Time now for Part 3 of my interview from Gravity City Mag. I remain deeply appreciative of writers/editors Christopher Valine and Artie Cabrera. And I am, of course, still in love with this blurb they published with the original article:
“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.”
(Before I forget. If you came here to see the latest installment of Live! From Paradise! have no fear. It’ll be on the blog tomorrow morning. Really, I mean it. Tomorrow morning for sure.)
And now, starting with the continuation of my answer to one of Mr. Valin’s questions, this is Part 3:
larry brody Interview
Christopher J. Valin
[…Not only did I hate the show I was working on,] I also wasn’t too happy with my family life. My second wife and I knew we had a big problem, so we took our kids to Santa Fe, New Mexico with the intention of relaxing in the very inspiring scenery and history of the Southwest and getting our lives in order.
Instead, things between us got worse. During a visit back to L.A. all this angst came to head, and the pivotal event of the early 1990s for me was packing up my dog, D’neh (the name is Navajo for Navajo, and D’neh had simply jumped into our car and come home with us while we were on the Navajo Reservation in Monument Valley, Utah one day a few years past), my comic book collection (every Marvel superhero comic starting with the first issue of The Fantastic Four up to the time Stan Lee stopped writing all the books), my Ludwig drum kit (I’ve been playing drums since I was 11), and jeans and T-shirts into the Montero SUV that was the most practical of the four cars we had for no sane reason at all, kissing my kids good-bye, and returning to the Santa Fe area from a visit to L.A. alone.
To cut to the chase, I spent a couple of years living on the Santa Clara Indian Pueblo north of Santa Fe and learning all I could about the ways of those who referred to themselves not as Indians or Native Americans but “Indian People,” while also teaching television writing and production at the now no-longer-existent College of Santa Fe. Oh, I also encountered the wonders of some very special tea made from peyote buttons, datura buds, and magic mushrooms. In other words, I spent two years flying through the sky and meeting all kinds of spirits, good, bad, and in between, without ever doubting their reality nor being especially excited by it. They were simply part of the magic that was my new normal in life.
I also remarried again, this time to the wonderful woman who has been my rock for twenty-seven years so far, through an amazing thick and thin that it would take volumes to describe. Which reminds me that the first volume of those experiences just happens to be available on Kindle. It’s a book of poetry called Kid Hollywood and the Navajo Dog. I, of course, am Kid Hollywood. D’neh is the Navajo Dog. The book’s been around for years and has sold, well, probably about a dozen copies in all that time. So if you buy one you’ll be part of a very wise and very, very small insider crowd.
Okay, now it’s time to get to my involvement in TV animation. You probably won’t be very surprised to hear that after a couple of years I ran out of money to support my two ex-wives, four children, and my mystical lifestyle, which meant that my new wife and I sold everything we had except the dog, the drums, and enough Southwestern art and furniture to fill several houses to be able to afford to return to the L.A. area and don the mantle of productivity once more.
What enabled us to make the move was that I very reluctantly sold my comics because, “Oh shit, look at this, FF#1 has been hermetically sealed for almost 30 years but it’s developed a little tear on the cover…and what the fuck, so have Amazing Fantasy #15 and Journey Into Mystery #83!” Or to put it another way, I wasn’t doing a good enough job of taking care of these prized possessions and their value was heading downward.
Fortunately, a Pueblo shaman I knew had an archeologist friend who’d turned to comic book collecting as a form of therapy for his schizophrenia. The archeologist couldn’t afford the collection, but the shaman, who also was the largest publisher of guidebooks to the Southwest and everything old, new, human and inhuman in residence there, could, so he made a present of my beloved Marvels to his buddy, which resulted in our path westward, while not paved with gold, at least ending up paved.
The shaman also assured me that things would go very well upon my return to showbiz, and within a few weeks of our arrival in Thousand Oaks (on the day of the Big Northridge earthquake of 1994 because why should my Second Coming to L.A. be any less fraught with negative signs than my first?) I was sitting with a Certain V.P. of the then thriving Fox Kids Channel at a North Hollywood pizza place.
It turned out that the Certain V.P. was a fan of my work and wanted to know what I was going to do now. I explained that I had no desire to become reinvolved in the politics, machinations, and disappointments of primetime TV, and he smiled and went into a pitch about how I was perfect for what Fox Kids was doing…and, hey, my kids would finally be able to watch what I wrote so it was win-win, right?
I called My Friend the Shaman Travel Guide Publisher, thanked him for putting me together with the Certain V.P. (which he denied he’d had anything to do with) and over the next six years was the writer and then creator and showrunner of shows like – let me see if I can remember them all – Spiderman, Spider-Man Unlimited, Superman, Xyber 9, Diabolik (an Italian comic book made into a French TV series), Spawn (an award-winning cult HBO series based on the award-winning cult comic book by Todd McFarlane), and of course The Silver Surfer, a cult Fox Kids series that proved that a Saturday morning cartoon show could be aimed at a teenage audience as well as younger kids and score big with the critics even though it had more than the usual three lines of dialog per page.
The CVP proved himself to be a demanding, hard-assed executive who actually knew what he was talking about and had higher standards of creativity than any other network exec I’d ever worked with anywhere. He drove me crazy. So crazy that the only way I could make myself sit down and do any work on the projects we shared was to start each work session with Xanax.
Even so, I was very proud of the work we did together and thoroughly enjoyed our daily battles not only because of how well the Surfer turned out but also because with CVP everything was upfront, in-yer-face, and often offered just the kind of catharsis I’d needed but never gotten in the live-action, livid back-biting days of my earlier career.
Don’t misunderstand. No way in hell would I work with the man again. But I’d be happy to hang out with him any time.
You won some awards for your work on Medical Story. Is that the show you’re most proud of, or do you have other favorites?
The series I’m most proud of being a part of, as a writer and story editor, was called Gibbsville, and I’m sure you’ve never heard of it. Very few people have. It was an adaptation of various short stories written by the brilliant author John O’Hara and starred Oscar winning actor Gig Young and a very young John Savage as newspaper reporters in a small Pennsylvania mining town in the 1940s.
The show was real drama, sensitively treating the various joys and sorrows of the human condition in a way no television series had ever done before. Although we had a few continuing characters, Gibbsville was really about the guest stars and the characters they played. There was absolutely nothing about the series that fit any TV show profile, and when we were about a quarter of the way through shooting it, after only three episodes had aired, the new head of programming at NBC announced that he hated anthology shows, which Gibbsville basically was, and canceled us. To add insult to injury, we had to keep writing and shooting ten more episodes without a break because the previous studio head, who was a master salesman, had pre-sold the show throughout Europe. In fact, if I remember correctly, I was told the series had the highest foreign pre-sale in NBC history. So the writers, cast, and crew toiled away for months, knowing that no one in the United States would see what we were doing.
And, as far as I know, to this day that’s still the situation. No one here has had a chance to see anything but the first broadcast of the TV movie that was the pilot and three episodes that followed. It was heartbreaking. Gig took it particularly badly, and it didn’t seem very surprising to me that only a few years later he shot and killed his newish young wife and himself.
You’ve said that you’re a strong believer in social responsibility and making sure productions are meaningful as well as entertaining, which I think is a very important statement coming from someone with your experience in the industry. Can you talk about that and about your feelings about the tremendous social awareness and (hopefully) societal changes that are happening?
I’m always ready to go into intricate detail about my belief that the only writing worth doing in any media is writing that’s about something, and that the best writing is about something the writer feels passionate about. I started my career in thrall to the act of writing itself. It was putting the words on paper in and of itself that fulfilled me, but before long I realized that telling stories alone wasn’t enough. It was the process of self-revelation, of expressing my feelings, concerns, and beliefs that, right or wrong, and I could in fact be very wrong, made writing the most important thing in the world to me.
On the other hand, I feel woefully inadequate to the task of talking about television writing vis-a-vis social awareness and change in our current life. Not because I don’t have any opinions about the matter, but because I’m no longer in the production trenches and therefore not up to date on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering being done to fight for truth, justice, and the way to make our culture truly humane in a practical as well as philosophical sense. These days, after all, I’m just a guy with a website.
What made you to decide to start TVWriter.com?
In 1998, I was simultaneously running the writing end of both The Silver Surfer and Spawn, two very different shows. Spawn’s storytelling style was intensely tight and visual, with a hero who seldom spoke, and The Silver Surfer’s Big Kahuna was a guy who couldn’t shut up. I mean, his whole life was a monologue. And not just any monologue, oh no. It was my personal monologue about trying to find a way to understand what the hell existence was all about.
Most of the animation writers I’d hired for these shows were having trouble getting into their style and pacing, which were much slower and more complex than the writers were used to, so I created the TVWriter™ website as part of a search for new talent that would be more open to breaking the Saturday morning three speeches and a fight template.
I’ve met many wonderful people and fine writers via the site, which then was called “The TV Writer Home Page” and discovered that I was enjoying searching for and guiding the new writers more than I’d enjoyed the actual business and, frankly, effort of writing for many, many years, so when first Spawn and then Silver Surfer went out of production (I was going to say wound down, but Surfer especially was a sudden CRASH! caused by Haim Saban’s unexpected sale of Fox Kids to Rupert Holy Crap If This Isn’t The Devil Who The Hell Is? Murdoch) I decided to turn my online talent hunt into a way of helping as many new TV writers as possible, with the added side benefit of being able to support myself by doing so.
Over the past 22 years, TVWriter.Com has gone through many incarnations, growing and then shrinking and then growing again, with news about both the art and craft of television writing, contests for spec pilots and spec episodes of existing series, online classes in various aspects of writing and production (of films as well as TV), summer in-person workshops – first at the ranch I had up in the hills on the Malibu-Westlake Village border, later in its successor ranch in North Central Arkansas where the Brodys relocated for several years (“Thanks for all the help, Bill Clinton and friends!”) and finally in – shudder – Las Vegas. We even had an intellectual property registration service that somehow managed to offer the fun of more writing contests to subscribers.
During this time I’ve seen dozens of our contest entrants, students, and mentees make their way into various levels of showbiz, including becoming showrunners. Of course, I’ve also seen many fine talents not make their way into the biz, many times because they’ve found something more meaningful, and many times because the shit has hit the fan and I’ve had to go from supporter/mentor to hand-holder. But this kind of panorama is what life is all about, yeah? We struggle, and we grow.
Over the last several months, TVWriter.Com, which I now refer to as TVWriter™ for no reason other than I think it sounds cool, has cut back a bit, delivering more tweets than original posts due to the COVID-19 horror, various other health concerns, and a bit of energy depletion on my part (Hell, I’m 75 years old and have survived two heart attacks, quintuple bypass surgery, and, most recently, prostate cancer treatment and surgery – and yes, thank you, I’m all healed and clear, my friends) but I still teach two weekly classes, the Advanced Online TV and Film Writing Workshop and Larry Brody’s Online Master Class in TV and Film Writing.
I don’t, by the way, consider myself to be teaching “writing” per se because I don’t believe writing can be taught. Instead, I teach bright, intelligent people of all ages, genders, etc. how to think like writers so they can make the best possible use of their talents. I also consult about TV writing and production with various companies and individuals, not only in the U.S. but also in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Which gives me reason for another shout out, this time to to my friends in the Hong Kong entertainment industry. “Keep fighting the good fight, kids! The best is yet to be!”
Are there any writing projects you’re currently working on?
I’m no longer writing new fiction, because the teaching and consulting thing has become the big recipient of my OCD. That, and spending as much time as possible actually living my life instead of just observing it.
The last couple of decades have been extremely gratifying in more ways than I ever could have expected. I couldn’t ask for more. And, hell, one important life lesson I’ve learned is that once you face all the realities, just about anything is easier than writing.
One last question, not directly related to writing: I know that you’re a drummer. What type of music do you play and what’s your musical experience been like?
I’ve played the drums for over 60 years, professionally and very unprofessionally as well. I’ve substituted in various bands, some of them Very Big Bands Indeed, others local groups playing open mic nights. Since self-isolation started I’ve put together a jazz trio we call The Bird Street Jazz Band.
We’re a trio, tenor and alto saxophone, electric and upright bass, and drums, and we play outside, masked except for the saxophonist, in our shared neighborhood once or twice a week to audiences numbering in the high 1’s to 3’s. We’ve even been paid a couple of times. A little girl in the back seat of her mother’s car gave us a crisp, clean five-dollar bill through the window, and the 47 year-old-Parisian woman who may or may not be Jim Morrison’s current significant other bought us a pizza.
In spite of the current world situation, I feel that I’m living my life in the best way ever. The actual jazz playing experience is totally stress-free and brings a kind of peace and contentment I’ve never before had. To further accentuate the good, three-quarters of my children still talk to me – frankly, we talk more than ever before – and my wife and dogs fill me with love while teaching, by their example, the power of acceptance and compassion.
Thanks for getting in touch with me, Chris, and for caring about the answers to all your great questions.
NOTE FROM LB: A few things in my life have changed since this interview was done. I’ve had to take TVWriter™ offline and drop all my teaching/mentoring/consulting for health reasons, specifically the return of my prostate cancer and the accompanying further surgery and treatment.
As of this writing, the prognosis is good, and I’m feeling pretty damn fine, although that may be due to the fact that after 5 weeks of being ensconced in the place that catheters traditionally inhabit in situations like mine, my catheter has been removed and I can now do exciting things like shower and touch myself and live pretty much normally day to day.
In fact, posting this interview has been one of the ways of celebrating my new freedom, and you know what? It’s even better than all the chocolate cake with pink frosting I’ve been eating. Well, almost better. You know how it is.
End of Part 3
Thanks for reading, y’all!
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