The writer discusses how the show came into being, working on 24 and La Femme Nikita and how sometimes you just do the job you're "handed"
With writing credits on such popular TV shows as 24, La Femme Nikita and Hart to Hart, Larry Hertzog is the kind of writer who has certainly been around the block a number of times. So it should come as no surprise when asked by UPN what would be his dream project? Out of that conversation emerged Nowhere Man. In this intricately layered show, Bruce Greenwood stars as Thomas Veil. A man who in one night has his identity erased and then spends the next 25 episodes trying to put together the pieces.
As with a lot of truly interesting television shows, Nowhere Man unfortunately only had one season. However, Hertzog has continued to work steadily in the medium of television, and now it seems like the DVD will give the world another chance to place this thought provoking and innovative show in it’s proper perspective.
How did you come up with the idea for Nowhere Man?
Larry Hertzog: I came up with the idea for Nowhere Man sort of on the fly. I had gone into UPN because they had a read a pilot that I had written for Fox. They really liked it. I actually believed I was going in specifically to discuss that pilot, because it didn’t go at Fox, and I when I got to Mike Sullivan’s office at UPN he said to me, “Before we discuss this script, if you could pitch anything, your dream project, what would you pitch?” And I was struck with dread when he said that, because I had been working long enough to know better than to pitch something I’d really want to do!
So I didn’t have the slightest idea what I’d want to do. Usually, you go into the networks and you’re pitching “a blind detective” ... the flavor of the day. Today you would be pitching procedural A, B, C or D. Here I was being asked a question and didn’t have an answer. I kept my mouth going thinking if I kept talking I’d come up with something. Then Mike interrupted me and said, “Did you ever watch a show called The Prisoner?” That stunned me because The Prisoner was probably my favorite show that had ever been on. And I said, “Well of course I’ve watched it.” And he said, “Would you like to do something like that?”
Now you have to understand, I completely felt like I was being setup. I was on Candid Camera. I was sure half of my friends were hiding behind a screen giggling. I said, “Yeah, I’d love to do something like that. I’m just not sure doing a show like The Prisoner would fly.” Because I thought The Prisoner was so intellectual. I said, “I think if there could be a more emotional way to do it, I’d love to.” He said, “Good. Do it.” That was how it started and then I had all of a day and a half to write a script and shoot a pilot, and get it made and ultimately get it ordered. So that’s how it came to be!
What’s the process of how an episode would be created? You’re dealing with something very intricate but you’ve also got to keep a narrative thread all the way though, because Thomas Veil is trying to find out why this is happening to him?
Larry Hertzog: Interestingly enough, Nowhere Man was really designed , at the time, in this truncated period of time, in my mind, as much more of an anthology show. Much more episodic, not really that much of a thread type of thing. It had a theme, a theme that I was basically in love with from The Prisoner, and obviously, personally is of interest to me, and I thought of it as anthological in a way, very much like The Twilight Zone.
When I actually saw the pilot, you’ve got to keep in mind, this might sound strange, but this was done very quickly. You don’t have a lot of time to map out a whole battle plan. You rarely do. In this case, I had less time than is common and when I saw the pilot I said, “Boy, look at this! This is really going to make you think it isn’t going to be an anthology. That it is going to be a show that has some continuing thread.” Now, obviously I’m alluding to an older show as well, because both had touches of their fingers in Nowhere Man which is an old show called The Fugitive. You had Richard Kimble on the run from the law, trying to find out who murdered his wife, but that show really could have gone on for 600 years. There wasn’t a mystery to unravel piece by piece. You’d turn on The Fugitive just to really see Richard Kimble’s adventure of that week. He would come to town, A) Have an adventure and move on, which was really the model that I had in mind for Nowhere Man.
Once it hit the air, a lot of people including the network, but different people in the network than the fellow that I sat and originally conceived this with, expected some big, long thread. So I was sitting with Tobe Hooper as we were preparing the pilot and I was noodling ideas saying, “You know, I do feel we have to have some loose thread, but never the tight one that a lot of people expected.” I didn’t think it could be done. I still don’t think it could be done. Even on a show like 24, you’re dealing with a season long arc not a series long arc. Those were the kind of things I started to think about for Nowhere Man, even though it wasn’t originally intended to be that way, which is that I resolve something in a season, but never the overall mystery because I don’t think you can play a mystery for 200 hours! I don’t think it works because you’re taking the longest distance between two points, and people are going to be sensing your left turns, your right turns, your curves, where you are trying not to get to point.
I’ve worked on shows that have long arcs and I can tell you that seasons have started in mind where it’s going to be about A, and by the time you’re in episode 6 you realize, “We can’t wait that long to get there. You get to A much earlier and then you make it about B.” The fans when we were online together, we’d have a lot of fun together because I’d day, “There are no clues. I’m not dropping clues to a bigger mystery.” And they would blindly and happily go along looking for clues.
There wasn’t a lot of research, really, to be done. Any research would have to have been done by a psychotherapist that I was in treatment with. If such a person existed at that time! Because all the things from Nowhere Man came from, ultimately, inside my head. Stories and episodes came by sitting in a room, after the pilot was shot and the series was ordered, with other writers.
Because you didn’t intend the show to have a greater mystery it sounds like you were freer to do more with the character?
Larry Hertzog: I felt that the theme of the show was, basically, what I felt the theme of The Prisoner was. Which is just the stuff it takes to maintain and preserve who we are, in a culture or society that often demands pieces of our identity and who we are, to the point that I think many people don’t have an identity as to who they are because they’re owned. That was the theme of Nowhere Man. From there, I just wanted to do basically really fun and interesting Twilight Zoney/Fugitive, in the sense of the format at least, stories. That would be really fun to watch and entertaining.
To me, and other people looked at it differently and that’s fine because it was out in the world to be looked at, and it’s my job to communicate whatever I do or don’t, but to me there is no mystery who “them” are. Who the “opposition” is. The “opposition” is symbolic and allegorical to what I just said about a culture and a civilization that demand big pieces of people to “sell out”. Thom was someone who was clinging to something more precious, and the negatives were just a representation of that.
Again, when it was edited and I sat down and watched it, I could see that well, “There’s this picture and it’s fascinating, and it’s intriguing.” My maguffin so to speak, took on a life of it’s own that wasn’t specifically intended. And I realized, to a degree, I’d have to service it, but I didn’t want to service it in a way that I thought would be impossible which was to make a potentially 4 or 5 year long mystery. So I thought, incrementally, we could throw some chestnuts out in that direction to help address what the photograph might have been, what Thom’s predicament... but I would have just gone into the next season, with more of the same and with no greater mystery really to unravel, because personally, the show hadn’t been conceived in my mind that there was a big mystery.
Does working against a deadline help or hinder the process of creating a show like Nowhere Man?
Larry Hertzog: Well, it depends what level we’re speaking on. My personal belief , and this is a generalization that’s full of exceptions, I tend to think television, maybe not quite as much nowadays, but up until recently I think television and television writers have far more plotting, and tend to be better at it than a lot of feature writers. Because features are often constructed on a one line idea, whereas in episodic, that idea has to sustain, theoretically, for years. The only thing that’s going to make the series fly or not fly, is going to be well told stories.
Generally speaking, yes, there’s always a time crunch in TV. Whether or not that time crunch is really detrimental? I’m not sure it is. There’s always with everything a sweet spot and a point of diminishing return, in everything and there’s a point, especially in features, they take so much time and they go through such a process, by the time the eightieth team of writers is in there, and the fourteenth cast member has put in their input... often what comes out doesn’t even resemble what went in.
In my experiences, most often, obviously having a day and half to do something might not be as valuable as having two and a half weeks, but there’s still a point of diminishing returns. People who have worked in television, and are experienced, you are just used to that pace. It’s just something that becomes, “We need it and we need it yesterday.”
You’ve done work on 24 and La Femme Nikita... what is it about the CIA or covert organizations that draws you to this material?
Larry Hertzog: Basically, there’s nothing. When Nowhere Man came out, I remember reading one of the reviews that was very positive, and the woman who wrote the review was somewhat amazed or interested in the fact that prior to this, my credits had been lighter shows like Hart to Hart and Hardcastle and McCormick. Basically, we’re in a business where we do the job that’s handed to us. Like that experience I told you about, walking into the network, we’re not often asked, “What do you want to do?”
If someone says there’s a clown show on the air, can you do seltzer bottles and red noses? If they think I can, that’s what I end up working on. To be more specific to your question, when I did Nowhere Man, Joel Surnow worked for me as my co-executive producer, and he went off right before the series ended to do Nikita. So that brought me on to Nikita and that brought me my involvement with 24. It was just knowing Joel.
If someone asked me again to do whatever I would do? I can assure you it wouldn’t be so much CIA, which I didn’t think of Nowhere Man as being, it would be something... the two last things I wrote for television, just on spec, one was an hour long, romantic comedy series and one was a dark, somewhat Nowhere Manesque kind of thing. So I can be all over the road.
What are you currently working on now?
Larry Hertzog: Finding a job. (Laughs) I just did 1-800-Missing which is on Lifetime. That season wrapped so the fate and future of the show, and the current writer’s positions on it are up in the air. I’ve been pretty happy to be “just a writer”, because running a show is a good way to... it’s like dog years. For every year you run a show you age about seven.
Nowhere Man is currently available in a 9 disc DVD set through Image Entertainment.
Dont't forget to also check out: Nowhere Man: The Complete Series [9 Discs]