Writer and Executive Producer of the recent ABC pilot based on the s-f classic novel and film Time After Time, Danny Thomsen’s career has been a source of great joy for Our Beloved Leader, LB, and many other long-time TVWriter™ers.
If memory serves (and we can’t promise that it does) Danny started his writing career in one of LB’s Online Workshops, continued with a TVWriter™ Spec Scriptacular Semi-Finalist finish, and then shifted into high gear after he graduated from college and made the move from his East Coast home to L.A. (and LB’s guest room for awhile, or so we hear.)
TVWriter™ minions have long wanted to do a feature on Mr. Thomsen and his enviable career, but when we finally had the chance to go for it a couple of months ago, lo and behold, it turned out that a site called Syracuse.Com had beaten us to it.
The Syracuse.Com article is about as complete as you can get it, so, lazy
larcenous bastards that we are, the only thing further that we’re going to write ourselves is…Here it is!
TV writer from Syracuse explains Hollywood’s obsession with reboots, remakes
by Geoff Herbert
Why are there so many movie remakes and reboots, television sequels and prequels, or spinoffs and revivals? A TV writer from Central New York not only has the answer — he’s been a part of many shows that are familiar to audiences even before they air.
Daniel T. Thomsen co-wrote an episode of HBO’s epic sci-fi series, “Westworld,” worked on “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” The CW’s “Melrose Place” reboot and ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” which reimagines classic Disney fairytale characters in a live-action drama. He’s also writing and co-executive producing the upcoming “Time After Time,” based on the novel and film about author H.G. Wells going on a time travel adventure to try and catch Jack the Ripper.
Every single one of those has been “done” before, so to speak. But that’s not new, either.
Hollywood has always been obsessed with adapting well-known titles for new audiences, from 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” (based on Chittenango native L. Frank Baum’s books) and Al Pacino’s “Scarface” (a remake of a 1932 film of the same name) to Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” (see China’s 2002 film “Infernal Affairs”) and 1999’s “Cruel Intentions” (1988’s “Dangerous Liaisons” and the French novel “Les Liaisons Dangereuses”).
Now, Disney is doing live-action adaptations of animated classics (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” “The Jungle Book”) and Universal is rebooting all of its iconic monsters (starting with Syracuse native Tom Cruise in “The Mummy” next summer), while TV has turned to revivals (“Fuller House,” “Gilmore Girls,” “The X-Files,” “Twin Peaks”) and adaptations of movies (“Limitless,” “Shooter,” “Minority Report,” “Scream”).
“I think the reason is because every studio’s trying to financially help shows out so it’s just safer to invest in a new piece of programming that people are already familiar with,” Thomsen tells syracuse.com. “When you’re going out to pitch ideas, studios are willing to hear original ideas but they’ll also have a book or comic book that they’re looking for a writer that’s interested in writing it because they know people are interested in it and see it again.”
“It can be a good thing because if you know some audience is going to tune in and probably like it because they’ll see characters they haven’t seen in a while in different versions,” he continued. “As a storyteller, you can use that goodwill to tell a more ambitious story, I think. Sometimes if you have a brand-new character or story, you have to spend a lot of time explaining who they are…”
But Thomsen still loves seeing “wildly original” shows like “Breaking Bad” and FX’s new Donald Glover series “Atlanta.” He once sold his own pitch for a TV series about how lobotomies were used as mental healthcare in the 1930s — “a world that was not too long ago but so scary” — but it has yet to see the light of day.
“As someone who writes for a living and tries to come up with new stuff, I’m always interested in falling in love with something unexpectedly. ‘Breaking Bad,’ where all I knew about that going into it was it had the dad from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ and the dentist from ‘Seinfeld’ — I did not know what to expect and I was completely blown away by the storytelling and this world that, you know, is technically a real world but just felt like a different planet and this epic story. I love that.”
“Something like ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Mad Men’ – these are all shows that in the first season had very minimal viewership that required the studio to believe in it even if it wasn’t going to be a financial winner. And then people tell each other, ‘hey did you watch?’ and then it becomes a good business decision.”
Thomsen, 36, was born in Syracuse, where his parents went to Syracuse University together, but grew up all around Upstate New York. His father Fred Thomsen’s job as a school superintendent took the family to Geneva and Tonawonda before settling back in CNY, where Daniel attended Fabius-Pompey School District from grades 3-6 and Christian Brothers Academy for high school.
After graduating from CBA in 1998, Thomsen went to Babson College’s business school in hopes of joining the early dotcom startup craze.
“I really thought I wanted to work in that field, computers and all that,” he recalled. “But when I graduated the bubble had completely burst… The only silver lining to that is this was the perfect opportunity to try something else.”
Thomsen loved writing, so he headed to Los Angeles and tried out apprenticeship-style work as an assistant. He eventually landed his first job writing for “The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” starring future “Game of Thrones” actress Lena Headey as Sarah and Summer Glau (“Firefly”) as the cyborg set back in time to protect her son, John.
“That was fun, that was my dream. ‘T2,’ growing up, was one of my favorite movies,” he said.
The series was nominated for four Emmys but canceled after two seasons due to low ratings. Thomsen relied on writing spec scripts — unpaid work — to land more gigs, including co-writing three episodes for “Melrose Place” before landing at “Once Upon a Time.”
“There was always that anxiety that your show could end at any moment” on “Sarah Connor,” he recalled, but “Once Upon a Time” was a hit right off the bat in late 2011. He picked up writing credits on six episodes and producer credits for two seasons, but success brought a new set of challenges.
“You can’t have a bad week – there are no excuses. You have to come up with new episodes and you want them to be good. It’s really disciplined and dedication,” Thomsen said. “I was really proud of that show, especially that first season arc [on ‘Once Upon a Time’] — it’s really hard to do over 22 episodes.”
Even a show like Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s “Westworld,” with HBO’s reported budget of $100 million, had issues. The remake of the 1973 film based on Michael Crichton’s book underwent numerous delays and reshoots, to nail down the futuristic, western-themed amusement park where visitors indulge on nefarious desires with robotic hosts. But with a cast like Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Ed Harris, Thandie Newton and Anthony Hopkins, plus backing from executive producer J.J. Abrams, HBO wasn’t afraid to bet big.
Thomsen, who co-wrote the third episode, said he was attracted to the project early on because the movie was a “futurist’s dream,” but had a simple storyline.
“I thought there was a way to tell the story that was surprising and emotional in a way that people haven’t considered before,” he told syracuse.com. “For me, in the pilot, the scene that was a gut punch was when Dolores (Wood) gets a new dad at the end. There’s something incredibly tragic about it that really spoke to me…”
“Westworld” has already been renewed for a second season and is reportedlyaveraging nearly 12 million viewers across all platforms — more than “Game of Thrones” in its first season.
But Thomsen says he won’t be back on “Westworld” because he’s too busy with “Time After Time,” which is expected to premiere this spring on ABC.
Freddie Stroma (“UnReal,” “Harry Potter”) will star as science fiction author H.G. Wells, traveling through time to chase famed serial killer Jack the Ripper, played by “Revenge” actor Josh Bowman. Kevin Williamson (“The Vampire Diaries,” “Dawson’s Creek”) uses the 1979 movie that starred Malcolm McDowell as inspiration, sending Wells to present day New York City and adding Genesis Rodriguez (“Identity Thief”) to help him.
Every show needs something to help it stand out, especially in the era of peak TVwith more than 500 scripted series this year alone. AMC is looking for the next “The Walking Dead” and HBO needs the next “Game of Thrones” — both based on books with a built-in fanbase — and viewing habits have changed thanks to streaming and binge-watching.
“You have to be noisier and make a bigger splash,” Thomsen said.
Will “Time After Time” make enough noise to be Thomsen’s next hit this spring? Stay tuned.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You can find the original version of this post, with more images and tons of comments, HERE