A million years ago when the world was young and dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I spent the best part of a decade working in Hollywood. In television, mostly, though I did a few feature scripts as well, for films that never got made. My television career began on the CBS revival of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, along about 1985-1986. After that I wrote a couple of MAX HEADROOM scripts, but they never got made either. The show was cancelled when one of them was still in pre-production. Then I spent three years on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Not the recent one, of course, the first one, the good one, with Ron Perlman and Linda Hamilton and Roy Dotrice and Jo Anderson and Jay Acovone.
By the time B&B wrapped up I had climbed the television ladder from freelancer to staff writer to story editor to executive story editor to co-producer to producer to co-supervising producer to supervising producer, and was in line to be showrunner. But B&B got the axe too before that could happen. But I’d now accumulated enough credentials and credit to take the next step, and I moved into development, pitching ideas for shows of my own and writing pilots.
In Hollywood they call it “development hell,” and for good reasons. You work just as hard, you make even more money, you pour your sweat and blood and tears into your creations… but most of what you create never gets aired. I stuck it out for five years, pitched more series concepts than I can count, and wrote a half-dozen pilots, everything from a medical show about the CDC (BLACK CLUSTER) to an alternate world adventure called DOORWAYS, the only one of my pilots that was actually filmed. We did that one for ABC and they loved it, enough to order six back-up scripts in anticipation of a series order. The scripts were written, but the series order never came, and DOORWAYS died unborn, like the rest of my pilots.
Not long after that I left television. I had an overall deal at Columbia, I was making good money, but I’d had enough of development hell. There were things about working in television I liked a lot, but spending a year or more developing a world and creating characters and writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting a pilot for four guys in a room (sometimes three guys and a gal) that the world never got to see… that was not for me. I wanted an audience. Needed an audience. Writing scripts for TZ and B&B, that was one thing. Hard, challenging, stressful, demanding work, but at the end of the road the cameras rolled and a few weeks later millions of people were watching what I’d written. The audience might like it or hate it, but at least they got to watch it. Writing for the screen, be it the small screen or the big one, that’s fun. Writing for a desk drawer, not so much. So I put Hollywood behind me and returned to an unfinished novel I’d begun in 1991 and shelved for a few years because of film and tv deadlines, a book called A GAME OF THRONES, and… well, you all know how that turned out.
Which brings me back to STARPORT.
STARPORT was one of those pilots I wrote during my years in development hell. In some ways it was my favorite. When pitching a television series, there is a certain shorthand where you describe your new show by comparing it to existing shows (preferably successful ones). Gene Roddenberry sold STAR TREK as “Wagon Train to the stars.” HBO bought GAME OF THRONES as “the Sopranos in Middle Earth.” I knew how to play that game too, so I pitched STARPORT as “HILL STREET BLUES with aliens.” The idea was that, in the very near future (that would have been the late 90s, since I wrote the script around 1993-94), a great interstellar civilization called the Harmony of Worlds decides that humanity has finally advanced sufficiently to be admitted to the ranks of civilized races, and reveals themselves to us. After first contact, they build three great starports for purposes of trade and diplomacy: one in Singapore, one in Copenhagen, and one in Chicago… out in the lake, where Mayor Daley always wanted to build an airport. But the focus of the show was smaller than that: our viewpoint characters would be the cops and detectives of the police division closest to the Starport, who suddenly had to deal with all sorts of strange aliens coming and going, and with the sorts of problems they had never previously imagined.
It was a fun show to write. Fox wanted a 90-minute pilot, which was all the rage back then. My first draft came out closer to two hours, so of course I had to go back in and cut a lot of stuff, but that was pretty much par for the course for me. My first drafts were always too long and too expensive. The development process was pretty much the old Hollywood cliche: they loved it, they loved it, they loved it, they decided to pass. We shipped it around to other networks, but there were only four back then, so finding a second buyer was a long shot. No dice. STARPORT went in the drawer. Years later, I included one version of the script in QUARTET, a small press collection from NESFA Press to mark my being GOH at a Boskone. But aside from that, the story remained untold.
Enter RAYA GOLDEN. My friend, my minion, the art director for my Fevre River Packet Company, and a very talented comic artist in her own right. A few years ago she adapted “Meathouse Man,” one of my darker and more twisted short stories, as a comic. It earned a Hugo nomination in the Best Graphic Novel category (did not win, alas). But she was only warming up with that. Afterward I gave her a much bigger challenge: STARPORT, both drafts. And she’s been hard at work at it for the past two years, adapting the teleplay to comics format, fixing all my dated 90s references (the jokes about VHS tapes did not work so well any more), and penciling and inking it.
It’s huge fun. And now, at long last, it’s almost here.
Random House and Harper Collins will be releasing the graphic novel of STARPORT next week, on MARCH 12.
You can order a copy by Clicking HERE
(I am amused to note that “Hill Street Blues with aliens” is now too dated, and has been replaced by “Law & Order meets Men in Black.” The more things change, the more they stay the same).
Eventually, we will also have signed copies available for sale from the bookshop at my Jean Cocteau Cinema.
I hope you all enjoy it. For my part, I am thrilled that one of my orphan children has finally escaped the desk drawer to wander out into the wide world. If the book does well enough, I can see the possibility of further issues of STARPORT down the road.
And who knows? Maybe someone will even want to turn it into a television series.
Current Mood: pleased