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A Blast From My Past

December 13, 2023

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I was wandering through the Land of the Streamers a few nights back, as I am wont to do sometimes, looking for a new series or an old movie that might pique my interest.   So many streamers, so many choices, you never know what you’re going to run across.

This time, I ran across one of my own shows:  DOORWAYS, the busted pilot I created and filmed back in 1992 for Columbia Pictures and ABC, is being streamed on Amazon Prime.   Came as a surprise to me.   No one had told me this was happening.

DOORWAYS is the great “What If” of my life.   It was an alternate world show, and had the pilot been picked up to series, well, that would have been my own alternate world.

It all started back in 1991.   I had been working in television and film since 1986, writing for THE TWILIGHT ZONE, MAX HEADROOM, and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, then moving into development (“development hell,” as they call it out in LA, and with good reason) doing screenplays and pilot scripts for various and sundry movies and TV shows that never got made, but that summer I found myself between assignments, and began a new novel… a fantasy that would, ultimately, become A GAME OF THRONES.   I was about a hundred pages into that come fall when my Hollywood agent called.  It was “pitch season,” and she had set up meetings for me with ABC, NBC, and Fox, to pitch series concepts.

I had an idea I wanted to sell: an adaptation of “The Skin Trade,” the novella I had written about a hot female private eye and a hypochondriac werewolf collection agent, set in a fictional midwestern city that combined aspects of Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa, both places I had lived.  The story had won the World Fantasy Award, and I thought it had the makings of a good television series.   So I put the novel aside and hopped on a plane for LA.

I couldn’t just go in with one idea, however.   Sometimes, when you do that, you are one sentence into your pitch when the execs say, “sorry, we’re doing something similar,” and the meeting is over five minutes after it began.   My agent had urged me to have a second arrow in my quiver.   I was pondering that on the plane when a line came back to me, the opening sentence of a much older story of mine, a short fantasy called “The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr.”   There is a girl who goes between the worlds, that one began.   I did not think “Laren Dorr” itself would work as a TV series, but that line planted a seed, and by the time I landed at LAX I had the idea that became DOORWAYS.

It was a good thing I did.   As it happens, neither NBC nor ABC nor Fox wanted a werewolf show, but I had that second arrow in the quiver… and all three of them responded to the idea we were then calling DOORS.   ABC moved fastest, and made me a deal within hours of my leaving that meeting.   I spent the rest of 1991 writing — and rewriting, of course — the pilot script, and we got the green light to film early in the new year.   I brought in my friend Jim Crocker from my TWILIGHT ZONE days to share showrunning duties with me, and Columbia Pictures Television (where Jim had an overall) as the studio… and that summer we started shooting.

DOORWAYS (the name was changed to avoid confusion with Jim Morrison’s band and Oliver Stone’s movie) starred George Newbern, Kurtwood Smith, Carrie Anne Moss, Rob Knepper, Hoyt Axton, Tisha Putman, and an amazing young French actress named Anne Le Guernec.   For various complex reasons, we had to push back the shoot a few months, which made it too late to be considered for ABC’s fall schedule that year (network TV was very seasonal in those days)… but when we delivered late that summer, the network loved it.   Loved it so much that they ordered six (6) back-up scripts, an unusually high number.   I spent the rest of that year developing those episodes, writing one script myself and hiring and supervising five writers on the others.   We expected a mid-season pickup.   EVERYONE expected a mid-season pickup.   I had writers sending me sample scripts and agents pitching their clients for staff jobs.   It was an exciting time.

Alas.   The best laid plans of mice and men and television writers… as it happened, there was a shake-up in the executive suites at ABC.  And one of the iron laws of TV and film came into play:  the new guy never likes what the old guy loved.   The new guys passed on DOORWAYS.  We tried to sell it to the other networks, of course, but there were only four back then, and it was a rare thing when any of them bought a show developed by a competitor.   They all preferred home cooking.

That was quite a blow, I will confess.   We had come so close… much much closer than any of my other pilots… so close I could taste it.   And quick as that, it was done.   ABC eventually aired the pilot — “burned it off,” as they did with busted pilots — sometime that summer.  Even there, they screwed it up.   DOORWAYS was a ninety-minute show (ninety minute pilots were all the rage in the early 90s), but they scheduled it for a one hour time slot, then had to pull it.  I think they eventually rescheduled and ran it at three in the morning one night, but I am not even sure of that.   There was also a DVD, where they puffed up to two hours by adding deleted scenes.

There’s a good chance that more people will watch the show on Prime than have ever seen it before.

I hope so.   DOORWAYS was a turning point for me.  It taught me something about myself.   I was well paid for writing and producing the pilot, and for developing those back-up episodes.   Hell, I was well paid for all the pilots I wrote back then.   I was making more money than I had ever made in my life.  But I was not happy.   Working on shows like DOORWAYS, creating worlds and characters and plots, spending months or even years with them… only to find, in the end, that you had been writing for four execs in a room, that no one else would ever see what you had done… it was just too frustrating.   I had been a writer for twenty years at that point, I had won awards and lost them, gotten good reviews and bad ones, and that was fine… but doing work no one ever saw or read… no…

So I returned to that novel I had set aside in 1991, when I got on that plane for LA.   It became A GAME OF THRONES, and, well, I guess most of you know what happened after that.   At the time, I figured I was writing something that could never be filmed.  It was just too big for television, too long for a movie, too much sex, too much violence, too many characters, battles, and castles.

Hoo hah.  You know nothing, George Snow.

If DOORWAYS had been ordered to series… well, maybe it would have been cancelled after nine episodes, or maybe it would have run for nine seasons… television is a crapshoot at the best of times.   The only thing that’s certain is that my life, and career, would have been very different.  So maybe it all worked out for the best.   A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE and the world of Westeros is what I will be remembered for, if indeed I am remembered at all.

Like a doting father, though, I love all my children.  (I wrote a story about that too, “Portraits of His Children,” won a Nebula for that one, lost the Hugo to Harlan).   Dirk and Gwen, Haviland Tuf, Willie and Randi, Simon Kress, Abner and Joshua, the Nazgul (the band, not the RIngwraiths), Maris of Lesser Amberly, Popinjay and Lohengrin and the Great and Powerful Turtle… and Tom and Cat and Cissy too.

I am pleased that, at long long last, at least a few people will get to meet them.



Current Mood: amused amused

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