Inside the Writers Room – Pushing Daisies

The Paley Center for Media was aglow once again last night, to pay tribute to those unsung heroes of television – the writers.  Following panels with the staff from Family Guy and The Office, the Paley center ended its ‘Inside the Writers Room’ series with the most original show currently on television – Pushing Daisies.

In the lobby before the seminar, surrounded by color photographs from the new season of 24, I chatted briefly with Chad and Dara Creasey, story editors for Pushing Daisies.  I met Chad and Dara when they came to speak to my class about writing for television last May, and was thrilled that they remembered me.  Two of the nicest, most geninue people you could hope to meet, the Creaseys are a testament to the fact that it is possible for young people to succeed in television – it’s just not easy. 

They both stressed again the virtue of finding a job as a writer’s assistant, even starting at the bottom, fetching coffee and hiding skeletons, working your way up.  One of the staff writers this year, Jim Gray, started as a P.A., did a good enough job to get promoted inside the writers room where he took notes and wrote outlines, and so impressed Bryan Fuller with their quality that he got on staff .

When I expressed my concern that I wouldn’t make a very good assistant, Dara said, “No one’s a good assistant – it takes time.”  

I also mentioned my problem with putting myself forward, introducing myself to people.

“Of course,” said Dara, “you’re a writer.”

Chad added that it was just another thing that would come with practice.  “You’ll improve.”

They were ushered off into the green room, and I went to take my seat in the closed circuit viewing room – until I was promoted to the main auditorium because they had an extra seat.  I paid seven dollars for what amounted to a 25-dollar ticket, great bargain!

Before the panel began we were treated to a preview of next week’s episode, “Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic.”  It’s a great episode, with more of Ned’s “magically delicious” half brothers, a surprising connection between Ned’s father and Chuck’s, a mystery involving Chuck’s pocket watch, Olive as the damsel in distress, and classic Emerson Cod.

When the curtain closed on the Conjurers Castle for the last time, the lights came up and Kristen Dos Santos from E! took her chair to moderate.  A self-proclaimed Daisy-phile, Kristen introduced writers Jim Gray, Lisa Joy, Abby Gewanter, Dara Creasey, Chad Creasey, and Kath Lingenfelter, with writers/producers Davey Holmes, Aaron Harberts, Gretchen Berg, Peter Ocko, and the man himself, Bryan Fuller, who showed up in a red plaid jacket with matching vest and scruffy beard.  Love ya, Bryan, but no one looks good in plaid.

One of the first questions was the one on everyone’s mind: the future of Pushing Daisies.  The good news is that they didn’t immediately announce the show had been cancelled; bad news is they’re as much in the dark as the rest of us.  The network has gone radio silent – and their last day of filming for the current thirteen episodes is tomorrow.  Creatively, Bryan said, ABC seems pleased with the show, but keeps saying, ‘Wait and see.’  It’s those pesky ratings – and the expense.  It costs big bucks to make something this pretty.  Everyone seems to agree that the networks need to adjust their expectations of what a good audience is in the wake of the Writers Strike.  One of the producers suggested networks reevaluate their determination to reach a ‘broad’ audience.  I whole-heartedly agree – niche marketing is the wave of the future.

Fortunately, the guest stars are just lining up to play in Coeur de Couer, for pretty small paychecks.  In addition to Fred Willard‘s role as the Great Hermann next week and Stephen Root‘s continued appearance as Dwight Dixon, the writers have promised Nora Dunn and Wendie Malick stepping in as the Aqua Dolls, the Darling Mermaid Darlings’ main rivals.  Peter Ocko described them as “the Sarah Palins of synchronized swimming.”  Rumor has it Gina Torres is going to turn up as Emerson’s baby mama in the twelfth episode of season two,  “Water and Power.”  I certainly hope she faces off with Simone the dog breeder; that’d be a show worth selling tickets to.

Bryan talked about pitching the show, how he was influenced by Amelie, and the bidding war that erupted between the major networks.  Feeling that the show was sister-in-tone to shows like Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, he went with ABC which was looking for something Amelie-esque.  

The writers have prepared for the possibility of cancellation.  Much like Wonderfalls, they’ve written the thirteenth episode to close one door and open several windows.  While Bryan warns that we won’t be quite as satisfied as we may have been with Wonderfalls, there will be closure on one particular storyline, though he didn’t mention which one.  If the show were to end, he hopes to wrap up the other numerous arcs in comic book form, and stated that he would love to have all the writers involved in that project.

Speaking of Wonderfalls, the producers revealed that Marianne Marie Beedle, the Muffin Lady from “Muffin Buffalo,” will be crossing over in the episode “Comfort Food” for a pie bakeoff with Ned.  Bryan stated in an interview with Blast Magazine that he thinks of his three shows existing in the same universe.  We’ve already had a small taste of that with the appearance of Diana Scarwid (Karen Tyler, Wonderfalls) as the nunnery’s Mother Superior, as well as the use of the Happy Time Temp Agency (George’s day job on Dead Like Me) for Ned’s cover during “Bzzz!”  If only they could get Caroline Dhavernas…

Sorry for those of you still hoping to see the Piemaker and his childhood sweetheart get it on; no chance of a loophole for Ned and Chuck.  Not even during an eclipse.  According to Bryan, “I think it’s a cheat.  The rules are set up, and I think if we find a loophole, it’s cheating.  I think it’s more fun to find ways around that obstacle.”  Such methods include a plastic divider in their bed, to be seen in an upcoming episode, which allows the lovebirds to spoon, “as well as other things.”  What else you can do with tupperware under the sheets and a no-touching rule boggles the mind.  Occasionally, one of the other producers added, “We sort of forget that rule.  There was one episode where we were on set, and the director had this thing, had them playing slapjack – which is kind of the equivalent of Russian Roulette!  We were watching dailies and thinking, ‘What are we doing?'”

After Kristen asked about the Little Gumshoe plot, Bryan revealed that Chi McBride pitched the idea of Emerson’s lost daughter in the pilot episode as his motivation for entering the P.I. game.  Bryan loved it and ran with it.  The writers give a lot of credit to the cast for their talent and range.  

In other news, the show’s soundtrack is due out out Dec. 9th, and they’re currently in negotiations with Kristin Chenoweth’s label for permission to get a full version of “Birdhouse in Your Soul,” the song she sings with Ellen Greene, on the CD, along with the other songs performed on the show.

Bryan discussed the difficulties of starting fresh as a returning show, having to jump through a lot of hoops, but by “getting through all the hoops after they were set on fire,” he said, they earned the network’s trust.  Apparently a dirigible was on the storyboards somewhere, but had to be scrapped for budgetary reasons.  What plot or episode it belonged to remains a mystery.

In case anyone wondered if it was just a fluke, no, the writers confirmed that the mysteries of the week have to be a metaphor for whatever the characters are dealing with at the moment.  Double duty again, folks.  “Frescorts,” for example was about renting friends, while Olive and Chuck tried to sort out their complicated friendship.  

Toward the end of the panel, Bryan credited his boyfriend Scott with setting the tone of the show by introducing him to 40s-style romantic comedies.  Homage is a big thing in the writers room of Pushing Daises.  Bryan loves his Hitchcock, and Chad admitted that his and Dara’s upcoming episode “Lighthouse” was inspired by Pete’s Dragon.  Gretchen Berg talked about the great back story that had to be left out of “Bad Habits,” drawn from a movie whose title I unfortunately didn’t catch.  “Olive was kidnapped as a little girl… and raised by two men who turned out to be better parents than hers ever were.”  Fortunately for us, the backstory was salvaged, to be featured in its own episode.

Nothing gets wasted.  In one way or another, the good ideas are brought back to life.


Pushing Daisies is on ABC, Wednesdays @ 8 pm.  



Quote of the Day:

“Gretchen and Aaron wrote the shit out of the episode.” – Bryan Fuller, creator and showrunner, Pushing Daisies, talking about 2×13.

Link of the Day: Photos from the Event on Wireimage. To avoid copyright issues, I’m not using the images.

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