the same theme: a clean cop discovers corruption within the police force and is framed and then killed by others on the force. Except he doesn’t die; he comes back to fight evil in the guise of comic book hero/vigilante. FBC’s “The Chicago Code” by Shawn Ryan covers similar territory (and may have been the reason that the location of Hatem’s pilot was moved to Boston) but the corruption is within city government. All three pilots had strong elements on the page but my money had been on “Boston’s Finest” over “The Cape” because Hatem’s characters were more layered and had more resonance than the black and white cartoon characters of Wheeler. I acknowledge that cartoon characters were the point of “The Cape,” but I preferred the depth and slightly higher plausibility of “Boston’s Finest” (and for a comic–book-plotted series to work, it has to be comic book all the way, which I’m not sure that “The Cape” was). And as an added insult-to-injury component, “Boston’s Finest” was made for ABC and we know how well their schedule worked out this year. Pity.
Life Lessons for Writers: Timing is Everything.
Rich: No one typically has any interest in pilots that don’t get made or don’t get picked up. The fact that you liked this is fantastic. I’m happy to answer any and all questions. I haven’t actually looked at the blog yet but I’ll have to check it out immediately.
Neely: At this point, the person who’s up there now (note: at this point it’s the “Previous Article”) is Chris Kelley who wrote a pilot with Mike Kelley last year called “The Quinn-tuplets.”
Rich: That’s so funny. Mimi Leder directed that pilot and then she just directed my pilot this year.
Neely: Synergy at work.
I loved your pilot. When I briefly synopsize what I read (and input onto an excel spreadsheet), I also have a column on the spreadsheet (as regards pilots) where I comment on the likelihood that a pilot will get picked up (and what I personally think in succinct terms). For this one, at the time called the “Untitled Richard Hatem Project,” I wrote “very likely but possibly the wrong network.”
Rich: Hmmm. You know, there were a lot of reasons it was “likely,” and to be honest, I don’t have any idea why it wasn’t. No word ever came back down to us – “here’s what killed it.” So I really have no idea what happened. There were a hand full of factors that the project had going for it.
One was that this was a premise that ABC had been interested in for years – a modern day, very realistic drama, based on “Beauty and the Beast.”
Neely: “Beauty and the Beast”??!!
Rich: And that’s what started the whole thing. It was an idea that they had wanted to pursue for a long time. Going in, there was already a certain level of investment from the network, which is a good thing. I’d worked with the network before; in fact I had a show on the network, or at least about to be on the network at the time that this was in development, “The Gates.” So I have a good working relationship with the people there, or I did, because now they’re all different people. The producers on board had a long standing deal with ABC – Bert Salke and Chris Brancato. And the director we had was Gary Fleder. He had put several shows on the air for ABC and had a reputation as being a guy who knew how to get a show on the air. He was friends with Steve McPherson (who’s no longer there) and he knew McPherson’s taste. The feeling was that Gary was ABC’s own David Nutter (note: the director with the best track record of going from pilot to series pickup). So considering all of these things, we thought this had a better than even chance of getting on the air.
And, by the way, all of those things have almost nothing to do with the script or the actual product itself. These were all the ancillary details that made it look like it was an auspicious bet.
Neely: Well, you’re right. Those were auspicious reasons why it should have made it. I must say, in terms of pilots that I’ve profiled, the lack of pick-ups was never because of what was on the page. My hue and cry is always, you get it on the page then it’s up to everyone else to screw it up. (Rich laughs) In this particular case, you definitely had the right director (I would love to see a DVD of the pilot).
Rich: I’m not sure I ever saw a final version of this pilot. I saw early versions, but the final post-mix, post-playback, cleaned up color-corrected version, I never saw it.
Neely: How did you like the version you saw?
Rich: It puts me in the position of telling the end of the story before I tell the beginning, but I will say that what I liked about it the most were the performances of Katee Sackhoff and Goran
Visjnic. I felt the two of them, in the scenes they shared, definitely had a really unique chemistry. Katee’s one of the few actresses that you absolutely buy as a police officer. Some women, you see them holding a gun and it’s hard to believe them in the role of a police officer. Katee Sackhoff had a very tough vibe to her, so that question never comes up in your mind.
Goran Visjnic was a very counterintuitive piece of casting. I will say that when his name was brought up and I found out who he was, I was 100% against casting him. (Rich and Neely laugh) I just thought he was absolutely the wrong guy; not because of him, but because the part was written to be a very recognizable archetype –East Coast, even more specifically Boston Irish – someone where you would immediately think classic Boston cop. I wanted someone where you didn’t even have to think about it. Goran Visjnic is a guy who has a pronounced accent and is most recognizable for playing a Croatian doctor on “ER.” So, to the degree that he has a following, it’s for playing something of a version of himself, or at least a version of his ethnicity. How do you say this is an all-American hero when, to a certain degree, he presents as an immigrant. What he brings and what the role was are two completely different things. I just thought that from a story point of view, it didn’t make any sense.
And then I learned a very valuable lesson. When you have a star, you have a star, and nobody cares. No one sat around questioning why Arnold Schwarzenegger was the “Kindergarten Cop.” They went to see the move because of Arnold Schwarzenegger, and because of who Arnold Schwarzenegger is the movie was very entertaining. And it’s the same thing with Goran Visjnic. I was not familiar with his work on “ER” at all. In person he’s a perfectly nice guy. It wasn’t until I saw him in dailies and then saw him in versions of the cut pilot that I thought “Oh! I get it now.” I get why every time I mention this guy’s name to a woman and they remember who he is, they go “Oh my god! I love him.” Literally, there was not a woman I mentioned this guy to who did not melt at the thought of seeing him on the screen. I’m like, “Really???” And I saw him on the screen ... alright, maybe I get it. Then seeing him with Katee, who is not your typical female romantic lead (she’s got a lot of gravitas and a lot of power) - putting the two of them together, they had incredible chemistry. And, and, and it felt like they could have a relationship that would have depth. That’s when I got really excited. I liked what I had on the page, but with these two people I thought we could really really go for a long time. I think a lot of other people felt that way too. And what originally seemed to me to be a deficit, Goran Visjnic, then appeared to be a huge advantage. So that was my favorite part of making the pilot.
Neely: Now I regret the loss of this pilot even more. (Rich laughs)
What was the title for the shooting script?
Rich: The title for the shooting script was “Boston’s Finest” and was also the working title.
Neely: What brought about the change in location?
Rich: My understanding is that this title was suggested by Gary Fleder. The logic behind it, which may be really smart logic, was that if we were shooting in Boston and we use a title like “Boston’s Finest” we’re gonna get a lot of cooperation from the city. So even though there were aspects of the storyline that implied that there was corruption within the Boston police department, it was still thought that for the production period we would get a lot of help and cooperation from the city, and he was right.
Again, the experience I had on “Boston’s Finest” touches on everything and every reality, good and bad, about making a pilot that has almost nothing to do with, again, what’s on the page.
It started out in Chicago because we felt it was a city where you could place a big mythic story. It’s an old city. It’s not New York; we’ve seen New York a lot and thought we should do Chicago. Chris Brancato, one of the producers, had done some work in Chicago and loved the city. I’d never been there but had always wanted to go, so I thought it sounded like a great idea.
Then when it came time to shoot the pilot, it was really cold in Chicago (Neely cackles [having grown up there]) and Gary Fleder, again in this sort of “good ideas coming from strange places” mode, said, “Look. I know Steve McPherson. Here’s what Steve McPherson doesn’t want to see in a pilot. He doesn’t want to see air coming out of people’s mouths because when you see air coming out of people’s mouths, they’re in a cold place. And he doesn’t want to have a show that takes place that’s cold where air comes out of people’s mouths. Gary pointed out that when he did “October Road,” which took place New England, it shot in Atlanta so they never saw air coming out of people’s mouths.”
Neely: You do realize that that is a really peculiar, bizarre sentiment.
Rich: I know it sound weird because it’s like “Really? It comes down to that?” And guess what? It does!
Rich: Because it always comes down to one guy. All of these networks come down to one guy. If you’re on the CW or CBS, it comes down to Les Moonves; if you’re at ABC it comes down to Bob Iger, through Steve McPherson (or at least it did then). Pick your network and go to the top– there’s one person making these decisions. At a certain level, one guy’s taste comes into all of these decisions, although certainly a million other things come into it, too, but you have to play with what you know. And what Gary Fleder knew, as far as what he told me because I never heard it directly from Steve McPherson’s mouth, Steve McPherson doesn’t like air coming out of people’s mouths. It’s cold; no one wants to go to a cold place.
So then the idea was that we could still set it in Chicago but we’d film it somewhere else. We could still call it Chicago, put Chicago in the title, put Chicago in all the episodes; but film it somewhere else. For a while they were even thinking of filming it in New Orleans because Louisiana is a state with a huge tax rebate. It’s cheap to film there. We filmed “The Gates” there for those same financial reasons.
Then ABC said, “No, no, no, no. Wherever you shoot it, that’s where it’s going to be.” There was a period of time where they wanted to set the show in Miami. Miami is very different from Chicago; it’s about as different as you can get. But then the attitude was “Hey come on. It’s sexy. Nights in Miami are hot and steamy. Maybe there’s an interesting Miami underground and we could build a mythology around Miami.” Ultimately that didn’t play. So then it was, “How about Boston? We can actually film there and get some money back. It’s available and there’s a crew there. We could physically pull off production by filming it in Boston.” And at that moment it became a Boston show.
Neely: And yet, did no one ever think that Boston might be as cold or colder than Chicago? Air comes out of people’s mouths there too, you know.
Rich: Oh definitely. And by the way, the three weeks that we filmed there, Boston experienced the most torrential rain in its history. Literally non-stop poring rain for days and days on end. You just can’t foresee everything. (Neely laughs). I talked about it on set and Mimi told me, “Oh my god. We filmed “Quinn-tuplets” in Boston during those same three weeks.” She experienced the same thing but we didn’t know until we started working together a couple of months ago.
Neely: Once again… synergy.
Rich: Everyone is playing with the information they’ve got and hoping that what they don’t know will still work in their favor.
Neely: At the time, were you aware of the two other pilots with similar plots?
Rich: Absolutely not. One of my flaws as a “Hollywood” person is that either purposely or by accident, I tend to be kind of ignorant about the landscape I’m working in, partly because I’m not constantly in the loop. The other thing is that sometimes when I go into work mode I don’t want to know because if I knew, then I’d want to read the script or find out more information and then I’d start making decisions based on the other project. To a certain extent I try to block myself off from that stuff. And frankly, when the dust settles it doesn’t’ matter. A lot of times, the exact same notion is being developed at the same network. That’s happened to me a number of times; that’s a move that networks make all the time. One network might say, “What we want right now is a young sexy medical show.” So within that one network, within the same season, they’ll develop maybe 3 or 4 scripts that more or less fit that bill. They may even film a couple of pilots that fill that bill, hoping that one of them will get it right.
Neely: That’s certainly true this year. ABC has two almost identical half hours that were greenlit to pilot As far as the page goes, one of them is clearly superior, but you never know how that will turn out.
Rich: So you’re not necessarily battling with other networks, you’re battling with the network you’re working for.
Neely: This year the themes are fairy tale-based.
Rich: You bet! NBC has a couple; ABC has one. And that’s another one of these undying… again going back to “Beauty and the Beast”…
Neely: I hadn’t thought of that. And it’s possible that one of the things working against you subliminally is that your piece was a year early for the fairy tale trend.
Rich: And yet, look at it this way. If you didn’t know it, you could have read or even watched the pilot for “Boston’s Finest” (or series if it had gone on), and never have really known that that’s what it was about. The things that are being developed now are very overtly “fairy tale world crosses over into our world.” Again, that’s another concept that the various networks, but especially ABC, have been trying to crack for the last ten years, easily. They’ve been developing it in scripts and in pilots and for some reason it just seems to be a very attractive area. Maybe this year we’ll see one succeed or the pilots that are out there will put the final nail in the coffin of that concept and it’ll be a while before it gets revived.
Neely: Sort of like zombies, the concept keeps becoming the undead. I thought that this year was an extraordinarily strong pilot season from the standpoint of scripts. There are several of those fairy tale pilots that, at least on the page, I really liked. I was unaware that they had been trying to crack this for a long time. This year made me think back to one of my favorite short-lived TV shows from the 80’s entitled “The Charmings.” Snow White and Prince Charming are transported to modern suburbia with their kids and the mother-in-law, the evil queen. Chris Rich played the prince and the fabulous English actress Judy Parfitt played the evil queen; Paul Winfield played the very gay mirror on the wall. I loved the concept and the execution, but it only lasted a season and a half.
Rich: All of these concepts are sometimes just dead on arrival. Like sports shows. Rule #1, never pitch a sports show. Then “Friday Night Lights” comes along. It’s not a huge ratings success but it’s certainly considered one of the best shows ever made. And then of course people will argue that “Friday Night Lights” isn’t a sports show. It’s a family drama and there some sports.”
Neely: Yeah, yeah.
Rich: But there are a million of these so-called dead concepts and we could do a whole separate interview just on that.
Neely: It’s “Don’t pitch us this” until all of a sudden it’s “Pitch us this.” I recall what a development exec at NBC said, “Whatever you do, don’t pitch ‘this is like The Rockford Files.’ We don’t want to hear about ‘The Rockford Files.’” And then, fast forward to last year when NBC said “We want to remake ‘The Rockford Files.’”
Rich: Which, in my opinion, is like the worst idea ever.
Neely: Yeah, I know. I don’t think anyone came out of that pilot unscathed (and no one even saw it). I can always hope that this will be forever laid to rest.
Rich: I’m kinda hoping so too.
Neely: I have no idea what was going through their minds because they approached it the way Gus Van Sant approached “Psycho” in 1998 by reproducing it line by line. What a disaster. How well did that work out?
Rich: It was a complete mess. It’s the classic mistake of all remakes. Take something that’s already incredibly popular, even if only for idiosyncratic reasons, and then remake that thing. You’re never going to capture that exact magic. It’s like “Arthur.” It’s a good story but the movie was popular because of Dudley Moore’s performance and other things (note: primarily John Gielgud in Oscar winning support). Moore’s performance is the center of that movie and you’re never going to recapture that performance. When you remake a movie that is well known and still accessible, I think you’re dealing yourself a losing hand. And then with “The Rockford Files,” even if you had a time machine and could put James Garner in it, what’s the point? It’s been done.
Neely: Even more to the point, how would you like to be the actor compared unfavorably (and they’ll all be compared unfavorably) to James Garner?
Rich: I don’t know why it’s tempting. It’s like a siren’s song leading writers and producers to their death. Now a show like “Hawaii 5-0,” you can update it because what was popular about that show was the exotic location. Jack Lord was not anyone’s idea of a durable television personality.
Neely: Well he’s iconic, but he’s iconic because he was a stiff.
Rich: Exactly! There’s no personality there. So you just go with the title, a theme song and a location. Great! Anyone can remake that.
Neely: Well, no, anyone can’t remake that. Kurtzman and Orci brought a new energy and incorporated the shadows cast by the old show. It’s a wonderful reimagination.
Rich: But you can’t remake an individual human being, and that’s what Rockford was.
Neely: Let’s put something else important into the mix. The writing on the original “Hawaii 5-0” was standard issue; the writing on “The Rockford Files” was superb from both the story and character standpoint. It was Stephen Cannell and Roy Huggins and Juanita Bartlett and David Chase, among others.
Rich: You’d also have to wait around for another really charismatic actor and then build something around him. But once you have that charismatic actor, you can do anything with him, so go do something new.
Neely: Well getting back to the original topic… I liked “Boston’s Finest” the best of the three that were out there that were very similar.
In terms of the series arc, the two fundamental foundations were “police corruption” and “hidden vigilante.” Each of those has something of a collision point in terms of discovery. How were you going to expand this series?
Rich: Contrary to popular belief, very few people have a comprehensive view of what the entire series is going to look like when they create it; sometimes not even the first season. You have ideas and when you turn in your pilot you also turn in a series document where you suggest what the first season might look like, where it might end, what might happen in the middle of the season and a handful of sample episodes; but you don’t really know. These things evolve; they take on a life of their own. Your show is your dance partner and you’re trying to keep up with it. If you’re controlling it too much it just becomes a bunch of graceless lurching about on the stage.
We had ideas that are probably the same as ones you might have come up with. There’s built-in tension because, in a certain way, this woman is leading two lives. She’s an exemplary Boston police detective, well respected. But at the same time, every time she consults with this guy, Angus Martin, she’s breaking a law that could send her to jail, possibly for the rest of her life. So, in a way, she’s living, as much as he is, with one foot on each side of the law. To a certain extent, he’s living a more honest and consistent life than she is because he’s underground. She’s also betraying her family, betraying her fiancée. There’s also a lot of risk to her personally, not just professionally or even legally. You can play that for a long long time. And that’s just for her. Then you bring in her relationship with Angus and the world that he’s created for himself.
We were always fascinated about learning more and more about how Angus had survived and what his network of underground contacts were and how that would work. What are his limits? In the pilot we say that he is willing to go way way over the line. In the “Shield” you were presented a character who seemed to have no limits. What we liked about Angus Martin was that he was a guy who used to have limits but because of what was done to him, his curse if you will, his protective shield, so to speak, has worn off and he’s become gradually more and more beast-like. Now the question is, through his association with her, will he be freed from his curse, will his humanity come back into play.
When you’re playing with real characters, the stakes are even higher. It’s really scary. He tells her, “Don’t try to prove my innocence. Don’t go out on a limb for me.” He places this in the framework of “you’ll put yourself in danger; they’ll hurt you the way they hurt me.” But we always understood, and when I say “we” I’m talking about Bert and Chris and me. We always understand that for Angus the scariest thing in the world is the notion that he might come out from under his curse. It’s kind of like “The Shawshank Redemption.” For survival sake Angus has told himself to stop hoping because to hope would make his existence too painful. For instance, for Angus to see his child but realize he could never be with him, what’s he going to do…. Is he going to come back into his kid’s life after years and years and years of living underground – being this hated guy who, in the public’s eye, could never come out from under this curse. So what? Now he’s going to disrupt this kid’s life who seems like he’s got a pretty good life, at least based on what Angus notes. So there was a lot of personal stuff going on. We really thought we could follow the soap opera of these relationships, we could put a case in every single episode, a closed ended story, and literally the show could run for ten years.
Neely: In the pilot, you have a scene where hunky Christian Holt, Julia’s boyfriend and the son of Angus’s not-so-incorruptible former partner, proposes to her in front of lots of friends and she doesn’t accept. This was an inspired scene of awkward silence and established a lot about Julia’s independent character. How did you come up with that?
Rich: This was our favorite scene. Let me preface this by saying that I have never done as much work on anything I’ve ever worked on as I did on this script. We must have done 75 drafts. We did draft after draft just between Bert and Chris and me before even showing it to the studio and getting notes or to the network and getting notes. Then once it was greenlit, there were a million other drafts. There was a lot of examination of what we were doing. And at a certain point in the process of writing the script we realized that we were trying to write a love triangle between Angus Martin and Julia and Christian. Eventually we realized that we were fooling ourselves. Christian was never going to be a viable candidate for her love. The minute you introduce that dynamic, the clock is ticking on their demise because the whole show is really about Julia and Angus and about them eventually getting together. It was sort of a false equation.
We wanted to introduce some level of reality to the relationship and we thought the more we tried to make Christian look like Prince Charming, the more we’re not going to buy the relationship. So we had to make it look real and make it messy on its own terms. We thought if we could do that, we could get some mileage out of it. And it was at that point we realized that they can’t have what looks to be the greatest relationship in the world. We were going start the show at their engagement party that was better than anyone’s wedding and everyone is toasting them and it’s so obvious that they’re meant to be together. And then we decided that no, in a weird way that does the opposite. That’s just a glass house we’re waiting to see shatter.
So we needed to make it look real. What are the real problems of their relationship? What if the show was just about the two of them? And then very quickly we came up with the idea. Let’s have him propose; it’ll look like one of those classic moments and she’ll say no. And was there any way we could do this and not hate her? (Richard laughs) That became the challenge. How can we take this really horrible awkward situation and come out the other side caring about her, caring about him and caring about the relationship; and feeling that we just saw something that felt very real. That was the genesis behind that scene. It worked on paper and it somewhat worked on the screen. I’m not sure, necessarily, that we were fully able to pull that off but I think we got pretty close.
Neely: I assume that as time went on, we would have found that Christian was less than the perfect prince that he appeared to be, but what were we going to learn about Julia ?
Rich: In development, one of the biggest questions was how to portray her. Chris Brancato and I got really excited about what Chris called the Clarice Starling/”Silence of the Lambs” tragic back-story. We had a whole notion that Julia was raised by her dad who was a single parent . He was a cop. She’d hang out at the police department; it was in her blood. Her whole world was about her dad who was this hero cop in her eyes. We had this beautiful story that never quite made it into the final shooting draft. It was the story that she told.
Julia would be at home every afternoon after school waiting for her dad to come home. Her dad would drive a police car home, which a lot of cops do. She’d be home watching TV and then he would turn on the lights and the sirens as he turned onto their block. She’d run out on the porch and the lights would be flashing and the siren would be screaming just for the 100 feet up to the driveway; and that would be the signal that he was home. It was their thing. Then one night 6:00 rolls around, 6:15, and there’s no lights and sirens. About an hour later, a police car, two of them in fact, drive down the street – no lights, no sirens. And she knows something terrible has happened; her father has been killed in the line of duty. It’s this memory that lives with her; the memory that her dad paid the ultimate price for his job, but in a way it’s a perfect ending for what she wants – she wants to step into those shoes; she wants to be the kind of cop her dad was. She doesn’t necessarily want to die in the line of duty but she wants to know that that risk is always there and that she’s up to it. We loved that.
The problem came when certain voices in the creative process suggested that it wasn’t the best idea to have a character’s main motivation be one of sadness and loneliness. We were trying to draw Julia as a character who was very solitary and at her heart alone because we thought that would help her understand Angus and his plight. In a way, their individual loneliness would be solved once they came together as a professional partnership and eventually they would be a magic partnership. We loved that notion, but there were those who said, “You know what? It’s not fun and it’s not exciting to have a character whose core trait is loneliness, sadness and tragedy.” (Richard laughs) And they may have been right; I think there’s a point there. So what we tried to do was switch it around a little bit and have it be less about loneliness and more about hyper-dedication. Love of the chase; being addicted to the notion of risk. Maybe through that we would have a character who was dynamic and who took chances; that became how she related to Angus – that at heart they were both not just willing but excited and aroused by risking their lives to do the right thing no matter what.
Neely: I especially appreciate the “notes” information because one of my questions was going to be whether you got any significant notes on this pilot. That’s a pretty significant note. There were ways around it but you can’t do everything. That could have been tackled later on, visually perhaps rather than expositionally.
Rich: When you’re writing a pilot you’re trying to put everything in. The tendency or desire at a certain point is to nail everything down and answer every question. What you forget is that if these things do go to series, characters can have multiple motivating forces. It can be loneliness and it can be dynamism and it can be four other things too. In fact, by episode 80, you’re adding in your tenth and eleventh motivation and really fleshing out those characters, if you smart and lucky enough to be on the air that long. But people get so focused on the pilot that it becomes like a feature. It feels like at the end of this pilot, this first episode, we have to have all the information about all the characters. It’s a trap.
Neely: It’s not necessarily a rookie trap because I’ve seen very experienced writers fall into it. It’s the kitchen sink approach. And no, you don’t have to know everything about everyone or how many directions it’s going to go in. You need the characters established and you need a good story that helps to establish them in that first episode. You have to remember that you’re writing something that is open-ended. You’re not writing a feature; there is no pat resolution in character-driven drama.. You want to create characters that people want to come back and visit. If you’re giving them a good story initially, all the better.
Rich: It is one of the obvious traps of the pilot process…
Rich: …because not only the writer, but easily a dozen other people (before you even start shooting it) are involved in shaping the story and following it and giving it a lot of laser-like attention for ten months. Ironically, you’ll never have that much time to think about any one given episode of the show ever again. The longer you stare at something, the more problems you find; that’s all you’ve got to deal with. So those 50-60 pages, boy do they get worried over and fretted over and shuffled around like crazy until you do kind of lose sight of what the end goal is… which is 99 more of these things.
Neely: It’s the dilemma of the 100 episodes.
Another thing that struck me as I researched your credits was how unusual this was for you – even acknowledging the “Beauty and the Beast” premise, something that could have been developed further. This is pretty much a straight ahead cop show. Your most recent TV series was “The Gates” about suburban vampires and werewolves; and the pilot you’re working on right now for the CW is “Heavenly,” about an angel. Both of those two have significant supernatural elements. You also created “Miracles,” and worked on “Supernatural,” “The Dead Zone,” and “Tru Calling;” again, all of which have spiritual and/or supernatural backbones. So… ?
Rich: It’s very weird. I mean, first of all I have to say that I was thrilled that no one ever brought that up. Like no one ever said “Really?? You’re doing a cop show?...Well we don’t trust Richard Hatem doing a cop show.” Again, I’d worked with ABC enough that I think that they felt secure in the knowledge that what they liked about my writing would be brought to this. They weren’t looking for a straight forward Law & Order-style procedural; they weren’t looking for a show that brought us a documentary style realism about the way police work is carried out. They wanted police work and they knew that they’d have to have an exciting emotional case every week, but what they were drawn to was the mythic relationship between the characters and the soap opera elements that would get explored throughout the run of the show.
Looked at from that angle, it was a bit more of a good fit. Again, I was working with them on “The Gates” which had a lot of ongoing soap elements and character relationships, as well as an air of mystery. Delving into the unknowns of Angus’s life, I think, on a certain level, it made sense to them that I would be the person to bring it to them. But also, every step of the way you’re taking a chance. They bought a pitch that they liked, but they could have read the script and gone “You know what? We actually fucked up.” (Richard laughs) “You know what? Hatem can’t do this.” But then they read it and went, “Oh no! This is terrific. This is just what we wanted.” So every step of the way I think they were pleased with what they were getting from me.
But at a certain point, I’m not the only person participating. After a while there are directors and actors and set designers. Frankly at the end of the day, for the network it’s not an indictment of any one individual’s work, it’s “do we need this show? Do we need a cop show of any sort? Is this show going to work at 9:00 after one of our other shows, which is what we need right now?” And so a lot of other factors come into play when the final decisions get made and often they have nothing to do with the quality of the product. It simply has to do with “is this going to work on Friday?”
Neely: Well, with the exception of maybe one show, nothing new worked for ABC this past year. Nothing.
Rich: Right. Exactly. And I can either look at that and say, “Damn it! Mine would have worked great.” Or I could look at it and say the entire development season apparently was off target and anything they put on the air would have struggled; and we could be sitting here right now talking about the early cancellation of “Boston’s Finest.”
Neely: That’s entirely possible, but I have my own opinion about… Oh hell, their choices were bad. Period. The end. There were a bunch of other choices, several of which I have already blogged about, that I think would have been, if not major hits, at least they would have been very respectable and given ABC something. They were flailing last year and for whatever reason, and some of it may have been that Steve McPherson had lost what I had considered a fairly magic touch in earlier days. Whatever it is, nothing worked for them. They’re in the tank right now, but this year’s pilots are much stronger than the ones they chose to put on the air last year.
Rich: I hope so. It’s hard to tell. I haven’t read any of this year’s pilots but among my writer friends there seems to be a marked lack of enthusiasm for the scripts that are being shot this year.
Neely: Wow. Because as far as I’m concerned, as to what’s on the page, there’s some really interesting stuff out there. In terms of how it gets shot, well that’s something else and again, I may not have the final scripts. But I read all but one network pilot (comedy and drama), JJ Abrams’ pilot was the only one I couldn’t get a hold of. But I read them all…
Rich: You poor thing.
Neely: Well, right now what I’ve got going is my blog and a couple of other things I write for other venues. I just want to keep current. I want to keep connected. I don’t want to be somebody who misses that open door or window because she’s unable to answer the question “What did you like or dislike?” I don’t want to be in the position of saying that I didn’t read anything.
Rich: Right. Right.
Neely: I may have started writing from a defensive position, but I found a lot to look forward to in this year’s pilot production slate.
Rich: I hope you’re right.
Neely: Let’s put it this way. If I’m right, I won’t have anything to blog about. (both laugh) And actually that would be a best case scenario. Then I’d have to find something else to write about because I would have been in tune with what was chosen.
Let’s continue this conversation next week because I want to learn more about “Heavenly.” Soooooo...To Be Continued