Television Script to Novel

This is a guest post by author S. L. Kotar/J. E. Gessler

S. L. Kotar (with J. E. Gessler) sold their first teleplay to the iconic TV series GUNSMOKE. Their episode, "Kitty’s Love Affair," became the top-rated episode in the series’ 20-year history. They also published, edited and wrote for the iconoclastic magazine, "The Kepi," which specialized in integrating the life and times of the 1800s into the personalities of the men and women intricately associated with the Civil War, as well as presenting bold new interpretations of classic battles and leaders. As professional writers, their interests cover everything from 19th Century fiction to science fiction, while they have been prolific in the field of non-fiction, authoring texts on subjects as far-reaching and diverse as, "The History of the Circus," to their latest work (2017), "Yellow Fever: A Worldwide History." S. L. Kotar is also publisher of Ahead of the Press, an e-book and paperback book company. Websites: Aheadofthepress.com Westernreads.com Personal e-mail: GSFE@aol.com

Ever wonder what happens to a television script that doesn’t sell? If the author likes the idea well enough, it’s more than likely that he will “recycle” it for another TV series. One of the prime examples of this “swords into plowshares” approach was taken by Roy Huggins, the famed creator/producer of such iconic series as Maverick, The Fugitive and The Outsider. Working on a script for the Tony Musante vehicle, Toma, he came up with the idea of having a woman hire a detective to stand in for her wealthy, but recently deceased fiancée so she could stage the marriage and inherit the dead man’s fortune. The concept didn’t seem to fit into that series but Jane Musante, Tony’s wife, suggested it was more suited for a private eye series.

Huggins eventually turned that idea into a private eye series featuring a character who only worked on closed cases and thus James Rockford of The Rockford Files was born. The first pilot episode of the series guest-starred Lindsay Wagner and Robert Donley as Joseph “Rocky” Rockford, Jim’s father, and was based on the rejected Toma episode. The premiere episode, “The Kirkoff Case” was another unused idea from Toma (“How to get away with Murder”); the first year episodes “The Countess” was very similar to a novel Huggins wrote in 1940 (“Lovely Lady, Pity Me”), “Find Me if you Can” was “very similar” to “Girl on the Run,” adapted in 1956 as the pilot episode of 77 Sunset Strip, while “The Big Ripoff” was  another “retooled version” of a script originally used on Darren McGavin’s private eye series The Outsider, where it was titled, “The $20,000 Carrot.”*

The above is not meant to cast aspersions on Roy Huggins, whose legacy in the television industry is almost without peer and whose creations were instrumental in inspiring me, as a young writer, to enter the field. While I never had the opportunity of working for him, I did sit beside him once during a Writer’s Guild of America strike, answering phones at the WGAw office in Los Angeles.

The purpose of alluding to revisited ideas serves as an introduction into a series of novels my partner, J. E. Gessler and I originally wrote in teleplay form for an episode of Ironside, or, more specifically, an episode we wrote for William Shatner to guest star in an episode of that series. Knowing Bill was an avid motorcycle rider and an expert with a bow and arrow, we created a character who possessed both skills and was tricked into serving as a hit man for the mob.

While Bill tried to get the producer interested in the script, offering to star in the role, direct it or simply sell it to them, we were unfortunate enough that they turned us down. While my partner and I were acutely disappointed, the idea stayed with us and like those before and after us, we wrote out Chief Ironside and created two original characters to headline a series which featured psychiatrists, one of whom was Toby’s brother, the character we had originally created for Bill Shatner.

The series took on a life of its own and eventually we had Richard Kiley interested in playing the lead role. But selling a TV series depends on many things, not the least of which is the proverbial, “Who You Know,” a hefty dose of luck and good timing. Two out of three wasn’t enough and the scripts we wrote remained in a drawer for decades. It was only when we turned our interest into writing novels that the idea came to us that “New Beginnings” might make interesting reading. The original Ironside script, entitled “A Game of Killing” became “Arrow Song,” but in transforming it into novel form it became apparent we needed a backstory to explain the characters before it could be fully appreciated. That prompted us to go back and write two prequels, which became “The Believer” and “The Heretic.”

Thus, a TV script featuring a police chief turned into a proposed series for two doctors and then a series of novels. It’s the nature of the Business, and a universal axiom that a good story is always worth telling, even if it has to be reworked into several different incarnations!

 

*The material cited on The Rockford Files was taken from the book, This is Jim Rockford: The Rockford Files, by Ed Robertson.