In Part One, television writer Dave Hackel talked about his career and his time working on Wings. In this post, I’m excited to bring you the second part of the interview, where he talks about writing one of my favorite Wings episodes, “Murder She Roast,” which is Episode 21 of Season Two.
When Joe’s (Tim Daly) house has to be fumigated, Brian (Steven Weber) gets an offer to stay with Fay (Rebecca Schull). While at her home, Brian watches his favorite show, Fugitives from Justice, and the subject of the episode – a woman who has left a trail of dead men in her wake – has many similarities to Fay.
Freaked out, Brian shares his newfound info about Fay with Joe and Helen (Crystal Bernard), which they quickly dismiss. But as Brian’s paranoia about Fay’s possible true identity mounts, are his suspicions about her crazy, or is he really staying with a serial killer?
Meanwhile, Lowell (Thomas Haden Church) begins selling a gadget called the Car-B-Que. Will Roy (David Schramm) take the bait and buy one, or is this just another idiotic thing Lowell has ventured into?
I love this episode. It’s interesting to watch it now in the context of our cultural obsession with true-crime series and podcasts, and the idea that you could see or hear about someone you might know on one of those shows seems more possible than ever.
The cast takes the solid material and runs with it, and the entire set-up and pay-off of the main storyline is exceptionally well-crafted and delivers solid laughs throughout.
And I’d really like to know a little more about the culinary science behind the Car-B-Que, especially how it cooks chicken so fast.
“Murder She Roast” never fails to make me laugh. Wings is reliably funny and always can get a smile or a laugh no matter the episode. Whether it’s a line of dialogue or the line’s delivery, “Murder She Roast” is great stuff.
I was honored to be able to ask Dave Hackel about the inception and writing of the episode in question. His answers are below:
Ian Dawson: How was the initial story pitched?
Dave Hackel: As conceived, “Wings” was a show about two brothers. Obviously, other great characters made up the initial ensemble and others were added along the way. The production staff had to service all the actors/characters and some were easier to come up with stories for than others. Rebecca Schull was and is a marvelous actor, but Fay was often difficult to create shows around…especially in the early years of the show. The network wanted stories about Joe and Brian so when trying for a Fay episode, we had to find ones in which the boys were prominent, as well.
So, our job was to come up with a story in which Rebecca could shine and still give Tim and Steven good parts to play. “Murder She Roast” was clearly inspired…if not liberally borrowed…from the classic Alfred Hitchcock story about the woman who killed a man with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooked it and served it to the investigating detectives. I suggested that we might be able to come up with a story that cast doubt on Fay’s character in a similar way. Of course, we ended up with — certainly in that last block comedy scene in Fay’s kitchen — an homage to Hitchcock’s story.
ID: Were you assigned to write the episode, or did you pitch the episode and then were sent off to write it?
DH: All of the above. I came up with the basic idea then, as will most of the episodes, the entire staff worked out the story and I was sent off to write it.
ID: How long did you have to write an episode? Did you craft an outline or beat sheet first that was then hashed out in the room, or did you jump into a first draft with an outline?
DH: As with all of the episodes, first you work out the story in the room, then the writer — in this case me — was sent off to write the outline — usually around ten pages of prose that broke out the story beats into scenes and included many of the jokes that were pitched in the room. Then, after a week, I turned it in, met with the staff, went over the story, made changes and then I went off to write the first draft of the script. That usually took about two weeks.
ID: How did the storyline/episode evolve from pitch to shooting script? Did the B-story with Lowell and Roy change at all, or were the A and B stories pretty much set from the start?
DH: All the beats, A & B stories, were worked out before I started to write the script. As was the case with all of the episodes, stories were adjusted, edited and hopefully improved throughout the week with the help of the writing staff and, of course, the actors and the director of that episode, Noam Pitlik.
ID: Do you recall what the initial reaction to the episode was at the table read?
DH: I believe the script went over quite well at the table read. Those initial readings were usually a great deal of fun for all of the “Wings” episodes.
ID: As the credited writer on this or any episode, do you get final say on any changes that are suggested by the actors, director, or other writers? Do remember if there were any network notes that you had to deal with on this episode?
DH: The initial writer doesn’t get the final say on an episode. Once it’s turned in, the script becomes fair game for everyone to work on and improve. That includes the actors, director, writing staff, as well as anyone in the crew who comes up with a good idea. It’s an incredible amount of work to produce a new episode every week, so any input that makes it better is appreciated.
ID: What was the biggest challenge you faced in writing or during the taping of the episode?
DH: Time is always the enemy on a television show. How to get it done in five days while, at the same time, working on editing last week’s episode and coming up with new ones to round out the season. “Murder She Roast” was no exception except for the fact that we also had to find time to shoot the footage on the “news” program that Brian initially watched. We went onto Paramount’s back lot and did those sequences as well as filming Maury Povich playing the part of the newscaster.
ID: Looking back at the episode now, is there anything you would change.
DH: Oh, I’m sure if I viewed the episode carefully, I could find jokes that could be better — sharper, funnier — and perhaps a shot here or there to improve. That’s the case with every show. But I remember being quite happy with the finished product have always appreciated that, when people are asked about their favorite episodes of “Wings”, “Murder She Roast” is often mentioned.
I appreciate Dave Hackel taking the time to talk about the writing of “Murder She Roast.” You can find this episode and other episodes of Wings on Hulu, buy the complete series on Amazon (or watch on Amazon Prime), and watch via the PlutoTV app on the 24/7 Wings channel (channel 456).