LB: ROUTE 66 and NAKED CITY, Si. Bert Leonard? Nah

by Larry Brody

By the time I managed to locate Bert Leonard, all that was left of him fit into a small unit in a self-storage facility in Los Angeles that was hemmed in by concertina wire and a row of spindly palm trees.

– Susan Orlean

All that was left of him was not a storage unit.  That wasn’t all that was left of his life.  He had all of his children around him, and he got to understand that he was leaving us behind.  He didn’t die alone.

– Gina Leonard

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In the late ’50s, Herbert Leonard, known to all as Bert, was a force to be reckoned with. He had a ton of series on the air, including two dramas that could be considered the best series of that decade: ROUTE 66 and NAKED CITY.

For me, they’re way up there. Only thing that keeps ’em from being at the top of my list is all the great live drama anthology series of that same era. You know, little things like PLAYHOUSE 90, STUDIO ONE, GE THEATER.

Today, on one of my favorite sites, The Classic TV History Blog, I learned two interesting things.

  1. The complete ROUTE 66 is out on DVD
  2. Bert Leonard is dead

I love blogster Stephen Bowie’s love for all things that have to do with that period in TV, and usually I agree with everything he says. This time around, though, I’m not sure of what he’s saying. By which I mean that he presents quite the balanced view of a man who’s been described not only as a brilliant visionary but also as an obnoxious con man. And much as I love the concept of balanced news, I feel obligated to stick my 2 cents in on this matter.

In either ’86 or ’88 – one of those years the WGA went on strike – my then partner and I were hired as Executive Producers of a version of RIN TIN TIN (one of my favorite shows when I was kid, and produced/owned by Bert Leonard) to be called KATTS AND DOG in Canada, where it was being made, and RIN TIN TIN: K-9 COP in the U.S. Bert was totally out of it then, as far as the business was concerned. But I was, you know, a fan.

My partner and I were action/drama writers, and Bert said that’s what he wanted this show to be. When we asked for more details, he gave us a short synopsis. Characters, setting, potential stories, you know the drill. He brought us to Toronto to meet everyone involved (where I met a terrific guy named Sam Manners, the legendary production manager who’d kept ROUTE 66 going on the road back in the day), then sent us back to L.A. to write what would be the second script. (Another writer, whose name I don’t recall, was already working on Episode One.)

When we were halfway through the script, Bert called to apologize for what he said was a “slight hold-up” in the deal. “I can’t give you screen credit as Executive Producers because you’re not Canadian. That’s got to go to someone here in Toronto. But you can still do all the work. Meanwhile, start packing. I’ve found a great place for you to live while we shoot.”

A couple of days later, we finished the first draft, messengered it to him, and started packing ourselves and a couple of kids.

And a few days after that I came home from an evening out to find a message on my answering machine in which Bert said. “Hey, read your script. I was wrong about drama. This show should be a sitcom. You’re fired.”

Never heard from him again.

Neither did my agent. Or business manager.

No matter how many times we called.

And, no, never got paid.

I did hear from Sam Manners, though, who called to apologize for his old friend. And to say he was quitting the show.

Bottom line: I don’t know what Bert was really up to during that Chinese Fire Drill. I do know that he didn’t seem to care about anything but sex with his current lady love, who, according to Stephen Bowie, he later married…twice. If he’d ever been a visionary, he sure wasn’t now. It was all con man, all the time.

Still, though, after all these years. I find myself hoping that Gina Leonard’s comments, above, are at least as true as those of Susan Orlean. And maybe even a tad more.

And wondering if I’m responding to him as a visionary legend, a typical flawed human being…or as a con man who even in death just worked his magic on me again.

Exactly What We Want to Hear, But Can We Believe It?

The closest thing we’ve ever heard to a television exec telling the truth was when a certain ABC V.P. sighed and told the showrunner of a very popular ABC show, “Okay, go ahead and do it your way. But if anyone asks I’ll say I told you not to.”

And, yes, the executive did just that, with the showrunner standing beside him.

Still, though, we want to believe what execs like the guy below say. Especially when they say things like this:

“Smart Is The New Mainstream” For TV, ABC Entertainment’s Paul Lee Says

By DAVID LIEBERMAN
“Storytelling itself has changed becuse [sic] our viewers have changed,” ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee said this morning at his opening presentation for the Banff World Media Festival in Canada. ”Smart is the new mainstream….If the message of 20 years ago was famously never over-estimate the intelligence of the public, I think the message of today should be never under-estimate the intelligence of the public.”

Time Now for the Most Chilling TV News of the Day

…And it’s not: Mads Mikkelsen To Play Hannibal Lecter In NBC Series ‘Hannibal’

Or: MTV Movie Awards Down From Last Year

Or even: ICM Partners Hires Warner Bros Exec To Run New Digital Strategy Division

It’s:

THE STAR WARS: UNDERWORLD SERIES MIGHT NOT BE APPROPRIATE FOR THE YOUNGLINGS

by Jamie Frevele | 2:47 pm, June 4th

While we all patiently wait for any news concerning Lucasfilm‘s Star Wars TV series, Star Wars: Underworld, here is something to tide us over: it might be a little racier than the movies. As in, producer Rick McCallum is comparing the planned stories to ones on the level of an FXseries. FX. They curse there. They kill there. They show butts, too, and sideboob. After the jump, find out more about what kind of sideboob we’re going to see on Boba Fett.

We all know the budget of this thing is huge — $5 to 6 million per episode — which is not pocket change, even for Lucasfilm, but still a challenge if they want to do more than one of these. But budget aside, McCallum has said that some are concerned about the proposed content of the show, and how it might not be appropriate for the kind of audience the original films sought out — the younger set. No, little Johnny and Jane might have to put on earmuffs for this one. Says McCallum:

“Our biggest problem is that these stories are adult. I mean…these are like Deadwood in space. It so unlike anything you’ve ever associated with George [Lucas] before in relation to Star Wars. These aren’t for kids. I mean, we hope they’ll watch, but it’s not being targeted at 8-to-9 year old boys.”

We’re all for tearing up the envelope, but “These aren’t for kids?!”

WTF?

Further proof, your honor, that George Lucas needs to go the way of Britney Spears.

It’s time for a conservatorship. Pronto.

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LB: What’s the Connection between the Silver Surfer and My Favorite Failed Web Site?

by Larry Brody

TVWriter.Com has been a very successful website for a very long time. But that hasn’t kept me from thinking about ways to make our little home away from home a bit more than it’s been.

Got to thinking about a website Dan Davison and I put together about five years ago. The object behind PeerProducer.Com was to – for free – teach newbies how to make the best video they could. We never really got it flying for all the reasons most people don’t get things flying.

But today I ran across this promo video I made with another Dan, Dan Reynolds, President of TV station KTO 8 in the garden spot (I mean this) of Harrison, AR. And, dammit, I don’t care if it only got 187 views. I like it.

And now I’m getting the itch to make more.

LB: I still don’t know Ken Levine…

…but he sure knows what it’s like to write for TV. Here’s what Memorial Day means to writers:

Memorial Day then staff work begins!

Happy Memorial Day. This is the time of the year when writing staffs go back to work. If you’re an aspiring TV scribe, I hope someday that’ll be you. Here’s what you can sort of expect…at least on the comedy side.

The first week will just be sharing vacation stories, home remodeling nightmares, debating the Dan Harmon firing,  trashing WHITNEY. You’ll go out for long lunches, bitch about how much other writers make, compare Prius prices, recommend apps for your iPad and iPhone, and discuss the upcoming summer movie slate. My blog might come up. Half will like it, half will think it’s a piece of shit.

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