I’m sure some of you have wondered what I’ve been up to since CARNIVÁLE. Believe it or not, I’ve been insanely busy. The reason I say “believe it or not” is because only a small fraction of my subsequent body of work has made it to air.
Though some of you are aware of the episodes I’ve written or produced for shows such as SUPERNATURAL, FEAR ITSELF, MY OWN WORST ENEMY and SPARTACUS: BLOOD AND SAND, only I and a few guys in suits have seen my pilot for DARKFALL, postulating a future in which technology fails and magic becomes operative, or THE ORDER, about an ancient monastic sect whose sole mission for the past millennium has been to prevent the Apocalypse and now runs counter-occult black-ops from a basement deep below the Vatican, or CRUZ, my offbeat take on the P.I. genre.
Nor have you seen my odd dark comedies like HONEY VICARRO, WHERE THE HART IS and my favorite, DEARLY BELOVED, a FAWLTY TOWERS-style farce set in a small-town funeral home in the rural South. And then there are my long-form adaptations of DRACULA and THE INVISIBLE MAN.
A voluminous body of work that, for reasons over which I’ve had no control, has not been produced.
Now, I’ve got an ego, but I’m not a total megalomaniac; I suppose it’s always possible that those projects sucked rocks. But since my long-suffering agent, Pete, continues to successfully use them as writing samples to get me more gigs, quality doesn’t seem to be the issue.
So if not quality, then what?
Figuring out the answer to that question is not only unproductive and debilitating, but also a one-way ticket through Poor-Me-Land to Crazytown.
Suffice it to say, the planets simply haven’t aligned and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past half-decade or so, it’s how impossibly, fantastically, insanely lucky I was to get CARNIVÁLE on the air and keep it there for two years.
To a major extent, the only difference between my career Before CARNIVÁLE (B.C.) and after the show’s Abrupt Death (A.D.) is that now I get paid for writing stuff nobody wants to produce.
This would be just ducky (as Sofia might say) if financial remuneration was the reason I create. But I was making a pretty terrific living as an insurance broker before I got into this nutty business, thank you very much. No. The reasons I write are legion, and I would continue to do so whether I was being paid or not, produced or not, published or not. It’s hard-wired. It’s who I am. Besides, how else can I pay forward all the great moments gifted to me by my betters, Ray Bradbury, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Anne Rice, Mark Twain, Dennis Lehane, John Milius, Elmore Leonard, Gertrude Stein, Stephen King, Robert Crais, Alexander Dumas, H.G. Welles, Poppy Bright, William Goldman, Jan Fischer, Dashiell Hammett, David Mamet, Robert E. Howard, Rod Serling, Robert Towne, H.P. Lovecraft, John Steinbeck, Ursula LeGuin, Shane Black, John Fante, et al.
But I can’t pay dick forward if I don’t have an audience.
And among all my motives to create stories—sundry, silly or splendid—you decidedly will not find a burning desire to impress the shit out of a handful of entertainment executives.
I suppose there are writers who, once paid, are perfectly happy to move on to the next project, but I am most decidedly not one of them.
When I create, I do so with unconditional passion, pride and dedication. Whether the results are worth the effort may be debatable, but what is not debatable is the cold hard fact that I love every one of them as I would my own child. To see them locked up, languishing on a dusty shelf rather than woo and thrill and seduce and move an audience is intolerable.
Worse, I have grown increasingly impatient with playing Mother May I with a bunch of timid, arrogant punks.
Every good writer and showrunner I know is absolutely miserable in the current production environment. Virtually no creative decision—no matter how trivial—can be made without being second, third, fourth and fifth-guessed by terrified rabbits. To resist or discuss—much less argue—the validity of a network note is tantamount to career suicide; if one doesn’t immediately and cheerfully comply with even the most egregiously bad “suggestion,” one risks being branded difficult and suffering years of unemployment.
Meanwhile, development—always a crucible—has mutated into a babbling, raging, giggling, blood-drenched chamber-of-horrors in the deepest, most dank basement of Bedlam.
Drafts that initially delighted the network, that they assured the writer need “just a few tweaks,” are endlessly rewritten, restructured, reimagined and hopelessly twisted out of true. They take the parable of the Blind Men and the Elephant to its most extreme, most absurd degree by giving the blind men absolute and incontestable authority over a team of extraordinarily talented but docile surgeons to repeatedly carve up the elephant and stitch it into any configuration that pleases them.
Suffice it to say, the elephant rarely survives the procedure.
There are only two kinds of writers that thrive in contemporary Hollywood: Those few giants that have a long, unbroken run of monster hits who frighten the Blind Men, and the many attractive, charming hacks who shamelessly flatter the Blind Men with their eager, affable subservience.
Regrettably, I am neither. That’s not to say I’m some kind of Howard Roark; I am perfectly ready and willing to resort to flattery and blandishments in order to feed my family.
It’s simply not my strong-suit.
Such was the State of the Union, so to speak, when, two years ago, I came up with my weirdest and, perhaps, most audacious idea to date.
I called it BlackBxx.