This issue's features are:
CREATING EARLY EDITION
by Vik Rubenfeld
Lenore asked me for an article describing how EARLY EDITION was created. Well, it's a pretty good story...
I had written, produced, directed, cast and cut an independent feature which we sold all over the world at Cannes, Mifed and AFM, and which made a profit. So I was looking for another low-budget script to produce.
Pat Page and I met playing volleyball in Manhattan Beach, California. Pat had written several scripts which he showed to me, and we got to talking a lot about premises for features. One day we were talking on the phone and we made up EARLY EDITION, each of us contributing different key parts of what ultimately became the show.
And I said, it should not be a feature -- it should be TV. Because it was a really unique way to put a character in physical jeopardy each week, which you need for a TV drama. Also, in TV you're always desperately trying to find new stories -- here, you have the entire paper to draw on. And, you were going to have a rock solid plot each week -- Gary was going to open the paper, see something he wanted to fix -- and he'd have to try hard the whole episode to fix it. Also, it was uplifting, and TV needs more uplifting shows.
I knew that what I was suggesting was considered by almost everyone to be impossible. Almost anyone in the business will tell you that it is impossible to get a show on the air in network prime time unless you have been in TV for ten years as a producer or a writer. And in fact, very few people other than Pat and I have ever done it. But I felt that this show was perfectly designed, that TV desperately needed something like this, and that those rules didn't apply to it.
In TV when you design a show, you do what is called a Bible, a written document that describes the characters, the world of the show, and treatments for a dozen episodes. Our Bible also contained a detailed treatment for the Pilot episode describing how the whole thing began. This became the story for the pilot episode as shot, which is why Pat and I also got "Story By" credit on the Pilot, in addition to our "Created By" credit on the series.
While we were working on the Bible Pat was asking me, who are we going to pitch this to? And I said, we'll find somebody. We pitched it to a lawyer, who didn't like it. And to an assistant agent, who didn't like it.
I belong to a great group of writers called THE PAGE. You have to be a published or produced writer of any kind to join (TV, Film, Novels, Journalism, etc.), and it's $60 a year. If you're a writer I highly recommend it. You can find it at <http://www.pagebbs.com/>.
PAGE is an Internet discussion group, and once a month many of the members get together in person and have dinner. At one of these dinners I was speaking to PAGE member Ian Abrams. At that point Ian had written UNDERCOVER BLUES, a feature film that starred Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner. Ian had also done some work in network TV. I told Ian that my friend and I had a great idea for a TV show, and we were trying to figure out who to pitch it to. Ian said, "Pitch it to me."
We didn't have any reason we knew of to pitch it to Ian, but we figured it would be good practice. So we took Ian to lunch at RJ's in Beverly Hills, and pitched it to him. Half way through the pitch he said, "That's the coolest thing I ever heard. I have to call Lillah." Lillah was Lillah McCarthy, a producer at TriStar Television.
Ian had just written a script that had gotten a pilot episode of a TV show greenlit, that is, put into production. We met with Lillah, and she loved our show and asked if it was okay with us if Ian wrote the pilot. We said sure. We wanted a writer the networks liked -- and, Ian had gotten us into TriStar. They pitched it to CBS -- and within 24 hours CBS ordered a pilot script. Ian wrote the script based on our treatment, and added some great contributions of his own as well. They shot the pilot -- and the show got picked up, and became the highest-rated new drama of that season.
And that's how it happened. In the entire business the show was only pitched about five times.
Vik Rubenfeld lives in Los
by Jeff Melvoin
September 18, 1998
Dear Early Edition fans,
I want to welcome you to our third season and thank you for your loyal support. We couldn't have gotten this far without you, nor can we anticipate a fourth season without your continued enthusiasm.
Though television is a business that routinely deals with millions of viewers, the fact is a vocal and visible group of supporters like you can have a significant impact on network decisions. I encourage you to write, petition, e-mail, messenger-dove the powers that be whenever you have a point to make, regarding this or any show. You'd be surprised what some well-chosen words can do.
I know from browsing the net that some of you have questions about the new season. Let me reassure you that Early Edition remains the same warm, charming, mysterious, unpredictable, uplifting show that it's always been. It will always be about this guy, Gary Hobson, who gets tomorrow's newspaper today.
That being said, we've made a few changes, and you deserve an explanation. Most prominently, the departure of Chuck Fishman, played by Fisher Stevens. Originally, Chuck and Marissa were presented as the devil and angel on Gary's shoulders. It was a clever concept and it worked fine. But when I was asked to step onto the show about a third of the way into last season, my sense was this formula was wearing thin. At its most extreme, I wondered why such a nice guy like Gary Hobson would have anything to do with a guy like Chuck? I felt the combination was in danger of actually undermining Gary's appeal. What's more, I knew that Fisher was getting impatient to move onto other opportunities as both a producer and a director. Our research, both formal and informal, indicated that Chuck was not a critical element of the show's popularity. I expect some of you will disagree. Nevertheless, the decision was made to let him go. Fisher will appear in at least one show, episode seven, titled "Up, Chuck," and will direct an episode for us.
Chuck's departure created new opportunities. For one thing, we wanted to enhance the role that Marissa plays in the series. So, in the premiere episode, you'll see how she comes into more responsibility and prominence. Beyond expanding Marissa's presence, the challenge was how to populate the bar in a way that would both appeal to viewers and help stimulate stories. Rather than try to replace Chuck in a simple one-to-one way, we decided to add several new cast members.
I must tell you that my first choice was to retain Ron Dean as Crumb, put him in the bar, let him assume his familiar, gruff role of the hardened disbeliever with a heart of gold. This is the only area in which the network and I disagreed. With our move to 8 o'clock, the network strongly felt that we needed to go younger, at least initially. Considering that they were kind enough to renew the show, it wasn't difficult to accede to their request in this area. I still hope to bring Crumb back into the show's orbit, and if you'd like to see this happen, I encourage you to let CBS know.
Okay, so no Crumb for the time being. Instead, we went with a fresh, new talent, Billie Worley, who plays Patrick Quinn, an energetic, likable, slightly off-the-wall bartender who brings a wonderful comedic presence to McGinty's. Next, we thought another woman in the center of the action would add energy and interest. We didn't want to make her an obvious romantic choice for Gary - this being television, we needed room to play with over the course of the season, so we decided to make her a young divorcee with an 8-year-old boy in tow. Thus were Erica Paget and Henry Paget born.
We were very lucky to land film actress Kristy Swanson as Erica, though the nature of her availability meant we could only sign her initially for six episodes. Everyone, including Kristy, is pleased with how these shows have gone, so we are in the process of trying to extend Kristy for the duration of the season. I'm hopeful we will work this out in the next week or so. Playing Henry is Myles Jeffery, a winning and talented young actor who among his many credits appeared in "Face/Off" and is the voice of the children's "Got Milk?" campaign.
To summarize, our goal with the new characters has been to create a warm and stimulating context in which Gary Hobson can operate. While the inherent nature of the show will almost always focus on Gary and the weekly problems that the paper creates for him, nevertheless, we have persistently heard that viewers want to know more about him personally. We feel these new characters will help peel back some layers of Gary's personality.
That's pretty much it. We've thrown in a few more visual tricks for transitions and so forth, something we'll be playing with over the course of the season. We may add a new main title at some point to accommodate our new cast members (particularly if we retain Kristy), though the music will remain the same. We're excited about how things are going. We hope you share our enthusiasm. In any case, I'm sure I can count on you to let us know. Enjoy the fall.
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