Where to begin? What to say? They always say “Write what you know.” And, “If you know, or are friends (or enemies) with a writer, anything you say, do, or think, will eventually end up in one of their stories.” Both of those statements are entirely true, and Apartment Zero is a perfect example of that.
Grace Harrell, my girlfriend at the time, and I are the co-creators of Apartment Zero. Just like our main characters, Nesha and Matt, Grace is Black (and an actress) and I’m White (and a writer). So, a lot of what you read in this series is what we lived, breathed, and experienced. In writing it, we took a lot of creative license, stretched the truth, and simply made up some things. But it’s still based in reality, if that counts for anything.
Back then, we were living together in a wacky apartment building. Every day was a new adventure, and the characters in our episodes were really our neighbors. It was so much fun. Friends and family who came to visit knew how unique it was and always remarked that life in our building should be made into a TV show. Ding, ding, ding. The bells went off and the spark was lit.
By taking stories from our crazy building and mixing them with events from our lives, Grace and I brainstormed and created Apartment Zero. Then while she was off doing her acting thing, I’d be home writing my little heart out and trying to capture our life on paper. I’d toil the day away on the computer with nothing but bread and tap water whilst she was being pampered on some movie set with craft-service and designer waters carried to her on a silver platter by handsome actors. We didn’t have cell phones in those days, so with no contact, I was on my own, writing like a madman, getting everything perfect. Well, perfect until she got home.
Grace would read what I put my heart and soul into, then tear it all down, rip out my heart, be brutally honest and tell me it was completely wrong. After destroying everything I’d written, she’d saunter off to bed and wait for me to bring her bonbons — which I did on a nightly basis, sans the silver platter.
But my boyfriendly duties were not done until I massaged her tired feet (*she especially liked my fingers between her toes). Once she was relaxed, sleeping, and starting to drool, I’d return to my computer and stare at a blank screen while I thought about starting over and incorporating everything she said into the script. It’d take me till the wee hours of the morning to rewrite it, but once done, I’d read it over and… Dang, she was usually right.
After months of many late-night rewrites the Pilot was finally finished. Yay!
We submitted Apartment Zero everywhere: to agents, producers, studios — both established and start-ups, and even submitted it to our mother’s uncle’s best friend’s cousin who knew somebody that delivered food to someone who once took a studio tour and thought about a funny line in a sitcom they saw as a child. We shopped it everywhere, and to everyone.
And we had a pile of rejection letters to prove it.
Discouraging? Yes. But not because they didn’t like it. Just the opposite. Most of the places and people we pitched it to, loved it. But, and it’s always a big butt, they all gave it a pass for almost the same three reasons.
“You can’t have an interracial couple.”
“You can’t have a flamboyant Gay character.”
“It’s too ahead of its time.”
If you think about TV today, those are not even issues any longer, they’re completely commonplace, and TV execs don’t bat an eye at them. But, we wrote Apartment Zero in the early 90s. Back then, we were ahead of our time with our taboo characters and story-lines. Thus, no production studio would touch it.
We were actually encouraged by their excuses and continued to write and pitch more episodes — but sadly, we still couldn’t convince the spineless studios to take a chance.
A few top execs expressed interest in the project, but were reluctant to Green Light it. Though many did say they’d love to see it in its finished form — meaning for us to go into production and complete the series ourselves, and then they’d consider optioning it.
Great. Only one problem. We didn’t have the funds to produce an all-out television sitcom.
So we did the next best thing. We produced Apartment Zero as a full-blown stage play. We did it for the sole purpose of inviting studio execs to sit in the audience so they could experience the sitcom the same way the TV audience would.
We rented a famous theatre on Hollywood Boulevard for a short two-day run. We had a full cast (including a few well-known stars of today), a professional crew, and even had a popular singer/songwriter compose a theme song. We did everything top-notch, and under budget.
It was a success. With each performance we played to a sold-out and very packed house of friends, family, strangers, and most importantly — lots of studio execs and Hollywood agents. And again, they loved it… but, still gave it a pass.
Shortly after that our momentum fizzled, sputtered, and died a slow Hollywood death.
Like the saying goes — “All good things must come to an end.” And that’s what started happening over the next few years. Things changed. The apartment building that gave us so much material wasn’t the same. New neighbors moved in as old neighbors moved out. New relationships started as others ended. The crazy magic and fun of those few short years was gone, and it was time for a change. We shelved the project and moved onto other adventures.
Grace and I stayed together a while longer, but eventually we broke up as well. Throughout the years we’ve remained the very best of friends, working on projects, and still talking to each other pretty much every day. And yes, she still pulls no punches when it comes to critiquing my writing. She’s not always right, but I do love the honesty of her advice and opinions.
It’s now 2020 and most sitcoms today suck. Seriously, they suck. Granted, all the taboos that kept Apartment Zero from being produced back in the day are now quite prevalent in the industry. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m hoping it’s a good thing because I’ve decided to dust it off and release Apartment Zero as it was initially written.
In doing so, I’m leaving the story set in the 1990s. It’s much more fun than trying to rewrite and update it with today’s woke, can’t say a joke, everything’s offensive, PC culture. Which I find highly offensive.
I hope you enjoyed reading Apartment Zero as much as Grace and I enjoyed creating and writing it. Make sure to look for the next episodes — Coming soon.
*Grace hates things between her toes. I just put that line in to give her the heebie-jeebies.
Lon Casler Bixby is a professional photographer and published author in various genres: Fiction, Poetry, Humor, Photography, & Comic Books.
You can see his writing here — www.amazon.com/author/loncaslerbixby/.