Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Awards given by your peers generally hold more weight. And that’s why being nominated for a WGA Award is an honor. At least for me. I’ve won a People’s Choice Award and they wouldn’t even give me the statue. They wanted me to pay $300 for it. No thank you.
But I’m always been extremely humbled and grateful to be nominated for a WGA Award. And David Isaacs and I have been nominated numerous times (we won twice).
But one time was very weird. In the summer of 1981 the WGA membership went out on strike (big shocker). But some of the small production companies that were getting killed by the layoff made a deal with the WGA that they would accept whatever terms were eventually reached if they could continue to do business. A new sitcom premiering that fall on ABC was called OPEN ALL NIGHT. An small independent company produced the show – I think they were called Freeway Productions.
The show was created by Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses, former showrunners of THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and future showrunners of BUFFALO BILL.
At the time, David and I had a development deal with Lorimar, making us exclusive to them. But our deal was temporarily suspended during the strike. Tom & Jay asked if we wanted to write a couple of episodes of OPEN ALL NIGHT. Since it was legal and we loved working with those guys, we happily accepted.
Both of our episodes aired although the series never caught on. The show debuted the end of November and was gone by March. Still, we were happy with the two episodes we wrote.
Then it came time to submit scripts for the WGA Awards. Usually we had MASH scripts, but this year all we had was OPEN ALL NIGHT. So we figured, what the hell? We submitted one of the two scripts, "Terry Runs Away."
A few months later we got a call from our agent. She said the WGA nominations were just announced and she congratulated us for making the cut. We thanked her, but both of us honestly thought she was joking. How could an OPEN ALL NIGHT get nominated? You still had MASH along with TAXI and I believe, BARNEY MILLER. So we hung up and thought nothing of it.
The next morning the paper arrived (yes, we still got newspapers in those days) and I was curious to see who actually did get nominated.
HOLY SHIT! She was telling the truth!
Also, the production company (or studio) will buy a table for your show. The studio execs, showrunner, and maybe some staff members will be there in support. No one from Freeway Productions planned on attending.
We were assigned a table that had four vacancies. So David and I and our Plus Ones joined the folks at HILL STREET BLUES. It felt like we crashed someone’s party. And it didn’t help that none of the HILL STREET folks had ever heard of OPEN ALL NIGHT.
HILL STREET BLUES won the Best Drama Award. The writer had a whole list of colleagues to thank. I turned to David and said, “Who would we thank? Other than Tom & Jay, we never met anybody from Freeway Productions. Have we even gotten paid?” David wisely said, “What difference does it make? We’re not going to win.”
Sure enough. He was right. Yes, it was disappointing. It always is. At the moment they announce the nominees you never think just being nominated is an honor. You hope you WIN. In this case, we weren’t expecting a victory. But it sure would have been a hoot. Especially walking up to the stage, hearing the murmurs of “OPEN ALL NIGHT? What the fuck is that?”
This year’s WGA Awards are Saturday night. Best of luck to all the nominees. It really IS an honor.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM