By Rick Copp
I knew from a very young age I wanted to become a writer. In the fifth grade I began a tradition of writing original scripts based on old TV series, and then mounting them as plays. My productions included Gilligan's Island, The Hardy Boys Mysteries, Charlie's Angels and Archie. It was a natural assumption that I would someday begin my professional writing career in television (though given my questionable choice in material, nobody ever expected me to win an Emmy—and so far they've been right).
While developing children's programming at a television production company in New York, I began writing sample sitcom scripts with a really nice guy named David A. Goodman. Under the tutelage of a veteran sitcom producer, Gloria Banta (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Rhoda, It's A Living), we wrote one for Family Ties and one for The Golden Girls. In the summer of 1988, during a prolonged writers' strike in Hollywood, Banta sent our finished scripts to an old friend and colleague of hers, Tony Thomas, son of Danny Thomas, who with his partners Paul Witt and Susan Harris–Witt, was on a roll with hit shows such as Soap, The Golden Girls and Empty Nest.
Since all television production was halted due to the strike, Thomas had the time to read our scripts, and offered to move us out west and hire us on as staff writers. David and I began a two-year stint at Witt-Thomas-Harris, mostly writing for The Golden Girls, but also contributing jokes to the long running Richard Mulligan series Empty Nest.
Now firmly established as sitcom writers, David and I spent the next four years writing for a variety of shows including Babes, Flesh 'n Blood, Rhythm & Blues, Flying Blind, Wings and Dream On. Although I enjoyed tossing out jokes in the writers' room, the hours on the staff of a situation comedy were long and hard, and I ultimately burned out.
During this time, I met Laurice Elehwany, whose very first screenplay she ever wrote became the hit 1991 film My Girl starring Macaulay Culkin, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis. Laurice had her choice of projects, and one in particular brought me to mind. We both shared a love for old seventies TV shows, so when Paramount approached her to rewrite The Brady Bunch Movie, she asked if I would be interested in collaborating with her.
Up to that point, I had only written one feature film script. It was a group written spoof of Die Hard called Blow Hard for Imagine Entertainment and I worked on it with director Brian Levant (Beethoven, The Flintstones, Snow Dogs and Are We There Yet?), my partner David Goodman, Bennett Yellin, and Peter and Bobby Farrelly (Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary and Stuck on You).
After writing The Brady Bunch Movie, Laurice and I would go on to work on Howard Stern's Private Parts, as well as write original scripts for various studios such as The Rules (based on the best selling book), Every Seven Minutes and The Girl Is Mine.
Meanwhile, David and I collaborated with Brian Levant on a cult science fiction movie, the first original production for the cable movie network Starz, called The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space. This led to an overall deal at Universal Studios where we wrote network pilots and created and executive produced the syndicated action series Team Knight Rider. We also landed a few feature film writing assignments including Say Kids, What Time Is It? (a behind the scenes look at The Howdy Doody Show), Aquaman, The Stinky Cheese Man, Scooby Doo and the Witch's Ghost and Muppets in Space.
By 1998, when our contract with Universal expired, David expressed his desire to return to situation comedy. I enjoyed writing for various genres, especially drama, so with great pain, we parted ways.
I collaborated with other partners on a couple of network pilots. One got made at CBS, a family detective comedy-drama called Homewood P.I. starring Tony Danza, but at the same time I began writing more projects on my own including one at Fox, and more importantly, one at MTV.
I had always wanted to write a gay detective show. I pitched one at Universal, but the executive very gently told me the time wasn't right yet. MTV, the youth-oriented music channel, was a better fit. They instantly bought my pitch for South Beach Boyz and made a deal for me to write the script. The show was a half hour action adventure about a trio of private detectives (one gay, one straight, one questioning) who took on cases to pay for the blow out parties they threw on their houseboat, the QE3. It was very tongue-in-cheek. The executives loved my first draft and sent it up the tent pole with a recommendation for immediate production. Unfortunately, the head of the network nixed it. I decided I wasn't going to let my ambition to create a gay detective die. If the timing wasn't right to land one on television, I would find another medium.
I had taken a novel writing course at UCLA, and was encouraged enough to keep writing. The story involved a gay former child star who got mixed up in a Hollywood homicide, and found he was surprisingly adept at detective work. Along with his policeman boyfriend, he cracked the puzzling case. I called it The Actor's Guide to Murder, and I spent the better half of 2001 writing it. In 2002, a talented editor named John Scognamiglio at Kensington Publishing in New York bought it for publication and commissioned me to write a follow up novel using the same characters, The Actor's Guide to Adultery which came out in 2004. The third title in the series The Actor's Guide to Greed was released in hard cover in 2005, and was nominated for a LAMBDA Literary Award for Best Mystery of 2005.
My other book series for the same publisher features the LA Dolls, which follows the adventures of three former female private eyes from the 80's, now in their early fifties and retired, who must re-team to find out who from their past is targeting their grown children. The first title in the series released in paperback in July of 2009 is called Fingerprints and Facelifts.
I'm still active in television developing pilots and writing for such wildly divergent projects such as after dark adult anthology shows (Femme Fatales) and the international kids TV market (Scooby Doo and the Mecha Mutt Menace) as well as developing pilot scripts for cable networks Nickelodeon and Lifetime.
But my main focus recently has been with two projects very dear to my heart. The culinary mystery novel series I co-author with my sister Holly Simason under the pen name Lee Hollis continues to sell well. Most have appeared on the Barnes and Noble Mass Market Paperback Best Seller list. The series includes the titles Death of a Kitchen Diva, Death of a Country Fried Redneck, Death of a Coupon Clipper, Death of a Chocoholic, Death of a Christmas Caterer, Death of a Cupcake Queen, Death of a Bacon Heiress and Death of a Pumpkin Carver as well as an original Hayley Powell Food & Cocktails Mystery novella featured in the 2016 holiday anthology from Kensington Publishing called Egg Nog Murder. There are three more titles in the pipeline Death of a Lobster Lover (2017), Death of a Cookbook Author (2018) and Death of a Wedding Cake Baker (2019) as well as another novella in a brand new holiday anthology Yule Log Murder (2018). In addition, I will be writing solo under the Lee Hollis name a brand new hardcover series called the Desert Flowers Mysteries about three retired women opening their own private eye business in Palm Springs with the help of an out of work actor. The first title in that series will be released in the summer of 2018.
But it is the success of my web series Where the Bears Are that has completely astounded me. We have produced five award winning seasons and are about to start pre-production on Season 6. We have over 23 million views online and fans all over the world. As a writer, actor and producer on the project, I have traveled to Europe and Australia and all over the U.S. to promote the show, and I hope we are fortunate enough to keep churning out new seasons for years to come!