News from the Archive

Joshua Brand ... Over Exposure

August 8th, 2017
Joshua Brand

"Like most human beings I'm just trying to make sense of things. I don't know if I accomplished that, I don't know if anybody can. The universe is a weird place. We break our teeth developing theories, equations, and systems... a system is like the tail of truth. But truth is like a lizard: it leaves its taile in your fingers and runs away knowing full well it will grow a new one in the twinkling."- Northern Exposure, "Nothings Perfect"

Having grown up on the “magical realism” presented in the philosophical meanderings of an ex-con radio DJ on KBHR, I was ecstatic when Northern Exposure's creator, Joshua Brand, agreed to an interview. The Queens-born writer has won mutliple Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, a Humanitas prize, a Producers Guild of America Award, the Writers Guild 2013 Television Laurel Award with writing partner John Falsey, and is currently busily working as a consultant on FX’s The Americans. Still, he graciously sat for over four hours to share his stories with us (he couldn’t believe it either).

His parents were working class Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. They had high hopes that Brand would become a lawyer or a doctor. Although he graduated with honors from CIiy College in Queens and got a fellowship to graduate school, Brand was not keen on the academic life. It wasn’t until he met a screenwriter at his sister’s wedding that he realized it was possible to make a living from writing. So he left grad school and drove cross-country with nothing but the number of an agent in his pocket. (He had asked his father for $500 to help him get started, but having grown up in a Polish shtetl and used to working six days/week as a tile man, his father couldn’t fathom how you make a living writing stories that never get produced.) Brand was on his own, writing spec scripts and trying to break into the industry, film or tv, it didn’t matter. 

While sitting in a waiting room ready to pitch for The White Shadow, Brand met another young writer named John Falsey. Falsey scored the gig. Brand almost gave up hope, looking to move back east to try for a teaching gig. But on the way back from NY, Falsey happened to be on the same plane and offered him a job on the series. Brand’s career as a writer formally began.

The medical drama St. Elsewhere was the pair’s first co-created series. But how did the idea to weave the highly-technical and jargon-filled stories from St. Eligius come about? It’s quite a story. Lance Luria was Brand’s roommate and childhood best friend from Queens. He became a doctor (an incredible fete involving flunking out of medical school, bribes for French Pierre Cardin suits, trips to Mexico and a Spanish-speaking girfriend). It was Luria who got Brand all-access to see what residents at a top-teaching hospital endure, and became the inspiration for the show, which was pitched to Grant Tinker as “Hill Street in a hospital” (even though Brand had not yet seen Hill Street Blues).  

On creating St. Elsewhere:

 

The show ran from 1982-88, but Brand left after the first season. When asked why, Brand was forthright. “I did not play well with others.” He admitted that while his inexperience enabled him to take risks, his lack of maturity prevented him from understanding that, with success, “there’s enough to go around.” He apologizes here to his colleagues on the show.

On leaving St. Elsewhere:

 

Brand and Falsey moved on to develop the sci-fi anthology series Amazing Stories with Steven Spielberg (despite having told Spielberg he hated The Twilight Zone and sci fi in general!), and the TV miniseries A Year in the Life, which won him his first Emmy award. When asked what made him take on these challenges, Brand iterated a theme which best represents his professional motto, “‘Yes’ is a better word than ‘no.’ ‘Yes’ creates possibilities and ‘no’ just ends possibilities, a no is a steel curtain. Unless you really, really don’t want to do something, I mean, what the hell?”

On A Year in the Life:

 

Brand enjoyed mixing drama and comedy, fantasy and reality, and divergent storylines in all his shows, but he says unequivocally that Northern Exposure was the closest to his heart. Another “fish out of water” story, inspired (in part) by his old friend Lance (the doctor/cop who by this time was living in a remote hamlet in upstate NY), about a begrudging big-city doctor to the desolate town of Cicely, Alaska (population: 829)  to pay off his medical school loan. Why Alaska? “It’s where everybody goes to recreate themselves,” explains Brand. “Everything that’s loose that isn’t tied down winds up there.”

It was a labor of love from the beginning. A 1990 summer replacement show, the initial order of 8 episodes made for only $829,000 (hence, the population # of fictional Cicely) everyone told Brand he was wasting his time and no one would watch the show. But he was determined to make this little show run. Brand bristles at the term “quirky," but I’m not sure how else to describe a show that catapulted a piano. Of Northern, Brand says, “We were going to see something that was going to look different than anything on television.”

On leaving Northern Exposure 

Brand gives a lengthy account of his personal writing process and one of the most important lessons he’s learned about writing for television, which he describes as “dream time," which includes specifically visualizing a scene before you write it - “Trust your unconsious.”

On his writing process:   

 

Josh spent the better part of the day speaking with us, both on-camera and off. His passion for his work and his effervesence are definitely contagious. Although he absolutely thinks this was overkill, I could have listened to his stories for hours more.  Watch the full interview here.

- Jenni Matz

 

Share and Enjoy:

Remembering June Foray

July 27th, 2017
blog post image

We’re sad to learn that voiceover artist June Foray has passed away at the age of 99. She began her career in radio before moving into voiceover work, voicing “Granny” in "Tweety and Sylvester" and “Witch Hazel” on Bugs Bunny, among others. Foray is perhaps best known for her work as “Rocket J. Squirrel” and “Natasha” on The Bullwinkle Show, but also contributed to many other animated programs from The Smurfs (as “Jokey”) to How the Grinch Stole Christmas (as “Cindy Lou Who”). 

Below are some selections from her 2000 interview:

On voicing “Rocky” and “Natasha” on The Bullwinkle Show

On voicing “Cindy Lou Who” on How the Grinch Stole Christmas:

On her first animation job:

Watch June Foray’s full Archive interview and read her obituary in The Washington Post.

Share and Enjoy:

Adam West: My Batman

July 18th, 2017
Adam West

I don’t envy kids today. In this age of dark, sometimes morally ambiguous superheroes, it must be difficult at times to know whom to root for in comics and on screen. We’ve seen the most recent version of Superman arrested and in chains, and Batman using our own cell phones to spy on U.S. citizens. You even have the United Nations condemning the actions of The Avengers! How is a seven-year old supposed to grasp such storylines? This is one of the many reasons I’m glad the Batman I grew up with was Adam West.

 

I’m not old enough to have been around to see Batman’s original ABC run, but as a kid I watched it almost every day of my life on WPIX, channel 11 out of New York City. They had a “superhero” lineup each afternoon. “Batman, The Adventures of Superman, and The Lone Ranger, weekdays at 4” (kind of a stretch to call The Lone Ranger a superhero, but we’ll let it go.) Adam West, George Reeves, and Clayton Moore were a veritable Mount Rushmore of decency and American values in those roles. For them, the “right thing” was easy to identify in every situation, and they always took that path. Adam West in particular was a natural at playing that role.

It’s difficult for any actor to carry off wearing any superhero costume, and the batsuit is a particular challenge. Any actor runs a risk of looking silly right off the, uh, bat. Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale were actually lucky, as their batsuits were various iterations of black armor and Kevlar. They looked cool as hell. Adam West had to don a costume of blue stretchy nylon and vinyl, with printed on eyebrows, and a yellow utility belt. Against all odds, West wore it very nicely, indeed. It just seemed to belong on him. It was a tribute to West’s complete understanding of how to play this version of that character.

As a seven-year-old, I had no idea that the 1966 ABC television version of Batman was a comedy. To me, at the time, there was nothing funny about Adam West’s earnest portrayal. He was the center of everything good and right. While Batman was the reliable rock that you rooted for, it was the villains you were entertained by. Like Bewitched, Batman assembled a classic group of guest-starring character actors, the likes of whom could not exist today. Julie Newmar was the ultimate Catwoman. No one else who’s played the part has come close. Ok, scratch that. Eartha Kitt, who took over for Newmar in the final season, had a completely different interpretation, and made it her own. I would submit that every single actor who ever played the Joker (until Heath Ledger redefined him) owed a debt to Cesar Romero. Still, as wonderful as these actors were, it was Adam West’s interplay with these characters that made them seem believable, and even like tragic figures, in some cases.

I believe Adam West wasn’t even doing a parody of the comic book version of “Batman,” as much as he was of Dragnet’s Joe Friday. Completely incorruptible, a Boy Scout in a cowl and cape. This was the greatness of his performance. In the insane universe that was the 1966 Batman series, he always played it straight, never winked, never broke. I also think he made for the perfect Bruce Wayne. He was the quintessential philanthropist/playboy with a young ward. 

A quick acknowledgment of one recent on-screen superhero that I believe is a call back to the kind of hero Adam West was playing. Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman” is a throwback to a simpler time, when good and bad was more well defined in our superheroes. The actress plays her without ambiguity, and Gadot is stunning in the role. 

Rest in peace, Adam West. You gave us Generation-X kids something to strive for, while making the adults laugh. We will not see his like again. He joins George Reeves, Clayton Moore, and Christopher Reeve in that great firmament of actors who played decent, moral role models in the sky. And boy, could we use them now.

- John Dalton

Share and Enjoy:

And the 2017 Emmy Nominees Are...

July 13th, 2017
69th Primetime Emmy Awards

The 2017 Primetime Emmy Award season began today with the official nomination announcement at 8:30 AM PST! Congratulations to all the nominees for the 69th Primetime and Creative Arts Emmy Awards and a special congratulations to our interviewees who were nominated this year:

Hank Azaria for Outstanding Guest Actor In A Drama Series (Ray Donovan

Anthony Bourdain for Outstanding Informational Series Or Special (Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown) and Outstanding Writing For A Nonfiction Program (Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown)

James L. Brooks for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media Within A Scripted Program (The Simpsons)

Mark Burnett for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program (The Voice) and Outstanding Structured Reality Program (Shark Tank)

Nancy Cartwright for Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance (The Simpsons)

Joseph DeTullio for Outstanding Production Design For A Variety, Nonfiction, Reality Or Reality-Competition Series (Saturday Night Live)

Robert Dickinson for Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction For A Variety Special (59th Grammy Awards, The Oscars, 70th Annual Tony Awards)

Kelley Dixon for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing For A Drama Series (Better Call Saul)

Elise Doganieri for Outstanding Reality-Competition (The Amazing Race

Vince Gilligan for Outstanding Director For a Drama Series (Better Call Saul), Outstanding Drama Series (Better Call Saul)

Julian Gomez for Outstanding Picture Editing For A Structured Or Competition Reality Program (The Amazing Race)

Ron Howard for Outstanding Directing For A Limited Series, Movie Or Dramatic Special (Genius), Outstanding Limited Series (Genius), Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Special (The Beatles: Eight Days A Week - The Touring Years)

Felicity Huffman for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (American Crime)

Allison Janney for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series (Mom)

Al Jean for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media Within A Scripted Program (The Simpsons)

David E. Kelley for Outstanding Limited Series (Big Little Lies), Outstanding Writing For A Limited Series, Movie Or Dramatic Special (Big Little Lies)

Lisa Kudrow for Outstanding Structured Reality Program (Who Do You Think You Are?)

Steven Levitan for Outstanding Comedy Series (Modern Family)

Judith Light for Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series (Transparent)

James Lipton for Outstanding Informational Series Or Special (Inside the Actors Studio)

Christopher Lloyd for Outstanding Comedy Series (Modern Family)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series (Veep)

William H. Macy for Outstanding Lead Actor In a Comedy Series (Shameless)

Jonathan Murray for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program (Project Runway) and Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program (Born This Way)

Sheila Nevins for Exceptional Merit In Documentary Filmmaking (Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher And Debbie Reynolds)

Keith Raywood for Outstanding Production Design For A Variety, Nonfiction, Reality Or Reality-Competition Series (Saturday Night Live)

John Shaffner for Outstanding Production Design For A Narrative Program (Half-Hour Or Less) (The Big Bang Theory)

John Singleton for Outstanding Documentary Or Nonfiction Special (L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later)

Jeffrey Tambor for Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series (Transparent)

Bertram Van Munster for Outstanding Reality Competition (The Amazing Race

Akira Yoshimura for Outstanding Production Design For A Variety, Nonfiction, Reality Or Reality-Competition Series (Saturday Night Live)

The full list of nominees can be found here.

The Creative Arts Emmys will be held on September 9th and 10th and the Primetime Emmys Telecast will be on September 17th on CBS - be sure to tune in!

Share and Enjoy:

Ron Friedman: A TV Writer’s Journey

July 10th, 2017
Ron Friedman

When I was asked to conduct an interview with writer Ron Friedman I was thrilled. Mr. Friedman’s name didn’t immediately ring a bell with me, but I’d enjoyed the challenges of my three previous interview experiences (which included my all-time hero Garry Shandling) and any chance to sit down and talk to someone on camera about their television career was exciting to me. Ron had an impressive and unbelievably prolific and diverse career. His IMDB page astounded and intrigued me. 

Ron began his career as a television writer with The Victor Borge Show, and soon after became something of a journeyman sitcom writer. His ‘60's credits included My Favorite Martian, Get Smart, The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and many other shows from the WNEW and WPIX syndicated lineups of my tri-state area childhood. I’d been unknowingly preparing for this interview since I was five years old.

One of the shows that immediately caught my eye was the special Lucy in London from 1966. Any time we can get a writer to talk about working for Lucille Ball is a great opportunity. There aren’t too many of them left, after all. The other show from that period I noticed was my all time favorite Gilligan’s Island episode “The Second Ginger Grant.” Yes, that’s the one where Mary Ann bumps her head and thinks she’s Ginger! 

On the day of the interview, I chatted with Ron as he was being made-up for the camera. The first thing that struck me was, at 84, he looked and was as quick on his feet as a man in his early 60s. He made every person in the room blush with his wicked, unvarnished observations and jokes. 

The interview itself was a fascinating journey from Victor Borge to Transformers. Ron was engaging, funny, and had some unique insights. We got to hear a bit of what it was like to work with and for Lucille Ball on Lucy in London. Even better, he told some hysterical anecdotes involving his writing partner on that project, Pat McCormick.

Ron’s time in sitcoms was drawing to a close in the mid-’70s, and one of his last ones was Chico and the Man, the classic starring Freddie Prinze and Jack Albertson. Ron detailed for us how it was working with old pros like Jack Albertson, Della Reese, and Scatman Crothers. Even more interestingly, he spoke at length about Freddie Prinze’s struggles with addiction and depression, and what he tried to do to intervene. Sadly, in the end, it appeared that some key people were more interested in the money the show generated than the well-being of its star attraction. I hope that having this story on tape might encourage others in all walks of life to take a different route.

Suddenly in 1976 Ron’s career took a quick and surprising turn. He started writing episodes of Starsky and Hutch. In television, once a writer is established in a genre they tend to stick with it. Ron, sensing a shift, and understanding how fluid and fickle the television industry and the viewers at home were, decided to make a big change. He also wrote scripts for Charlie’s Angels, The Dukes of Hazzard, B.J. and the Bear, and many other hour-long comedic and dramatic series. He talked to us about making that change from sitcom to hour-long, and why he felt he needed to do it.

After a stint writing for The Fall Guy, Ron made his biggest genre change of all. It would be the third act of his career, and the show he is best remembered for. Hasbro conducted a talent search for writers to create an animated series around their G.I. Joe doll. They loved Ron’s concept and allowed him to create the G.I. Joe animated series. G.I. Joe was followed by several other animated series, including Transformers, Fantastic Four, and Iron Man. Ron, who is as liberal as anyone you’re likely to meet in Hollywood, talked to us about trying to insert the right message into G.I. Joe for children, despite its inherently militaristic themes.

The remarkable story of Ron Friedman is not only about having uncommon talent. It’s about resilience, being adaptable, and having no fear. We interviewed Ron on November 7, 2016, and very soon after I realized how essential those things are in both one’s career and in life. He sets a great example, and not only for aspiring television writers. 

It was fun and informative afternoon. I hope you all enjoy watching the interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.

- John Dalton

 

Share and Enjoy: