By Debbie Baldwin
So, this week has been a little different. I’m in New York City, filming a TV show. Technically, I’m in New York City filming my TV show. A couple of years ago, my friend Kim Cella and I had an idea for a sitcom—sort of a Seinfeld-meets-Bob Newhart show—and little by little, we came up with a concept. After conception came gestation and delivery, and our little show pilot was born.
Originally called And We’re Out of Time, the show centers around a single Manhattan psychologist whose personal life mirrors the problems of his patients…originally. (Remember Edward Burns’ guest appearance on Will & Grace, where his screenplay about hospice patients becomes a romance about two guys who meet at the gym? That’s not far off.) Here’s where things got interesting…
In an industry that hinges on choosing good scripts, you’d be amazed how few people actually read and proudly admit that. We had college acquaintances and friends of friends and people we met on airplanes tell us point blank they would not read it, “but good luck.” Finally, thanks in no small part to the incredible network of John Burroughs alumni in the arts, someone read it. Someone read it and liked it. Wow! Amazing. I’m as good as on TV right? Wrong. Having someone in the industry read and like your script is sort of like making it into the stadium for an American Idol audition; it’s a step in the right direction, and a baby step at that.
A couple of very lucky things happened after that (mainly our first reader, producer Jonathan Burkhart, bumping into a childhood friend, director Jace Alexander, and bringing him on board), which led to Kim’s and my decision to film a short version of the pilot to use to pitch the show, an unconventional, if not groundbreaking, tactic.
So, in 2013, we assembled a cast and crew (Kim and I financed the project), and over two days in New York, we shot the pilot short. (As a quick aside, I will say that we had an incredible couple of days. Because it was our first experience filming, we were painfully unaware of how serendipitous the event actually was: actors becoming available at the last minute, a director of photography who would normally command a salary 10 times what we could pay, friends securing amazing locations in New York–magic.)
The short was shot, the show was pitched; and just like that, we sold it–not even close. But we were at least getting meetings with decision-makers. In the American Idol analogy, we made it to Hollywood Week. Industry movers and shakers (or more likely nudgers and nodders) would watch our pitch and usually give us a polite Thanks, but no thanks. Some networks wanted to discuss. Maybe he’s not a shrink. Maybe he’s a plastic surgeon or a district attorney or a rodeo clown? In the end, we got an offer from DirecTV: a full season, straight to series, fall 2015.
The entire cast returned for the full shoot. The show—working title is now Coop (the main character’s nickname, but that’s probably going to change), and it stars Steven Pasquale (The Good Wife, Rescue Me), James McDaniel (NYPD Blue, Detroit 1-8-7), Christopher Fitzgerald (Broadway mainstay and Tony nominee), Trieste Kelly Dunn (Banshee), Maddie Corman (Smash) and Susan Kelechi Watson (Louie, The Blacklist). Plus, our metropolitan location is giving us access to some amazing guest stars, so far, including: Spencer Garrett (House of Cards), Oscar nominee Jane Alexander and Helene Yorke (Masters of Sex).
So, that’s what I’m doing…living in SoHo; schlepping to the L train to get to the sound stage in Bushwick, Brooklyn, every morning at the crack of dawn with Kim and our interning script supervisor/PA, Ricky Nix…I’m a working stiff, a strap-hanger, a commuter. I’m also the show creator, executive producer and writer. I’ll let you know how it goes…