Saturday, March 29, 2008

It seemed like a good idea (but not as good as our original idea) at the time.










I talk from time to time about doing the Mary Tyler Moore comeback vehicle, MARY for CBS in 1985. Here is a sample of the pilot script (written by David Isaacs and me). And since you’ll never see the show on the air, even as cable channels grow to the thousands, I figured, it’s either here or nothing.

CBS wanted an updated version of her old show, believing that Mary’s audience would only accept a more mature version of Mary Richards. We listened to them instead of doing our original idea. That was our first mistake.

The premise everyone agreed upon was that Mary, a high class fashion writer found herself unemployed when her magazine folded. She winds up working at a Chicago tabloid, the kind that views the Sun-Times as if it were the NY Times. We tried to put her in a much funkier, edgier arena than WJM. And we tried to give her a love interest. Our inspiration was HIS GIRL FRIDAY. We wanted someone who was handsome, charming, and kept Mary completely off guard. Was he a cad or just pushing her to be better? We hired James Farentino who was GREAT. Here’s the scene where they meet – Mary’s job interview.

**********

INT. FRANK DEMARCO’S OFFICE – DAY

THIS IS THE ONE PLACE THEY DIDN’T CLEAN UP AFTER THE CHICAGO FIRE. FRANK IS SITTING BEHIND HIS DESK, ON THE PHONE, GETTING A HAIRCUT.

ALSO PRESENT IS A TALL, THIN MAN WHO WEARS HEAVY BIFOCAL GLASSES. THIS IS TULLY, THE COPY EDITOR.

MARY ENTERS.

(NOTE: THIS SCENE SHOULD PLAY AT 200 MPH)

FRANK
(INTO PHONE) Of course the cop won’t let you take a picture of the body. You slip him fifty bucks, he turns the other way, you go in and get the shot. Do you want the Pulitzer or not?! (TO MARY) Come on in.

MARY
Did I get you at a bad time?

FRANK
(WITHOUT LOOKING UP) Not at all. (TO BARBER) Keep a little in back. (THEN) Tully, how many S’s in “disappear”?

FRANK HANDS HIM A DUMMY SHEET. TULLY HOLDS THE COPY AT ARM’S LENGTH AND STRAINS TO SEE IT.

TULLY
Where?

FRANK
In the headline!

TULLY
Oh. Three.

FRANK
(TO MARY) Unions. I have to keep a legally blind copy editor. (TO TULLY) There’s two! Should be one. Fix it and print it.

TULLY
Big deal, so I’ll take out an “S”.

FRANK
Out!

TULLY EXITS. FRANK EXTENDS HIS HAND.

FRANK
Frank DeMarco.

MARY
Nice to meet you, Mr. DeMarco.

FRANK
Please…Frank. You got some samples of your work?

SHE OPENS HER ATTACHE CASE, HANDS HIM ONE.

MARY
Yes, well, this article from 1980 won an award from the fashion writers of…

THE PHONE RINGS.

FRANK
Hold on. (INTO PHONE) Yeah…

MARY
…America.

FRANK
(INTO PHONE) What do you mean he won’t take fifty bucks? This is Chicago! All right, for one picture we’ll get him floor seats for a Bulls game.

HE HANGS UP.

MARY
Look, if you’re busy I could…

FRANK
(YELLING) Tully!!

TULLY (O.S.)
Coming!

FRANK
Let’s do it now, Mary. This afternoon it’s gonna get crazed.

TULLY POPS HIS HEAD IN.

FRANK
You know the drawing the Sports Department is having for the Bulls tickets?

TULLY
Yeah.

FRANK
We just got a winner.

TULLY
Who?

FRANK
Me.

TULLY
Right.

TULLY EXITS.

BARBER
Finished.

THE BARBER HOLDS UP THE MIRROR.

FRANK
Well, Mary, what do you think?

MARY
About what?

FRANK
The hair.

MARY
Fine.

FRANK
Mary, if you’re gonna work here you have to have an opinion.

MARY
Am I going to be working here?

FRANK
I don’t think so.

THE BARBER PACKS UP TO LEAVE.

BARBER
See you Friday.

FRANK CHECKS HIS POCKETS.

FRANK
Son of a gun, no change. Mary, you got a buck?

MARY
No.

FRANK
I’m getting no help today, Henry. Catch you next time.

THE BARBER EXITS.

FRANK
Mary, just looking at you I can tell you’re a very talented writer.

MARY
I am.

FRANK
But the thing is, see, I’ve only been here three months. It’s my job to turn this turkey around. And that’s fine ‘cause that’s what I like to do. Storm into town, make a lot of noise, rattle some cages, leave a silver bullet, and move on. Look around you. I don’t need fashion talk. Most of our readers use this paper for clothing.

MARY
Then why did you agree to see me?

FRANK
Because I do have an opening, but I don’t think you’re right for it.

MARY
Oh, what is it?

FRANK
You really wanna know?

MARY
Not really, but I’m here so what the hell!

TULLY POPS HIS HEAD IN.

TULLY
Sorry, Frank, the guy’s already picked up his tickets.

FRANK
Thanks, Tully, you’re a big help.

TULLY
You can’t fire me, you know.

FRANK
Get outta here.

TULLY EXITS.

MARY
You know, Frank, you’re probably right. I don’t think I really fit in. Actually, I just came here as sort of a last resort but there must be resorts even worse I can try.

FRANK
I want to start a consumer “Help Line” column. Readers send in all sorts of problems. Our advocate fights like hell, cuts through the red tape, and we print the best stories.

MARY
That’s the job?

FRANK
Sensation sells papers, Mary. But above all what I want for the Eagle is credibility.

THE PHONE RINGS.

FRANK
(INTO PHONE) Yeah…The cop went for it, huh?… Good. Okay, take the picture and tell him you’ll drop by later with his circus tickets… What? Basketball tickets? Where am I gonna get basketball tickets?

HE HANGS UP. MARY IS STUNNED. SHE CAN’T BELIEVE THIS GUY.

MARY
Well I should be going. I’ve been here… (CHECKING HER WATCH) Whoa! Two whole minutes.

FRANK
Sorry to waste your time. But I doubt if a woman with your background could handle auto mechanics, immigration, city hall –

MARY
(IMMEDIATELY) How do you have any idea what I can or cannot do? You don’t know anything about me. I have faced more than my share of crises with a great deal of poise.

FRANK
Personal crises?

MARY
That’s none of your business. And as far as a car mechanic is concerned, I’d rather face one of them than an irate designer any day. Let me tell you about the time –

THE PHONE RINGS.

MARY
Oh for godsakes…

FRANK

(ON PHONE) Yeah… He doesn’t want me going with the story? Tough! He’s an elected official. As long as he’s got his hand in the till, I’m gonna be on his back.

HE HANGS UP.

MARY
… Let me tell you about the time they wouldn’t let me into a showing at… what elected official?

FRANK
It’s confidential but I’ll open my closet if you’ll open yours.

MARY
No, thank you.

FRANK
I knew I was safe. Now, you were saying?

MARY
I was going to tell you about the time…

FRANK
That’s well and good, Mary, but have you ever read the Post? A lot different style than Woman’s Digest.
MARY
I can write anything. I’ve done all kinds of material… short stories, novellas (PROUDLY) .. rejected by some of the finest publishers in this country!

FRANK
Where do you find the time to write all that?

MARY

Oh, nights.. weekends.

FRANK

Don’t you have a social life?

MARY/FRANK
That’s none of your/my business.

FRANK
Bottom line, Mary, I just don’t think you’re tough enough.

MARY
I am tough enough.
FRANK
Prove it.

THE PHONE RINGS. FRANKS REACHES FOR IT BUT MARY BEATS HIM TO IT. SHE GRABS THE PHONE AND YANKS IT OUT OF THE WALL.

MARY

There!

FRANK

I’ll try ya.

MARY

(STILL DEFENSIVE) It sounds like fun.

FADE OUT. END OF ACT ONE.

22 comments:

sephim said...

I liked this story the first time you told it.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

INT. FRANK DEMARCO’S OFFICE – DAY

THIS IS THE ONE PLACE THEY DIDN’T CLEAN UP AFTER THE CHICAGO FIRE.


Genius, Ken! That's the kind of word collection that keeps me inspired when I write.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I like her - she's got spunk.

KEN LEVINE said...

Yes,it's a re-post. I'm assuming there are one or two new readers since the first time it ran...18 months ago.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of rare sitcom things, has anyone seen this before?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=6hbbo4yZrDY

Paul Duca said...

Just out of curiosity...what WAS your original idea?

Tina Delgado said...

I like the Cary & Roz version better.

A. Buck Short said...

I for one appreciate the reprise. Hecht of a good scene, including but not limited to, “none of your/my business” and “worse resorts.” Very, very funny. Did Mary find the Farentino role too funny? Would “There’s one ‘S’ should be two, fix it” have been joke at the expense of character? Or could that have been saved followed by, “I’m only yanking your chain Tully, because we got a visitor”? Also not up to the exhibited wordplay standards, but had you guys considered, “TULLY: O.K., I’ll get your ‘S” outta there!” – and then realized it was 1985?

The one place they didn’t clean up after the Chicago Fire reminded me of the terrific Robert Schimmel line about getting non-Hodgkins lymphoma – “Great the one disease they didn’t name after the doctor.” Is there a name for that technique?

sephim said...

Your choice:-

a) Wow, THAT long ago? Didn't seem that far back since coming to this site I went through the entire archive in two weeks.

b) I'm kind of an asshole :)

c) If you choose to fight the dragon, turn to page 43.

A. Buke Short said...

OK, I know this is being the usual bloghog, but hey, it's Sunday-Sunday-Sunday. Traffic shouldn't be that heavy, and this frees me up to stay out of your hair for the rest of the day.

Had a true-life experience I hope you don’t mind me sharing because it’s sort of what I understand Mary’s contrasting character/actual dynamic to have been. My third week as a minor Boston TV executive (yes, I’m here to turn myself in), we had an afternoon women’s/live audience talk show host with a reputation for being a holy terror to her bevy of ingenue segment producers. Let’s just call her Mary.

She had just begun a relationship with a somewhat self-righteous anchor, giving Monica Collins (later USA Today TV critic) the perfect hook to christen the couple “Stuffy and Fluffy.”

Mary was actually better than that. I had the bright idea of taking Monica to lunch and then to the live broadcast so she could see “the real Mary” wasn’t the lunatic she had been portrayed to be. Almost immediately, I knew things would go awry while sitting with Monica in the audience and hearing that Mary’s topic for the afternoon would be electroshock therapy. Then that her guest expert would be Mary’s own personal psychiatrist. I noticed the critic had become giddy with anticipation.

As the show is about to begin, to demonstrate the therapeutic procedure, the producerettes wheel in a gurney transporting one of those CPR manikins wired up like for an EKG. Mary throws a fit, insisting that someone undergoing this type of serious procedure would have been in a hospital gown and not the blue velour running suit.

All was lost by that time. During a break, they announced that Mary and her psychiatrist would take questions from cards circulated among the audience. I showed Monica my typical women’s afternoon talk show question for a subject like this: “If you would like to try electroshock therapy…in your home…and you only have a 20 amp. circuit…do you have to unplug the toaster?”

To bring this full circle, Mary was from one of the Dakotas and left to marry the publisher of one of the two big Chicago daily newspapers.

KEN LEVINE said...

Our original idea had it flipped. They were divorced and now Mary was the editor. He has to come back and work for her. If it sounds vaguely familiar it's because that's what they did on INK with Ted Danson about seven years later. Ironically, on CBS.

Jason Sanders said...

That was really cool. Thanks for reposting this Ken, I hadn't seen it before.

Gail Renard said...

Ken, normally I hang on your every word. I haven't seen the original post but would love to. Could you please provide a link? Pretty please?

Anonymous said...

Mary, you have lack of spunk. I love lack of spunk.

Amanda said...

Anonymous said...
"Speaking of rare sitcom things, has anyone seen this before?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=6hbbo4yZrDY"

Anonymous, I love you! I've been looking for that clip for months! Thank you!

Diogo said...

People talk about the "What if" they got married, but really how could it have worked? Sam Malone as a married man would be just torture. I'm glad they were kind of forced to go the way they did, instead of one of those season finales when she threatened to leave (or did leave), only to come back the next year. The ultimate schmuck bait.

Anonymous said...

ger apeldoorn said...
I like her - she's got spunk.

3/30/2008 12:21 AM


I hate spunk!

I remember this show. I remember the episode where Mary invited the tough girl-reporter to a party with her artsy-snooty friends, and they asked her if she had any interests outside of work, and TGR replied, "Yeah, smokin'!", as she fired up a Marlboro. I was a smoker at the time, and that just cracked me up.

emily said...

Spunk? Wasn't that the stuff on Monica's little blue dress?

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Don't worry about reposts, Ken. With my memory you could rerun your last American Idol column and it would seem new to me.

jbryant said...

Very nice. I don't think I saw any episodes of that.

I did, however, see the lovely Mary in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show the other day on hulu.com, guest starring the late great Allan Melvin. Damn, she was a cutie. She was definitely a Boomer dream girl.

Pamela Jaye said...

sephim said...

I liked this story the first time you told it.

----
thank goodness. I thought it was just me! :-)

Anonymous said...

This whole scene makes no sense. Where's the laugh track? You need to either add a laugh track to the script, or add some jokes that are actually funny, that's why nobody buys your pilots.