Thank You, Jes—Angela. <3

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I watched a lot of television as a child. One of my deepest memories is lying on the living room couch, sick from school, and watching Happy Days. It wasn’t this particular episode, but I actually watched live as Fonzie jumped the shark. I wonder when my own teenagers use that phrase if they know where it came from or if they realize that Mom and Dad were there when history was made.

Consequently, when I think back on my childhood television watching it is blended together. I can’t distinguish how old I was when I watched certain things. Was it in elementary school? High school? College? And the plethora of genres and actors are infinitely uncountable.

I went through an Abbott and Costello phase. A Claudette Colbert phase. Katherine Hepburn. Cary Grant. Grace Kelly. Harrison Ford. Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys. Simon & Simon. Matlock and Murder, She Wrote. Lou Grant. The list goes on and on. I even wrote Star Wars fan fiction, which I hope is buried deeply in an abyss somewhere never to be found again.

I was especially drawn to shows about detectives, lawyers, and writers. If they were all three, well, that was the ultimate trifecta jackpot.

One of my favorites was Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury. I have always continued to admire her and follow her career as much as possible. In reading celebrations of her life, I’ve learned new things, although while they sound new, they also sound familiar. Perhaps I’ve heard them before and they sit in the back of my brain waiting for the reminders.

Two stand out in particular. Her daughter had fallen in with the wrong crowd and was abusing drugs, being encouraged to steal from her family. Angela moved the entire family to Ireland. The person influencing her daughter? Charles Manson. The second to stand out was that Angela hired, and even wrote specific characters for specific actors so that they would get their acting hours in to remain eligible for their union benefits. She was good people.

I was much younger than the core demographic for the show, but I was drawn in, to the stories, the characters, and the writing – both Jessica Fletcher’s writing as well as the writing of the show itself. I would find myself being able to anticipate plot points and guessing who the murderer might be and why I thought that. This is one of the reasons I love Only Murders in the Building so much. It gives me the same interactive feeling of being a part of the show.

With Murder, She Wrote since I was so much younger than Jessica, I had something to look forward to; something to attain, to reach for. She started writing later in life – a middle age that was far off for me – and so it was never an impossible dream, but something to sit on in patience; to strive for.

The picture I’ve used of Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher epitomizes my idea of a writer. I sit at my dining room table right now, clicking and clacking my keyboard as the words form on the screen. Where the sink and window are behind her, mine are within my field of vision, a tea kettle quietly bubbling, its blue light illuminating its base in place of Jessica’s tall, silver coffee pot. Next to me, there is a cup and a straw of Diet Coke, but it is often hot tea. I have papers and pens, pencils, and markers strewn about the surface of the table, a three-hole hole puncher, a pencil case, a church bulletin, a handful of bills, and of course, I’m wearing my glasses. It’s as if the fantasy life of Jessica Fletcher has come alive for me here.

And it is alive. I’m teaching a writing class, I’m writing a book, among other things, I’m drinking something full of caffeine, and I’m moving onto the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next chapter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about chapters lately, but that needs another sheet of paper, and the groceries need buying. Maybe I still have a little Jessica Fletcher in me after all.

Thank you Jessica. And thank you, Angela Lansbury. Rest well.

50-18 – TV Writers…Writers on TV

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​Before I thought, or accepted that I was a serious writer with something to say, I read ferociously. I also watched television with the same zeal. I could literally sit down and watch the last fifteen minutes of a two hour television movie and be completely engrossed in it. I loved all genres then. We only had six, maybe seven broadcast channels, assuming the winds were right and the aerial was in its proper position. And of course, the only one who knew whether the aerial was positioned right was the aerial itself. It was never in the same position twice.

Our televisions went from huge hunks of furniture to little tiny ones that I could bring to college and get one station in black and white, and now they’ve returned to huge wall hangings, mounted like a movie theatre.

One of the things that never left me from my childhood was noticing and watching all of the writers that appeared on television. I don’t mean the people who wrote the shows or the books that the shows were based on, but the characters who were writers.

I grew up wanting to be a lawyer – slash – private investigator – slash – reporter. I always had a notebook with me, jotting down things I’d see on the street, the way the colors hit the water or the street sign or the sound made when a car drives through a puddle. I don’t know why I needed this information, but I did and I would have it when I did need it.

When I went to my first therapy appointment, I noticed that the therapist had a print of a Renoir hanging on the waiting room wall. In my head, in my best Remington Steele accent, I said, “The wall safe is always behind the Renoir. Where’s the Renoir?”

In the writing in my head, I would insert myself into whatever the storyline was, sometimes more than one, and I would be the journalist or writer, much like Richard Castle who the police or PI couldn’t solve the case without. It gave me the chance to be a recurring, supporting character which is something I probably am in my own real life story, never the main character.

I know a lot of my love for journalism came from the movie, All the President’s Men. I was young and impressionable at a time that journalists were revered, both in real life: Woodward & Bernstein, Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, and in fiction as well:

Jessica Fletcher of Murder, She Wrote

Ian Stark from Stark Raving Mad

Billie Newman from Lou Grant – my favorite of favorites

Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane of the Superman Adventures

Jake Sisko of Deep Space Nine

Ray Romano of Everybody Loves Raymond

Oscar Madison, another sportswriter from The Odd Couple

Murphy Brown – news writer and reporter

Chuck Shurley, aka Carver Edlund of Supernatural

Iris West of The Flash

Todd Manning of One Life to Live

John-Boy Walton of The Waltons

Richard Castle of Castle

Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza of Seinfeld

Carrie Bradshaw of Sex in the City

Maya of Just Shoot Me

Rob Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke Show 

Phoebe Halliwell of Charmed

And those are just off the top of my head.

Today, I have more respect for the real writers and the current ones who inspire me include Lin-Manuel Miranda, Adam Glass, Robbie Thompson, Bernard Cornwell, and Sharon Kay Penman. They are who I go back to time and again because they are just that good. Not to leave out Wil Wheaton who is truly an inspiration and one of the main catalysts to my beginning this blog. Watching him navigate through his own freelance career, adjusting to the markets and changing, rebooting his life, but always writing and contributing; being his own boss, but also his own motivation. Writer and artist, Norman Reedus who inspires me to break out of my comfort zone and experiment with my art. 

To call myself a writer, I belong to a family of writers, both fictional and real, and each one gives me something, and that makes me better.