Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A crazy award season story

They say it’s an honor just to be nominated. And I guess that’s true. But it kind of depends on what the award is you’re nominated for. “Best Sleeper” in camp is not as prestigious as an Oscar (although it is on a par with a Golden Globe).

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!

The Awards were given out at a gala dinner – by gala, I mean expensive. But the production company always paid for their nominees. Usually they also provided limos. Unfortunately, once OPEN ALL NIGHT was cancelled the production company disbanded. There was no one to cover our tickets.

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.


Roger Owen Green said...

Great story! Maybe you should have written an Open All Night/Hill Street Blues crossover...

Lord Lillis said...

First: 安全的旅行

Second: "Open All Night" was the American version of a big British hit "Open All Hours". Was there any interaction or guidance from Roy Clarke? I do remember the David Letterman episode - the end was very "meta".

Johnny Walker said...

"Safe trip"?

Anyhoo, I didn't realise there'd been an American version of "Open All Hours" nevermind that it had been nominated for a WGA Award. It must have been a good script, Ken. Were you proud of it?

Here's as many episodes as are available online at the moment, it seems.

Open All Night (1981)

Sadly Ken and David's episodes (6 and 7) are missing.

Johnny Walker said...

Interestingly, the IMDb only credits Ken for one of the episodes? Mistake?

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken has a wonderful way of telling a story. It's an art.

Mike S. said...

If it's any consolation to you and David, Ken, I watched EVERY episode of "Open All Night" when it originally aired. Loved it. I think ABC made a grave error in slotting it on Saturday nights. It would have worked much better on Thursdays, paired with "Taxi". At least you were able to sit at the "Hill Street Blues" table. I would have given my right arm for that honor!

Jon B. said...

"Open All Night" was hilarious. I was sorry to see it go so quickly. George Dzundza later starred in "Law & Order" (the first season), but I always think of him from "Open All Night".

Hamid said...

Hope your trip is off to a great start, Ken!

Hamid said...

Jon, I always think of George Dzunda from his brilliant performance in Basic Instinct, especially for one of the funniest lines in any movie: "It's that magna cum laude pussy that done fried up your brain!"

Anonymous said...

Great story. And nice to see that I am not the only guy that put his WGA Award nomination in a frame. I was a little sheepish about that. But it's all I have have since I lost on Saturday.

D. McEwan said...

I remember Open All Night. I believe I saw every episode that aired.

Johnny Walker said...

Safe trip indeed! (I missed the previous post somehow.) Have fun!

Scott said...

I think I was 11 when the show debuted and departed, but I loved it. I believe I still have memories of an episode when a young boy (played by Corey Feldman) falsely claimed to have gotten food poisoning from eating a sandwich from the store, and his parents sued; this of course culminated in a courtroom scene.

If this were on Hulu or Netflix, I'd make sure to rewatch the whole run.

Jim said...

The British version of Open All Night, Open All Hours, has a pretty interesting story in itself. In one of those signs of a completely different television age, comedy actor Ronnis Barker did a six part series for British commercial TV called Six Dates with Barker, where each of the six episodes was a standalone programme. Six pilots to nowhere, if you will, including episodes written by Spike Milligan and John Cleese.

The following year Barker signed an exclusive contract for the BBC, and tried to repeat the idea under the umbrella title Six of one (leading to the obvious follow-up Half a dozen of The Other). Showing that network interference isn't just a US thing, some suit decided why not do seven to fill a scheduling hole, so seven were made and the series title was tweaked to the now meaningless Seven of One.

The first two of these actually ended up as full blown series for Barker, namely Open All Hours and Porridge (about the adventures in prison of a long time petty criminal), and a third was later tweaked into a long forgotten series on a commercial channel.

But the one that I really would have liked to be turned in to a series was called Another Fine Mess and was about the travails of a pair of Laurel and Hardy impersonators trying to get away from their wives in order to enter the talent contest at the local bar. Just imagine the fun the writers would have had trying to come up with a new episode of that every week.

Johnny Walker said...

@Scott: Here are most of them...