LB: A Few Words from the Man Who Taught Me How to Write for TV

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I moved to L.A. in the spring of 1968. I was 23 years old, had had half a dozen short stories published in various science fiction and fantasy magazines, a deal with Ace Books for a science fiction novel, and so many hopes and dreams that my heart pounded excitedly all day and all night, no matter what my body was – or wasn’t – doing.

My first deal in L.A. was with a production company headquartered at MGM. The late and legendary Sam Katzman (he may not have been great, but he sure as hell was fascinating), read the only spec script I’ve ever written in my life and promptly optioned a TV series idea I’d written up. Even better, the same deal made me the co-writer of a feature film he was planning. I would be working with the writer-director,  Arthur Dreifuss, on the script.

I’d been in sunny Southern California for all of 3 months.

Arthur already had written a detailed outline. I did all the writing on the screenplay. It took 3 weeks, after which I joined the WGAw, sat back, and said, “Now what?”

“Now you go to work in television,” my agent, Silvia Hirsch (of the William Morris Agency) told me, and she set up a shitload of meetings with television people who never would have looked in my direction if I hadn’t already had the film under my belt.

The first of the TV people to hire me (although far from the first to meet with me) was Bill Blinn. Bill was 7 years older than I was and at the time was the entire writing staff of a series called HERE COME THE BRIDES. He wasn’t the only writer for the show, just the only one who got a weekly salary. Everyone else was freelance, chosen by the producers and Bill.

And, that summer, Bill and the producers chose me. My first assignment never made it into teleplay. I was cut off at story, for which I was paid 1/3 of the total fee. My second assignment went better. I wrote the story and 2 drafts, and it went on the air to great applause at the then quite small Brody household.

I stopped clapping pretty early on, though, and when the show was over I barely recognized it. The shape of the tale was the same, but not one line of dialog was mine. It was all Bill’s. If I said I despaired, I’d be lying. Larry Brody didn’t work that way in those days. Instead I was just plain pissed off. Hated the show. Hated my agent for putting me together with it.

Most of all I hated Bill Blinn. Hell, why not? He must have hated me too, right? Or my work, which to me in those days was the same thing. Why else would he have rewritten it?

For the next week I stayed awake nights engineering gruesome deaths for Mr. Blinn.

And then he called me and asked me to write another episode. Actually, he said, “you’ll be rewriting it. We bought it from our production supervisor. He’s a good production supervisor, but he’s not a writer. You are, though, so what do you say?”

What could I say? Bill was asking me to rewrite someone else because he didn’t have the time to himself. He loved my work after all! He loved me! Of course I took the gig…

And when I was done, Bill told me how much he liked the rewrite. And then instead of rewriting all of my version, he rewrote most of it and put it on the air.

Over the years, Bill went on to create, write, story edit, or produce a ton of television, including THE INTERNS, THE NEW LAND, THE ROOKIES, STARSKY AND HUTCH, EIGHT IS ENOUGH, FAME, and PENNSACOLA. He also wrote and supervised the writing of a little miniseries called ROOTS, and wrote the original version of BRIAN’S SONG. Oh, and the Prince film, PURPLE RAIN. Along the way, he won the Humanitas Prize for ROOTS, the Writers Guild Award for THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, Emmys for BRIAN’S SONG and ROOTS, the Peabody Award for BRIAN’S SONG, and the Laurel Award for TV Writing Achievement for his whole damn career.

I worked on several of the above projects with my distinguished friend, but then I started getting my own story editor and producer gigs and moved on, to a place not quite as distinguished as his, but hell, I liked where I was…and knew I wouldn’t have been there without him.

See, the way Bill taught me was by not even trying to teach me. By treating me the way he would treat any other “good writer.” The way he saw it, he could fix mistake another good writer made, and as soon as I realized that I was able to learn from what he did. I’d see the changes he had made, character, dialog, and storywise, in my work, in each script. And I’d look closer and think and think and think until I figured out why he made those changes.

And the next time I wrote anything for him I’d make sure he wouldn’t have to make any of the same kinds of changes again. It became a kind of game (a death match, maybe, because he still pissed me off) for me to anticipate what Bill would do in any one scene and head him off by going that way by myself. After a few years, I didn’t have to deliberately second-guess him anymore. Thinking the way he did just became natural. It became the way I thought as well.

I really enjoyed working with him toward the end there, before I started producing. Because it felt so good to no longer be angry. To be able to relax and let what I’d learned flow out my fingers to the keys.

Which brings us to the main part of this post, all the above merely being an introduction to the following video interview in which a fine writer and even finer man gives us some insight into both those elements of his being.

About LB

Larry Brody has been profiled in such national magazines and websites as Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, Starlog, People, Electronic Media, IndieSlate, TechTV, io9, and of course TV Guide.

A legendary figure in the television writing and production world, with a career going back to the late ’60s, Brody has written and produced literally thousands of hours of network and syndicated television.

Brody has also been active in the TV animation world, writing, creating, consulting, and/or supervising the cult favorite STAR TREK animated TV series, the SILVER SURFER, SPAWN, SUPERMAN, SPIDERMAN, and SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED animated series, and was showrunner of the French animated series, DIABOLIK, as well as part of the team that developed and wrote the live-action/cgi animation sci-fi series Ace Lightning for the BBC.

Shows written or produced by Brody have won several awards including – yes, it’s true – Emmys.

4 thoughts on “LB: A Few Words from the Man Who Taught Me How to Write for TV

  1. geraldsanford says:

    Did I miss it? Read the past with only one eye…and not the best one at that. Did I only imagine QM telling me how good a new writer was? And how my getting him in might further my career as well? And let’s not forget the “SALTZMAN RAVES”. Have the years we walked if not side by side, but on the same street, disappear like the shadows of all writers past? FADE OUT. THE END. gs

    • LB says:

      Dood, Bill’s the one who got me ready for you guys. He’s the reason Saltzman raved. He prepared me to take over your desk after you decided to leave QM.

      Of course, I didn’t take over your desk. I went elsewhere instead. But that’s another story.

      LYMI,

      LB

  2. geraldsanford says:

    I probably already mentioned this, but Sylvia Hirsch was my first agent, too! Followed by Ron Mardigian. Don’t go telling me you were with Barry Perelman, too! I’m with THE CHARACTERS now — CARL LIBERMAN — in Canada. Was also with Helen Harvey, and several hundred more. Seems we both played the same game…but can’t remember where or when. gs

    • LB says:

      I left Sylvia and WMA and went to Leonard Hanzer at Major Talent. Terrific agent who died young thanks to his penchant for, well, for eating a lot.

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