Young Man with a Dream
I was a young aspiring writer living in London some years ago. I was writing scripts, although I really had no outlets through which to sell any of them. I had an idea for what I thought would be a killer episode of the hit TV series Columbo, which I watched on my “telly” in London. My idea involved a magician who kills a blackmailer and then comes up against Columbo, who uses his unique skill set to prove the magician guilty of the murder. I finished the story, but then... what to do with it?
When I traveled to Los Angeles to visit with my folks and my sister Judy--who had all moved back to the States--I spoke with a Hollywood literary agent whom I met through a mutual friend. I asked him if he would be interested in representing me, and the response was quite clear: He wasn’t in the least bit interested in representing me, as I had never written for TV before and had absolutely no professional credits. But when I showed him my Colombo story, he was nice enough to read it. He was complimentary, said he liked it, but there was nothing he could do with it. But, as a favor to me, he sent the story to the Story Editor and Producer of Colombo, a man by the name of Peter Fischer. The agent attached a note to my script, indicating that I was a young writer visiting from London, that the agent did not represent me, nor did he have any interest in me as a client. But he had promised me he would send the Columbo story into the studio, and he did. His good deed done for the day.
A few days later, while I still in L.A., the agent called me and told me to go down to Universal Studios to meet with Peter Fischer. With absolutely no expectations, I did, and Peter turned out to be a great guy---and a great writer---who wanted to know just who the hell I was? I told him I was living in London, just here visiting with family, but I was planning to return to Los Angeles at some point in the near future.
Peter had my Columbo outline sitting on his desk, and he tapped it with a finger, telling me that he had read it, and he thought it could potentially be a good episode of the show. My heart skipped a beat, and then he commented that he had “a lot of notes.” I quickly put pen in hand and began writing down everything he said…and he said plenty!
I returned to the studio two days later and handed Peter Fischer my revised Columbo storyline. He laughed, said that when he had said I should come back with a revised story outline, he didn't mean the next day! That was when he also informed me that all of the Columbo scripts were written by seasoned, professional television writers. But he read my new draft right there, while I waited in his office, trying to appear calm. Shortly thereafter, Peter told me the revision on the outline was pretty good, although he still had “some notes.” I eagerly told him I could address those and fix things up by the next day.
It was at that point that Peter dropped the bomb: Did I realize that the studio would now have to pay me for this story? I had no idea that was the case, but that was music to my ears Peter asked me if I had ever written a teleplay before, and I confessed I hadn't, but that I was working on a small feature screenplay with a British director friend of mine which we were hoping to actually shoot in the next few weeks…maybe.
Peter then asked me if I would like to write the teleplay for this Columbo, but in all good conscience I told him that while I would love to, I couldn't. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind. I couldn't? I told him that I had a return ticket to London the next day and I couldn't redeem it or change my flight. Peter was astonished. He asked me, in light of these special circumstances, if I couldn't just postpone my trip back to London? Again, I said that in all good conscience I couldn't. As much as I appreciated his offer, the people I was involved with in London were counting on me. I then left Peter Fischer's office, had dinner with my folks and my sister, and flew back to London the next day, thoroughly chuffed---as we would say in England—that my Columbo story had at least been read by a real Hollywood producer and he had actually liked it.
Never expecting to hear back from Peter Fischer again, back in London a week later I got a call from him. He asked me if I would consider writing the Columbo teleplay from London? I was completely taken aback. Feigning composure, I said that would be absolutely great! Peter gave me more notes on my Columbo story, then told me to just “start writing the teleplay.”
Ten days later, I sent my first draft teleplay across the Atlantic to Peter Fischer at Universal Studios. A week passed with no word. I was certain Peter hated the scriptand I would never hear from him again…until he called me to say that the teleplay worked great. He had changed the title to “Now You See Him” and cast the phenomenal actor Jack Cassidy to play the villain. My villain. Peter indicated he would make a couple of “polish fixes” on the script, and that the studio was preparing to shoot my Columbo episode right away.
Years later, I was at a network function at Universal Studios, where I was delighted to run into Peter Fischer. He told me that all of the Columbo scripts over the years had been written in house, by network approved staff writers. They had only ever bought one freelance script from an outside writer, and that was “Now You See Him”, my script.
I tell this story so to give hope to young writers struggling to their have voices heard in the world’s most competitive writing marketplace. The simple truth is that if you are disciplined, dogged, and believe in yourself and the material you are writing, you will triumph in the end.
Until next time--