While some animators from the golden age of Hollywood studio cartoons have gained renown, few story men have been hailed for their achievements. Dick Kinney is a significant figure in this unsung fiel...
With so many shows about police officers and doctors, it seems a bit bizarre that there have been, historically, very few programs focusing on firefighters. NBC's newest drama Chicago Fire, created by feature film writers Michael Brandt and Derek Haas,is a rare example of an oddly sparse drama. We got a chance to talk to the creators about their new series, which they were set on differentiating from the procedural formula. It's a show about the "dysfunctional family" of a Chicago firehouse, they say, and the characters are their biggest investments.
What exactly made you guys want to make a show about firefighters?
Michael: We got a call last year from one of our agents at WME saying that Dick Wolf and NBC had already figured out that they wanted to make a TV show about a firehouse, and asked if we were interested. As feature writers—most feature writers get the phone call every fall: “Do you want to do a pilot?” It’s really hard to find the right scenario. TV is so all-encompassing. We sat down with Dick and the guys from Wolf, and talked about what kind of show we would want to do if we were going to do it. We weren’t interested in making a straight procedural. I mean, Law & Order is the ultimate straight procedural. We said that if we were going to do this, we’d want to make the classic NBC ensemble drama. A Hill Street Blues or ER. And Dick said, “I used to write for Hill Street Blues, and that’s exactly what I want to do. I don’t want to do any more procedural shows.” It just felt like the right fit. So, we got on a plane, went to Chicago, and spent a week or two there with firefighters to learn about what it takes to be a firefighter. And we went away saying, ‘This is a perfect idea. This is a perfect match for what we want to do.’”
You say you spoke to a bunch of firefighters. What about their stories spoke to you and made you think this would be a good project for you?
Derek: When you sit around a firehouse table and you spend any amount of time with firemen, you will be in one minute crying — because they’re telling you some heartbreaking story about trying to save a victim and not being able to — and then you will be doubled over in laughter ten minutes later because they have another story about coming upon some scene, and what they witnessed. They are naturally good storytellers themselves. We realized that there’s an abundance of material there to craft a show around. An abundance of characters. Also, the entire psyche of [someone] who would go into work every day, put on their gear, and run into a building on fire. What makes up that kind of a person? That is what attracted us.
Michael: One way they described it was, “We run in when the rats and roaches are running out.” And we thought wow — and they don’t get paid that much. So what drives that? That’s interesting to us.
I’ve got to say, one of my closest friends is a firefighter.
Derek: Oh, great!
I’ve spent time in his firehouse with him and meeting his colleagues. My favorite part of Chicago Fire was the attitude of the firehouse itself — the general community feeling. It felt exactly like being in his firehouse with him.
Michael: Oh, that sounds great.
Derek: I feel like we get that even more and more as we go forward, because we’ve gotten to know these actors, and we get to write toward their strengths. And three of them—the guys playing Otis and Joe Cruz and Mills—all even got rooms together. They didn’t know each other a year ago, and now they’re all roommates. This entire cast hangs out. If you go to Chicago on a Saturday night, it’s not “Okay, now we’re going to all go our separate ways.” They all get together, they watch sports, they drink beer. It’s exactly that same camaraderie that’s in a firehouse in this crew. I think that’s going to start showing up even more and more on the screen.
With all the flavor to this line of work and these kinds of people, how come there haven’t been more firefighter shows? There are so many cop shows.
Michael: I think there are two things that keep a firefighter show from being successful. The biggest one is that, for the most part, when they arrive on a scene, they take care of a victim — in terms of stabilizing them, or they put out the fire — but then they move on. The follow-up with the victim, what happens to the person who ends up in the hospital and all that, is somebody else’s job. The same thing with the police officer. If you make your arrest, you follow that all the way through, and you decide whether or not that guy goes to jail. In terms of first responders — the paramedics and the firefighters — if you’re going to do a procedural-type show, it’s more difficult because ultimately you’re handing off the victim to somebody else. We can’t do a procedural show. It’s not Fire of the Week. It’s not Victim of the Week. Because we’re not going to follow those things all the way through. It’s about the guys in the house, it’s about a dysfunctional family. Women and men who live together and work together, and have to become functional when the bells go off. I think that’s a big challenge, and why there haven’t been a lot of firefighter shows.
It is a show about the characters and their relationships, but of course the action and the fire scenes are an element to it. Are you intimidated by the fact that there is a little less versatility — it’s always going to be a fire. Is that going to be a challenge?
Derek: Yes. Originally, that was intimidating. How are we going to differentiate between fires? And then, if you do one 24-hour shift with a busy Chicago firehouse, you go out on 25 different calls. They’re all interesting. The bells go off, and you hear something along the lines of, “Man down from unknown causes.” And you say, “What is that going to be?” And you can either roll up on a drunk lying in the street, a guy who fell off the L-tracks, a guy who has jumped out of a building. To us, that’s going to be the hallmark of the show. We’re going to hear these short descriptions, and then you have no idea what you’re running up on.
Were you both familiar with Rescue Me?
Michael: I watched the whole run of the show. I knew Rescue Me really well.
Oh, so definitely a fan of if then. They’re two different types of shows, but was there anything you wanted to accomplish that you thought maybe Rescue Me didn’t get a chance to say about the profession?
Michael: Rescue Me was such a specific message. It was the guys who had gone through September 11, and how they coped with it. That’s what it was. It was dark, and it was nihilistic in a lot of ways, and the guys were very self-destructive. It was wildly interesting if you were looking for that. But other than the fact that our guys are firefighters, our shows have nothing in common. It’s no different than ER versus Grey’s Anatomy. Grey’s was going for one thing, ER was going for another. I think that our show and Rescue Me are comparable in a way that the profession is the only thing that really links them. The sentiment, the way we look at our characters, is wildly different than what they did on Rescue Me. On Rescue Me, you felt like the writers were constantly trying to knock the characters back, and see how much s*** they could possibly take before they break. And that’s not what we’re doing on our show. It’s a dysfunctional family that we want to be a part of. That’s not really, to me, what Rescue Me was about.
You definitely have a way more optimistic view than Rescue Me, then.
Michael: I think that’s accurate.
Derek: One of the things we heard when we were there, doing our ride-alongs, was, “When the cops show up, people scatter. When we show up, they yell, ‘Over here, over here!’” We got to see that firsthand. That’s sort of an optimistic view firemen have of themselves anyway. And it’s infectious. So we wanted to do right by these guys.
Matt Casey and Kelly have been the meat of the show so far. Are we going to get more exploration of some of the smaller characters, like Otis and Cruz?
Michael: [At the beginning of a show], you have to lay the pipe so fast. You have to focus on Casey and Severide, and you get a little taste of the other characters and this new guy showing up. Now, we’re going to have much more opportunity to learn about the other guys.
Derek: We have full storylines for all of those guys. It’s actually kind of fun to write for them because we’ll look at the script, which is 55 pages, and as we’re handing it over to the actors, I always think, “Man, this guy is going to be happy this week. This guy is going to be happy this week. This guy is going to be happy this week.” Because these ten characters, we feel, people are going to end up falling for. They’re fun, different, each one has his own tale to tell. For us, it’s a challenge, but in an interesting and provocative way.
I know you two have a lot of experience writing action movies. 2 Fast 2 Furious and 3:10 to Yuma. When you were writing these scripts, did you feel like you had to dial back your proclivity for writing action sequences?
Michael: We had to dial back eventually, because of budget and realism in terms of shooting a pilot. But when we first sat down with everybody at NBC, they said, “Write it like a feature. We wanted feature writers, and we want you guys to write this as big as you possibly can. And write it your way. And then we’ll figure out if we can make it.” So we did, and originally we had a train that derailed off the L, and that’s what caused the big fire at the end. It was a lot of big stuff in there. But it turned out to be like a hell of a million dollar gig to pull that off. We couldn’t have it in the pilot. I think our tendency is to write it big, as long as it services the character. And you can dial it back within the budget or time constraints, if it still works within the context of the episode.
So shifting from movies to television was not that big a change?
Derek: The biggest change is not wrapping up a story in a neat hour-and-a-half package. It’s getting to open doors, close other doors, keep some strings going, keep all these balls in the air. And do it over multiple scripts. That, to us, has been the biggest change.
Michael: It’s so satisfying to do TV. We made a movie two years ago that I directed and Derek produced that we had written a script for eight years ago. For the pilot, we wrote a scene three weeks [earlier] that we shot one week [earlier]. That, for a writer, is so satisfying.
I can imagine. I did want to ask about some of the advertising for the show. There has been a lot of focus on the male cast… physically.
Derek: You mean the beefcake. [Laughs]
It’s interesting that the shift in that kind of advertising is veering towards men, when in the past — in perhaps a more volatile way — the focus has historically been on women. I don’t know how involved you guys are in that aspect, but do you have any thoughts on that?
Derek: What we’ve learned is, we don’t really have a say in the marketing. We had a big meeting with NBC. We talked about that the show is about a family. I think they’ve captured a lot of those elements in the television ads. But the print ads, they’re just trying to put beautiful people up onto a board and sell the show. Which is fine. Whatever gets people in to watch the show. I will say, NBC has been great in that they haven’t dictated, almost at all, of what is going to happen in each episode.
Michael: It was interesting. When we were casting the show, Taylor Kinney comes in and gives an incredible audition. We didn’t know who we was, we didn’t know who he dated. We didn’t consider him for his looks. He came in and blew us away. We said, “We found our guy. We found Severide.” There was no consideration or knowledge of who he was or what his looks were. Same with Jesse [Spencer]. We were a fan of Jesse’s from House, but Jesse got the part because Jesse was the right guy for the job. As a creator or a writer of something, all you’re thinking about is casting who is the best guy for the job. We never once considered looks. And then you stand back and look at NBC’s version of the billboard, and you’re like, “Oh my God, look at what they’ve done to our guy!” [Laughs] So, there’s a little bit of that going on. For me, it’s not the greatest, because it doesn’t fully represent the depth of the show. But like Derek said, if it gets people to come to the show and then they find something else when they’re there, all the better.
You have to give a little, but you get a lot back.
Derek: [Laughs] Exactly.
You talk about not knowing Taylor’s work. Were you particularly interested in casting unknowns in a lot of the roles?
Derek: That was important to us. We said to NBC, “It’s going to be to the detriment of the show if all of a sudden you say, ‘There’s Ethan Hawke wearing a fire hat.’” We wanted guys who came out of nowhere, and who you wouldn’t have a previous association with. That could be our show. That’s why almost all of these faces — they’ve been in shows, but they haven’t been the leads and they’re not household names. Hopefully they will be when they’re done.
Are there any specific characters you’re most interested in exploring?
Michael: I think we have a lot to do with Peter Mills, who is played by Charlie Barnett … We have a long way to go with him. He’s the guy — just like Noah Wyle on ER. He was the new guy in that pilot, and then he was with that show for all 15 years it was on the air. Then he became the guy running the whole place. I think Charlie has tons of potential, he’s an incredible actor. But the character is something that we haven’t dug into yet. At least in the first couple of episodes. He’s a character we’ll dig into more as we get down the line for sure.
Derek: I just watched a cut of episode 7. You’re going to see awesome storylines for Otis and Mouch and Joe. All three are going to have full on character reveals that are going to be surprising and touching and all of those things.
And how come you wanted to set the show in Chicago, specifically?
Michael: New York had kind of been covered by Rescue Me. So 9/11 heavy, still. And any of the West Coast cities really didn’t provide enough weather, we thought, for what we wanted to do. And Chicago is a city that I had lived in as a kid. But also, the Great Chicago Fire really defined that city. That city burned to the ground completely, except for a firehouse and a pump station … and it was rebuilt. It’s truly, for me, the most beautiful American city. And that’s 100 percent because they had the chance, during the Industrial Revolution, to rebuild the city. So, it’s a city that was born out of fire. It’s got weather, and it’s got a lake, and it’s got skyscrapers, and it’s got rough neighborhoods, and it’s got beautiful neighborhoods — it’s incredibly cinematic. Put the camera down anywhere and you’ve got something really great to look at. But we hadn’t been sold on Chicago until we met a guy who became our technical advisor. And then when Chicago rolled out the red carpet for us, we were like, “This is our place.”
So does the city take a big role in future episodes as a character of its own?
Derek: It does. It definitely does. That’s the great thing about shooting there, and shooting on location. We are writing to that city, and to its strengths and to its beauty. We were the number 1 show in Chicago [on the night of the pilot], I hope we continue to be. It’s really important to that the city is shown in an interesting light.
Catch Chicago Fire Wednesday nights at 10 PM on NBC.
[Photo Credit: Matt Dinerstein/NBC]
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UPDATE: While monitoring NBC's ratings may not be the most enthralling of games, watching as the peacock network rolls out its slate of new series is always diverting. We've watched the 2012 lineup of Chelsea Handler-inspired sitcoms and fedora-dependent dramas parade out before the viewing public, only for many of the flashier series to scamper off back to the place from whence they came. (Okay, okay. Are You There, Chelsea? is this close to scampering, but give it time, my friends.) But no matter which ones stick and which ones flop, NBC continually rolls things that make you go "Huh?" This year, we're once again doing the pug head tilt as we flip through the promising, perplexing and intriguing pilot-to-series pick-ups, just in time for next week's upfronts.
Hannibal Starring Hugh Dancy
The network has picked up ten episodes of Hannibal, a series about one of cinema's most beloved villains: Hannibal Lecter, immortalized by Anthony Hopkins in The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon. Our Idiot Brother star Hugh Dancy is on board as Special Agent Will Graham (formerly played by Edward Norton in Red Dragon.)
1313 Mockingbird Lane Starring Eddie Izzard
In the 1960s, television introduced The Munsters: a life action fantasy-comedy about a family of working-class monsters (Frankenstein's monster, his vampire wife, their werewolf son, and Grandpa, a.k.a. Count "Sam" Dracula). NBC has picked up a reboot of the series, stressing the horror aspect. However, with comedian Eddie Izzard cast as Grandpa, there is likely to be a good deal of humor as well. NBC has picked up 13 episodes of 1313 Mockingbird Lane (a very apropos amount.)
Crossbones from the Creator of Luther
With cannibals and monsters on the way, NBC is covering all bases in terms of the dark and criminal: how about pirates? The network has ordered 10 episodes of Crossbones, a pirate-themed drama from Neil Cross, creator of Luther. The series is adapted from The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard, and is set in the 1700s.
Revolution Starring Giancarlo Esposito
When all of the world's electricity suddenly and suspiciously disappears, humanity is forced to pick up and start anew. Of course, easier said than done. Fifteen years after the incident, the world is overtaken by militant societies operating with guerilla warfare. When one girl loses her entire immediate family, she is forced to pick up and find a relative whom she hasn't seen since the planet lost its power. And of course, one question persists: why on Earth did this all happen in the first place?
Do No Harm Starring Steven Pasquale
Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will be reinvented with a new, modern twist in Do No Harm. The new series stars Rescue Me's Steven Pasquale as an ingenious neurosurgeon, plagued by his malevolent, monstrous alter ego. Joining Pasquale are The Cosby Show's Phylicia Rashad and Law & Order's lana De La Garza.
Infamous Starring Meagan Good
NBC is delving into the world of soap operas and detective stories with Infamous (previously titled Notorious). The series stars Meagan Good who goes undercover among the wealthy family for whom her mother worked as housekeeper when Good's character was a child. She is bent on investigating the murder of one of the family members, who was also her childhood best friend. The series also features Victor Garber and Damages' Tate Donovan.
Guys with Kids Starring Anthony Anderson
In light of the recent "Having kids is funny" theme that is sweeping the comedy world, NBC has picked up Guys with Kids, a sitcom about three friends who are new fathers, all the while suspended in their own adolescence. Star Anthony Anderson actually tried this once already as a movie: My Baby's Daddy, back in 2004. But let's hope this time around, the project has a little more to it. The West Wing's Jesse Bradford, The Sopranos' Jamie-Lynn Sigler and The Cosby Show's Tempestt Bledsoe also star.
Chicago Fire from Creator Dick Wolf
Law & Order mastermind Dick Wolf has spent most of his career looking at the crime-laden streets of New York City, with a few trips to Los Angeles here and there. But Wolf's newest series, Chicago Fire, will focus on a team of fire fighters in the Windy City. The program stars Vampire Diaries' Taylor Kinney, Hawaii Five-0's Lauren German, and House's Jesse Spencer as members of a (if this is the same Dick Wolf we're talking about) entertaining but no-nonsense and dedicated fire department.
1600 Penn Starring Josh GadLike NBC's 30 Rock, which takes place (obviously) at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York, 1600 Penn is set at the house every American can recognize in a matter of seconds: The White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Along with President Obama's former speech writer Jon Lovett and Modern Family director Jason Winer, Book of Mormon star Josh Gad penned this sitcom centered on the First family, a group who turns out to be just as messed up as the rest of us. Gad will star alongside Bill Pullman (who will play the President of the United States once again) and Brittany Snow co-stars as the First daughter.
Animal Practice Starring Weeds' Justin Kirk
You had us Justin Kirk, but just to humor NBC, let's dig into the details. Kirk stars as a vet (as in an animal doctor, not a guy who runs the pancake breakfasts at your church) who tends to side more with the animals he operates on than their owners. Tyler Labine (Reaper) and Bobby Lee (MadTV) costar, but they'll have to wrestle for screen time because Kirk's animal hospital will also include a monkey, presumably in a tiny white lab coat. Go On Starring Matthew Perry The series sounds promising enough — a sportscaster who suffers a great loss finds solace in his support group — just imagine the Former Mr. Chandler Bing as the smug sports guy finally coming to the conclusion that it's okay to get something out of group therapy. However, we've seen this before. In fact, it's almost too familiar. This series is practically an evolution from the last two series Perry tried to get off the ground: Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Mr. Sunshine. He's a flippant sportscaster dealing with loss; it basically offers to combine the gravity of Aaron Sorkin's SNL-inspired dramedy with the silly, quippy nature of Mr. Sunshine. That sounds like a perfectly adept progression... now let's just see if it sticks. The New Normal from Creator Ryan Murphy From the creator of Glee and American Horror Story comes a regular family sitcom about a gay couple (The Hangover's Justin Bartha and Book of Mormon's Andrew Rannells,) their surrogate (Georgia King) and their children. Ellen Barkin co-stars as the surrogate's (hopefully delightfully icy) mother and Murphy favorite NeNe Leakes (The Real Housewives of Atlanta) has secured a recurring role. No matter what happens with Leakes and Queen Barkin, there's no way the perfect pairing of Bartha and Rannells won't be worth tuning in at least once. Save Me Starring Anne Heche Anne Heche may have earned her designer shoes by heading up series like Men in Trees and earning roles on Hung and Ally McBeal, but she still can't manage to escape the stigma of her mental breakdown in 2000. Still, we've got to give the girl kudos, because she's getting back on the horse — by playing a woman doing the exact same thing. Heche stars as a woman in a broken marriage who decides to better herself, and produces miracles along the way. It's always a risk bringing miraculous happenings into play on a sitcom, but the quirky Heche might be just the girl to do it. Revolution from J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke Not satisfied with past attempts to capture the post-apocalyptic mindset on television, Revolution attempts to traverse the territory for NBC. The series will follow a group of survivors (including Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito and Twilight's Billy Burke) as they struggle in the new American landscape bereft of technology and civil order. Sure, it sounds a little like Cormac McCarthy's bestseller The Road, but with a sizeable ensemble cast like Revolution's, there will be plenty of series-worthy drama to weave into the otherwise bleak landscape.
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[Image: Daily Celeb]
Vampire Diaries fans, you can breathe now. The former TVD star headed to NBC to star in Law & Order creator Dick Wolf's new drama, Chicago Fire, is not a Salvatore brother, a Bennett witch, or any of the Original vampires. They're all snuggly as a vampire in a coffin on the CW series, however, ghost and former werewolf Mason Lockwood has found himself a brand new bag. Actor Taylor Kinney (Lockwood) who's likely even more famous now for his romantic relationship with Lady Gaga, is headed to the small screen once more as the lead in the new pilot.
According to Deadline, Kinney's role is that of an "adrenaline-junkie." As Squad Lieutenant Kelly Severiede, Kinney will lead an elite team of firefighters sent in for the most dangerous and risky rescues and fires. He joins Lights Out's Eamonn Walker in the series' main cast.
With a team like Wolf and Kinney's piercingly blue eyes, NBC just might be onto something. Either that, or we're looking at Third Watch 2.0 and a Kinney vs. Eddie Cibrian edition of "B**ch Stole My Look."
Wrote episodes for "Deputy Dawg" and "Hector Heathcoate", two Saturday morning cartoon TV series produced by Terrytoons in the early 1960s
Collaborated with his brother, Disney cartoon short director Jack Kinney, on sports cartoons starring Goofy throughout the 1940s
Joined the Walt Disney Studio as a sketch artist in the late 1930s
Worked on story for "1001 Arabian Nights" UPA's cartoon feature starring Mr. Magoo and directed by Jack Kinney
Moved to the Disney story department
While some animators from the golden age of Hollywood studio cartoons have gained renown, few story men have been hailed for their achievements. Dick Kinney is a significant figure in this unsung field. He is best known for his work at the Walt Disney Studio with his brother, animation director Jack Kinney, on the highly regarded series of Goofy sports cartoons made during the 1940s. Kinney also contributed gags and story ideas to Donald Duck shorts and Disney features such as "Dumbo" (1941), "The Three Caballeros" (1945) "Make Mine Music" (1946).
He later worked on UPA's Mr. Magoo cartoons. After a short stint at Walter Lantz Productions (home of Woody Woodpecker), Kinney freelanced on early Saturday morning television cartoons. He also contributed to the Mr. Magoo comic strip and Walt Disney comic books.
born on March 29, 1909; died on February 9, 1992; often collaborated with his brother
A useful reference source for information about the Kinneys is Leonard Maltin's "Of Mice and Magic" (New American Library: 1980). Additional information can probably be found in Jack Kinney's autobiography, "Walt Disney and Assorted Other Characters" (1988).