In the Beginning: Television
I was hired to work for Universal Studios in the late 70’s. I was a producer on the show “McCloud” starring Dennis Weaver, who was an outstanding guy, a terrific person and a wonderful actor.
Years later, after I had left my first tour at Universal – I came back years later for a second tour of duty! -- I wrote ‘The Return of Sam McCloud’ for CBS, where McCloud is in London, galloping his horse across Trafalgar Square to rescue a damsel in distress!
Meanwhile, back in 1976, I had just arrived at Universal to start work at my first job at a major studio. I was working for Executive Producer Glen Larson. My first order of business was to write the first of seven hour-and-a half scripts for the season. I was somewhat nervous. These McCloud scripts had to be good! I had been given an office in a white, pyramid building right at the front of the Universal lot. It was a very comfortable place to work, with an outside area that I could access, but it was tough for me to relax there.
So, I would go for long walks, past the commissary, right back to the back lot, being careful to stop for the trams snaking their way through the studio crammed with tourists looking for a glimpse of a star. Sadly, none of them recognized me as an up-and-coming writer and producer. In fact, they never gave me a second glance! I was in my own little world anyway, trying to get to know the character of “McCloud”, a cowboy transplanted from Taos, New Mexico to New York City in an exchange program to work with the New York Police Department.
McCloud was a funny, engaging, wonderful creation from Glen Larson, and I wanted to be sure I did him justice. The character was part of the Mystery Movie Wheel, which included “McMillan and Wife”, “Columbo” and a fourth spoke of the wheel that was changed from time to time. When I was first at the studio, the fourth spoke of the wheel was called “McCoy”, starring Tony Curtis.
I took many of these strolls through the back lot, struggling with the story structure of my McCloud script, but finally I had the first story all stepped out. I went back to my office and wrote the first scene in the teleplay.
The script had a ‘trucker/CB radio’ theme to it. In this first scene, McCloud drops his girlfriend off at a hotel where she is staying. The cab driver tells him the fare will be “twenty bucks”. (Remember, this was back in 1976). McCloud reacts and pays him. McCloud escorts his girlfriend into the hotel and comes back out. The cabbie says: “This is a rough area. You want me to wait?” McCloud mutters: “It’d be cheaper getting’ mugged.’
I wanted to sure I was on the right track with the script, so I sent this first scene down the corridor to Glen Larson’s office. He came over to my office a few minutes later to tell me that he thought the scene was terrific. “Okay! You’ve proved you can write for McCloud! Keep going!”
So, I went back to work and finished the first McCloud script for the season about two weeks later. It felt pretty good to me. I was then called to a meeting in the commissary where Glen had assembled all of the other producers and the story editors on McCloud together.
There was a lot of camaraderie around the table, Glen’s staff vying for attention and swapping stories. I didn’t join in, because I was riveted by the sight on the table in front of me. Right there, in the center of the table, was my McCloud script! Isolated there, on its own. No one was paying the slightest attention to it. I was extremely nervous. None of the other producers or story editors had commented that this was my first McCloud script. How was it going to be received?
Glen Larson was sitting at the head of the table, laughing and joking around, completely ignoring me. Finally, in a lull in the conversations, I gathered my courage and asked Glen if he had read the script? The conversations around the table petered out to silence. Glen looked me, as if surprised I was even there. Then he picked up my McCloud script, ceremoniously tore it in half, tossed the pages away and turned back to the other producers. “Anyway, as I was saying…” I was completely mortified. I wanted to disappear into the floor.
Then Glen reached down, picked up another copy of my McCloud script, which he had hidden on the chair beside him. He dropped it onto the table. The original script had been scored through, to make it easier for him to rip up. Glen grinned at me and said: “Just kidding, Michael, the script is great”, and at that point the whole table erupted into laughter. I joined in with them, feeling greatly relieved, but to this day I will never forget the shock of seeing my first script for Universal Studios ripped into large pieces and cavalierly tossed away.
Such was my baptism into the world of writing hit TV shows.
Until next time...