Sunday, January 29, 2006

Q&A with Love Monkey Creator Michael Rauch

Michael Rauch took time out of a busy Friday on the set to answer some questions about his show Love Monkey for the Blogcritics article Sex, Love, and Rock 'n' Roll. But for more of our discussion, here's the transcript:

How did the idea to turn Love Monkey the book into Love Monkey the TV show come about?

MR: I had done a show with Sony, and I went into Sony carrying a pile of pitch sheets, to pitch some ideas. Before I could pitch anything, they handed me the book and said “we think you'd be great for this." So I read it that night. I live in New York but was in LA at the time. I read it on Friday night and called the Sony exec on Saturday morning and said, “I love it, I want to be a part of this." Mark Johnson, the film producer who did Chronicles of Narnia and Rain Man and Diner, had the option on the book, so Mark and I talked and I gave him my sense of what I thought this show should be, and he responded to it. We went to CBS. They were the first people we pitched it to, and they bought it. The next day, they said “we love it," but in the book, the main character (Tom Farrell) writes for a New York City tabloid, and they said “we'd like to find another profession for him."

Journalism wasn't sexy enough?

MR: Uh, no comment.

[Laughs – but I wouldn't dream of arguing that point]

MR: I think they'd tried shows geared around papers, and they weren't successful, so they wanted to try a different profession. So I thought of a bunch of stuff, and none of it was any good. Then I remembered that I had an old friend who was an A&R rep when we were growing up in New York, and hanging out with him back then, late at night going to clubs to hear bands play and meet women and get drunk. It was a very fun, crazy, alive environment. Then you add music on to that, and it felt like it would be a fun world to set the show in. So I called up CBS and pitched that, and they loved it. That was how it went from being somebody else's book to being my show. Creatively, it felt like, OK, now I can have some sense of ownership over it.

And you made music such an integral part of it.

MR: Yeah, music's a really big part of the show. It's a character in the show.

How would you describe the musical taste, and how important it is to the show?

MR: It's very important. Our musical wheelhouse is pretty big in that we have all these different types of music. We shot John Mellencamp today. We had Aimee Mann in an earlier episode. We had the Grammy award winning classical violinist Joshua Bell in an episode. We're going to have, I think, the Pussycat Dolls in one episode. And Dr. John. As long as the music's good, it goes in the show. And since the show is about a guy whose job it is to find new music, we're trying to use it to help find new music, too, and help bring out new bands. Our music supervisor, a guy named Nic Harcourt (an influential Los Angeles DJ), sends a lot of new, up-and-coming bands to us, and we pick the songs we like and the bands we like and put them on the show.

He's a pretty connected guy.

MR: He is a very connected guy, with a lot of cachet.

What was it about the book that appealed to you, that you wanted to translate to TV?

MR: The book dealt with real people and relationships - friendship and love and not having love - and that's really what appealed to me. I have all respect for procedural shows, you know cops and dead bodies and crime scenes, but I could never write them, because I wouldn't know how to do that. This was something I felt like I knew how to do, which was dealing with people, and that appealed to me. Plus it was very funny, which is always good, too.

How much do you think Tom reflects a typical 30-something guy's approach to life?

MR: In my experience, it's pretty close, but that might tell you more about me than you want to know.

[Laughs] OK.

MR: There's definitely a lot of guys in that age range who are kind of stuck between full-blown adulthood and wanting to hang on to the vestiges of childhood. I think in my parents' generation, that happened in your 20s, and it's been pushed back a little later now to your 30s. I think there's a lot of pressure to succeed in your career, to find a mate for life, to begin that next step. I know for me, I pushed it as far as I possibly could, and as late as I could. That's not for everyone. Some people get married at a young age, some people never get married. But I know a lot of guys in their mid-30s, that's the age they seem to be when they begin to embrace the notion of finding love, even though they've been looking for it for a long time.

It's been described as a male-centric show, though I think it actually has a lot of appeal for women. But were you worried about making Tom unlikeable ... [he's more of a cad in the book]?

MR: First of all, when you have the actor Tom Cavanagh, he's so likeable that I could put him in a Nazi uniform and put a swastika on his forehead, and you'd still love him. So I wasn't, no. I think most of the characters are flawed people, which seems to be the case with all of us. There are elements of all of them that are likeable, and elements of them that are less sympathetic. But to me, Tom (Farrell) is a very likeable guy. He treats people with respect. He doesn't do anything intentionally malicious. He's just full of passion, and sometimes the passion gets in the way.

So far the show is really focusing on him. Are you planning to expand that more?

MR: The first episode does. The second episode and from thereon in, it's much more of an ensemble. So Tom's story's always the A story, but there are B, C, D stories, that involve the other characters.

You're making the most of shooting in New York. How important is the location to the show?

MR: It's everything. The show was set in New York when I wrote the pilot, and they let us shoot it in New York. It was important to me to try to reflect a different type of New York than you usually see on TV or film, which is kind of a less glamorized way - which for me, ends up glamorizing the city even more. So instead of shooting Central Park West and Fifth Avenue, we're much more in Brooklyn, in the East Village, in places that are a little bit grittier, and have more of a reflection of the different types of life there are in New York. I think we did an effective enough job in the pilot that CBS let us do the series here. It feels like the city becomes a character and adds texture to the show and informs the stories we tell.

Is that where you're from originally?

MR: It is, I was born here, and I live here, and I never want to leave. So it's great shooting here for me. Less of a commute. There's an energy and a life force to the city that really feeds into the energy of the show.

Love Monkey is very different from your average CBS show ...

MR: It certainly is.

Do you have any worries about ...

MR: I certainly do.

Yeah, I mean, we're kind of a guinea pig. CBS, God bless them, had the courage to put the show on their network, which is the good news. The bad news is there's not really anything else like it, so we're kind of out there alone right now. They are very patient with the show, and they're so supportive creatively, but I do worry how long it will take to find our audience on that network. I don't think anyone knows the answer to that.

You have eight episodes this season?

MR: We have eight, exactly.

And you're obviously not finished shooting those yet [he's fielding questions from the set as we speak].

MR: We're shooting the last one right now. We have about a week left.

You've set up a lot of possibilities for the characters. Can you give an idea of what we're going to see in future episodes?

MR: Absolutely. The leading stories will be Tom's music stories, and getting involved with different types of musicians. The episode that just ran this week had this Britney Spears character who was tired of being packaged and sold and wanted to do her own music. The problem is, her own music is terrible. So how do you fix that problem? We have an episode where Tom's representing these two misfit brothers who are very talented but continually self-destruct and destroy any opportunity that Tom as their A&R rep has to promote them. With the other characters, Jason Priestley (Mike), who's married and whose wife is pregnant, is exploring from a guy's point of view what that's like when all your other friends are still single and you're the one person who's crossed the line into permanent monogamy, and all the issues that brings up.

Though he seems to be a little tempted by his nanny now.

MR: Yes, in that episode he certainly was. I think I'm going try to have him behave himself this season, and then if we're lucky enough to have a second season, maybe tempt him a little bit more. Larenz Tate (Shooter) has money and looks and charm but isn't happy with what he's doing with his life. He's kind of passionless as a career person, and is surrounded by people who love what they do, and how do you cope with that. And then with Chris Wiehl, who plays Jake, what it's like being a gay ex-pro athlete and now sportscaster, and how homophobic that particular arena seems to be, and the pressure on him to keep his sexuality a secret at risk of destroying his career.

Even from his friends.

MR: His friends know.

Do they?

MR: They do, yes - that was a slight change from the first episode. And then with Judy Greer (Bran), one of the storylines we're going to be following is the notion of being a successful woman in your 30s, and the pressure to get married versus the desire to be a full-time career person, and how that's different for women than it is for men.

Great, thanks for this. Was there anything else you'd like to add?

MR: Please watch the show! It's such a word-of-mouth show. It's a small show on a big network, so anything we can do to get people to watch it - if they watch it once and don't want to watch it again, that's fine, we just need to get them to watch it once. I think that's where we're going to find our audience.

Well I love it, so good luck with that.

MR: Thank you so much.