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Focus : A Real Writer’s Show : THE RETURN OF ‘SHANNON’S DEAL'--AND SCRIPTS WITH BIG NAMES ATTACHED

TIMES STAFF WRITER

What series boasts a writing staff that includes such noted screenwriters as Oscar-winner Ernest Thompson (“On Golden Pond”), Oscar-nominee Joan Tewkesbury (“Nashville”), Eric Hughes (“Against All Odds”), Kit Carson (“Paris, Texas”), Tom Rickman (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”) and current Oscar nominee Gene Corr.

The answer: NBC’s critically praised “Shannon’s Deal.”

For the record:

12:00 AM, Mar. 31, 1991 For the record:
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 31, 1991 Orange County Edition TV Times Page 9 Television Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Screenwriters Ernest Thompson (“On Golden Pond”) amd Kit Carson (“Paris, Texas”) did not write any of the new episodes for “Shannon’s Deal,” NBC’s attorney series which recently returned for its second season. That incorrect information was given to The Times and appeared in a TV Times story on March 17.

The dramatic series, created by feature filmmaker John Sayles (“The Return of the Secaucus 7" and “Matewan”), stars Jamey Sheridan as a disillusioned Philadelphia attorney recovering from a gambling addiction, who opens his own storefront practice. Sayles is also creative consultant.

The series began two years ago as a movie of the week and aired last spring as a limited six-week series. “Shannon’s Deal” returns to the NBC lineup this week with 13 new episodes, kicking off Saturday.

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Although most series employ a writing staff, executive producer Stan Rogow decided last season to try something different.

“I was interested in working with certain people,” he said. “And lo and behold I went to them and they had either seen the pilot or had screened the pilot and said, ‘Wow, this is great stuff and great characters.’ Writing something about justice in between the cracks was real provocative. It began (last year) with Tom Rickman, John Byrum (“Inserts”) and David Greenwalt (“Secret Admirer”).”

Rogow didn’t think he was breaking new ground in the annals of television. “The hope that John and I had was to make a show we would watch and that was a real simple agenda. So how do you get a good script? You go to a real good writer. Other shows do run differently, by committee, but we have a real small staff.”

This year, writers came to Rogow. “Even more people had heard about it,” he said. “We had a lot of little fans around.”

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Rogow basically gave his writers carte blanche. “With Ernest, he felt there was a particular story he was interested in telling,” he said. “With Joan Tewkesbury, she said ‘What stories are you going to tell this year?’ and we sat down and proceeded to fashion out a story.”

Despite hiring vastly different writers (several of whom also direct),Rogow insists on “a consistency between all of the episodes and the characters.”

“It has not been frankly a terrible difficult thing to make work,” he said.

Rogow said he believes many feature filmmakers want to do the series because, “as opposed to life in the feature world, here you can write it quick and shoot it quick. It was five weeks from the time Tom Rickman picked up the pen to day one of the shooting. That’s a thrill for guys who have to wait 10 years (for a film to be made). By the time that Rickman’s ‘Everybody’s All-American’ was made, it was on the list of great unproduced screenplays. It had been around forever.”

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Rickman, Tewkesbury and Corr, who all directed their episodes, found working on “Shannon’s Deal” to be both creative and challenging.

“I met with Stan last year,” Rickman said. “I wrote one and then we just decided to do it again this year. I had to write the script really quickly this year. One of the good things about the show is that they give freedom to the writer.”

Rickman treated his episode as if it were a little movie. “Certainly the actors did, too,” he said. “We rehearsed and discussed the parts. We had an eight-day shooting schedule and they gave us one extra day. The script was in very good shape when we started it.”

“Shannon’s Deal” gave Tewkesbury a chance to direct her own script. Recently, she had directed other writers’ scripts, including the TV films “Cold Sassy Tree” and “Sudie and Simpson” and such episodics as “Doogie Howser, M.D.”

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“They are interesting to do,” she said, “but it is like going to someone else’s house for dinner. You are not responsible for the whole meal. There is a completeness about directing this.”

Corr found “Shannon’s Deal” a way to break typecasting. After co-writing and directing the 1986 film “Desert Bloom,” which dealt with a 13-year-old girl in the early ‘50s, “I was only offered girls coming-of-age movies,” he said laughing.

Today, Corr said, directors are not just limiting themselves to doing features. “Last year I did a documentary on (blacklisted screenwriter) Waldo Salt, which is nominated for an Oscar. I did a commercial for a bank. I love the variety.”

“All those barriers and snobbism about doing TV is definitely gone,” Tewkesbury said. “I think what has happened is that cable TV is doing stuff that no one else will do. (TV) is more and more attractive to feature people who have to wait too long.”

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Rogow echoed their sentiments. “I think TV has changed,” he said, “between the heat that ‘Twin Peaks’ generated and John Sayles coming to television ... ‘Shannon’s Deal’ becomes a nice way for people to test the waters of television.”

“Shannon’s Deal” airs Saturday at 10 p.m. on NBC.


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