Welcome once again to "On the Futon With...," a new (hopefully) weekly feature where I sit down and talk TV with some of my favorite people in the industry, all the while trying to give the impression I'm not some overgrown fanboy.
THIS WEEK'S GUEST: "October Road" co-creators Scott Rosenberg, Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec.
12 features into his screenwriting career Scott Rosenberg is coming back to TV. Why? As you'll see, he can give you two answers. A third would be that he's continuing a story he started with his second produced film "Beautiful Girls," in which he exposed his lifelong friends' shortcomings - much to their chagrin. Now, more than 10 years later, he's revisiting the subject for his new series "October Road." I recently had the chance to sit down with Scott and fellow co-creators Josh Appelbaum and Andre Nemec, where we talked about how the show came about, our mutual love of "Friday Night Lights" and "Battlestar Galactica" as well as the challenge of creating franchise-less television.
Brian Ford Sullivan: [To Josh and Andre] Considering your resume, which seems to be focused on action/adventure-type shows, what made you want to create a series like "October Road?"
Andre Nemec: We had previously done "Going to California," which was a Showtime series and that's actually where we met Scott and the three of us first started working together.
Josh Appelbaum: Scott created the show and it took place actually in... we were huge fans of "Beautiful Girls" and this show sort of took place, it started out in the same town as "Beautiful Girls" and it's about two guys that leave and go on a road trip. And so we knew that, you know, that this project was out there with someone we really wanted to get involved with. We did and formed a relationship with Scott. And it had always been, for all the stuff like "Alias," that we adore, this was sort of always a part that was dear to our heart, was this sort of, you know, that world he created of, you know, again, "Knight's Ridge, Massachusetts." We had also never done a pure relationship drama and that's something that we always... "Alias" was a great mix between relationship drama and this sort of spy/action show and it was sort of like let's, you know, it would be so great to do something that was really a riff on that people we know, our friends and family.
AN: In it's own way "Alias" really was a show about a family. I mean at its core it was a family drama so it's something that, again, we always sort of gravitate to and love.
JA: And we were able to on "October Road" I think apply some of the lessons that like this serialized relationship stuff into "October Road." About like how, you know, how to not compact things too much and how to not drag them out too much and all that kind of stuff.
AN: That's our tale. [Laughs.]
BFS: So was there anything specific you wanted to say with "October Road?" Did you just want to inhabit a world or is their a message to it?
JA: If there's any autobiographical piece to the show it's definitely a riff on sort of Scott's experience with "Beautiful Girls."
Scott Rosenberg: Right, it was entirely based on my friends. And in fact, Nick has a line in the pilot where he's apologizing for the novel and he says, "When I wrote it I never thought it would get published and when it did I tried to them to change the names but they wouldn't." And that's exactly what happened with "Beautiful Girls." I literally like used some nicknames that were real and then I just... when you write a script, especially in those days it was my second produced screenplay. I didn't think anyone was going to make it. It was a little tiny movie. And then they made it or when it was greenlit I remember going in with the director and the producer and going, "Okay listen, before we start I think, I came up with a list of alternate names." They were like, "What's wrong with the names?" And I was [like], "Well, I just think that all of a sudden to me Birdman is kind of gay." [Laughs.] And I literally ran down this list of, you know, Moose and [so on]. And they were like, "We like Birdman." So when the movie came out some of my friends, and these are like my boys from high school, they were a little bit, they were definitely... initially they were all into it and I flew them all to the premiere and we were like all good. They got to meet the movie stars and the whole thing. But then when sort of the buzz wore off all of a sudden, because I really exposed some of them there were some hurt feelings. We're good friends now. In fact I'm skiing with them next weekend. I'm going back east.
But when we decided... we had heard the director, Gary Fleder, was told from [ABC president Steve] MacPherson that he loves the movie "Beautiful Girls" and is there any way to sort of do that as a TV show. And Gary was like, "Well, I just happened to - Scott Rosenberg's a friend of mine - let me see if we can get him in." So we were trying to figure out what the show was and originally Gary really wanted to do sort of a "Wonder Boys" the TV show, [at a] college town. And then we were like, "Okay, so like who's our guy?" Well, how about if the guy's like, he's [a writer] and now he's blocked and so he goes to this college... which I think there's another show exactly like that coming on in the pilot development this coming season.
AN: That's how good we did! [Laughs.]
SR: But then... nobody really wanted to do a teacher show. That's just such a drag. [But] what if it's his town? Well that's interesting. And what if the book he wrote, he shit on all the people in his town and he hasn't been... and it just sort of went from there.
AN: We kept on wanting to sort of put obstacles in front of him, things that he was going to have to get over in coming home. So yeah it's just kept building and building.
SR: And the thing that I'm proudest of is the fact that pretty much after the first episode and only with a few references here and there, the fact that he wrote a book, the fact he's a novelist, the fact that he's fancy - never mentioned again. It's like we, certainly by episode three like find enough soap to sell and stories to tell that that whole thing is completely secondary. Which, thank God, because at the end of the day...
JA: ...what's more boring than that? [Laughs.]
SR: We can relate to it but, you know, can anybody else in the universe really relate to it?
BFS: And the whole he may/may not have a kid thing? Is that autobiographical as well?
SR: [Laughs.] Yeah, if we did the real version of that, that would be [I fathered] the entire basketball team from my home town. [Laughs.] They're not very good but they're quite tall! [Laughs.] No, that was purely a function of... you know, that's one of those things honestly I don't know where it came from. We knew that he left a girl behind. And then it was like, "Why don't we just go there?" And it sort of evolved completely organically. It was one of those things where like, I don't think we ever sat around [going], "Let's do the..."
JA: "...show about a guy who might have a kid." In fact, it was even the kind of thing that at one point... it was something we always knew we wanted to. It would be interesting but we were like, it was going to come much later. Like the actual kind of reveal, like maybe it was even an end of season one kind of thing. "What about in the end of season one, the kid reveals he has a peanut allergy!" And then we were like, it would be a little weird that for 22 episodes he doesn't bring up the fact he has a peanut allergy. We were like, what a great hook for the end of the pilot. Like you realize, "Shit, like this kid could be mine."
BFS: Speaking of, where'd you find the kid?
AN: Slade came in and read for us. He's from Texas but he was out here for pilot season and had done some work and we read him and we were like, "That's the guy!"
SR: That was the scariest [part]... as soon as we realized like, we started seeing the kids we were like, "Oh my God, what have we gotten ourselves into?" [Laughs.]
AN: We've done a bunch of shows where, I think the first thing we ever wrote, there was a kid in it and we were like, "Oh boy, no kids. Ever." You just, you never know what's going to happen but he's been great thus far.
BFS: So moving forward, is there anything you can tease about the show?
SR: You have to watch the rest of them, because that's when it really starts to cook. [Episode] three is when it actually starts to cook.
JA: The pilot we love. The second episode we love. But it's really three, four, five, six... particularly by the end of three you'll see there's a little twist at the end. [The show] sort of really comes together. And it's over two weeks later. [Laughs.]
AN: But you really start to get a sense of community, which is I think a lot of what this show is at its core. It's about this guy who comes home but it's also about this community that has been living without him for all these years and sort of, all the dust he kicks up and all the things... you know, it's like, when you're dealing with people who've known each other for as long as they have, again, that's part of that small town. You know, where it's like you can't lie to those people, they really just know you at your core and so later, in the later episodes it's really when you start to get a sense of this town as a living sort of entity.
SR: That feeling that, you know, most shows about this age group, they tend to be, they tend to have all been sort of recent friends. You know, that they're all living in the city, picking up girls. One guy's married. It's much more upwardly mobile. And each week they pick up a new girl. The one thing that you know once it sort of gets cruising, it's like all these relationships are... these are by in large people who have known each other all their lives. So it's a little bit of a different gloss on that kind of thing, which we sort of intended.
BFS: Do you think it's hard going in knowing you only have six episodes? Does it become like a six-hour pilot or do you condense down what you've already planned?
SR: That's the most fascinating thing of all. I was just saying this to somebody the other day. We had to do a bible as you all do before they decided they were going to pick us up in the spring. And so the bible's sort of where the show's going, what the characters are, what are the big stories you're going to tell, blah, blah, blah. And we also gave them examples of like, I don't know, 10 or 11 episodes. Again, as we always say... nobody dons latex gloves on our show, nobody fires a gun, nobody fucks in a closet. [Laughs.] We don't have... there is no hook. There is no hospital. There is no office. You basically have to really fall in love with the world and the characters otherwise we're doomed. And I think that... rightly so, they were like, "What stories are you going to tell?" And the thing that's really interesting is, we did let them know in the bible - this is what the 22nd episode would be. So then they told us, "Well, guess what, you only get six." [Laughs.] And the second thing I'm most proud of is that we... if you look, if I showed you the bible right now - exactly the places we needed to be - we arrived there in six hours instead of 22 [and] I don't think we really compromised anything. Somehow we managed to get where we wanted to get.
JA: We pulled some of the shoe leather out of some of the storylines just so yeah, those final moments are exactly...
SR: 16 hours of shoe leather we pulled out. [Laughs.] We could start a fucking shoe store. [Laughs.]
JA: The October Road Boot Shop! [Laughs.]
BFS: That reminds me - you guys have sort of a unique financing structure for the show. Could you talk about how that came about?
JA: [It started] back last spring. We knew MacPherson loved the show but he'd pretty much ordered all the shows that, you know, he was going to and there was not enough money around so they found this outside company called Group M, which I think has done this once before I believe.
BFS: With "The Days."
JA: You ever see that?
SR: How many episodes did "The Days" run?
SR: Fuck me. [Laughs.]
JA: Anyway, so guys came in, it was a long... again this drawn out process, it was a long summer of them fighting and thank god for Mark Pedowitz and for Steve and those guys for believing in the show enough. Again, the thing we can hold on to is that this thing as Scott said, there's no major franchise there so the people that are fighting for it are just doing it because they love the show itself because there's no big sellable hook in this thing. It's all just about these people so they believe in it, they fought for it and Group M ended up ponying up the money to go into like, it's some whole complicated thing with them and Touchstone basically in a partnership for the first six. I don't know what happens beyond then. All we care about is we got to make the episodes.
BFS: I remember one of the elements of the Group M/"The Days" partnership was product placement. Is that the case for "October Road" as well?
AN: What we did, the way it works with Group M is that there was no production placement. There was no... they're a media conglomerate and they weren't looking to actually product place and do what they did with "The Days." They were actually just looking to finance a TV show because they sell soap between the acts on TV so a little part of them was, "Why don't we get into the TV making business as well?" So they came. They brought their dough. But they really were very hands off. Peter Tortorici was the Group M executive who brokered the deal with Steve and with Touchstone, Mark Pedowitz. But ultimately they were very much, you know - this is our co-production with Touchstone - they give us notes the same time as Touchstone. We didn't run... nobody's drinking Hansen's soda. [Laughs.]
JA: We were a freak about it. At first we were like, it's literally going to be a [nightmare].
AN: I mean we've done product placement on "Alias." Every year "Alias" does a Ford production placement... [Sydney's] like, "Wow, I can pull this gate down with this Ford F-150!" [Laughs.]
BFS: I remember one where she was driving... I think it was a Z and she spins out after a car chase and the camera pans up to the logo. [Laughs.]
JA: The worst was... did you watch the show?
BFS: Yeah, yeah.
JA: The worst was when Nadia, her sister, woke up from her coma.
AN: That was... [Laughs.]
JA: It's the only time it ever really bothered me. She woke up from her coma and she's driving with Jack, because he gets her from that Covenant thing. He's driving and she goes, "I didn't know that Ford made a hybrid!" [Laughs.] We're like, I literally want to kill myself.
AN: It really was the most egregious. But, again, they were very hands off, very supportive throughout the whole process creatively. They really gave us a lot of license. They were like, "You know what, we're here to help you guys make the best show that you guys want and can make." So they were great throughout the whole thing.
BFS: So outside of this show obviously, what other shows are you following?
JA: My big one at the moment, I mean, we're huge "Survivor" fans, massive "Survivor" fans, but my big one at the moment is "Friday Night Lights." I can't believe how much I love it. I was literally watching it last night, I'm only at episode eight, but I like sit there, it just drives me... I literally want to be Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton's son. You know, "Lazy Pete," who sits on the couch. [Laughs.]
AN: Do I have to pick just one? I would probably say "Battlestar Galactica." I'm three weeks behind because I had a TiVo problem and my buddy has it on his TiVo and my wife and I are trying to figure out when we're going to go have dinner with my buddy and his wife. It keeps getting [pushed back] so now I have to watch like four hours of "Battlestar Galactica" back-to-back.
JA: Weren't you the one that, because I read your site, you picked one of their episodes as the best of episode of TV last year?
BFS: Yeah, yeah.
AN: Which one did you choose?
BFS: The one where they rescue everyone from New Caprica, where the Pegasus suicide runs the Base Star, explodes, then hits another Base Star.
AN: That was pretty phenomenal.
BFS: I was like, "You just don't see that shit on TV!"
AN: I thought their season two finale, the end of season two, that season finale was so like jam-packed that every time you went to commercial, I was like, "That's it! That's the cliffhanger!" And then there was like, there were literally six [moments where] this could have been the end of the season and I would have been thrilled.
BFS: I agree. This year I want to jump out of a window, the show just frustrates me.
AN: Yeah there were a couple in the middle, at the beginning of season 3.5, where it was like... you're slogging through them. I like[d] Lucy Lawless on the show. I think she [was] actually a nice addition to that show. At first I was like, "Oh boy, are they going 'Xena' style," but she's great. And where's his Emmy? Adama.
SR: Who's Adama?
AN: Edward James Olmos, who's so good on that. And so is the President. They're all good. Except for [Boomer], I don't like her. Not a fan. [Laughs.] But that's my show. I follow "Rome." I like that series a lot. The only other show I'd throw in there is "Weeds." I'm a "Weeds" fan.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Things started to go a little off tangent from here as they asked me about my favorite shows. I love me as much as the next guy but I don't think you're reading this for my ramblings, so I'll skip ahead.]
BFS: So enough of me, let's talk more about the show - what do you think or hope the viewers latch on to?
SR: I mean obviously yeah it's the characters and it's the... again, it's that feeling of... you know, and this is going to sound overtly pretentious, but there's a little bit of a... 9/11 haunts the whole thing. I mean from Physical Phil's reasons for staying indoors, from Nick's book basically being... it was originally in the pilot but we cut it, where his book "Turtle on a Snare Drum" was called...
JA: "'The Catcher and the Rye' for the post-9/11 generation."
SR: ...by Philip Roth in his review for the New York Times book review. And just the idea that, you know, in the sort of, in the wake of 9/11, that desire to sort of connect, reconnect with what's most important to you, which is friends and family and sort of where you're from, that whole thing. And so I think that really what we say what to do is just doing something that's like warm and cozy and feels like your favorite cardigan sweater and a hot cup of cocoa in this crazy and ever crazy, getting crazy world. And by the way, I didn't answer my question but like I'm the biggest "Grey's Anatomy" fan in the world, I'm embarrassed to say. I'm always the one who like at the party I'm over talking to the girls about it. And my buddies are like, "What is he talking about there? He's very animated." And then I don't like to admit it, but we're all talking about how McSteamy looked in that towel! [Laughs.] And the thing is, not that it was calculated - "let's find a companion piece for 'Grey's'" - because we had no idea where we were going to be. But [while] we don't have a hospital, one of my favorite parts about "Grey's" is like when they're all sitting in Meredith Grey's house. I just happened to watch Friday's, which was a rerun - the first Denny Duquette episode. And it's when she first gets the dog, and the dog is terrorizing all of them and the episode ends with George and Meredith and Izzie in the bathroom... and they're eating pizza in the bathroom and she does her great voiceover and I was like, "It's cozy." It reminds me of that age.
I feel like there's a certain... it's called "October Road" and it's warm and autumnal and at the end of the day when you tell stories about real people, we always, from its inception, the mandate was always let's do "thirtysomething" as conceived by Bruce Springsteen. That was sort of what we set out to do. Like let's do a show about people this age but they don't wear ties to work and they don't have lots of money, they're just like regular people. And by the way, part of the risk is nobody's ever done an hourlong about blue collar life. [It] worked gangbusters in the half-hour with "Roseanne" and "All in the Family" and what have you but nobody's ever done it [as an hour]. And, you know, somebody could make the case that people don't want to tune into their real lives but I also think what we have on our side is we have this really great cast and the writing's damn good if I do say so myself. [Laughs.] And [Gary] Fleder shot the shit out of it. You know what it is - it's a little bit of a different television experience.
And by the way, I just feel blessed that we got to do it. I felt like we snuck one by. And yeah, the post-"Grey's" slot is a tremendous validation, it's also a tremendous pressure. But I feel like we snuck one by and by the way, if it doesn't work I'm sure we'll go back to - next time you interview us - it'll be for a show where someone does don latex gloves, fires a gun or fucks in a closet. [Laughs.] But you know, for now, we're just sort of rolling with it. And every step of the way it's has exceeded our expectations. I don't think we ever thought we'd get the pick-up, the actual order for the pilot. And then once we turned it in, we just thought, "This was great." And then we got the pick-up, then we got the order. And then once the six came up, we're like, "Ooooh, this is really great! We should be on Fridays at 9." [Laughs.] They've continued to begrudgingly validate us every step of the way and now at this point it's up to [the audience]. I can't imagine, I think a lot of people are going to watch next Thursday because of the curiosity factor and it's going to be an original "Grey's." So I mean, I think you'll have a lot of people watching [but] it's all going to be about, do they come back? Do they really care? Do they really want to find out if Nick is Sam's father?
AN: Because I think when you come back is when you really... like really speaking to your question, like when you come back I think it's a familiarity that you feel when you watch the show. You got a buddy like Ikey or everybody knows a Janet in their life. And I think the cast really did a tremendous job of creating those friendships and really making them believable, like people who've known each other, that community. Everybody who's watched it - or at least everybody I've talked to - has always come back with, "There's a familiarity to it, there's something I recognize in my own life."
JA: The great thing about... we shot on location in Atlanta so having those guys down there where they're kind of cut off from their wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, their managers, agents, they were just literally counting on each other, living in this apartment in this hotel. They just became as like tight and connected as they are on the show. So it all just feels kind of natural. And they're still that way.
AN: It's just a nice place to come home to. You know, when Nick goes home, he goes home and there's a lot of fire and brimstone around his return but when you look around Knights Ridge, it really is a place you'd want to visit, a place you would want to move into. And people will really feel that when they watch it, much to Gary's credit for shooting it in a way that really has a warmth to it.
BFS: Did he direct all six?
AN: Gary did the pilot and he shot...
SR: Two and three and six.
AN: ...four total of the six episodes.
JA: David Paymer directed one. He did an amazing job. And Michael Schultz did one as well.
BFS: And did you write all six or did you formally staff the show?
AN: We brought a... as with all things, the way we got the pick-up was, the way we got the air date announcement with three weeks out was sort of how we got the "we're going to go into production in five weeks," [and] it's like, "can you guys write all five episodes?" And we were like, "Oh boy that's..." All of a sudden there's no time [to hire anyone] so we brought in a freelance writer and she generated one of the scripts for us.
SR: Victoria Strouse. She helped us break story. We really wanted sort of a female perspective so we...
JA: That was a huge thing for the network was like after the pilot, even in the whole development of it, was ABC is driven by female viewership and here's a show about like, you know, a bunch of dudes. And it was like to make sure that like... and as the episodes go on again it's why the character of Janet the bartender and Pizza Girl and Hannah and Aubrey the college girl, it really balances out to 50/50. The pilot is like Nick Garrett's story like head to toe but the more it like becomes an ensemble the more kind of like female voice is brought out of the show. So hopefully that will be a good thing for us.
BFS: [To Scott] And for you, what was the motivation to come back to TV?
SR: It was a combination. First of all, the movie business is insane right now. It's driven by fear and terror... and everyone's so scared. So literally my first answer when everyone asks, "Why are you doing television?" I say, "I'm waiting for this whole thing to blow over, this whole climate of fear." [Laughs.] But I have like a two-prong answer when people ask me and it's like I can give you the nice answer, the answer we're supposed to give you which is, "It's truly about the instant validation. It's like amazing. Like I write a script and a week later we're casting it and the week after that we're shooting it and the week after that I'm looking at a cut. And like that instant validation, whereas in features, best case scenario, it's a year from page to stage, best case scenario." That's like the good answer. [Smiles.] But the real answer is, "I'm the boss." [Laughs.]
Just nothing better after 12 years of being a screenwriter in Hollywood and working for Harvey Weinstein and Jerry Bruckheimer. My very first experience with it was when I remember I was meeting with these casting directors... and then I went upstairs to the executive and was like, "Okay, I like her." And they're like, "Okay, she's hired." I was like, "Huh? What? You mean, don't you have to ask like four other people? Oh my God, this TV thing is so fantastic." But it's truly been great. I mean they always say like Sorkin, J.J., Kevin Williams, why do they all go to television? And that's why. You have a tremendous sense of ownership. You really do know it better than anyone and then the director comes in - in the feature world - just taking it apart because it's all about a shot he wants to get or something like that. It's like, it doesn't happen here. It's been great, I hope they let me do more of them.
NEXT WEEK'S GUEST: TBA