What: Emily Campbell’s perfect life is upended when her husband, Dr. Ben Campbell dies after being hit by a car while jogging.
Who: Emily Campbell had the perfect life. Happily married to husband Ben, a family practitioner in partnership with his best friend Jason Walden, a pediatrician, and son David, a rising young surgeon. Daughter Natasha, the problem child, is estranged from her mother due to her past history of drug and alcohol abuse. Their world comes crashing down when, out jogging one morning, Ben is hit by a car and dies.
After a 6 month period of mourning, Emily is determined to come out of her protective shell and arrives at Ben’s office to try to pack up his things. While there, Emily runs into an old friend, Katherine, who is there with her young daughter to see Dr. Walden. Emily is disturbed at her friend’s appearance.
INT. CAMPBELL, WALDEN & CAMPBELL - BEN’S OFFICE – DAY
Emily stands in the doorway, shocked by how everything looks exactly the same, but never will be again. Jason walks in with some boxes.
Jason: I have some more boxes in the closet if you need.
Emily: Thanks, Jason. I can manage the packing. I’ll grab David if –
Jason: Dave’s not here. Said he had to go to the hospital, but I’m happy to help.
They start to pack. After a beat, Emily breaks the silence.
Emily: Did you notice Kathryn’s cheeks?
Jason: Her cheeks?
Emily: (as she packs) There was some hyper-pigmentation around the mouth. It could just be melasma, I guess. Happens a lot with pregnancy. But the fact that she’s always sick? Might mean Addison’s.
Jason is momentarily caught off guard, then chuckles a bit.
Emily: What? You think that’s crazy?
Jason: Not at all. It’s just that sometimes I forget you’re a doctor.
Emily: I’m not a doctor.
Jason: Could’ve fooled me.
She smiles. They go back to packing in silence, then –
Jason: So how has it been going?
Emily: You don’t want to know.
Jason: I do, actually.
Emily stops packing. Sits on a box. Confessional.
Emily: Let’s see. I wake up every morning, and the first thing I do is remember. That pretty much stops me from doing anything else for an hour or two. At some point I drag myself out of bed and make coffee. Then I sit down and try to find one thing to do that day. Laundry. Pharmacy. Haircut. I can usually find one thing. I center my day around that, and then I wait until a reasonable hour when I can crawl back into bed and go to sleep again.
Jason wishes he could hold her. Take the pain away.
Jason: Well. At least you’re sleeping.
A beat, and then Emily laughs. A good, long laugh. It makes them both feel better.
Emily: I’ll figure something out eventually. Maybe I’ll take another cooking class. I don’t know...
Jason: Have you ever thought about coming back to medicine?
Emily laughs again. But Jason doesn’t this time.
Jason: I’m serious.
Emily: It’s been almost 30 years since I graduated med school, Jason. I think I’ve missed my window.
Jason: Why? You take a test, brush up on a few techniques. It’s never too late to start over.
Emily: There absolutely is a point when it’s too late, and I passed it awhile ago. Somewhere around the time they started putting cameras in phones. Besides, what makes you so sure I’m still licensed?
Jason: I know you are, because Ben used to talk about you joining the practice someday.
Emily reacts, surprised. Exposed.
Emily: He talked about that with you?
Jason: All the time. I assumed that was why you kept up with your CME’s. Not that attending seminars on “trends in antibiotics” isn’t good, clean fun.
Emily digests this information.
The seed has been sown and Emily is pushed to resume her career by an unlikely source – her estranged daughter Natasha who discovered her mother’s secret past quite by accident while rummaging through boxes in the garage. Emily, it turns out, graduated at the top of her medical class at Harvard but chose family over a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic when she became pregnant with David.
And thus, Emily puts herself back in the world she abandoned. Her only roadblock – son David, the rising star, who is determined to sell the practice and move on to greater things. When his mother intervenes, relegating him to a one third share instead of the two thirds he had counted on.
INT. EMILY’S KITCHEN - NIGHT
David and Natasha are in the middle of a fight.
Natasha: I don’t get what you’re so pissed off about. Don’t you think it’s cool that Mom’s a genius?
David I don’t care if Mom cured cancer. It’s completely beside the point!
Natasha: What point? God, you’re obnoxious.
David And you’re naive. You don’t even see what you’ve done here.
Emily: (O.S.) She didn’t do anything.
They both turn to discover Emily standing the doorway.
Emily: Your sister may have prompted me to take that meeting with the Chief, but ultimately it’s my choice. If I decide to rejoin the work force –
David What do you mean, rejoin? You’ve never been in the work force, Mom. No offense, but two years of residency in the early 80s doesn’t count, even if you were a genius. Which Natasha tells me you were. Which is cool, I guess –
Emily: Honey, listen to me –
David If you’re worried about money, you don’t have to be. I wasn’t gonna tell you until the details were finalized, but I found a group who wants to buy the practice.
This stops Emily for a moment.
Emily: You what?
David Tri-State Medical. It’s a good offer.
Emily: Who told you to do that? Did Jason --?
David This has nothing to do with Jason.
Emily: What are you talking about? Jason owns one third of the practice.
David Yeah, and we own two thirds.
Emily’s head is spinning. This is beyond her imagination.
Emily: I don’t understand. Why would you want to sell? Your father spent his life building that practice. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?
David I was trying to take care of you.
Emily: Who said I needed to be taken care of?
David Oh, come on.
Emily reacts, hurt. David looks to Natasha for help, but she shakes her head. He’s on his own. Emily walks into the family room, still processing all of this.
Emily: Is that how you see me? Like I’m some kind of incompetent --
David You’re blowing this way out of proportion. This is about money, which is obviously something you’re stressing about, otherwise why would you even consider going to work?
Natasha: Because she’s a genius!
David I’m seriously gonna kill you –
Emily: Okay, everybody calm down –
David You have no idea what it’s like, Natasha. She’ll be on her feet 16, 17 hours a day. Doing grunt work for people half her age. Catching sleep in a room the size of our hall closet. Not to mention the fact that she’ll be going to a place where people die every day. Is that how you want Mom to spend her golden years?
Emily: (can’t help but smile) So now I’m in my golden years?
David sighs, frustrated.
David Forget it. If you wanna be insane –
Emily: I’m not insane. I’m just trying to figure out my next step. That’s all.
David Well, this isn’t it. This won’t help you move on. It’s just gonna keep you clinging to Dad. What, are you gonna wear his lab coat? Sit in his office and talk to his ghost every day?
Emily: That’s enough, David.
Emily is finally starting to get annoyed, and ready to change the subject.
Emily: I think I know what’s going on here. If you’re upset about what happened with your patient today, I apologize. I didn’t mean to overstep –
David This has nothing to do with that, although you did more than overstep.
Emily: Offering a new procedure to a boy that age was reckless. When you’re dealing with teenagers, you don’t give them a choice between a motorcycle or a Honda Civic. You buy them the Honda Civic.
David I’m not his Mom. I’m his doctor. It’s my job to tell him all his options, and his job to decide what he wants. Why am I even discussing this with you? I don’t need your input on how to handle my patient.
Natasha: You never used to mind when all she did was praise your ass.
David Shut up, Natasha!
Emily: Actually, your sister has a point.
David reacts, surprised that Emily is taking Natasha’s side. Natasha seems a little stunned by it, too.
Emily: Your dad used to say that your biggest shortcoming was that you never listened to other doctor’s opinions if they conflicted with your own.
David That’s bullshit. I just never bothered consulting with Dad because he was always too scared to try anything new. Which explains why he was stuck here, running a family practice that was on the verge of becoming obsolete until I came along and saved it –
Without thinking, Emily SLAPS David in the face. Hard. All three of them are dumbstruck.
And just like that, Emily’s decision is made. She’ll take the hard way, the road not previously taken and become a partner in the family practice while also completing her aborted residency.
No Meaner Place: It is highly unusual to reprint so much of the original script, but the premise and the characters warranted such an action. Mimoun has packed as much action and character development in her 44 minute pilot as one generally only sees in a feature film. The lead character, Emily, must, in that time frame, go through a complete metamorphosis that involves not only a major loss but also a re-creation of self and a repositioning of her previous assessments of her two children – superstar David, who is about to betray her, and black sheep recovering addict Natasha who ends up being a major support.
No one is ever completely sure of what undermines the selection process and this is one case that is baffling as the cast was outstanding, the director, David Nutter, is what is commonly called a “sure thing” and the writing and future direction were like the proverbial yellow brick road. On purely speculative grounds, the CBS network, not high on "premise pilots" , is much more comfortable with pure procedurals and has only recently dipped its toes back into character drama (with definable procedural elements) and the lead character was a “woman of a certain age.” Still this was a quality show left standing at the curb waiting for the pick up that never came.
Life Lessons for Writers: With apologies to Robert Frost, two roads diverged for CBS and they took the road more frequently taken.
Neely: I loved the script and couldn’t find any way to use less. Your character development is just lovely. What inspired you to write this script?
Rina: I had two things inspire me. One was that I was pregnant when I was coming up with ideas and I found out I was having a boy, which blew my mind. I was really expecting a girl. So I was suddenly very much thinking about mother/son relationships because it’s a dynamic that I had never really written about. I had never really thought about it, to be honest, because I was always sure I’d have a girl. Then suddenly it was… okay… mother/son relationships. I thought of all the possible ways that Jewish mothers, like myself, destroy their sons. That’s an interesting problem...
Neely: (laughing) You have a young son? How long have you been married?
Rina: It’s going to be three years this… tomorrow (laughing). It’s going to be three years tomorrow.
Neely: (laughing) You better remember that tomorrow.
Rina: (laughing) I know!
Anyway, the show really started with that notion of what would happen if you had raised this boy as a prince, thought he was a prince and then suddenly, at a different point in your life came to realize, when working with him, that you had kind of created a monster; that you didn’t know him. The character definitely evolved beyond that but that was the first part.
Then the other thing that happened was that very dear friends of my mother, close family friends who had been teachers in the public school system for 30 years, had just retired. They had bought a house and were starting the second phase of their life. They were moving to Florida and, literally, the day they retired he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and two months later he died. And she has, god willing, a hundred years ahead of her; she still has a whole life and she was floored. She had done everything exactly as she wanted. She had raised her kids and had a career and she was still in this really wonderful marriage, which is so rare, and suddenly… I just thought it was the most devastating story. And I know it’s probably common and everyone probably has one, but for me, I have so few people in my life who I know have been successfully married for so long and really loved their lives together. And then to see it ripped away! I thought it was a great and horrible place to start a character and see someone rebuild.
Neely: You’ve written some pretty heroic characters, with the exception of David, the son. I loved the arrogance and the crash, but something tells me that he’s your go-to villain in this.
Rina: Yes, David was… definitely.
Neely: It may be redundant, and I don’t really care if it is, but Emily and Natasha are text book examples of character growth, something that is rare to find but always elevates material. Tell us some more about the Emily/Natasha relationship.
Rina: I have a brother who has struggled with addiction his whole life and it’s been a constant thing that tears in our family. I’ve always wanted to deal with that subject matter and I think mother/daughter relationships are, obviously, just as complicated but in totally different ways.
So I was thinking, what is the best way to ping pong between David and Natasha and have this woman realize who her daughter really is? Emily basically imagined that she knew her kids. She raised them. She was a stay-at-home mom, so who knows them better than she does, only to find out, in this devastating turn in her life that she’s completely wrong about both of them.
She has no idea what’s going on. She gave up… not gave up, but her life has been spent raising her children and she comes to realize that she only knows these very surface parts of them. So, to me, I was really excited about exploring the dynamic between Emily and Natasha. I’m always interested in feminist undertones. To me, that was going to be very much Emily, as portrayed by Christine Lahti, the über feminist raising a modern feminist. It’s so different now with young women and I was excited about that.
Neely: What about David? Originally I said he didn’t get his arrogance from his parents, but clearly his parents are pretty responsible for this. Where is he headed?
Rina: David’s headed for a rough road. I definitely saw him not getting the fellowship that he thought he was going to get.The whole arc for the first season was going to be about his trying to attain this fellowship that ultimately he wasn’t going to get. But he was going to meet someone and potentially have to come to terms with his own version of what Emily had to come to terms with when she was a young resident. Do you give up ambition for love and how do you make them both work? I think I was curious to see him fail in the presence of his mother; rebuild from that and also find that there are other things in his life that he was missing.
Neely: Although the pilot is clearly a character piece, it seemed headed in the direction that most networks are now favoring – the character-based procedural. I assume Emily was going to face difficult cases, hence the procedural aspect, but was this going to end up being the “anti-House”?
Rina: (laughing) It was. And I love “House.” And “House” to me is completely character based. “The Doctor” was going to take a different approach. I think I was always more interested in finding a less sarcastic… again, I love all the adjectives I’m applying to “House” but this wasn’t the kind of show it was going to be. I was definitely more interested in approaching it from the way “ER” did it, where it was as reality based as possible. I wanted to get as much of the tragedy that happens in hospitals as well as the hopefulness.
I feel that so much emotion comes into a hospital and I really wanted to deal with it in a very… I was most interested in capitalizing on what “ER” did and that I don’t think any show has done since then. Sometimes it’s just brutal and sometimes it’s just funny; but it was just real more than anything. And that was where I wanted to live.
Neely: So we’re not talking about cancer-of-the-week.
Rina: No, definitely not cancer-of-the-week. That’s why we also had the opportunity to show both the family clinic and the hospital and three different doctors all doing different specialties. We had a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things. Then, as much as we could, we were going to try to tell some family drama in the middle of it.
Neely: Everyone is in love with Emily – her attending, Jason… who else?
Rina: I was in love with Emily.
Neely: Good answer.
Rina: Especially when it became Christine Lahti, I was really in love with Emily. In the first incarnation of the show we actually changed that because David Nutter pointed out what you just said. Everyone is in love with Emily too much. There was no conflict for her; she’s got everything coming so easily for her. So in the initial draft we had Chief Brody as someone who knew her when she was an intern and had a little bit of a crush on her.
But in the production draft, we changed it completely. He became more of an obstacle for her as someone who didn’t know anything about her. He only knew her as the mother of David and as Ben’s wife. He didn’t really know about her past. David Nutter was right. It was more interesting that way. Maybe because I was in love with her I thought everyone should be, but it’s always more interesting if there are difficulties to conquer. But Jason was still in love with her.
Neely: How long could you keep her mourning?
Rina: I’d already had a lot of opportunities to do that on “Everwood.” And “Everwood,” for me, was a really good learning experience because I was on it all four years. With the character of Andy Brown, the recently widowed doctor, I don’t think we ever put him with other women for the first year.
I was imagining keeping Emily in mourning, just in terms of not really dealing with her own sexuality. Her work was going to take over. I didn’t anticipate having her partner up with anyone until closer to the end of the first season.
Neely: Tell me a bit about this fantastic cast.
Rina: I HAD THE BEST CAST!! I can’t believe it didn’t go. I had the best cast! It started, obviously, with Christine who was just unbelievable. She was everything. When I was on “Everwood,” “Jack and Bobby,” starring Christine, was in production. It was all under Greg Berlanti’s banner, so they were always next door and I was always jealous. And they took half our “Everwood” writers. So I was hearing Christine Lahti stories all the time and loving her on “Jack and Bobby.” But I had never gotten a chance to work with her.
She just brought the material to life in such a way that there really wasn’t anyone else I could have imagined who could do it – who had that everything. You believed every part of it. There are not a lot of women who have all of those pieces – where she’s beautiful and she’s forceful and there’s passion to her. You completely bought that she went to Harvard, that she’s a medical genius. She had every single element completely down. I really got all my top choices.
Scott Foley was perfect because he’s always been the nice guy. He radiates niceness and warmth and for me it was very important that we didn’t have someone as David who’s so slick that you thought the second you meet him that Emily was a moron for not realizing how duplicitous her son is. With Scott you don’t get that. It takes a long time to see a little bit of the sharkiness underneath. He played it perfectly. And again it’s because he’s just smart. Everyone was smart. Obviously Scott and Christine were offers, Kyle McLachlan as well.
Kyle was not what I anticipated for Jason at all. Initially I had a very different image in my mind, someone who was of a sort of a New York sarcastic Jon Stewarty/Jewishy. You couldn’t get further from that with Kyle McLachlan. He is so interesting and immediately makes the character his own.
Neely: But he radiates weird.
Rina: Ohmygod, he really does! But what’s great about him, though, is that he also radiates warmth and radiates kindness and he’s so nice. He’s just the nicest person you’ve ever met in your life. So I wondered how were we going to get that other side of him? And then he did scenes with Scott where he threatens him, and then you see why he gets all those creepy roles, like “Twin Peaks.” (both laughing) And I remember after we finished shooting that I told Kyle that we might have to say that Jason has killed someone (laughing) because he seems to bring an ominous secret with him. Even if you hadn’t anticipated writing one, he brings it.
Eva Amurri, who I had never seen before, she went through the whole process. She was a total find. She completely blew us away. And again, David Nutter and I immersed ourselves in the audition process. People would come in – it’s so easy to do that part, I don’t want to say wrong, but to approach it from a slutty angry kind of way. Eva knew instantly that this person had to bring a confidence to it. She brought a confidence, not just to the role but even to the audition itself. I remember she came in for the studio test, which is a horrible experience.
You’re in a small room with all these people and it’s the worst feeling in the world. Eva started her audition and got four lines in and she went “STOP! I’m going to do it again.” I’ve never seen anyone do that… ever. And she just (smack of hands) sailed through it and was unbelievable. And then she did it again. She just kept doing it better and better at each test. So many women would have gotten eaten alive by Christine because she’s such a presence and such a power, but Eva was not afraid.
Neely: I loved the irony of Christine Lahti playing “The Doctor” this time as opposed to playing the wife of “The Doctor” (the 1991 film of the same name). Plus, of course, she’s had experience playing a doctor on “Chicago Hope.”
Rina: I know! It seems like a no-brainer.
Neely: Did she make note of that irony?
Rina: She was great about it because with all the “Chicago Hope” background she already knew so much. She wasn’t afraid. I would have been petrified if I’d been an actor, because when you throw a lot of medical jargon at them they’re like “Do I have to say this?” Christine just attacked it right away. And “The Doctor” (the film) is one of my favorites of all time.
Neely: You had one of the very best pilot directors in David Nutter. What was it like working with him?
Rina: David Nutter is a dream! There is no other way to describe him. He is the most inspiring person to be around, not just as a director, but also as human being. I was just constantly, every single day, blown away by him. His level of preparedness, his generosity with every single person – every single person – even at this stage of his career. And his streak… which I practically destroyed… You run into so many directors who are not as kind. He delivers an A+ and as a person, I have never worked with anyone like that. For me, I learned so much from him, and things that I learned from him I will take with me from now through every pilot. These are just basic things like he stands up every time an actor walks in the room, every single time in an audition. And you’re in those rooms for four hours and he pops up and down every single time. I’ve never seen it. He’s really something and I love him.
Neely: What was his streak prior to this?
Rina: (dramatic sobbing) I still can’t believe it. I think it was 16 pilots produced that had series pickups.
Neely: CBS was probably the wrong network for this material. It probably should have been ABC.
Rina: I know but at the time ABC had three medical shows on the air.
Neely: Yeah, but who cares if one is really good.
Was this pitched or written on spec?
Rina: It was pitched. I went in with the studio and we took it to all the networks and at the end of the day it was between CBS and NBC.
Neely: And NBC needed this desperately!
Rina: (laughing) I know. But I have to say I was excited to go to CBS because I had never worked with them; they really are amazing people. I love Christina Davis and Nina Tassler, and I had been loving “The Good Wife.” I hadn’t watched a lot of CBS procedurals but when “The Good Wife” happened I thought they were opening up.
Neely: That was the slight crack in the door that they still haven’t opened. I love Jason Ensler and Margaret Nagle and CBS did the same thing to “The Eastmans” that they did to your show.
Rina: I will say this, we are a string of Warner Brothers medical shows, all of which went to CBS and all of which, I think, would have been on the air forever. I don’t know if you ever saw “Gimme Shelter,” which was the one after “The Eastmans.”
Neely: Which one was “Gimme Shelter?”
Rina: It was the John Wells/Hannah Shakespeare with Sissy Spacek
Neely: I didn’t see it but I read it and was in conversation with Hannah to do it on the blog. But at the last minute Hannah got word that someone else is trying to develop it and put it on the air.
Rina: I think they’re going to put it on TNT.
Neely: It was a brilliant script, a brilliant script.
Rina: It was a beautiful pilot. I have to say, it seems like three years in a row, for whatever reason, CBS was not buying their medical shows from Warner Brothers. I will not try to give them a medical show again.
Neely: I don’t think it matters. Vertical integration is a major factor in these decisions. If you were at CBS Productions you’d have a greater chance of getting picked up. On the other hand, if the bids were fairly similar, it should never have gone to CBS.
Rina: You know, in retrospect, you’re probably right. NBC was such a question mark. And again, before we even went to production, NBC had already changed administrations. So when I pitched, I was pitching to Angela (Bromstedt) but by the time we turned in the script, she wasn’t in power over there anymore.
I think everyone was little more skeptical to sell to NBC because unless you were “Wonder Woman”… and even “Wonder Woman” didn’t end up going. But unless you were a very large concept with a very big name behind you, Warners was taking a “let’s wait and see what NBC is.”
Neely: Well, too bad because NBC needed product and they’re already failing on the things that they took.
What kind of notes did you get during the development process?
Rina: Again, this was very smooth sailing for me, both at the studio and network. The best thing about going to CBS was that they know exactly who they are and they know exactly what they want. It’s incredibly amazing as a writer to have that because a lot of times there are so many people giving you notes. Everyone has a different opinion, people are coming at it from their own personal stories, and as a writer you’re trying to maneuver a pile of them. CBS doesn’t do that.
I’ve been developing at Warner Brothers for a decade and I know these women and they know me. They knew about my addict brother and how I wanted to work that in and they knew I was pregnant. So it was all very wonderful and they were incredibly helpful as always.
And then when I went to CBS I pitched only one medical story, it was very much 50/50, a medical story and a home story. And as soon as we sold the pitch to them they said “Okay, just so you know, it will always be at least two medical stories and then the family story as your third runner.” So we added David’s medical case after the pitch. In the original one it was just Emily and Katherine and figuring that out. So then we threw in the David story which I think made it better because it beefed up the David character.
Neely: So this was something they told you after they bought it?
Rina: To add a medical story?
Neely: Yes. Two medical stories and family as a “C” story.
Rina: They didn’t necessarily say it was the “C” story (Neely laughs), but I knew that we were pushing. But they were very upfront saying that “The Good Wife” was their first foray into character-based procedural drama.
You know, they rejected me but I still have a lot of respect for them. Again, they’re the number one network for a reason.
Neely: Yes, but the alarm bells should have gone off when they said “And by the way, this is what your show is going to be.” I guess I’m taking a harder line because the preceding article about Peter Knight’s comedy was also a CBS show. It was a comedy which is an even more difficult sell because The CBS comedies are overtly sexual. Their dramas are almost all procedural. It really comes down to “be careful who you sell to.” As I mentioned to Peter, CBS will oftentimes buy for their “higher self” but they generally don’t produce things for their “higher self” (see Seller Beware).
Rina: I sold to them again this year (laughing). I know…
Neely: This is an interesting off shoot that we should talk about because it does matter where you sell and how development affects what you’re doing. Let’s put a pin in this and continue this conversation.