I’d first met Roy Huggins when he was producing The Rockford Files. It was a favor to my dad, who had gone to college with Roy. I’d written a spec script for Rockford, but the competition was stiff for and assignment with this popular NBC show, and it was not till years later that I actually got to work with him.
For a young writer in television, Roy Huggins was a legend. He created and produced The Fugitive, Maverick, and 77 Sunset Strip. He had co-created The Rockford Files with Stephen Cannell, and it was for Stephen J. Cannell Productions that I first came to work with Roy. His bright red hair had turned snow white in the meanwhile, and he was now the Executive Producer for NBC’s hit cop drama Hunter. I was fortunate to be writing one of the first episodes of the season two, and Roy took extra time with me, not just giving me notes on my script, but also going into great detail sharing some of his wisdom from his long tenure in the screenwriting trade. I recorded these notes on a series of audio cassettes, and still listen to them on occasion. There was one writing note he made in those meetings, however, that stood out as a defining point in refining my writing. There was a piece of action I had written in a chase scene to which he called special critical attention.
At that time Cannell’s shows were well known for The A-Team and Hardcastle and McCormick, popular primetime series that had their share of action which stretched plausibility. Unconsciously following that mold, I’d written the Hunter action scene with moves that, while could have happened, simply did not make logical sense in the real world. And it was at this juncture that Roy spoke about the difference between ‘fictive’ versus ‘fiction’ in writing. He said while the preceding season of Hunter indeed had elements that were quite fictive, which were moments that were larger than life, meant to entertain, but in the final analysis did not feel real, the new Hunter was going for gritty realism. Under a different Executive Producer, the first season of Hunter was basically a ‘Crazy Guy of the Week’ story model, which Roy hated and was determined to change. He also talked about how in literature and quality film, it was those artists who were able to create something that felt real, were the ones who had achieved something of substance in their craft and in their careers. All the rest was something more like cartoons in his view, and not worthy of serious consideration.
In dialog, this sensibility also translated into avoiding those witty quips one might hear from the hero when they are under fire from the bad guys. This show strove to sweat the details of achieving what made a moment real and powerful, rather than a light fluffy distraction. I was thankful to have Roy’s tutorship at this time when the series was undergoing a fundamental philosophical and architectural change and to have the reasoning behind it narrated to me in an intimate one-one-one setting.