Short story, Alyssa Milano helped me get a spec script into the hands of the executive producer of Charmed. That is, unfortunately, where the story ends, but the lead-up was an experience I’ll never forget. In reality, I can’t say I was truly “almost” a TV writer, but I came a lot closer than anyone expected, most especially me.
Let’s start at the beginning. The year was 1998. Little ole me was 14, a sophomore in high school. The WB was all the rage back in those days, with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and 7th Heaven, that personally-conflicting Dawson’s Creek that I watched into the college years (go team Pacey!). As the fall 1998 season commenced, commercials for this new show Charmed were everywhere. Vampires were still cool back then, but witches weren’t really my deal. Still, I was a teenager in need of stimulating television, so when I sat down to watch the Season Two premiere of Dawson’s Creek and found the conclusion of Joey kissing Dawson through his window to be rather eh, I kept watching, hoping the next program would not only be entertaining and engaging, but a good replacement for the Creek.
Let me tell you a little something about Charmed for those who have not seen it or not witnessed the show at its full potential: Before there was Orphan Black and Orange is the New Black, before Veronica Mars and Jane the Virgin, before Gilmore Girls and New Girl and Girls — all shows we now take for granted — there were so few female-led shows being broadcast at the time that you could count them on one hand. Buffy had only been out a year. Ally McBeal and Felicity were the only other notable female-lead TV programs. Even in those shows, the one major female lead was the ONE major female lead.
And then there was Charmed, which did not feature one female lead, not even two, but THREE FEMALE LEADS. At the time, I couldn’t predict the importance of this dynamic. I couldn’t foresee how this show would help me dedicate my storytelling career to bringing forth stories about complex women, but Charmed was an anomaly of its time for so many reasons.
Yes, the show was often campy and silly and a little girly on the edges, but what made this show particularly unusual was that all three actresses (Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano) were the vehicles of of the drama, comedy and action. They delivered the jokes, had the romances, and kicked the demon ass. As characters, the Halliwell sisters were dynamic, funny, flawed, and — despite being magical creatures — were real women with career aspirations who felt heartache and fear, and above all else were dedicated to each other.
For 14-year-old me, this show was a dream come true. It was sassy, quirky and sexy. The actresses (particularly Combs and Milano) delivered their comedic lines with the sort of dry-humor that Jenji Kohan would appreciate. There were dark episodes. There were emotional episodes. There were heart-warming tear-jerker episodes. There were episodes where everything was thrown in at once and it was just a glorious good time.
I am often asked how long I have been a writer. Truthfully, I was writing short stories and poetry in 6th grade, but it was in my Junior year of high school — during the second season of Charmed — when I realized how desperately I really wanted to be a storyteller. The creative floodgates opened and I had Charmed story ideas spilling out of my ears. Back in 1999-2000, before the internet had thousands of screenplay PDFs available, I only had my dad’s collection of printed scripts, and thank goodness for that. Using those scripts, I learned formatting and wrote my first Charmed spec… at age 16. While my friends were focused on which colleges they wanted to go to, I was busy writing. I wrote a script which I imagined would have been the Season 3 opener. I wrote a script titled The Party to Die For and declared that as the one to get me in.
And then Shannen Doherty left the show. I was devastated for so many reasons, not only for the fact that I had to completely rewrite my script to remove the character of Prue and replace her with Rose McGowan’s Paige, but I felt strongly enough for my script that I felt it worth the effort. It wasn’t until my first year of college that I had the balls to show the script to anyone. My dad helped me register with the WGA. I tried mailing the script directly to the Spelling Television offices, only to have it sent back with a letter informing me that they didn’t accept unsolicited scripts. Of course I didn’t know this, I was only 18.
I won’t lie that growing up in Los Angeles has provided me with some serious perks, one of which is that [at the time] everything was shot here. Including Charmed. It didn’t take much effort for me to find the exterior shooting location of the Halliwell Manor on Carroll Avenue in Echo Park. I went by often, hoping for the chance that I might catch a day of shooting Season 5.
And then one day in November, the production crew showed up on location. I was not unfamiliar to the sights of film crews, nor celebrities, so I knew how to blend in. I chatted up the location manager. Met the director of photography. Made myself as approachable and chill as possible (even while I was internally fangirling). Saw Julian McMahon. Met Brian Krause and Dorian Gregory. Stayed through the afternoon and into the evening for the night shoot.
Before I knew it, Alyssa, Rose and Holly arrived. Two other fans had shown up sometime in the early evening, both women with overexcitable personas that made me nervous about getting us kicked off the set. When the time came that we approached Alyssa and Holly by the video village, I did what I could to distance myself from those “superfans”.
It is important to mention that up until this point, I had hinted to every crew person who I talked that I had a script in my car, and when I asked if they knew someone I could get in contact with about sending it in, they politely told be they couldn’t. To be fair, had any one of them offered help it would have been a liability to their job, so I don’t blame them.
So while the superfan women jabbered to Alyssa and Holly about how much they loved the show, I had my own ulterior plan. Out of nowhere, Alyssa (who was a producer on the show by that point) asked the three of us, “So what do you think of where the show is going?” Well, let me tell you, as a fan from the pilot episode, I was not pleased with where the show was going, and not just because Shannen had left. The stories had become platforms for ridiculous costumes and a pointless inclusion of the very tropes Charmed had previously done such a spectacular job of demolishing. It was an opinion I felt strongly about. It was a motivation for being there on that night with my own script. So after the other women finished their embellished praise, I replied to Alyssa as honestly as possible. “The show has gotten a little silly lately, and think there are still a lot of great stories to tell.” She gave no response, yet I mustered the courage to continue with, “But maybe that’s why I wrote my own script. It’s in my car. Maybe you know someone I can send it in to.”
Alyssa then called across the street to a man whom I believe was the assistant director, asked him to write down a phone number … and told him to give the number to me. I had no idea who the number belonged to. The ladies had to return to set for another take of the scene and that pretty much concluded my interaction with the cast.
The next day, I looked up the name of the person on the slip of paper. He was Doug Jones, assistant to the executive producer, Brad Kern. And you can bet I called. I told him Alyssa gave me his number and asked what I needed to do to get my script read. He told me to send it through an agent, and he’d pass it on. I went to my screenwriting teacher in college and asked him to read the script, and he passed it onto his friend whom was a writer’s manager. A couple of weeks later, I sent in my spec, solicited. Time went by. I didn’t hear anything back. I called Doug Jones a few times, asked what was up, got a bit of a runaround, but I knew he didn’t have much pulling power in the executive office.
Sometime in May, I returned to the Carroll Avenue location and noticed more filming signs. The Charmed crew would be coming back. It was my chance to see the script through. That time, I met a fan named Darcy who was 10 years older than me and had a terrific Southern accent, and who was grateful I knew my way around and was familiar with the crew members. The ladies weren’t on set yet, but the director of photography Jonathan West was more than happy to chat with us. The crew relocated to Griffith Park for the remainder of the day, and Mr. West invited me and Darcy to go along. It was the final day of shooting Season 5, so perhaps everyone was feeling extra generous that day.
There were togas, and actors playing leprechauns, and a giant rain array to drench the hillside. The sun set the temperature dropped dramatically, and even while Darcy and I were comfortable hanging out with Rose in the video village, someone suggested we warm up by the heat lamps. Who else was sitting by the lamps in between takes but Alyssa and Holly, the latter of whom was shivering from having been drenched by the rain array. As Darcy and I approached the heat lamps, I overheard Alyssa chatting with a friend, and while I can’t quite remember what they were talking about, I found the opportunity to mention how much I loved her photo set from her time in South Africa (a true story; I had those photos set as my screensaver for a year). Alyssa was genuinely grateful for the compliment, and since we were on the topic of gratitude, I said to her, “By the way, I want to thank you for giving me Doug Jones’s number. I sent in my script, now I’m just waiting to hear back.” The conversation ended there as Alyssa and Holly were called back to set. Darcy and I hung out by the heat lamps, enjoying the opportunity to be there on their last day of the season.
Then, out of nowhere, Alyssa came back down the hill with executive producer Brad Kern. She walked him right up to me, said something to the effect of, “This is who I was telling you about,” and Mr. Kern proceeded to introduce himself to me. Alyssa wandered off again, but I spent the next 15 minutes talking with Mr. Kern about the show, about my script, about my writing experience. He was energetic in the conversation, and by the end of it called his office from his cell phone to remind himself to pick up my script from the main office. Talk about feeling generous.
That summer, I called Doug Jones periodically to ask about the progress of my script. It was “in Brad’s house,” but he was busy writing the season 6 premiere. The months went on and I heard nothing back. I did have the wonderful opportunity to visit the Charmed stages in Canoga Park (thanks to a invitation from the sound recordist), but that was the end of the road for my little ole script.
Truth be told, it wasn’t a mind-blowing story. It wasn’t even all that clean a script, but then again, I was 19 and I didn’t have the chops to write a solid screenplay, nor did I have the know-how of the business to sustain a career. Sure, I was disappointed it didn’t go further, but I was just so grateful to have even gotten that close.
There was also the matter that I had written The Party to Die For in 2000, during the 3rd season of the show. My script reflected the mood of that season, the darker, edgier side. No sexy costumes, no mythical creatures, just a good old-fashioned slasher/ghost story. I had so many ideas like that, stories which challenged the good vs. evil anecdote. I truly believed there were missed opportunities, and as the seasons went on the ability to deepen the narrative got further and further from grasp.
But here’s the thing: to this day, I believe that’s exactly why Alyssa Milano granted me that opportunity in the first place. By asking, “What do you think about where the show is going?” she expressed her own concern. She knew it was traveling away from what made her fall in love with the show. And there I was, a 19-year-old with stars in my eyes and a script in the back of my car, and a desperation to bring Charmed back to its glory days. I was also a frequent poster on Alyssa’s message boards, which she herself read, and I made a point to make my opinions heard (politely, of course). She knew who I was; I had our picture as my avatar.
Sometime in the fall when Charmed returned to Carroll Avenue to film Season 6, Darcy and I made yet another appearance, and Alyssa Milano, without prompt, walked straight up to me and gave me a hug. When I reminded her of my script and my meet with Brad, she replied, “I know,” with a big smile. I thanked her for her help, even if it didn’t go anywhere. Of all the parts of my story, that’s the bit others have the hardest time believing. I can’t prove it, but I do have a picture with her wearing the biggest smile on the planet.
My dozen or so Charmed story ideas have since been buried on an external hard drive, but I spent the next couple of years watching the show and noticing there were several episodes which mirrored my own ideas. I could argue mine were better. There was one episode in particular which asked the question “if there is no evil, would there still be good?” I had written a whole post on Alyssa’s message board about that very question. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe my whole experience is nothing but coincidence.
Life happened in the subsequent years, and while I had a constant stream of stories in my head, they never manifested into a screenplay. Charmed left the air, but the show was well past my interest at that point. I wish I could say I kept writing specs, but so few shows have captured my imagination the way Charmed did. Instead, I found my voice in music, and then in novel writing. Now, fourteen years later, I am back in the screenwriting game. Perhaps that thirst never really left, and finally there are more shows on the air which feature the kind of female ensembles I want to write stories for. They may not know it, but the writers on those shows have Charmed to thank for that opportunity. I wish I could thank Alyssa for the experience and the opportunity she gave me, and thank her for doing so many times what she was under no obligation to do. Maybe one day I will have that chance.
I still look back on that time in my life and revel in the improbability of the whole thing. Alyssa Milano was and is to this day one of my favorite people in the business, for her no-bullshit attitude and her commitment to her humanitarian efforts. It may be a complete figment of my imagination to have this feeling that she and I have unfinished business. It’s a pipe dream that will probably never happen.
Then again, the rest of this actually did happen. So there’s that.
5 thoughts on “That Time I Almost Became a TV Writer”
Loved the story and can easily imagine Alyssa being such a sweetheart ♥
Maybe you could write Charmed revival episodes (: I know a revival with all the sisters would be my dream come true, especially if the mood resembled what the show was in the beginning!
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It’s funny you say that about writing revival episodes. As soon as I heard they had a spin-off in development, I got excited at the idea someone would make the new series more similar to the original style. The reboot would be really cool, but unlikely. It certainly seems like there are a lot of fans who feel the same as I do about the show diverting from what made it awesome in the first place, and want to see more of what made them fall in love with the show.
Writing for whatever new Charmed-related series would be a complete circle for my writing career!
Really cool article, thanks for sharing!!! 🙂 What an incredible experience! I can really relate with how you felt about wanting to contribute to the show, and how inspiring it was! Funny enough i recently am starting into screenwriting, so I find this article super interesting even more than just for being a Charmed fan 😉 It would be super cool to read your scripts.
Alyssa does seem to be really nice to her fans like that. I met her once, she was so so nice! I also completely agree, I do find that Charmed changed over the years, but im glad to see they still cared about the fan’s opinions on it!
Great experience for you to to treasure, thanks again for sharing with us! 🙂
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Wow, that was quick. I guess I motivated you to write this piece ;).
What a great, warm story. Of course I don’t know Alyssa – not even virtually – but for some reason it doesn’t surprise me that she did what she did. It must have been a wonderful experience, though you were used to see stars walking the streets ;). But this went a bit further, definitely.
I do agree with the latter seasons being cheesy…most of the times. Especially because they started to throw fairies and leprechauns and stuff in ALL THE TIME. It all began with Paige being scripted into the show (though there HAD been a fairy early on, and a few hints). And mind you, I liked Paige, but things took a weird (anf girlish) turn with her there. Nevertheless, it was a ground-breaking show, with some terrific leads. Also, I have to say this – Alyssa might be one of the most beautiful women in the field. No matter the hair colour and style, she always looked stunning (except when they gave you very long and straight hair in a future vision with her daughter. It was…I don’t know…boring?). Not many women can get away with (almost) any hairdo.
I would like to read your script one day!
Roberta, as soon as I mentioned that story the whole thing came flashing back from my memory! I had to get it out!
There’s no denying that I have had more opportunities to meet some impressive people in the entertainment business, but this experience far and away meant so much more to me, not only for the fact that Alyssa Milano was an instrumental force in my teenage years. Having the experience to get to know her even this little amount really did something to me. Ever since, I have hoped to have the opportunity to thank her.
It is unfortunate with how the quality of Charmed declined. It was even more disappointing as I watched it happen in real time. Of course it is a challenge to write any television show and to appease an audience, but I knew there were so many missed opportunities to do something memorable with the stories and the characters. I truly believe Alyssa knew it to, and that’s why I have this experience to share.
Too bad I couldn’t follow through any further. Hey, there’s still plenty of time for us to work together. 😉