Look, Ma! “Gravity City” Interviews Larry Brody Part 2

(The magazine cover I should've run with Part 1)

Last year I think it was, Gravity City Digital Magazine‘s Christopher Valin and Artie Cabrera honored me with an interview in the third issue of their mag. And I’m deeply appreciative of this blurb:

“Gravity City asked legendary writer-producer Larry Brody about his storied career in television and other media and got back one of the most entertaining interviews we’ve ever read.”

Gravity City ran this entire 7000+ word article in one issue. Considering blog format problems and such, I’m reprinting it over three separate posts.

Part 1 is HERE

This is Part 2:

larry brody Interview

Christopher J. Valin

What’s your writing process like, and how much is it informed by your own background? Is the “write what you know” maxim important to you?

My writing process began as a magical formula for escaping this world and all its slings, arrows, and personal, cultural, and political outrages. As a reader, I was a huge science fiction and fantasy fan, starting with my reading – entirely by accident – Frederick Brown’s novel Martians Go Home when I was in junior high. It was time I’d ever read something breezy and funny and insightful that wasn’t aimed at “younger readers.” (I don’t think the literary world had established a Young Adult category then.) As I look back at it now, I realize that it was pretty much the same tone Stan Lee used about 10 years later in what I consider Marvel’s Golden Age of Silver Age comics.

The book totally surprised and enchanted me, and so did s-f and fantasy as genres, even the more seriously written material, so when I started writing short stories a couple of years later, those were the genres I wrote in.

I’d say that during junior high and high school I probably wrote at least fifty short stories, most of which had nothing to do with me as a person but with places and situations into which I wanted to escape. Amazingly, every single one of the stories from that era was eventually published, not because of my Chicago agent but because during a six-month dry spell in my TV writing career in the late ‘60s I went through the inevitable ‘young writer saving family and bank account by writing porn’ period.

I churned out novel after novel under a name similar to that of a multiple-Emmy-winning TV writer-producer who had kept me constantly employed on various cop and medical shows, you know, the kind we now call police and medical procedurals, because I thought that was pretty damn funny. (Hey, I was a kid in my mid-twenties, for crying out loud.) The novels were intended as parodies of “real porn,” and one of them earned me a review in which the critic said “this fucking writer can’t even write a fucking sex scene,” but somehow that particular analysis got me a job as an editor of a whole line of soft core men’s mags, the publisher of which always insisted that one or two short stories be included with the photo spreads – and, believe me, they really were “spreads”. Those short stories were the ones I’d written during my teens but with sex scenes, um, inserted, you could say.

As the ‘70s and I grew up, I matured enough to want to write about ideas, beliefs, and even realities. I would gladly have put those themes into science fiction, fantasy, and porn if they still were my markets, but I was back in TV now, full bore, and at the time that mean writing episodes of Ironside, Cannon, The Bold Ones, Hawaii Five-0, Police Story, you name it and trying to make them as adult and significant as I could. It was a freelance business, and I often sold the same concept two or three times to different shows if I didn’t like the way the original versions had ended up after studio and network input and the usual production letdowns.

I loved the freelance days of TV writing because more often than not I would have several assignments at a time and as a result was making more money than those I worked for. I saw this as giving me the freedom to write the way I wanted and being able to say “Fuck you” to producers and executives who I seemed to be trying to put their imprint on my work, but in the mid-70s I finally succumbed to the hope that I would have more of a chance of protecting my writing by producing it as well and accepted a gig as producer (in the real sense of running everything and not just being a glorified story editor) on what then was generally considered the best drama on television, Police Story. And lo and behold, it turned out that a steady salary was much easier to live with than I thought it would be, and being at the studio every day – hell, just driving onto the lot – was even better than being a character in any science fiction novel of the era. What a wonderful alternate reality I lived in!

When you were a producer or showrunner, what happened if the story just wasn’t working as it was pitched in the writers’ room? Did you ever have to rewrite something from scratch or just dump the idea in that case?

On pretty much all the shows I produced, I did the job now referred to as “showrunner,” and I think I was a pretty fair boss. I only hired writers I absolutely believed in, and I believed in myself even more. That means that once we’d agreed on a concept and had an approved outline, the plot was for all practical purposes set in stone, guaranteed to work (for us, anyway). I would leave the first draft as well as any that came after in the hands of the individual writers, giving them my notes and the network notes that I believed in and just letting the writers fly with them.

We couldn’t afford to dump any script that went the distance in terms of fees, so even if ultimately I or the network thought the writers’ last script pass wasn’t what it should be I’d give the story editor one last crack at it. And if that still didn’t work I’d take over and put in however many hours it took to add whatever pizzazz was missing. Sometimes that was a hell of a lot of hours…or days…or once or twice even weeks, but I never put my name on a script I rewrote. It didn’t seem fair to play the game that way, especially when doing so would take residual money out of the original writer’s pocket and the job I was being paid for was to fix things that got broken.

I have to say, as a child of the ‘70s I’m extremely impressed that you wrote an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. The idea that Steve Austin would work alongside Soviets and that none of them were villains was very forward-thinking for the time. Was that your idea, or did they come up with it on the show and assign it to you?

That’s a great question because on that particular occasion, I was freelancing and excited that I was actually getting to write s-f! The producers gave me a synopsis I assumed they’d written, so my job was to work out the specifics of the storyline, found it approved quickly and easily with no further suggestions, and then had a ball writing the script. After I delivered my final draft I learned that another writer had come up with the idea and written at least an outline, if not a first draft. The writer was Jimmy Sangster, who to me was a kind of legend because he’d written so many of the Hammer Studio horror films I’d grown up with.

I think that the way I learned about it was because of a credit arbitration. I don’t remember how the arbitration turned out, but I do recall being so upset with the executive producer, Harve Bennett, and the production team for not alerting me that this was officially a “rewrite” that I never worked with Bennett again. During the writing, he’d been all smiles, and when I turned in the final draft his smile was even wider as he told me how happy he was and invited me to “dance this dance again.” He called me once after the episode had been shot to talk about another one, and this time I had the big smile when I told him to go away because we’d already had our “last dance.” It was a dumb callback to his line but felt good to say.

I know you wrote some Star Trek episodes, from The Animated Series to Voyager. But you’ve talked about a bunch of pitches that you made to the Star Trek producers over the years that didn’t get picked up. What was your favorite idea for an episode that you really wanted to write for one of the Star Trek shows but weren’t able to?

Funny thing. I’ve written about all the Voyager pitches that got shot down, but the episode that I’ve always wished had made it to the air was the one I sold to Gene Roddenberry and Dorothy Fontana for TAS. As originally pitched, it was quite simply, “The Enterprise discovers God in the far reaches of space.” It was the kind of thing Gene loved, possibly because of his own God complex, who knows?

NBC turned it down because of their fear of alienating Christians all over the country, but Gene didn’t give up. He came back with, “Okay, okay, but what if instead of God, Kirk and the others come face to face with the devil?” and they give him an ovation for that.

As a result of the devil episode, called The Magicks of Megas-Tu, Gene Roddenberry and I grew close. He became a mentor to me, and my earliest staff gig was his story editor for a show he was doing with Universal, called Genesis II. In the end, the original version of that series never got beyond the pilot stage, although later it metamorphed into ST: The Next Generation.

By the time TNG came out, I’d established myself as a producer, so Gene offered me the producer job there. The offer was contingent on only one thing – that I write a sample episode of the series first. However, it turned out that he’d also offered that same job to a dozen other top-ranked writers, as a way of getting us to write scripts for the show, and all of us turned it down.

You worked on a lot of comic book-related shows, such as Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, Silver Surfer, and a couple of Spider-Man series. How did that come about? Were you always a comic book fan, or was it just a result of your TV writing experience?

I was a huge comic book fan. My first published work was a poem in a neighborhood newspaper on the North Side of Chicago, but my second was a letter in an early issue of Spider-Man. I was even active in early comics fandom for a couple of years and won a Shazam Award for fan fiction. The runner-up was another kid my age named George Martin. My winning story was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction a few years later. George followed up his fan success a few years later with some series of books that HBO called The Game of Thrones.

Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s I wrote quite a bit of material based on my love for comics. You know, little things like a baddie on the series Cannon who was a comic book artist. I remember that I described the character in the comic as wear the “usual long underwear,” assuming that everyone in the world knew that meant he was in a superhero costume, only to discover when Quinn Martin happily sent me the artwork used on the air that they’d literally shown a closeup of a man wearing genuine long underwear. And it was baggy to boot.

My ultimate road to becoming a head writer (God forbid the animation companies of that era should ever call anyone but an artist the producer) of TV animation was quite indirect. In 1991, I woke up one morning and found myself re-examining my life. At 46ish, I’d accomplished everything I’d ever wanted to, except finish the novel I’d sold to Ace books over twenty years ago, but instead of being able to celebrate it, I felt miserable.

My most recent experience co-creating and co-running a series had been a disaster. I’m not going to name the show or those involved in it other than to say that the head of the company was a non-television guy who bragged about having been a big-time drug dealer. Not my favorite lifestyle, you know? I’d left that show and the money I believed it owed me for work already done, because I absolutely couldn’t – and believe me, I mean COULDN’T in boldfaced, all caps italics bear the idea of working in showbiz again.

End of Part 2
More to Come Here

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  1. I always knew when we were growing up that you would be a writer. Back then I thought it would be for comic books. Back then you were always reading comic books and science fiction. Glad I was wrong and you ended up writing for TV and being a producer. Very proud of you and the success you’ve become.

    1. Wow, Burt. I’m speechless. But I can still write a big THANKS. And a short confession: I tried writing comic books while I was in law school…and got rejected. But the science fiction and TV people read what I wrote and said, “C’mon in,” so that’s where I’ve spent 5+ decades of my life. Thanks again, bud!

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