John Lansing started his career as an actor in New York City. He spent a year at the Royale Theatre playing the lead in the Broadway production of “Grease.” He then landed a co-starring role in George Lucas’ “More American Graffiti,” and guest-starred on numerous television shows. During his fifteen-year writing career, Lansing wrote and produced “Walker Texas Ranger,” co-wrote two CBS Movies of the Week, and he also co-executive produced the ABC series “Scoundrels.” John’s first book was “Good Cop, Bad Money,” a true crime tome with former NYPD Inspector Glen Morisano. He’s also written two books in the Jack Bertolino series: The Devil’s Necktie and Blond Cargo.
If you want a bite-size helping of John Lansing’s writing try his latest piece The Test, a long, short story (about 29 pages) about two teenagers falling in Long Island in the 1950’s –the twist is that their families and neighbors aren’t ready for a mixed race relationship. A native of Long Island, John now resides in Los Angeles.
Writing for Television
I’ve been fortunate to be able to wear many hats in the arts. An often-asked question, what’s the difference between writing for television and writing novels? I was told at the beginning of my network television career that if I couldn’t collaborate, I shouldn’t become a TV writer. It was good advice, and advice I took to heart. In television, it all starts with the prep for the job interview.
You read as many scripts, and watch as many of the shows you are pitching to, until you feel you have a strong understanding of the characters, and the structure of the show itself. It’s your job to understand the tone of the pilot episode and be able to deliver a script that fits that very specific mold. Then it’s pitch day.
You walk into a room full of writer/producers and pitch a minimum of five story ideas, with a beginning, middle, and an end. If you’re lucky enough to sell them on one idea, then they all start adding their ideas, and hire you to write your/their story. It’s already very different from what you originally pitched. But it’s better they assure you. And you leave the office filled with hope.
After many hours of labor, you walk back into the writer’s room and present the fleshed out story in a page or two or three. They again give notes and the story morphs into an even more distant cousin of the idea you originally pitched. You smile, go home, elated, and try to hit it out of the park. Now, if they bite on the new improved story, you’re hired to write the script.
But…not so fast. Did I mention that first your outline has to be approved? And then there are more notes. Every step of the way. Some of them generated from production, some from the star of the series, and many from the other writer/producers who had new and improved ideas that really made the story pop. Really made it come alive. And then, after you sit through an agonizing table read, where every pause gives you another bout of indigestion, then and only then, if your outline passes muster, are you awarded the grand prize. A production number, and a contract to write a television script. You’re happy, your agent is happy, and your significant other is very happy. After a few celebratory drinks and a sushi dinner you’re back at the computer and the real panic sets in. Now you have to deliver.
When I was writing a television episode, I always had a concise outline in hand. I needed a strong map because there were times when I had to knock out a script in a heart-thumping week to ten days. There was no time for change. You had to leave your ego at the door.
There were many masters to serve. But if the work came to fruition, and your show actually made it into production, you could be sitting in the comfort of your own home, eating pizza and watching something that you wrote on your flat screen television in your living room. All in a remarkably short period of time. A type A personality’s dream. Write it, and then see it. And the checks, which were formidable, normally cleared in a timely fashion.
When I made the switch to novels I was able to bring everything I’d learned in the television world into play. It taught me discipline, writing on a schedule, collaboration, and really hammered home the type of characters I enjoyed and wanted to invest my time with as I moved forward. Characters that were interesting enough for me to spend a year of my life with, and again, hopefully keep an audience reading.
The joy of writing my first novel was not having to adhere to a formula created by a television Pilot episode. I had total freedom to create a story and to explore the psychology and behavior of not only my primary characters, but also my secondary tier. And I didn’t have to worry about satisfying a star’s ego or writing to commercial breaks.
I was the master of my own fate. There was still collaboration involved, with my publisher, editor, and copy editor, but it seemed much more reasonable. No one was trying to re-invent my wheel. Their only concern was making my work better.