The Long and Winding Road

by Rob Gregory Browne

I wrote this last week when I first got the news I’m about to share.  But after reading Louise’s post yesterday, I wondered if I should be sharing my good news on the heels of such a heartbreaking post.   Then I thought that Louise probably wouldn’t want us to hold back, so I decided to let it stand.

Before I get started, however — Louise, I want you to know that my heart goes out to you and your husband.   You are in my thoughts and prayers.

——————-

When I was seventeen years old, I wrote my first serious piece of fiction.

Okay, maybe not that serious.  Let me revise that.

When I was seventeen years old, I took my writing seriously for the first time.  

A lover of all things David Janssen, and a huge fan of the show HARRY O, in which Janssen played a retired San Diego cop, I sat down one day and wrote a sixty page teleplay for the show.

No, I don’t consider HARRY O serious fiction.  But I do — and did then — consider it FUN fiction and wanted very badly to write episodes for the show for the rest of my life.  I didn’t know anything about writing teleplays except what I’d read in some obscure book at the time (which probably got most of it wrong), but that didn’t keep me from sitting down and pumping out those sixty pages in a frenzy of enthusiasm.

When I was done, my father — being the world’s greatest salesman — managed to get my script to the producers of the show.

Now let me tell you how impossible a feat like that is.  Especially back then, in the stone age.  As anyone who has ever tried to market a screenplay knows, Hollywood is a closed playground.  There are ways to get your scripts read, but they’re often a combination of luck and really good fence climbing skills.  If you’re from a different neighborhood, you might as well take your toys and go home.

My dad was an amazing fence climber.  And once he got over that fence, he had this uncanny ability to make the people whose land he was trespassing on fall in love with him.  It’s a gift I’ve always envied but never acquired.

So, anyway, he got my script to the producers of the show and a couple weeks later, I got a letter (yes, this was before email) from one of the producers who kindly explained to me what overwriting is, thus giving me one of the best writing lessons I’ve ever received.

After that, I wrote a ROCKFORD FILES (which my dad managed to get to one of the show’s stars), an original movie of the week (something about a husband and wife truck driving team) and a couple other teleplays for shows I can’t remember the names of.

Getting no success, however, I gave up for a while and concentrated on music — which was my true passion — and tried to be the next James Taylor by writing a lot of songs but never performing for anyone outside my family and friends.  Kinda of a tough way to go about it.

But the bug to write for television never left me.  At one point I wrote an episode of LOU GRANT and got it into the hands of the producers (I was a messenger in Hollywood by then and was on the studio lot nearly every day).  

Several years later, I fell in love with a show called THE EQUALIZER.  And when the writers went on strike during that time — a long, drawn out strike that seemed to last forever — I wrote an episode of the show, NOT to be a strike breaker, but to have a script ready to go the MOMENT the strike was over, because I knew they’d be hungry for scripts.

And guess what?  Based only on a letter, the producers agreed to read it two days after the strike ended.

Unfortunately, they didn’t like it and that script, like all those other attempts, sits in a box somewhere in my cluttered garage.

A few years later I wrote my first feature screenplay — a thriller about a navy guy coming back from sea to find his wife has been murdered — and happened to win the Nicholl fellowship with it, which got me an agent and a deal with Showtime.

I had finally arrived.  Unfortunately, after casting, location scouting, etc., the whole project fell apart and the script was never made.  Flash forward about ten years or so and you’ve got a very frustrated Robby writing Spider-Man cartoons to make a living.  A story I’ve bored you all with before, and while fun, not exactly what I’d had in mind when I wrote that HARRY O.

So, after giving up on Hollywood, I took a friend’s advice and wrote a book — my first novel, called KISS HER GOODBYE.  It took me a long time to write it, but once it was done, it sold it to St. Martin’s, in large part because I had a fabulous agent who felt passionate about my work.  (Thanks, Scott!)

Writing that novel was liberating.  I no longer felt constrained by the restrictions of screenplays — although the idea for the book had originally been a movie idea.  And I have to say, I felt like I had finally found my home.

So where am I going with this, other than to rehash history once again?

Just this past Thursday I was sent a teleplay.  A teleplay written by a VERY talented man.  And as I sat reading the teleplay — which, quite frankly, was one of the best I’ve ever read — I got about halfway through it when I started to choke up a little and got tears in my eyes.

You see, that teleplay was the pilot episode for a proposed television series on a major network.  The network loved the idea, loved the pilot teleplay and has ordered the pilot into production in Chicago.  So there will soon be actors, cameras and crew running around the streets of Chicago shooting what will hopefully be the first episode of a new series.  

Oh, and I’ll be there too.  I’ve been invited to visit the set.

Why?  The same reason I got so choked up when I was reading another man’s teleplay.  Because that teleplay was an adaptation of KISS HER GOODBYE.  And because that very talented man did an amazing job of adapting it.  He stayed true to the book, and when he had to stray from the storyline — which was rare — it made the story even better, ending with a setup for the series that is extremely compelling.

So, after this long and winding road that has lasted almost my entire life, something I wrote (beyond cartoon super heroes) is finally making it to TV.  Whether it will actually become a series, is anyone’s guess — such things are always a crapshoot — but at least it’s getting to the screen. 

And, believe me, I couldn’t be happier right now.  While I didn’t write the script myself, I don’t care.  It’s my story.  My characters.  My situations.  And I certainly couldn’t have done a better job of it.

And those characters could potentially live on TV for years to come: ATF agent Jack Donovan, his daughter Jessie, his partners A.J. and Waxman, his assistant Rachel Wu, and the baddest of bad guys, Alex Gunderson.

Although not quite as he envisioned it, the dream of that seventeen year old kid who sat down to write an episode of HARRY O is finally being fulfilled.

I think I like this version better.

 

39 thoughts on “The Long and Winding Road

  1. ZoΓ« Sharp

    Aw, Rob, you know I hate to see a grown man cry …

    Seriously, HUGE congrats on getting KHGB to the small screen. Can’t wait to see it.

    Just goes to show there’s a lot of truth in the old Galaxy Quest line:

    ‘Never give up! Never surrender!’

    Reply
  2. kit

    I loved the show the EQUALIZER!!!
    congradulations on where you are now!

    My favorite thought is..It’s not about getting from here to there..it’s all about the trip in-between.
    and …just WOW! for both you and your dad.he sounds like the best kind of support system ever, someone that BELIEVES.

    Reply
  3. PK the Bookeemonster

    Way cool!
    There’s a scene in Broadcast News (William Hurt, Holly Hunter) where the not-so-telegenic journalist says: "Amazing, I say it here, it comes out there." Or something like that. You’ll get to experience that. Something you created is now going to be a visual for everyone. Brilliant!

    Reply
  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    This is so cool, Rob. What a great story. You’re so fortunate to have a great writer for the pilot episode – that’s very rare. I can imagine how nervous you must have been when you first opened the package with that script in it, wondering if the writer managed to capture your vision. And how comfortable you must have felt when you turned the last page.
    This is a fantastic tale of perseverance. I hope the series is a huge success and that it beats The Simpsons for longest running TV series ever.
    Congratulations–you deserve it!

    Reply
  5. Robert Gregory Browne

    Zoe, thanks. Never give up, indeed. I’ve seen some pretty lean years and just prior to selling Kiss Her Goodbye was edging toward the idea that I’d never see the writing career take off the way I wanted it to. It’s certainly been a roller coaster ride, and I don’t always expect it to be smooth, but I’m enjoying my good fortune until the next dip in the track… πŸ™‚

    Reply
  6. Robert Gregory Browne

    Stephen, I couldn’t be happier with the script. It was a first draft and I’m sure some things will change, but I was frankly amazed that they stayed so true to the novel, yet managed to find a way to improve it in spots and find a truly inspired concept for a series.

    Of course, again, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. It’s still only in pilot phase. There’s no guarantee that it’ll go beyond that.

    Reply
  7. Robert Gregory Browne

    Thanks, Jamie and Jason!

    Thing is, the timing just seems right with all this. I sometimes think that if I had been more successful with the screenwriting career early on, I would have missed out a lot on the most important things in life, like seeing my kids grow up. Which is why I like this version of events better.

    Reply
  8. TerriMolina

    Wow, talk about coming full circle!

    Huge congratulations, Robert. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out on the big screen (meaning my TV..hah)

    Oh…hey did I mention my daughter wants to be an actress?? lol

    Reply
  9. Allison Davis

    Love the cycles of life, the ups and downs, and how things come back. Best of all, love the description and characterization of your dad. There’s a story lurking there somewhere. If it becomes a TV show, that’ll be a good reason for me to finally buy a TV. When analog died, I decided not to go digital, gave away the one TV I had — thinking that one less distraction would help my writing (or I’d get more creative about distractions). Thanks for spotlighting the kid’s dream, we all have them, and I think I’ll dwell on mine a bit now. I first published poetry when I was nine….

    Reply
  10. alli

    Wow. I got tingles and tears reading this. What a fabulous tale and I bet your dad is looking down on you, extremely proud of his son. And he should be. Congrats! And there’s kind of been a "pay it forward" here – the young writer has had a chance to advance his career because of your fabulous book.

    Reply
  11. Robert Gregory Browne

    Thanks all. I’ve just turned in a book, so am taking the next couple days off and am going to the movies today — so if I don’t respond until later, that’s why.

    Alli, just to correct the record, the "young writer" who did the teleplay has been around for many years and has a great reputation in the industry, having directed some of the best television out there. In a way, he’s paying it forward to me…. πŸ˜‰

    Reply
  12. Alexandra Sokoloff

    What I so love about this, besides the fact that you so deserve it, is that this is the way it’s SUPPOSED to be. You wrote the book. It’s yours. It’s as you envision it forever. You own it forever. And every iteration comes from YOUR characters, YOUR story, YOUR work. And no one ever can claim your credit.

    So obvious, and so rare.

    I’m so thrilled and proud of you.

    Reply
  13. Ev Bishop

    Dear Rob,

    I just wrote a blog post called "Overnight Success" and since then have heard so many new stories that fit with it. CONGRATULATIONS on your own overnight success; it’s wonderful that your childhood dreams came true–albeit in a slightly different way than originally imagined.

    "I think I like this version better."

    That’s wonderful.

    ~Ev

    Reply
  14. Donna Kuyper

    Rob has already paid it forward, I can testify. I especially relished this news, because I also have a background of writing children’s tv when none of the film scripts made it to the screen. I am so happy for you, Rob. Really great that you love the script.

    Reply
  15. BCB

    SO very happy for you and the awesome news! Here’s hoping it’s just the beginning of something very good. I trust you’ll keep us updated as to when we can watch it?

    Your post made me think of this quote:

    "I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be." – Douglas Adams

    Also, I am noticing a definite trend in the background/experience of several of you very strong and successful writers. Screenwriting. Really, it’s an eye-opening revelation to discover how many of you have that experience. Makes me think I should put the novel writing on hold and practice writing screenplays for a while instead . . . Okay, yes, I’m kidding. Sort of. I’m forging on the the end of this book if it kills me. And it may. But in terms of continuing education, I am absolutely going to keep an eye out for screenwriting classes.

    Congrats also on finishing the latest work — hope you enjoy the days off!

    Reply
  16. Robert Gregory Browne

    Toni, thanks. Toni was one of the first to read Kiss Her Goodbye and was kind enough to say good things about it all over Thrillerfest… πŸ™‚

    Alex, thanks so much. I’m touched by your comment.

    Ev, yes, sometimes we "overnight successes" have a long, long overnight. But I’m not willing yet to call myself a success. Ask me again about five or ten years from now.

    Donna! Thank you. You need to email me and tell me what’s going on — haven’t heard from you in a while.

    BCB — I absolutely LOVE the Adams quote. I may put that in my sig line. Thank you.

    Gar, thanks, I’m hoping the explosion will be heard for miles around.

    Tom, JT, Terri — did I miss anyone? Thanks for your kind words. And Terri, I’ll be happy to call your daughter should they ever through some miracle ask me anything at all about casting. Which, unfortunately, they won’t.

    In fact, I can’t even imagine who they WILL cast in the pilot. I personally like Timothy Daly, but he’s otherwise engaged. Then I thought, how about Taye Diggs? I think he’s great, and could really play a hardnosed ATF agent.

    But I have absolutely no idea where they’ll go with it. It’ll be fun to watch.

    Reply
  17. Allison Brennan

    I’m a bit late . . . but I wanted to make sure I sent out my congrats publicly. Honestly, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. I liked you from the minute I met you at Thrillerfest in Arizona. To date, that conference is my all time favorite conference. Small, fun, too damn hot, but I met some of my most favorite people on the planet there for the first time–including you.

    Reply
  18. Robert Gregory Browne

    Thanks, Allison — right back at you. That continues to be my favorite conference as well, and the friends I made there continue to be my friends to this day. Especially you. And you know what? I think I still owe you a long island ice tea…

    Reply
  19. Nancy Laughlin

    Congratulations, Rob! How incredibly exciting.
    Between you and Tess, maybe we’ll finally have something good to watch on TV again soon.

    Reply
  20. Robert Gregory Browne

    Thanks, Jude. I knew I missed someone’s comment.

    And Nancy, LOL. But seriously, one of the reasons I’m so excited about this project is that it seems that television is where all the good writing is being done these days. If it actually gets to series, it’ll be nice to see my work be a small part of that.

    Reply
  21. Rob F.

    Heh, I was just thinking the other day: "I wonder how Rob’s doing? Haven’t talked to/emailed him in a while." This is great news. Hope I get to add this series to my DVR scheduled recordings. Congrats!

    Reply

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