Welcome to Fantasy Island, Part 2

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.

In Part 1, I discussed how in 1984 my wife’s great-uncle, Don Ingalls, a long-time Hollywood writer-producer, had opened the door for me to pitch and write an episode of Fantasy Island.

Here’s Part 2 of how it all started for me:

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.”  

And now years later, that prayer was being answered with the opportunity to write a story for a slice of Americana, a morality tale about a mysterious island resort where your deepest desires are granted, for better or worse. And for the guests, a visit to Fantasy Island did not come without a cost. A “be careful what you wish for” subtext right out of Proverbs was woven into every episode.

What Don Ingalls and the show’s other producers wanted from me was a story about a single woman who desires to break off an illicit affair. That was the hook I was given and here was my take on the story: Our heroine comes to the island looking for the courage to break off an affair with a married man after his many failed promises to divorce his wife.

But how would Mr. Roarke grant this fantasy?

I decided that he should bring both the man and his wife to Fantasy Island under false pretenses and that our heroine should decide to seek out the wife and confront her with the sordid truth. But before she can even do that, she is befriended by a lovely paraplegic woman injured years earlier in an auto accident who has also come to the island for her own fantasy.

The disabled woman encourages our heroine to do the right thing, but when she goes to blow the lid off the affair, she discovers (you probably guessed it by now) that the wheelchair-bound woman is actually her rival, unaware of her husband’s infidelity. Our heroine decides to take the high road and spare the woman’s feelings, but the experience has finally given her the courage to tell the man to hit the bricks and to stop being such a hound.

Two weeks later, when I turned in the script, I felt cautiously optimistic that I had nailed it. And when Ingalls’ next call came, the news was good. Not only had I delivered a very shootable draft which would immediately be going into production, but there was talk of bringing me on board the show’s writing staff the following year as a story editor. That is, if the show was picked up by ABC for an eighth season. That turned out to be a big “if.” Fantasy Island was cancelled just two months later. My episode was one of the show’s final three broadcasts.

But my first cup of coffee in the big leagues had taught me a few things.  First, Ingalls told me that the producers had a back-up plan in case I crashed and burned on that script — another script ready to go into production.  Had I known that ahead of time, I probably would have… crashed and burned.

Secondly, nepotism only opens the door.  You have to do the work and show yourself approved to keep it open, Nephew or not.

NEXT UP — Four years later, my Ethiopian Fantasy Island moment…

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