Thursday, April 10, 2014

Our attempt at SCANDAL in 1980

This is one of those “boy, have times changed” stories. I watch SCANDAL on ABC and it’s filled with corruption in the White House, conspiracies, murders, infidelities, and cover-ups – usually before the opening credits. Pretty much anything goes except necrophilia (although who knows what they have planned for next season?).

Every time I watch SCANDAL I shake my head. Not that I have any problems with it. It’s highly entertaining. But I can’t help thinking back to 1980 when David Isaacs and I sold a pilot to ABC.

The show was centered on the White House Press Corps. We’d follow these journalists and see all the behind-the-scenes activity that led to scoops, romance, competition, and intrigue. ABC bought the pitch in the room. They loved the premise.

There were just a few minor things they insisted on, but those shouldn’t have any effect on the integrity of the piece.

We were not allowed to show the president. They didn’t want the president to be a character. They were concerned that the audience would infer a political allegiance. This they didn’t want. So we were not allowed to specify which party the president was in.

They preferred if we did no politics. How do you do a show about the White House and have no politics? What was the press corps covering?

We spent several days traveling with the White House press corps. ALL they talked about was politics. We also noticed that photographs of the president were everywhere.

So we said to ABC, could we just show the photo of someone, a non-actor (my dad)? They preferred if we didn’t.

We struggled mightily through the first draft. ABC had a big problem. We named our commander-in-chief President Turner (as generic a name we could find). ABC insisted we don’t name him at all. He was only to be referred to as “the president.”

At that point we were writing THE WIZARD OF OZ. The second draft was like pulling teeth. Never had we turned in a script we believed in less. And God forbid if they picked it up. By week two we’d be out of stories.

Needless to say, the pilot didn’t get picked up. I think they felt it was still too controversial. We were never so happy to see a project die.

And today you have SCANDAL. Can you imagine if our pilot story was they discover the president was having an interracial affair? “Yeah, but we never mention him by name.”


RockGolf said...

I always hoped around the time 24, Commander In Chief and West Wing were all on that on the Emmy broadcast we'd hear "Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome the President of the United States of America, and from three different part of the stage, Dennis Haysbert, Geena Davis and Martin Sheen would all walk up to the podium.

Brian Phillips said...

This is reminiscent of the script that Rod Serling submitted to a show about Emmett Till, the fourteen year-old Black man that was beaten to death for saying, "Bye, baby" to a White woman.

The MINOR changes that were asked for were that Till be made Jewish and that his life should be spared.

Brian Phillips said...


Serling's script REALLY got kicked around. Even he had made Till older, in his original.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ken: Ten years later, THE POWERS THAT BE had the Clintons as off-stage characters. MURPHY BROWN fell afoul of the Bush White House, and HEARTS AFIRE were making fun of George Gaynes as a conservative southern senator. Things changed fast.


croquemore said...

24 years ago this past week Twin Peaks premiered on ABC. I contend that the show was 24 years ahead of it's time. I think that with the expansion of cable programming and even Netflix and Amazon, coupled with Twitter and social media it would have been a hands down hit along the lines of a Game of Thrones or True Detective. My question is, since television has changed so much, are you and David ever tempted to go through the archives and see if there are pilots or stories you wrote years ago that could be updated for today's audiences? The white house press corp pilot sounds extremely interesting.

Brian O. said...

So they wanted THE LOVE BOAT in the White House?

Rays profile said...

ABC? The same network that aired "Carter Country" back in the 70s?

emily said...

Oh NO! Steven Colbert??

Charles H. Bryan said...

The President of the United States having an interracial affair? Shocking. Absolutely sho --

Oh, wait. Thomas Jefferson. Well, there ya go. Now we know what Thomas Jefferson would do if he were alive today; he'd do Kerry Washington.

(I know Sally Jennings was prior to his presidency. I don't care.)

Paul Duca said...

Showtime did a one-off program circa 1984 about the D.C. press corps, called GOOD MORNING, MR. PRESIDENT. Presumably they went with BROTHERS instead of that.

Paul Duca said...

Showtime did a one-off program circa 1984 about the D.C. press corps, called GOOD MORNING, MR. PRESIDENT. Presumably they went with BROTHERS instead of that.

Mike said...

The Sally Jennings link was more hype than fact. All that was determined thru DNA was a link to some Jefferson. Randolph is a more likely ancestor.

James said...

You haven't talked about [b]Mad Men[/b] in a while; I'm a fan and I miss it. Since this is the last season coming up (and I think it starts Sunday?)--what would you do if you were the show runner? It would be interesting to compare your story arc with what Matt Weiner's going to do.

Charles H. Bryan said...

Because I am nothing if not a responsible internet commenter with a relentless devotion to the truth, I have to correct a mistake in my previous post. The correct name is Sally Hemings, not Sally Jennings. This internet commenter regrets the error, and suspects that this is why he got fired from the fact-checker gig at The New Yorkest.

Hey, even the Thomas Jefferson Foundation thinks the Hemings story is true.