Welcome to Fantasy Island, Part 3

In my last two posts, I told you the story of how my Hollywood career got started.

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.  In Part 2, I described how the script, Final Adieu, I wrote for Fantasy Island was so well-received that it received an immediate production order and I received a commitment of a writing job the following year if the show got picked up for an eighth season.

My Ethiopian Fantasy Island adventure

Watching my episode air that April of 1984, I had a swagger in my literary step. I had my first credit on network TV and a 24-share in the ratings, which meant approximately 25 million people were watching my episode.  Today that would be American Idol territory, ratings-wise.  I took home a check for that script for $13,883, which was a fortune for us back then. I think it probably represented almost half of what I was making annually. And best of all, Don Ingalls had indicated there might be a story editor position in my future.

Well, as it turned out, Final Adieu was exactly that. My episode was one of the last three to air because Fantasy Island got cancelled about a month after my show was produced.

Don Ingalls had been so incredibly generous to me.  He went on to become a writer-producer on the series, T.J. Hooker for a few seasons before retiring from the business after a legendary career. He tried to open another door for me on his new show, but the circumstances had changed and it just never came to pass.

So I continued my day job as a journalist, had a few babies with my beautiful wife, Patty, and continued to dream about the possibility of another opportunity, but I soon began to realize that Fantasy Island might have been my one — and only — cup of coffee in the TV big leagues.

Four years later, in 1988, I was in Ethiopia working on a documentary for the relief organization World Vision, and I was staying at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa. One night I was watching Ethiopian television in my room, and  I turned the channel and landed on something that made my jaw hit the floor. Not only was it an airing of Fantasy Island, but it was my episode, Final Adieu. The show had been subtitled in the Amharic language.

Now this might not seem all that earth-shaking to my young friends from the digital age, but in 1988, it was a stunner.  I had certainly gained a little perspective in four years. After all, one episode of a show does not a legend make, and I had come to realize that as fun a show as Fantasy Island might have been, it wasn’t exactly going to rock the world with existential meaning.

But then something else dawned on me: if a slice of Americana like “De Plane, De Plane” was  being exported all over the globe, then the converse had to be true, as well.  In other words, that meant there might also be a hunger out there for for life-and-faith-affirming stories.

It was a crystal moment for me.  I don’t mind saying I dropped to my knees and said a prayer:  “God, if it’s your will for me, put me back in that game.”

A year later, I was working as a story editor on a CBS situation comedy called The Family Man.

And ten years later, I was a co-executive producer and writer on the show Touched By An Angel — a show which was being broadcast in more than 200 countries.

But those are storylines for another time.

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