Welcome to Fantasy Island, Part 1

Sometimes I get asked by aspiring writers and producers how my career in film and TV got started. While there are undoubtedly as many paths to success as there are successful people, that old saying “it’s who you know that counts” is actually true in Hollywood.

The word “nepotism” comes from the Greek word nepos, which means “nephew.” And in my case, that shoe fits… literally.

So here’s Part 1 of how it all started for me.

At 10 p.m., April 14, 1984, I had my first cup of coffee in the big leagues. That’s a metaphor used by minor-league baseball players for the first time they are called up to the Majors. Of course, in my case we weren’t talking about that national pastime. I was 26 years old, and that was the night I became a television writer. As my family and friends huddled around the TV screen, veteran actor Ricardo Montalban, dressed in his trademark white Panama suit, toasted a seaplane full of arriving visitors: “My dear guests… I am Mr. Roarke, your host.  Welcome to Fantasy Island.”

And there, for 13 million American viewers to see was my first network credit. I don’t mind saying, the experience of seeing “Written by Brian Bird” on national television was, as we might have said in the 1980s, “most excellent.”

I had graduated from journalism school four years earlier and had been working as a newspaper reporter for The San Gabriel Valley Daily Tribune, and then as a public relations officer for the Christian relief organization, World Vision, when I had a conversation with Don Ingalls, my wife Patty’s great-uncle. Ingalls had been a Hollywood producer for three decades and at the time was one of several writer-producers of Fantasy Island. He explained that he had read some of my newspaper and magazine pieces, fortuitously promoted by my lovely wife at a family Christmas gathering. He wondered if I had ever given any thought to trying to write for television.

I was stunned and intrigued. Although my career had been pointing toward news and non-fiction writing, as a son of the TV Age, I had to admit the prospect of developing my fictional muscles was tantalizing.

Like tens of millions of other American Baby Boom families, my family loved the tradition of gathering around the television set several nights a week. This was the era of TV Dinners and the innovation of the color television tube, and we spent many prime-time hours together around our Magnavox Magna-Color with its amazing 19-inch screen and pecan wood console.

There we sat, week after week, captivated by the rugged individualism of Ben Cartwright his three sons on Bonanza, and thrilled to the adventures of the Impossible Missions Force on, you guessed it, Mission Impossible. We laughed at the antics of a family of Munsters who felt sorry for their very plain niece Marilyn and couldn’t understand why people were constantly staring at them. And we found wish-fulfillment in the good fortunes of a poor mountain man named Jed who struck black gold and moved his clan to the hills of Beverly in, of course, The Beverly Hillbillies. And while the Vietnam conflict and the cares of the real world swirled around us, there was a sense of safety and comfort as our TV heroes took care of business and righted the wrongs of the world.

When I was ten, I remember watching an episode of a new science fiction series, The Invaders, with my father. After it was over, I have a vivid memory of sitting there, awestruck, and saying a simple little prayer: “God, someday let me be able to tell a story like that.”


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