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

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