Monday, September 12, 2022

Miss Scarlet, The Duke and Executive Producer Harvey Myman - Interview with Executive Producer Harvey Myman

Harvey Myman has had a long and distinguished career in both the print press and television. After leading his team at the Orange County Register to a Pulitzer Prize he changed directions and became an executive in television and then a producer. He is currently one of the managing partners at Element 8 Entertainment based in Los Angeles. The company works with international partners and they are currently in production on Clean Sweep being filmed in Ireland. 

Harvey and his partners at Element 8 Entertainment worked on all aspects of developing Miss Scarlet & The Duke. They were involved in casting, hiring the director, and they worked closely with creator/writer Rachael New. 

Miss Scarlet & the Duke is a sophisticated, elegant and charming series, and fits in beautifully with some of the glorious past achievements of Masterpiece Mystery on PBS. The series is set in 1880's Victorian London and features the first female detective in British history, Eliza Scarlet. Eliza must work closely with Scotland Yard's Detective Inspector, William Wellington (The Duke). 

The stars of the series, Kate Phillips (The Crown, Peaky Blinders) and Stuart Martin (Jamestown, Medici) are potent together as an on-screen crime fighting duo. The lifelong friendship of Eliza and William has brought them together, and their emotional bond not only provides for a lovely romantic set-up, but these two actors have more electrical chemistry than any other two actors currently working together. There is tension between them, but it is pleasant tension. They are each clever and formidable in their own respective ways, but together they prove to be a perfect match. Phillips and Martin have been perfectly cast. I literally haven't enjoyed watching two actors spar and connect in this manner in a long time. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to seeing these two work together for many seasons. If we get lucky, really lucky, hopefully, they will work together on other projects as well. Tracy/Hepburn, Hanks/Ryan...I'm not embellishing their on-screen abilities.

It is a pleasure to interview one of the executive producers of this series. I worked with Harvey Myman in the past; and one thing almost every single person that ever worked with Harvey would say is - he's such a gentleman. Fitting that he would be associated with a series that boils over with style and class.                      

J: Harvey, you started your career in journalism and eventually made your way to the Orange County Register. Going from the world of the print press to the entertainment industry seems like a leap few would or could make. What was the moment that made you realize you wanted or needed to alter your professional future? 

Harvey: Moving from print journalism to television entertainment seems a large leap, but for me it was in many ways an organic one, as it used many of the same skills. That said, when I decided to leave newspapers, I was not interested in going into television news. I felt television was at its best as an entertainment medium, and that was the lure. In fact, when I began my exploration of Hollywood, I was looking at feature work as well as television, and realized I preferred the faster pace of television.

I had reached a point where I could see that we had accomplished what we could at the Register, and, because of our success, several opportunities came along to move to that top tier of newspapers.  Remember, this was when print was thriving.  There were those who saw me as the canary in the mine shaft, but I did not see the drastic changes that lay ahead. The move to television was driven by a personal desire for fresh challenges. Though I had begun my newspaper career as a writer, I did not feel I had the discipline to write spec scripts and enter that way.  So I focused on my skills as a person who could read and write, who understood storytelling and could work with people in large organizations.

J: At any point did you regret the move from journalism to filmed entertainment?

Harvey: The only time I miss journalism is when I feel a story is being missed, or badly covered. 

J: Your first move into television was at the ABC Television Network working in the entertainment division. Again, a big jump from one industry to another. As a writer, you clearly had a unique insight into what was being developed at ABC. Can you share a bit about how a classic newspaper writer/editor goes into comedy?

Harvey: Over the course of a few months, I would drive from Orange County up to Los Angeles for meetings, usually generals and not for specific positions, but learning how the business worked. My background was certainly different from the usual candidates who began their careers at entry level jobs in the industry. My specific trajectory began with a general meeting with Grant Tinker, who had recently formed a new production company. While he had no openings, he took a genuine interest. He thought ABC was the up and coming network and got me an interview with Brandon Stoddard (President, ABC Entertainment).  As my resume was moving down rather than up, Brandon had me meet with John Barber, the head of current series programming, who offered me a job.  Seems simple, looking back.

I was pretty much hired as someone who would be a good and useful fit. In fact, I was not hired specifically for comedy or drama. A few months later they were making another hire, and gave me my choice of comedy or drama, and I chose comedy. My thinking was that dramas were attenuated features, whereas the multi-camera sitcom was its own form—a curious adaptation of a play that lived its life in the second act. I liked the idea of learning something completely new.

J: You were instrumental as an executive in two of the most successful comedies in television history - Roseanne and Home Improvement. Reflecting back on that time can you share a couple of memories from that period?

Harvey: Among the many shows I worked on at ABC were Roseanne and Home Improvement. Both great shows, but dramatically different experiences.  I was the current executive on Roseanne, and it was always about problem solving in the ongoing production.  On Home Improvement, I was the development exec, so I was present from the start, and the creators were just a dream to work with—smart, talented and creative writers. It was, in fact, the only show I ever worked on that I was pretty sure would be a hit. It was the right concept with the right talent at the right time. In the 1990's, time slots played a role as well.

I was given shows with difficult showrunners, and this continued into development when I moved over a year or so later.  These were the management skills I already had, and it made for an easy transition.  I always saw the role, in current or development, as helping the writers make the best possible version of their show.

It is the nature of the business that I was put in the comedy bucket. That was not how I looked at it, so when I shifted to drama in recent years, it was not that radical a change. As a viewer, I enjoy comedies and dramas.  As a producer, I happily work on both. Ideally, there is always some overlap, as there is in life. Certainly, there is considerable humor in Miss Scarlet & The Duke, and the best comedies have moments of drama, and honest emotion.

J: How much of your writing background came into play in your television career?

Harvey: The challenge in having been a writer and an editor is to understand and appreciate the roles.  The editor’s role is to make the writer’s work better—not to recreate it in his own image.  I made that transition while in newspapers, and carried it over to television. The result was that I could build strong bonds with writers, and not operate from an adversarial position, which too many television executives do. The trick is to park your ego at the door.

J: Parking your ego at the door. Many people are not capable of that, particularly those that rise to high levels in the entertainment realm. You left the network world right around the time the broadcast networks were beginning to be nibbled to death. The wisest people on the planet never would have thought in 2022 there would be 559 series on television. Twenty years ago there were less than 200 series on television. You left ABC to go to The Carsey Werner Company. Eventually you became an executive producer on several series. You remained in comedy for much of that time. How did you end up going down the path of drama? Most people have a difficult time with one major transition, let alone several.

Harvey: My move to Carsey Werner from development at ABC was the first move I made, and it was a wonderful company to be a part of.  While there, and in a desire to keep learning and get closer to the product, I made a shift into being an executive producer. That is pretty much the path I have been on, with detours here and there as an executive at Sony and at HBO.  I’ve always been fortunate to work for and with smart and good executives.

J: It goes without saying I enjoy Miss Scarlet & The Duke. It's entertaining and I appreciate the Victorian era mystery elements. The chief reason I am looking forward to season two is to watch the ongoing relationship and verbal back-and-forth between the two lead characters, Eliza and William (The Duke). How did you get involved with the series? 

Harvey: I love this show, and my appreciation, as we have wrapped seasons two and three and look forward to more, only grows.  Ours has always been a scrappy operation, and we have generally risen to the challenges, even without deep pockets to throw money at problems.

Miss Scarlet has its roots in the very best of this sort of show, with satisfying mysteries, but ultimately great characters.  The series has a special and consistent tone. The ancestors are films like The Thin Man, and certainly Moonlighting.  Like Scarlet, the jeopardy is real, but the tone is often cheeky, and the emotion, certainly in the case of Eliza and Duke, is earned. We love these people and hope they will end up together.

Kate Phillips as Eliza Scarlet and Stuart Martin as William Wellington 

J: As a fan, they better end up together! The character of Eliza is in a tough situation when the series begins. Her father who ran a successful detective agency has passed. William (The Duke) was mentored by her father and the two leads have a relationship which dates back to their childhood. The series is a compelling and charming drama laced with a tremendous amount of chemistry between the two leads. How did the elements all come together on the series?

Harvey: I will turn the light on the creator, Rachael New, whose fingerprints are everywhere, and she is now directing episodes in addition to writing.  If I can take a bit of credit for doing something smart, it was just before the start of production in Ireland in 2019.  In the British system, writers are pretty much done before the start of production.  Rachael came over for the first week, just to see it all become real, but I told her she was going to have to stay.

We turned her into an American style showrunner, and she responded brilliantly, rewriting on the fly, consulting with the director and actors, and doing everything possible to ensure that the series would work.

A brief history of the series and how came to be:  A literary agent in London gave us the script to read as a spec, as our company is focused on international co-production. We loved it—the characters, the tone, the historical accuracy with subtle contemporary edges -- and took it on as a project.  It was initially a hard sell—no one wanted period dramas at the time, but our faith in it was undiminished, and we kept on it. One of my partners, Patty Lenahan Ishimoto, is particularly relentless in this way.  At one point we considered turning it into a French project, as they seemed more open to period, but eventually it fell into place.

J: It's rare for PBS to pick up a British series that didn't have its start on BBC, ITV or Sky. In the U.K., Miss Scarlet & The Duke airs on the Alibi Channel. How did the PBS relationship happen for the series?

Harvey: Masterpiece/PBS came in early and has been a wonderful partner.  In every way, they have been supportive of the show, and their input has been truly invaluable.  They are smart executives who know their audience.  It is a rare group, and I say this as someone who has worked at HBO and other well-regarded companies, and we are fortunate to be working with them. 

J: Even though the series takes place in Victorian era London you shot the first season in Dublin and the second and third seasons were filmed in Belgrade. What led to the decision to shoot in Ireland and then make a hard turn southbound to Serbia?  

Harvey: As noted, we shot the first season in Ireland, and it was all practical locations, which is easy enough to do there. Then, for COVID and other reasons, we moved to Serbia for seasons two and three. Belgrade is not exactly a hotbed of Victorian architecture, so we built our world on sound stages and back lots, which makes many aspects of production easier. The crews in Serbia have been truly wonderful.

Our production moves at a fast pace, so the demands are considerable. It was very much a team, and everyone pulled together to make it work. The results, which will be available to viewers in the U.S. soon, are exceptional.  The series only gets better, because everything gets deeper and more complex as viewers get to know the characters and the world.  So, we can’t wait for the audience to get to see season two.

J: The production company you are with Element 8 Entertainment has several other projects already set up and running. Can you share a bit on what the future looks like with your company? 

Harvey: We are currently shooting a contemporary thriller in Ireland, Clean Sweep, starring Charlene McKenna. It's written by American Gary Tieche, and it is going very well.  It will be carried in the US on Sundance Now.

All projects have their journey to becoming real, and we have a few others that are moving along.  Among these are The Bronte Girls, by playwright Caroline Kelly Franklin, with director Darcia Martin attached. It is about that summer at the parsonage in 1853, the last time all the remarkable Brontes lived together.  It is a fresh and fascinating take on perhaps the greatest literary family ever.

Other projects moving along are in India, Jordan, France, Belgium and even the U.S. Each of these projects has their own journey.  We resist falling into boxes, like the period producers because of Miss Scarlet & The Duke, or the mystery producers.  Each project brings its own challenges and its own satisfactions.   

None of our projects have massive budgets, so we remain scrappy and resourceful, and make sure what we do spend ends up on the screen.

J: I love scrappy. Some of the best material in film and television rises up out of smaller budgets, but creative minds. As a viewer, what are you currently enjoying on television?

Harvey: On television, the recently completed Better Call Saul was brilliant; and I am awaiting a new season of Babylon Berlin.  I still love great comedies, but not particularly of the broadcast network sort. I like things that get closer to the heart of the human condition.

J: As a lifelong and serious reader I always want to know what other people are reading. What are you currently reading? 

Harvey: As a reader, and as a viewer of television and films, I am fairly promiscuous. The result of being an English major, I suppose. My bedside table has books ranging from Dreiser's Sister Carrie to books by Dorothy B. Hughes. I've even been dipping into ancient Norse legends. I like to be able to read without always thinking about whether something could be a series. 

Thank you to Harvey Myman for sharing some of his time and the treasure of that time with us. 

Miss Scarlet & The Duke will have its second season premiere on PBS in the U.S. on Sunday, October 16, 2022. It has already been announced that season three will premiere in January, 2023. 

The series airs on Alibi in the U.K., Seven in Australia, CBC in Canada, Lightbox in New Zealand. It also airs in multiple other countries. 


Copyright The Flaming Nose 2022

Tuesday, August 30, 2022


The iconic Chicago logo 

This blog is mostly devoted to television, but we write about music from time to time and particularly about musicians, singers and songwriters who have appeared on television over the course of their career. Chicago made many appearances over the last 50+ years on television, so since I've assembled the greatest songs by Queen and The Doors I only thought it right as a born and raised Chicago woman to write about the band that "borrowed" its name from the city of big shoulders. 

To say Chicago is one of the great rock bands of all-time would be a wild understatement. Their career started in 1967 and in one way or another they are still around. If one had the good fortune to see Chicago during their heyday one could honestly look in the mirror and say to self they were one of the best live acts ever. In my own checklist, Chicago would be on that list with Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney and Little Feat. I never saw Elvis Presley live on stage. I'm a bit too young, but I gather I missed one of the greatest live performers there ever was.   

Chicago was an original. No band in the rock era had ever attempted to top the charts with a horn section and in their case, a horn section that could have provided their craftsmanship and their artistry to the great acts of  those cherished artists from the Depression era/World War II period. Chicago took that brass and turned it into a rock solid moneymaker, but far more importantly a hit making machine with loads of talent from every member of the band. 

There is a great deal of history to the band and I will certainly not detail their biographical chart. To sum up their fame in the proverbial nutshell of one paragraph, they famously were the first rock act to sell out Carnegie Hall for an entire week back in 1971. Other musicians respected their work. That's always the compliment one would want to hear or read about. Their first album, Chicago Transit Authority was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (their original name was Chicago Transit Authority, but the notorious CTA made them change it - what idiots - the CTA, not the band). They were rewarded with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020; and they finally got voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2016. By the way, this was 24 years after they were first eligible. Imagine doing this to one of the most critically acclaimed, at least in the first decade of their career and certainly one of the most commercially successful acts of all time (over 100 million records sold). 

Since I am a purist, I only mention the names of the original and magnificent seven. Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walt Parazaider and Danny Seraphine. These men were Chicago and from the perspective of 50+ years of history, will always be Chicago. This was the formation for those songs that mattered. When I say I'm a purist, I mean to define pure regarding music. Only Jesus Christ is completely pure, but as far as music goes -- According to the Collins English Dictionary, "If you describe something as pure, you mean that it is very clear and represents a perfect example of its type." Chicago - the original band members represented a perfect example of its type.  

This post is dedicated to clarinet/flute master, Walt Parazaider who announced in 2021 he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. My beloved dad lived with the dreaded disease for 12 years and succumbed to it eventually. Some numbers indicate there are some 40 million people currently living on planet earth with Alzheimer's. Those numbers include 14 million Americans. That would be close to 5% of the U.S. population. When you listen to Colour My World, stop and hear Walt's beautiful flute playing on the track.  

Chicago: L to R: Robert Lamm, Peter Cetera, James Pankow, Lee Loughnane, Walt Parazaider, Terry Kath, Danny Seraphine 

Here are the top ten greatest songs by Chicago.

1) Beginnings - Robert Lamm composed this illustrious and timeless piece of music. The melody is superb, the lyrics are romantic (what on earth do people fall in love to today?) and his lead vocal is like listening to a modern day Mr. Darcy singing to his Elizabeth Bennett. How does one not admire the creativity behind the line " the color of chills all over my body." Robert Lamm was either totally stoned or his creativity levels were creeping up at a high tilt. Just for the sheer benefit of the doubt I will say the latter as opposed to the former. Robert Lamm, who looked like he just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel was a wildly underrated musician/singer, but he was even more undervalued as a songwriter. In the early years of Chicago the band was blessed with three excellent lead vocalists, Lamm, Terry Kath and Peter Cetera. Why Lamm stopped singing lead as the band progressed beyond the 1970's is beyond my guess.  

Beginnings is joyful, energetic and proves within the confines of even one song what superb musicians each of the band members were. These were a group of consequentially gifted guys. Listen to Cetera's bass line. Danny Seraphine's drumming was flashy at times, but more importantly he was significantly credible. Seraphine didn't just keep time. He was musical. I love this song! I could play it on a daily basis and never tire of its sheer dripping with joy! A thousand different feelings. 

2) Make Me Smile - James Pankow wrote what would become Chicago's first top ten single. It was released way back in early 1970 and it is one song of many that highlights their absolutely outstanding musicianship. Chicago was for all intents and purposes the first real rock band to use horns, even though The Beatles (of course, they did) used horns sporadically on some tracks and most notably on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Doors even came in to use horns on their 1969 smash hit Touch Me, but Chicago utilized brass on nearly every track and nobody did it better. They were unique. No one sounded like Chicago. A rock/jazz band filled with musicians who literally could have played with Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. Needless to say, the big band giants of the Depression/World War II era produced some milestone musical pieces and their musicians were among the best musicians of the twentieth century. Members of Chicago would have fit in just fine.

Terry Kath was surely one of the best rock vocalists the era produced. He rises high in the annals of great rock singers. He's up there with Paul Rodgers, Lou Gramm, Freddie Mercury, Steve Perry, Stephen Stills, Elvis Presley and Lennon and McCartney. Kath rarely gets credited this way, but wow what a talent was lost with his early death. 

The introduction on Make Me Smile and then that absolutely brilliant (a word used too often, but applicable here) ending are moments to savor.  I hear young people listening to the same noise over and over again. It's not even music. It's just noise. Music is played by musicians. Chicago were musicians. Make Me Smile is a complicated piece of music. If you play you will know what I mean.   

3) Dialogue (Part 1 & 2) - Robert Lamm wrote this song and it appears on Chicago V (in hindsight, it would have been nice to have taken all of their creativity and used it to name their albums in a more memorable way). The song was released in 1972 during a chaotic period including involvement in the Vietnam War. It is rare to have an actual dialogue in a song outside of a feature film or Broadway score. The late Terry Kath sings the first person dialogue and his character is caught up in the sadness and  madness of the world. Peter Cetera comes in to do the latter half of the back and forth and he's a happy camper not caught up in the world. The song goes in to a Part 2 and it is the band singing en masse and it completely comes to a close a capella. Their diverse worldviews are accentuated throughout. Looking back on the song more than five decades later you actually get both sides which attests to the brilliance and even the prophetic aspects of the song.    

Dialogue (Part 1 & 2) is a masterpiece. I will repeat that, it is a masterpiece. Chicago (I write on reflection of the original seven members during this entire post) not only was filled with superb musicians, but they were intelligent. These guys harnessed their formal educations at DePaul University and Roosevelt University to mastermind one of the most prolific acts in modern musical history. This song was released during a time when attending university/college actually meant something. Imagine coming up with the dialogue and then making it challenge the intellect, the worldview, the thoughts of the day. Don't hate people because they don't agree with you. 

Terry Kath was a virtuoso guitar player. His solos are worth the songs in many cases. We Can Make It Happen! Oh yes, they could and so can we, but we have to get off of our phones and do something!

4) Feelin' Stronger Every Day - This song should be a jolt used in locations where people are not having a good day. I dare anyone to listen to this song and not feel good even if it only lasts for as long as the song. Based on how much airplay it continues to receive I am going to assume it is the most popular track by the band. Peter Cetera and James Pankow composed this track. Even though Pankow cowrote the song the horns are pretty much laid to rest on this track. 

These were tight musicians who knew their way around the concept and reality of a melody. Chicago, in their heyday were one of the best live acts ever. Even as they aged they still delivered enviable performances, but if you saw them back in "the day" you will remember vividly what their stage performances were capable of.  

Not exactly a rousing intellectual feat lyrically, but if you can carry a tune, wow what fun can be had belting this one out at a Karaoke bar. Of course, I've only done this once, but I still remember quite vividly what it felt like to sing such get out of the seat happiness via a song! Time signatures. Study up!

5) Hard To Say I'm Sorry/Get Away - Cetera wrote this song with David Foster. That sentence pains me, but this is one superb song. It is also one of the last songs powered by the band that is still what made Chicago, Chicago. Cetera began steering the band away from their traditional path and took them down the pansy path of pop. Having said that, Cetera had a memorable and gifted voice, but obviously he was not looking to stay and he sure wasn't going to say he was sorry.  The latter half of this musical composition is Get Away written by the always reliable Robert Lamm. Radio stations always remove Get Away from their airplay. I have wonderful memories of that summer in 1982 and if you were alive at the time you quite literally couldn't escape hearing this song. Roll down the window and blast that song. You will feel good. Once again, like Feelin' Stronger Every Day before it, Chicago knew how to amp up a few minutes of pure fulfillment by the joy of music. 

Cetera was capable of delivering emotional lines without sounding over the top. In videos he looked at times strained, but vocally he was all truthful and meaningful emotion.   

6) Colour My World - First off, I love the British spelling of the world Colour. I have no idea why James Pankow did this, but it doesn't matter. Looking at it in print form all these years later it just makes it sound more poetic and this song is poetry in lyrical motion.  

In the 1970's there wasn't a prom, school dance, homecoming event or wedding that didn't have this song on the top of the play list. It became an all consuming musical moment to say the least. Pankow wrote it and and Terry Kath sang it with all the passion and longing any vocalist could possibly provide. That flute solo by Walt Parazaider is a stunner. Oddly, there is only one verse in this song. We needed more.   

"As time goes on I realize just what you mean to me." That is the opening line to the song. Romance in music doesn't come any more beautifully than that line. Well, Paul McCartney's Here, There and Everywhere tops it (written for his beautiful Titian haired fiancee, Jane Asher).   

7) I've Been Searchin' So Long - James Pankow wrote this dream-like, almost haunting piece of music. No one would accuse Pankow of being a talented lyricist, but melodically he was one of the best tunesmiths that an American rock band gifted us with. In addition to the band, there is an entire orchestra that joins in as the music escalates to take us to another place. The best music always takes us somewhere and this song certainly fits that tradition. Cetera's vocal is powerful on this song. He intensifies the spirit of the lyrics with absolutely fantastic backing by his musical comrades.  

One of the key elements in music is the arrangement. Few bands could touch the arranging skills of the members of Chicago. Listening to the music sometimes would mean sitting down and listening to the music. If you love music it isn't just background filler. Pankow and Lamm in particular were mesmerizing in their ability to craft a song with their arrangements. Pankow, in particular could have done horns for some master class in classical music.    

8) Mongonucleosis - My eldest brother would play this song everyday for about three months. No exaggeration. He'd get ready for the day with this hyper display of jazzy, Latin American music. Certainly no other "rock" band would have recorded and released Mongonucleosis. Well, maybe Santana, but Carlos is Latin-American. It is so different and downright fun it had to be added to the list.

Once again, kudos to Terry Kath who was a full-body guitar player without a single hint of strutting his musical gifts. Clearly, this was who he was and what he was. This song is in many ways, the one song on this list that is all about the brass section. It was what separated this band from all other bands. 

9) Happy Man - Peter Cetera wrote this lovely ballad and what makes it a significant song is that it is not a cookie cutter style romantic ballad. It is an adult song loaded with depth and maturity. Cetera was a graciously good singer who had perfect pitch. If you are a Chicago fan you will end this post by noting of the ten songs on this list, four of them come from Chicago VII. Chicago VII was a double album and their finest achievement in recording. Call on Me is also on that album and that illustrious tune didn't make the cut.      

10) Skinny Boy - Robert Lamm composed this song for his first solo album. When that effort failed this song was used on Chicago VII. Once again, Lamm proves to be not only the best lyricist in the band, but also a stylized tunesmith who was able to drift off in various directions. No one in their right mind would peg this as a Chicago song. That was another reason why they were so good. Chicago was undervalued every which way you turned. 

The lyrics here sound like a significantly older man reflecting back on his life. When Lamm composed this song he was still in his 20's. Note the backing singers are the Pointer Sisters. A nice addition to the track and this song holds up well under the fog of many years having passed. None of their songs are dated. Amazing when you think of it.

Chicago was comprised of seven men with special abilities. Thank you to Peter Cetera, Terry Kath, Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walt Parazaider, Danny Seraphine 

The original and magnificent seven. One of the greatest bands of all-time!

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2022

Monday, July 11, 2022

Interview with Laurie Burrows Grad - Sharing Grief with Humor


Laurie Burrows Grad is in an author, blogger and fundraiser. Her family ties run deep in the annals of entertainment industry history. Her father Abe Burrows was a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner (Guys and Dolls, How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). Her brother James co-created the iconic series Cheers; and her son Nick is the President of Original Programming at FX. She has authored  several books; and her most recent book is The Joke's Over, You Can Come Back Now: How This Widow Plowed Through Grief and Survived. Since her husband Peter Grad passed in 2015, she has written extensively on grief. Laurie and Peter were married for 47 years. Laurie has said that "one minute he was laughing and the next minute he was gone."  

She was the overseer of the annual A Night At Sardi's which served as a high-profile fundraising event for the Los Angeles chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. Several years back I wanted to get involved and have purpose with an organization that was serving to benefit the life ravaging disease of Alzheimer's. My father had been diagnosed with the disease and Laurie's father died from the disease. Little did I know that doing some volunteer work would lead to an off and on and back and forth with Laurie all of these successive years.  

Laurie is one of the most elegant, engaging, caring and compassionate people I have had the fine pleasure of encountering in life. In an industry that often relegates relationships to the "what can you do for me" arena, Laurie defies that way of thinking. She's gracious, completely unflustered and genuinely concerned. When she first met my parents I watched her with them and it was as though she had known them for decades. Having gone through watching her own dad's debilitating period with Alzheimer's she instinctively knew how to chat with my beloved dad.       

Albert Camus once wrote "There are two or three great love stories in a century. Everything else is vanity or boredom." Since my mom and dad had one of those love stories and Laurie and Peter Grad had one - there is another great love story out there. Claim it as your own! 

Judith: Laurie, your book The Joke's Over, You Can Come Back Now - How This Widow Plowed Through Grief and Survived was about your coping and surviving after your husband Peter's death. I knew you and Peter shared a consequential love story. My parents had a great love story, so I am conscious of couples who love one another so fully. 

Laurie Burrows Grad: Peter was my best friend. Losing a spouse is like losing a limb. It is hard to cope alone especially since we were married so young. I had never really functioned on my own, so I had to adapt and find a way through the loneliness.

Judith: Without going through all of the points of your book what were the key components of plowing through grief and then surviving?

Laurie Burrows Grad: I used humor. Other people use other methods, but humor was what worked in my marriage and humor got me through my pain. I have heard that the sixth stage of grief is finding meaning. I have found meaning by helping other widows cope with their pain. I often get notes saying: “it is as if you are in my head.”  I say all the stuff that people are afraid to talk about. My first blog: Demoted to Lunch on HuffPost went viral, because it addressed the issue of people not knowing what to say.  I could do lunch by myself.  Now, dinner was another story and I needed others to surround me and help me through the tough times.

Judith: The biggest mistake of my life was not marrying and having children. I never thought about what my life might be like as I got older. Most people don't. No one cares if I've been to Malaysia. I don't care that I've been to Malaysia! My surviving siblings and I were with my mom when she went to her eternal home. Being with loved ones at the end is vital. My mom and dad had a significant love story and friendship. There were times when I realized their great strength was that they liked one another as much as they loved one another - which at times is harder to do. I got to witness the bond between you and Peter on multiple occasions. Another significant love story. What were the elements of your marriage that made it work and work so well?

Laurie Burrows Grad: We were each other’s best friend. That is a rarity these days and I haven’t been able to find anyone who could walk in Peter’s shoes. They were comfortable and warm shoes and I miss them all the time.

Judith: You discussed dating after the death of your husband. At some point, you referred to it as dumpster diving. Any stories you can share without giving away too much of your life? 

Laurie Burrows Grad: One guy drove past the valet parking. I said "we need to park here.”  He said, “I never pay for parking.” Now I knew I was dealing with a cheapskate. When he turned to me and said: “your roots are a little dark, when are you having your color done,” I nearly fainted. He followed that with “you must have been too busty to have modeled,” I said: “the editor has left the building," and I walked out of the restaurant.

Judith: That's memorable and not in a good way! I only walked out of one date in my life. It was a date with a music industry guy many years ago. Worst date of my life! I had fun walking out.  I love to journal (that bad date made it into the journal) and I've been doing it most of my life. I don't look back, but it's there if I ever want to. Out of curiosity, did you keep journals after Peter passed?

                               Laurie Burrows Grad and Peter Grad 

Laurie Burrows Grad: I journalized on my blogs on Huffington Post. I discussed finances, “who will zip up your dress,” and all the other aspects of widowhood that people sweep under the rug.

Judith: I had to zip up my own dress! My mom passed away two years ago. She lived with me the last 12 years of her life. I miss her deeply. The single best relationship in my life. I knew my life was never going to be the same again and I was right. Obviously, it is a different relationship, but this has been difficult for me. What advice would you pass on to people struggling with loss, even beyond loss of a spouse?

Laurie Burrows Grad: Get help. I joined a group after Peter died at Our House Grief Support Center.  It helped me immeasurably.  I went to the group feeling “why me.”  After I was in the group, I said “why not me?”  I also used a grief therapist.  There are many organizations that help people adjust to grief.  Many are free and Our House charged the minimum.  I joined the board after I left the group and help them as much as I can.

Judith: You and I met when I started volunteering on A Night at Sardi's for the Alzheimer's Association in Los Angeles. You lost your dad to the disease and eventually I lost my dad to the disease. I recently interviewed an author on his book regarding the disease; and over the last few years I've reviewed three documentaries on the disease. The numbers of people being diagnosed with the disease are growing. Clinically where do you see the future of this disease - short haul and long haul?

Laurie Burrows Grad: I watch my brother in law descend into that scary place of Alzheimer’s. It is the worst possible disease. To see my father, a wordsmith, not able to speak made both Peter and me want to help and raise money.  I am sorry to say they are no further along with research in this dreadful disease that robs the mind.

Judith: What happened to A Night at Sardi's? I was attending two events per week throughout my career and A Night at Sardi's was definitely one of the best of the Hollywood fundraising events. Quite honestly, the only event that bested your event was the Carousel of Hope Ball (they gave out Hermes scarves!). A Night at Sardi's was a notable night on the town while serving as an important fundraising operation. 

Laurie Burrows Grad:  It was the most fun event.  We got celebrities to sing Broadway tunes. We handed over the reins to Seth Rogen and his wife Lauren Miller who are committed to helping Home Instead.  

Judith: Your dad was a famed Broadway legend and your brother was the creator of one of my all-time favorite series (Cheers). Both your dad and your brother are show business legends and clearly you were surrounded by funny people. 

Laurie Burrows Grad: I come from funny. My brother just wrote a book called Directed by James Burrows and he talks about his career. My father always cracked us up at the dinner table. Hence the humor gene. After you’ve dumpster dived dating, you too would want to laugh!

Judith: Your son is the President of FX scripted series. FX is known for its high quality series. I loved Black Narcissus that aired in the fall of 2020. I reviewed it at the time. Just fantastic mini-series and you most likely wouldn't see that production anywhere other than on FX. I'm sure you are a proud mom.  

Laurie Burrows Grad:  Nick has fostered some wonderful hits - The Shield, Sunny in Philadelphia, and so many other series. Yes, I am proud of his work.

Judith: You are a gifted writer and you've written multiple books, including several cookbooks. Did you come to writing later in life and if so, why did it take you so long?

Laurie Burrows Grad: I wrote four cookbooks but until Peter died, I didn’t use my prose. Now that he has died, I believe he would be thrilled with my writing. The writing I do now helps me to help others.

Judith: I cannot let Laurie Burrows Grad not share some of her favorites? What are your favorite films?

Laurie Burrows Grad: The Philadelphia Story is my absolute favorite movie and  I am a fan of Sandra Bullock. I am about to sell my book to a movie company and I can’t think of anyone better to play me!

Judith: Favorite theater production of all-time? 

Laurie Burrows Grad: Guys and Dolls. A classic!

Judith: Favorite television series?

Laurie Burrows Grad: Fawlty TowersDownton Abbey. I love a great British mystery!

Judith: Last question. Who is your all-time favorite actor?

Laurie Burrows Grad: Cary Grant!  Does that date me too much?  LOL!

                  Laurie Burrows Grad with brother James and son Nick 

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2022



Wednesday, June 29, 2022


The PBS series American Masters has been around since its debut in 1986. Season 36: Episode 5 features BRIAN WILSON: LONG PROMISED ROAD. The series is clear in how it wants to celebrate an artist and it does so with tremendous gusto. If you are going to have a series celebrating the arts and artists you certainly want to throw every laurel at their feet. There are times when the viewer doesn't understand the decision to laud over some of the people defined by American Masters and then there are times you practically find yourself weeping with joy over the complete and total brilliance of an artist. The American Masters on one of the founding members of the iconic band The Beach Boys is one of those times. Brian Wilson is one of the most celebrated songwriters of the latter half of the 20th century and deservedly so. The man who never learned to surf created, designed and mastered so many outstanding melodies that it is even all these years later difficult to comprehend. One must keep in mind that Brian Wilson was a man verbally abused by one of the bad dads of the last century, but Wilson didn't grow bitter, angry, miserable or mean-spirited. He became a gentle giant. A man full of a sweet spirit and a tender heart. 

Wilson is and this is no embellishment - the single most humble public figure I have ever witnessed. You see it in the interviews, but I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Wilson on a couple of occasions. He really is that guy! The American Masters special finds much of the 90 minutes with Brian Wilson driving around various locations in the L.A. basin with Rolling Stone reporter, Jason Fine. They are going from one Wilson moment to the next. Visiting the house he and his brothers, Dennis and Carl grew up in (I met their mom when I first moved to SoCal to begin a career in the entertainment industry - she happened to be a good friend to a local family friend) is a fun throwback to another era. They visit various recording studios and other homes Brian lived in. It's a delightful and free-wheeling chatfest that is compelling conversation. 

We hear many of the melodic whirlwinds Wilson crafted from his gifted brain and wow a boatload of gigantic tunes. Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Vibrations, California Girls and many more, but nothing and I mean nothing comes close to the most definitive of all harmony achievements in the rock era - God Only Knows. God Only Knows sounds as good, if not better in 2022 than it did upon its release back in 1966. Since the special aired I have listened to this remarkable song a dozen or so times. I look forward to it each and every time. We learn during the special that Wilson actually wrote some songs in a sandbox. He may be the only person ever to do that. 

God Only Knows was recorded while every musician and singer was in the same room at the same time! They can't and won't do that today! The piano, harmonica, banjo. Baby brother Carl Wilson was blessed to get the opportunity to sing lead on the vocal; and that gorgeous double-back harmony by Bruce Johnston still kind of takes my breath away. 

Brian Wilson has suffered severely from mental illness since the mid to late 1960's, but his memory has not faded one bit. He is now 80 years old (I'm writing this in 2022) and his amazing memory is fascinating. Talk about having significantly strong cognitive abilities well into these late years in life. 

In these documentaries one always gets to see and hear a variety of talking heads, but this go-round you listen to talking heads who obviously wanted to do this. Elton John (he inducted the Beach Boys into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) waxes beautifully on Brian's talents, skills and abilities. Bruce Springsteen, as usual is a stand-out in his reminiscing. Springsteen himself is a great writer of words and in my opinion second only to Bob Dylan as a lyricist in the rock era. Springsteen's use of words is on full display in this documentary. Springsteen digs in with discussing the joy of his youth and all these years later the sadness of the autumn and maybe even the winter of his years. Springsteen can and usually does bring a tear to the eye.  Fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine is featured, along with producer/musician Don Was, Jakob Dylan and Nick Jonas. 

Goodness, sweetness, tenderness, positivity and innocence - who in their right mind would have thought all those years ago that one of the most accomplished and successful songwriters of the 1960's would be described that way.

American Masters: Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road recently premiered on PBS. Watch it and watch it now. Absolutely glorious in its every single second. 

Original Beach Boys: Al Jardine, Carl Wilson, Dennis Wilson, Brian Wilson, Mike Love

Copyright The Flaming Nose 2022