An Interview With ... Ed Spielman
By Johnny Betts
April 5, 2004
You may know him as the creator of well-received works such as
"Kung Fu" (the complete first season was recently released on DVD) and "Dead Man's Gun," (which can currently
be seen on Showtime) but I *know* you know him best as the creator of the show we all love and that has survived
for almost 15 years now - "The Young Riders." Ladies and gentleman, my interview with Ed Spielman...
JB: I know that the concept of TYR was started in the 70s and went through
multiple phases before becoming the TV Series that it was. Similarly, "Lonesome Dove" was first written in 1971 by
Larry McMurtry as a movie script with John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and James Stewart in mind as the main characters. As
most of us now know, "Lonesome Dove" didn't come to fruition until 1989, and Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, and
Robert Urich were the main cast members.
My question is, when you originally developed "The Kid" in the 70s, did you have any actors in mind to play Hickok,
Cody, etc, or did you always want it to be an ensemble piece without huge star power? What about when you turned it
into a motion picture?
ES: Of necessity, the development changed over time. The character of 'The Kid' always dominated,
but it was strongly an ensemble piece from the beginning. In the Theatrical version, the character of 'The Kid' was
more central and the construction of the entire adventure was seen through his eyes, from his perspective. That
changed because of the demands of the television production.
Of course, in style, a Theatrical Motion Picture version would have had far more weight and classicism than the TV
production, but the essential elements would have remained in both. ABC Television required a much more ensemble
version and a title change. The show's inherent flexibility lent itself to the episodic venue.
I never know if my work will be a Theatrical Film first, a TV series? I do what I can to have each project live its
fullest life. Sometimes, as with 'KUNG FU,' a project will have several incarnations over many years. I can never
predict where a project will first come to fruition. I practice 'professional patience' because sometimes a project
will reappear in popularity after many years; another Series, a Theatrical remake. I never know.
I never write film projects with a specific actor in mind. With TYR, from the beginning, I was very open about actors,
in both the TV and Theatrical versions. My object was to look at the Pony Express period in a way that would capture
the wildness of it, that purely American spirit. I just wanted actors who could embody that. I never write with any
specific actor in mind.
JB: Is it true that Brad Pitt auditioned for a role on TYR?
ES: Brad Pitt? Yeah, I vaguely remember him, and a half dozen others who went on
to become visible in the industry. 'Beverly Hills 90210' had a few potential 'Riders' in it.
JB: One thing I've always wondered is what happened to all the old props
from the show such as the Beckwith Volley guns or Jimmy's Colts?
ES: Props go back to the rental companies. The volley guns (two that actually fired) were
returned to the company that constructed them. Jimmy's Colts? I dunno. Actors often have a way of holding on to
JB: What did you think of Emma being dropped from the show after the first
season? Many viewers (including me) were sorry to see her go. I know she was a character that you created (unlike
Sam), but I wonder how crucial to the show you felt she was.
ES: Emma was intended to be in the show from first to last. The choice to drop her was
JB: I've read in your
interview with Raye, that each of the
riders had a little bit of you written into their characters. Personally, I feel Jimmy Hickok turned out to be the
most dynamic character over the course of the show. It's a character that Josh was able to take a hold of and grow
over the course of three seasons.
Is there a character that you felt really grew into your ideal vision?
ES: Actors, the production situation, and other factors often give the screen version and its
characters dimensions that the creator didn't anticipate. Ideal vision? I write with a dream in my head. When you see
the finished work on big or small screen it is concrete, with different nuances. Sometimes there are wonderful
surprises or real disappointments.
In the case of the 'The Young Riders,' I very much liked all the actors that we had. Though, I must say, one of the
best characters was terribly underused. Ike and his singular relationship with Buck should have had a much stronger
place in the show.
I very much liked Josh Brolin as Hickok, that brooding charismatic quality. In my original, Hickok is even more of a
'bad boy,' really a borderline personality. He was conceived as the kind of character who lacks self-awareness, one
with a penchant for 'acting out.' He comes to self-awareness out of his respect for and friendship with 'The Kid,'
who doesn't fear him and is his equal in ways that Hickok comes to understand. The Kid's decency and maturity rub off
I loved Anthony Zerbe as Teaspoon. He is the consummate actor. I loved his combination of eccentricity and hard-edge
wisdom, both at the same time. That was the character as I created him. From the moment that we see Teaspoon rising
up out of the water trough, bathing while still in his long johns, there is a sense that this guy is an original and
very interesting. Anthony captured that. He is a dear man and a wonderful actor.
Truthfully, I loved all the actors on the show.
JB: In regard to Kid, I saw in the original script that Kid's name was going
to be revealed as "Lou." Thankfully, the writers decided against that. But I'm curious, was Kid ever supposed to
have a real name?
'The Kid' was never to have had any other name but that. The original construction (which I still like) had prologue
and epilogue narrated by a very old man. It is 'The Kid' telling you of his life. In the original prologue (dropped
like the Narrator to create a more 'contemporary style'), the old man says:
"He walked in out of the red dust from nowhere in particular...Nobody knew his real name, and I never heard him called
anything 'cept 'The Kid.'"
At no time, was he ever to reveal his name, and if he had to tell Lou (because of a marriage license or other events),
it should be kept secret from the audience. He is only 'The Kid,' and anything to the contrary is another case of
people taking good work and screwing it up.
JB: Josh Kane mentioned in his
interview with Raye that there were
outtakes from the original pilot. Scenes with "The Dog Man" were filmed but later cut. Do you know if the outtakes
still exist? There is some talk about Sony/MGM releasing the series on DVD; do you think there's a chance the
outtakes could show up there?
ES: I presume that the outtakes of The Dog Man still exist, but I doubt that they will ever be
used. The Dog Man would have been quite important to the Theatrical version, but it's a moot point here.
JB: What else can you tell us about the Dog Man? Was he to appear only in the
Pilot, or was he to be a recurring character?
ES: The Dog Man was to have been in the pilot as well as a sometime character that meets
'The Kid' out on the Plains (always when you least expect him). He is a kind of all-knowing eccentric, scary, sweet
and ahead of his time. He is one of my favorite characters.
JB: If the series actually does get released on DVD, would you have any
interest in helping Sony/MGM with bonus material or extras? You're welcome to read my Rider Reviews as audio
commentaries for the episodes!
ES: Several months ago, I participated with interviews for Warner Bros' upcoming DVD release
of my 'KUNG-FU' series. I'd be happy to do the same for MGM, at such time as they request it.
JB: Have you seen any of the cast since the episode ended? It seems like you
and Mr. Zerbe could have some interesting conversations.
ES: Once in awhile, I will bump into individual cast members at screenings or industry
functions. It's always a treat when I do see them.
Josh Kane and I stay in touch. He is a good friend and we are in weekly contact. He spends more time in New York and
I'm now living in LA, but we send each other jokes and info via E Mail. Josh is a neat guy. He and I are from the
same background, the very same time and place. We're simpatico.
JB: Any advice for aspiring writers out there (like myself)? Should we give up
fanciful notions of screenwriting or writing the great American novel and just hope to write magazine articles and
movie reviews one day?
ES: Screenwriting is a fine way to advance to 'hyphenate' status: Writer-producer (critical for
Television) or Writer-Director. It is an artistically hazardous occupation to remain a screenwriter, because
contractually the screenplay (no matter how original or brilliant) is 'work for hire.'
Without the original Writer, nobody works; nobody gets to be rich or famous. The original Writer is the beginning
and the end. But the process, the business, is a struggle for control of the writer's work. The original vision is
everything, until somebody gets control of it.
I'm a 'Show Runner' now, Executive Producer. Writing for the screen was my means of getting there. It's true for so
Despite the difficulties and pitfalls, screenwriting offers the potential of enormous rewards. Still, it's important
to understand the reality of the process as you go forward. And one needs to understand where the Writer fits
in. That way, you know where you and the work are going. It saves emotional wear n' tear.
As far as writing goes, I've always written in other venues as well. Books and journalism. It's good to do it all.
Each has its own rewards. My work as a screenwriter gave me the life I dreamed about as a kid. The rewards are
still there. I'm living proof of that.
JB: Is there anything else you'd like to add or say to all The Young Riders
fans that are still out there?
ES: A PERSONAL WORD from ED to all the YOUNG RIDERS FANS out there.
You have been so gracious. Your continuing interest and in valuing my work is a source of great satisfaction to
me. I thank you all. I feel blessed to have been able to share this adventure with all of you.
Let me just send a big thank you to Mr. Spielman for taking time out of his busy schedule to grant a
wet-behind-the-ears fanboy like me an interview. "The Young Riders" hooked me from the moment it aired, and
almost 15 years later I've had the opportunity to interview the creator of my all-time favorite show.
This is just my opinion, you could be wrong.