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.