INT. GARAGE – NIGHT
Still in her father’s chair, Natasha starts to get restless. She moves to the boxes, drawn to the one that says EMILY, and opens it up. Old photos of Emily and Ben on vacation, celebrating birthdays, doing rounds together. She pauses on the last one, unused to seeing her mom in a lab coat. Next, she pulls out an award with Emily’s name engraved on it.
Natasha: (reading the plaque) The Henry Asbury Christian Award for notable scholarship in research.
Natasha reacts, impressed. Digging further, she pulls out a medical journal from the 1980s. A group of 10 doctors are on the cover. Natasha looks closer and notices that the only woman in the picture is her mother.
Natasha: What the..?
As Natasha settles in for a long night ahead.
INT. EMILY’S FAMILY ROOM - A LITTLE LATER
Natasha sits across from her mother, the box on her lap.
Emily: Why exactly were you in the garage going through my old things?
Natasha: I was bored. (then, pulls out a letter) You turned down a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic? What was up with that?
Emily: The timing wasn’t right, and maybe you wouldn’t have been bored if you hadn’t flaked on our dinner.
Natasha ignores that comment, pulls out another letter.
Natasha: And this article says you “spearheaded the first effective treatment for breast cancer to prevent needless oophorectomies.” I have no idea what that means but it sounds important.
Emily: An oophorectomy? That’s when –
Natasha: And this says you graduated Harvard Medical School at the top of your class. TOP OF YOUR HARVARD CLASS?
Emily: I don’t understand what you’re so upset about. You knew I was a doctor.
Natasha: No. I knew you QUIT being a doctor. Which made me think you sucked at it. But clearly, you were the opposite of sucking at it. I just don’t get why you would keep all this a secret.
Emily: I didn’t keep it a secret on purpose. It just didn’t seem relevant.
Natasha: Maybe it’s not relevant, but finding out that your mother is some kind of genius who threw her life away just to make the perfect pound cake –
Emily: -- Hey! I did not throw my life away.
Natasha: Well, it sounds pretty crazy. And if you’re crazy, I have the right to know. It could be genetic.
Emily can’t help but smile. Okay, then. Here we go.
Emily: I did love being a doctor. I loved figuring out what was wrong with people and then figuring out how to make them better. And I was pretty good at it. (off Natasha’s look) Okay, I was great at it. But when I met your Dad it was a whole different kind of love. It felt more important than anything else. And then I got pregnant with your brother –
Natasha: -- And you had to quit. God, that sucks. Being a woman is such crap.
A flash of annoyance flickers across Emily’s face.
Emily: I didn’t have to quit. I chose to leave. I chose my family over my career and it’s a choice I will never regret. Maybe the reason I didn’t bother sharing all this was because I knew people wouldn’t understand. I didn’t want everyone looking at me like I was some blight on the feminist cause. God forbid a woman with a medical degree from Harvard should choose to be a stay-at-home mom.
Natasha can sense she’s touched a nerve. She chooses her next question more carefully.
Natasha: Did you ever think about going back?
Emily: Your dad and I used to talk about it. But the truth is, I was happy the way things were. I didn’t want anything to change and then... everything did.
Natasha takes that in. For the first time, they’re talking about their loss. (But still not sharing it. Not yet.)
Natasha: It’s scary, right? Waking up every day, all these hours stretched ahead of you and having no idea what to do with them.
Emily: Yes. That’s exactly it.
Natasha: I know. I feel like that all the time. It’s why I did drugs. It’s why I still want to do them. But instead I work with flowers. Or paint. Or write. Whatever it takes to get through the day. You know those people who think time flies? They’re idiots. Time takes forever.
Emily looks at her daughter, as if suddenly realizing she’s more than a drug addict. She’s a thoughtful human being.
Emily: I never knew you felt that way.
Natasha: You never asked.
She says it simply. Without judgment. And then --
Natasha: But you don’t have to feel like this, Mom. You have a gift. This whole other life just sitting in a box in the garage waiting for you.
Emily: It’s not that easy.
Natasha: Sure it is. You get up and you go. That’s what Dad used to say to me. I just never figured out what I was supposed to go do. Now he’s gone, and I have to live with the fact that I failed him. That he’ll never see me accomplish anything.
But Natasha is already up on her feet. Not wanting to cry but also not ready to be helped by her mom.
Natasha: I’m fine. (then, supportive) Here’s the thing. If you can’t figure out a reason to do this for yourself, then do it for me. Do it for Dad.
With that, Natasha walks up to her room.
Neely: Couldn’t help myself. That was a beautiful piece of character development and growth, establishing the birth of a bond. Just had to steal another scene for this.
Previously, we were discussing the advantages and disadvantages of selling your product. Despite the fact that “The Doctor” wasn’t picked up to series, something that continues to baffle me, you mentioned that you just sold another pilot to CBS.
Well, I guess hope should always spring eternal because it’s the number one network. And if you sell to them, you’ve got a good shot that it will get shot. But this is something that writers, if you don’t mind the generalization or the criticism, take a back seat on and they should be behind the wheel. They should be thinking about who needs them the most because it they need you the most they’ll give you more time, more of a chance and you might succeed.
Rina: It’s true. This is the only thing I’ll say, though, because I’m curious if it matches up to other writers you’ve spoken with. For me, again, the process, especially when you’re developing and you’re creating something out of thin air, especially when it’s not source material and this wasn’t even with a pod, it was just me and the ladies at Warner Brothers and of course Peter taking it straight to a network. And just at that level there were 8 people, other than myself, weighing in. So for me, I definitely like to think about who the people I’m working with are and how I value them. While CBS did say, “just so you know, it’s going to be two medical and then a family story” it was also “do it if you want to and don’t do it if you don’t. But we’re telling you, this is how we’ll be able to sell it.”
It was all very above board. Sometimes you are asked to make so many changes to things that are so personal...
Neely: …just like in Jake Kasden's dissection of the demise of a TV pilot in his fantastic film, actually my Bible, "The TV Set"...
Rina: …but CBS is not like that. They’re much more macro, which I really appreciated and it’s why I was really excited to go back there again this year with a totally new idea and just give it another shot because I really enjoyed the experience, or at least most of it.
Neely: I think their development department will give you a lot of support; you’ll get a lot of intelligent notes; you’ll get a lot of guidance. But in the end, you won’t get on the air.
Rina: (laughing) I know. You are correct. That is what happens (laughing).
Neely: So if the object is to get on the air, then you have to weigh it with a more open mind. And that includes the studio also. It’s not about who’s going to pay the most or give the best license fee. It’s about where you have the greatest chance of getting on the air so it sees the light of day. If it stays on, it’s not about the license fee you get in the first year, it’s about the syndication rights, it’s about the back end.
Rina: I had a very interesting conversation with Peter Roth after we didn’t go because, again, I looked at what got picked up this year and what’s been getting picked up on the drama side in the last two years. And I asked him point blank, “Is everyone just done with the ‘hundred episodes?’” I’ve noticed that everything has been trending to very high high high concept, feature film-style big idea for pilots but I couldn’t tell you how you can make a hundred episodes from 90% of them. I don’t understand 90% of what’s on the air right now. So I asked Peter straight out. “Are we done caring about 100 episodes, because if that’s the case I’ll start thinking in different ways. But I’ve always been trained, well trained by the studio, that you want to think big picture and you’re looking at television as a five year run. Pitch to that. This to me was very much five years. This was a family medical show that could go on and on and you could go in so many different ways. It could have gone on forever. There wasn’t a hook; there wasn’t a high concept.
Neely: So what was Peter’s reaction to that?
Rina: Peter said, god bless him, “Nope. We still want a hundred episodes.” And it’s funny. He said, and I won’t tell you the shows that he named, “If you came to me and pitched me “X” or “Y” or “Z,” all things that are currently on the schedule, I wouldn’t have let you take them out. And maybe I would have been wrong, because they’re on the air now, but I wouldn’t have let you take them out because I don’t see how those are going to go.” And you know, on his end, that’s what the studio has to think about – the back end or they don’t get the money back.
Neely: I just finished watching the second episode, and the last one I’ll watch, of “Once Upon a Time.” Logically and dramatically, that show should be done in 5 more episodes.
Rina: Kudos to them for all of the imagination, but I don’t understand the series.
Neely: What imagination? The pitch? The CGI? The set design and costumes? Okay. I can see why somebody bought that idea. It’s big, it’s novel; they were looking for fairy tales last year. But… sorry.
I adore the new show “Revenge” but I don’t see how they go 100 episodes because they’re going to run out of people to kill off or careers they can destroy. I’m enjoying it now, but there’s a clear collision point unless they radically change the premise at some point.
Rina: That is exactly my point. So the show that I sold this year is far and away the most out of my wheelhouse and I ask of it that same question because it’s a much higher concept idea. But even in that, with the pitch, and because it’s Warner Brothers and they are really serious about the 100 episodes, when you go in and pitch you always have to pitch a couple of episode ideas, and usually a couple is like 3 or 5 basic ideas. And, with this one, Peter wanted me to pitch 20! I was like WHAT?!! And Peter said I had to be able to tell him 20 different stories - 20 log lines. I told him that I didn’t think they’d stay awake for that. But he was adamant because the idea was big.
You know, I’ve been watching more and more comedies because you don’t have to come up with such a thru-line. I got really really into “The Event” at the beginning. I was sold. And then…
Neely: …but where was it going to go?
Rina: I don’t know. It was too big. Some of these ideas are so big; they’re films.
Neely: And yet on the other hand, cable is fully capable of coming up with 100 episode concepts, even though theoretically they’re already the so-called secondary market and they don’t need to come up with 100 episodes for their reduced orders.
A show that I absolutely love and can go on forever is something called “Suits.” It’s a different take on the law, looking at it from the corporate, albeit snarky sharky, point of view with the nice hook of a fake lawyer. It’s a terrific traditional low concept show that has legs. And I’ve always thought that having legs was the point. Of course it’s great to have a big double D chest, but if you don’t have legs you’re going to fall over.
Rina: Damn straight! I could not agree more.
Neely: You know, “The Doctor” would make a lovely Indie feature (you’d of course have to change the name). It might not take much to make this a stand-alone because the characters are so vibrant and the conflicts are understandable. It wouldn’t even have to have a resolution because it’s about life and resolutions in life are often ambiguous. It really is about getting another chance to take the road not taken when the first road ended.
Rina: I love that idea. I’d never thought about doing that. As I’m sure you’ve been talking to a lot of people who have had their babies take away from them, it’s so funny how surprisingly heartbreaking it is every time it happens. I’ve only produced a few pilots; I’m still, I hope, on the early side of that. But this one, particularly, because of every part of it – because of the cast, because it was David Nutter, because I went through testing, which is one of the worst things that could ever possibly happen, and I never test well. But this tested great! So you’re watching people actually enjoy it. You’re watching people see Christine Lahti and go “Ohmygod! I want to see her on television again.” And all these things happen. And then for it not to go, you really put it in a box for a while because it’s so painful. But it’s an interesting idea to reopen that box as a feature. I love it. I’ve never done that.
Neely: Well I think this may be a good time to at least rethink it because the Indie isn’t actually dead. This would not be super expensive to do.
Rina: And you know what’s even more bizarre and not to say Christine wouldn’t still be my number one choice, but when you’re making up your dream lists you can name 10 movie stars right now this age to do this part who are not currently working in television. That’s so encouraging and fascinating to me. They’re all working in features, starting, of course, with Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon and Sigourney Weaver and my favorite from “Sense and Sensibility”…
Neely: …Emma Thompson.
Rina: It’s an impressive list of women this age who are currently working. It’s funny, because again the studio wanted to look at movie stars. And I remarked that there are lots of movie stars; they’re all still movie stars. Good for them! They’re all still working all the time in features. It was encouraging as a female but discouraging as a television producer.
Neely: Let it sit a little while longer but you’re not done with this yet.
Rina: (softly) I love it.
Neely: So since you’re not done with it, think outside television; think of some other way of doing this. I think it’s a tremendous waste that a network could produce a really well-done script that turns into a really well-done pilot and then that’s it (snap)! Over and out, without a second bite. But CBS doesn’t need to give a second bite, that’s why CBS is the best place and the wrong place for a writer’s material. They don’t have any slots. That’s it. But you’re not done with this, so don’t be done with it. Rethink it.
Rina: I love that idea. It honestly never occurred to me but I think it’s kind of a great idea.
Neely: It also makes you think in a different way because it can’t be TV. But you’ve already got the character growth and that’s the hardest part; it screams Indie.
Rina: I love this idea. Will you help me do it?
Neely: (laughing) Sure. I’ll note it for you.
Most of your previous jobs involved younger skewing shows on younger-skewing networks like the WB and the CW. What’s your secret?
Rina: This was supposed to be my big scene at busting out. (laughing)
The WB was so kind to me and it was amazing. And I loved “Privileged” which was on the CW. That was another heartbreaker for me. I feel as though that could still be on the air. We had so many stories to tell.
I’ve always really liked writing for younger people, especially in one hours and soaps. It’s hard to generate a lot of story unless you’re going into super melodrama. But when you’re dealing with younger people, their lives are so explosive. When you’re a teenager or a twenty-something, everything is so dramatic to you. So it’s not cheating. It really is that important. It really is that horrible for a party to go wrong or for your sister and you to have a fight. It really is the worst thing in the world when you’re 16 years old. So I’ve always enjoyed writing those characters. But I was definitely excited to take the leap out, and I don’t know when I’m going back.
Neely: Why don’t you go back in a different way? Why don’t you write a Young Adult series?
Rina: You mean books?
Neely: Yeah, a YA.
Rina: I have. I’m actually in talks with my friend who runs the YA department for Penguin; she and I have actually been talking about it for a while. I’ve had a thought there for a long time. There’s a specific thing I’d love to write about. That I’m definitely going to do.
Neely: You have the character of Natasha. Make her younger and she screams YA heroine. Somebody who’s having trouble navigating the waters of on-coming adulthood and who has made some bad choices. How do you get back on the boat after you’ve made those bad choices?
Which of the shows that you’ve worked on has been the most fun?
Rina: “Privileged.” For sure. “Privileged” was… maybe it sounds silly, but it’s because I loved the cast, I loved the tone of the show. The tone of the show was something I had always really wanted to see if I could do.
“Everwood” was an amazing experience and I loved the show and I will always feel good things about it. But it was always Greg’s child who he gave to me and I had to handle with care. I never wanted to go too far out of the way he envisioned the show. It was a slightly more heartwarming, slightly more earnest, straight drama.
With “Privileged,” it was really my attempt at saying “can we do a dramedy?” Could we do a dramedy for the CW in the “Gilmore” kind of way? It was Gilmorey and I really loved that tone and I loved Joanna Garcia. She was a dream. Every single person on that show was a dream. We just had so much fun. It was a really breezy-easy. I was really excited about “Privileged.”
Neely: Has there been a show that wasn’t any fun?
Rina: I’m sure there has. I’ve had shows where I would say that I was not a good fit, where ultimately I couldn’t find my way into the world. I’ve had those experiences. But I’ve been pretty lucky in terms of the people I’ve gotten to work with.
I was so excited to work on “Pushing Daisies.” That was another year that I had written a pilot and it didn’t go, and Warner Brothers showed me that pilot and I just went, “Ohmygod, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” And I met Bryan (Fuller) and he was really amazing and smart and funny and weird and I was really excited. At some point after the pilot, I think the show could have been a million different things. Whenever you take a job you imagine it’s going to be what you thought it was going to be. So I walked into it thinking this was a love story, a tender love story. Ohmygod! I can’t wait to figure out how we tell love stories with these people. And it turns out, that was not what the show was going to be about.
It was a totally different thing and I struggled figuring out how to find my voice in that world. But as difficult as it was for me, and ultimately not where I lived, I also learned a crapload because I had been on all these WB shows prior to “Pushing Daisies” and I didn’t know all of the shit you could do on television now. We’d never used a green screen on “Everwood.” So I go on “Pushing Daisies,” and the entire show didn’t exist until 4 weeks after post. I was like “Ohmygod. I didn’t know you could do that.” So it was a learning experience, if not the most creatively jelling experience.
Neely: What do you think the show became after the pilot.
Rina: Bryan is a totally visual person. Truthfully, I think he’s a natural director; he’s also an amazingly talented writer. But I would notice in the room that he would always pitch to an image. I can’t pitch that way. I always pitch to an emotion or something I can follow through to an emotional place. He very much sees story as a visual medium, again, a little bit more like features. I think the show became a kind of spectacular Spectacular. Kind of Baz Luhrman. I don’t really know as a series what it was about as a person. It was a visual with…
Neely: …super saturated colors – cartoon colors.
Rina: I mean those sets. Michael Wylie created these sets that you would walk into and you would just have your mind blown. And Bryan was also heavily involved in the production design, heavily involved in the wardrobe. Like a lot of writers, I love being in the room, but Bryan liked making the show look the way it looked. And, for me, I think that’s where it really succeeded. I never really knew what the show was and that’s why I had such a hard time there; that’s why I had such a hard time pitching. But watching it, it was gorgeous; I totally got that.
Neely: There’s still so much to talk about and I’d like to go deeper into your background, so…
Take a look at my newly added Easy Reader film reviews for “The Artist,” “My Week with Marilyn,” and “Hugo.” Coming soon… “Tinker Tailor Soldier Snooze (I mean Spy),” “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “Young Adult.”
To Be Continued…