Thursday, August 25, 2005

Writing for Television

Two people have asked that I say more about my television writing days. I didn’t do a lot, but I’ll try to remember what I did do.

A drama program named Playhouse 90 was on between 1956–61. My then agent got me a deal to write a tv play for the anthology show. It was a step-deal. I’m sure Lee Goldberg could explain this better, but I’ll give it a try. You were paid something on signing; when you handed in the script; then the rewrite (and there always was at least one); last on production. I didn’t get that far with this deal.

I did get to many meetings. The final one was in some upper east side restaurant with the director they’d chosen. He was Fred Coe. A very nice man. However, within weeks of this meeting the whole project was dropped. I never knew why. That’s the way it happened.

My soap writing experiences were awful (except for the money). The first was a short-lived soap called WHERE THE HEART IS. It had nothing to do with a novel by that name that came much later. The soap was on during the Sixties. I can’t remember a single thing about it. I don’t know who the head writer was except his first name. Bob.

The name for what I did escapes me. But I would get what was known as a breakdown for the script I was to write. Scripts were divided in five acts. Each act was outlined in a paragraph. I’ve since learned that most are pages long, but not on this show. I think I was given a week to do this, but somehow that seems too long. Maybe it was a week when I did 2 scripts per week.

I was meant to fill out each act in dialogue. And god help you if you tried to be funny. I felt I wrote pretty good dialogue, but it was always sent back to me with copious notes.

In the end I was fired. Everyone was fired. No one ever lasted. I did another later on and I can’t even remember which one it was, but it was one that was very popular. The head writer was a fairly well-known playwright but I’ll be damned if I can remember his name. When I quit he threatened me with a blackball so I could never write a soap again.

That was fine with me because I never wanted to write one again. Writing for a soap made me anxious, depressed and plain unhappy. I didn’t like the pressure and I didn’t like the idiocy of the whole thing.

One of the reasons I quit was because I got a deal for my last foray into writing for television. And that was for ABC’s The Wide World of Entertainment. This show came on at eleven and tried to compete with talk shows. My show aired the night some crisis (can’t remember what) happened in the world so it was bumped to a later time that night. As I said in another post the title was the best thing about it: A Little Bit Like Murder. I just tried finding a reference to it by googling the names of Elizabeth Hartman, Nina Foch and Sharon Gless who were all in it. Nobody listed my show. Getting the picture?

So that’s it.

My last experience of having a play mounted was in 1976. It was called Stuck and played in a theater way off-off Broadway. It was a strange part of New York City I wasn’t familiar with. It was called SoHo, but it didn’t mean anything to me then. In a few years I’d live there. Anyway, even though the last experience was a good one, I realized the collaborative life was not for me. And it was a good thing I was writing novels and enjoying it, because women playwrights were not sought after, and even though we’d had Lillian Hellman, no one broke that glass ceiling for years. Certainly not on Broadway. Even now the theaters on B’way are not filled with plays by women. Why is this still the case? I have no answer. Do you?


Anonymous said...

I found a few references to A Little Bit Like Murder on the internet. It's listed on the IMDB ( under Elizabeth Hartman's TV appearances and includes her character's name "Camilla," which I found interesting because Camilla was also the name of the protagonist in your novel Trying Hard to Hear You.

There is also a reference to the show in the New York Times that even contains a plot summary:

And here's an actor who lists the movie in his credits:

With all the cable stations available now, I bet that someday A Little Bit Like Murder will resurface and we'll all get a chance to see it.

Sandra Scoppettone said...

I deleted the second comment because it was a repeat of first.

I looked at Hartman's credits on IMDB but I missed that somehow. The date is wrong though. I think.

Camilla was a friend of mine. I often used names of friends in my scripts and novels.

I couldn't recall the name of the actor, Roger Davis, when I posted. He looked a bit like Henry Fonda back then and he tried to sound like him. He was terrible. And he doesn't even get the title right.

See, it was a memorable piece of work.

Mae West NYC said...

Dear Sandra:
My play "COURTING MAE WEST" - - which features Sara Starr, a character modelled on the late Gr Village resident Starr Faithfull - - is set during the 1920s when Mae West was arrested and jailed for trying to stage two gay plays on Broadway.
Since you wrote Some Unknown Person [about Starr], you probably are aware of the 100th anniversary of Starr's birthday: January 1926.
Interested in doing a reading from Some Unknown Person in Gr Village in January in memory of Starr?
- LindaAnn Loschiavo
a journalist in New York, NY

Anonymous said...

Weren't a few of your Jack Early cop novels made into TV movies with Charles Bronson? Were you involved in those at all?


Sandra Scoppettone said...

Only Donato & Daughter was made into a TV movie. And Charles Bronson did star. Also Dana Delany. He was horrible and she was perfect. No, I had nothing to do with it.

They almost never want the author to adapt. All in all, I thought it was a pretty good script.