Smallville, a one-hour, four-act show based on Superman during his adolescent years, is headed up by executive producers Alfred Gough and his longtime writing partner Miles Miller. Gough says he and Miller just “fell into” script writing. After the pair sold a few movie scripts that didn’t end up in production, their agent suggested they write for television.
Gough and Miller wrote one script for the half-hour sitcom, Third Rock From the Sun, and one script for the hour drama Homicide: Life on the Streets. Gough says they stuck with the hour format srama because it let them write scripts that are similar to feature films. “We’re writing one-hour dramas and we’re writing small movies every week and it suited what we wanted to do.”
Gough and Miller’s television careers started with staffing jobs on TimeCop and Marshall Law. “The goal for us was always to get staff experience so that when the time came and we created our own show, we’d be able to run it. And the only way you can really do that is if you have experience on a TV show.”
The first shot Gough and Miller had at running their own show, was The Strip (UPN) with Joel Silver in 1999. Then they moved on to Smallville.
The idea for Smallville was forged by Peter Roth, president of Warner Brothers television, who suggested writing a series based on the character of Superboy. “We thought the idea of Superman in high school was very cool, but we didn’t want a suit. So we came up with our policy of no flights, no tights.”
Gough says he thinks of Smallville as “Superman, the lost years,” since it combines “puberty with super powers.”
Gough says he and the other staff writers spend a lot of time thinking of story ideas, usually revolving around Clark Kent’s dilemma. Then they try to build the stories from inside out.
The writers start the process by writing a 12-13-page outline, which is submitted to the network executives. Gough says it is in these outlines where the writing team hammers out any problems with the storyline.
“Once the story works, the fun part is actually writing it because you know everything works and the network and the studio knows what they’re going to be getting. It’s about solving as many problems as you can in the outline stage.”
Gough says one difference about writing for Smallville is that it is a TV series that crosses genres. Smallville is a family show, as well as an action/adventure show. “For us it’s about trying to get as much story and characterization in each episode as we possibly can.”
Because of a Writer’s Guild of America mandate, Smallville is required to air two freelance shows per season. Gough says his show tries to reward writer’s assistants for the show by encouraging them to pitch script ideas. That said, he is also interested in scripts pitched by writers not affiliated with the show.
Gough encourages beginning scriptwriters to “read as many scripts as you can. Both scripts of films you like and scripts that aren’t so good. And set time aside everyday to write. If you’re serious about it as a career, discipline yourself to sit down and write.”
Gough may have a television career that’s more powerful than a locomotive, but he says he wants to write more movie scripts in the future.
This article appeared in the March 2003 issue of Scriptwriting Secrets.