It has been a long road for Josh Appelbaum, but the premier of his new show is finally here. Tonight, with the coveted Grey’s Anatomy lead-in, October Road will make its debut on ABC. Josh is most well known for writing Alias, but this is quite a departure from that genre of television. Josh took time from his busy schedule to talk to BuddyTV about the writing process (with fellow writers Andre Nemec and Scott Rosenberg), his wonderful cast and the agony of “hurry up and wait.”
BuddyTV: You and Andre Nemec have been writing partners for a long time. How did that partnership get started?
Josh: We’ve known each other going back to New York in the 3rd grade and we remained friends obviously through college, although we went to separate colleges. And then we both ended up back in LA. Andre was an actor, he was on a couple shows, and I was out here doing writing stuff. He kept saying, “God I wish we could do a pilot, something that spoke more to me. I’m reading all of this stuff, some is good and some is bad, but I wish it spoke more to me.” We collaborated on a script, pretty much out of college and we were lucky enough to sign with this agent at Endeavor about 10 years ago. That’s pretty much been the journey ever since. It wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds. There were some rough patches but we’ve known each other since the 3rd grade.
Do you two have a certain process when you’re writing? Is it all collaborative?
It’s one thing when it’s me and Andre, it’s weird now because now when we do stuff with Scott Rosenberg like for October Road, it’s different. The process on October Road between me, Scott and Andre was similar to the process between me and Andre, which is that we’ll kind of sit down, figure it out, and we’ll write each scene down or each act on the board and then we’ll split it up into thirds. If it’s the two of us, we’ll split it in half. Television now is six acts, so when it’s me, Scott and Andre, like for October Road, it will be like, “Andre, you do the first two acts, Josh does three and four, Scott does five and six.” Or some permutation of that. We all go off, take two acts to write the outline, and then we’ll swap out. We’ll all kind of workshop each other’s stuff but we’ll have that really comprehensive outline. That’s just something that’s super important. Something that really came from Alias was if you could have that really detailed document in your hand, breaking down the episode, when you actually write the script it just makes it so much easier. Once we get an outline that we’re happy with, we’ll split up again into thirds, and then we’ll write the script and come back again and swap out. If we didn’t all work so well together, it would be a disaster but we all kind of vibe well off each other and have similar sensibilities.
Can you explain how October Road came to be and how you two got involved with Scott Rosenberg?
In about 2001, Scott was doing a show for Showtime called “Going to California,” which nobody in America has seen but it’s so good. Next to October Road it’s probably our proudest achievement. It filmed in the same town where Scott had filmed the movie Beautiful Girls. Beautiful Girls is one of my favorite movies, one of Andre’s as well. So Scott was doing this show for Showtime about two guys from the town that had left and were on a road trip. The three of us just started working together on that show and just had a great bond and chemistry together. He felt like he was connected to the stuff we were doing and vice versa. So we did that show, it got canceled unceremoniously and then we wrote a couple of movies together. Meanwhile we thought it’d be so great to do a show back in that town. Coming off of Alias I think people expected me Andre to do a more sci-fi, high concept, kind of a show. That’s the trend and Lost is amazing and all that stuff. But let’s just go the other way and let’s just do a show about people we know, in our age range, and set them in this town and make it a pure relationship drama about people in their late 20s, early 30s. Scott was on board, Gary Fleder; Gary was very passionate about doing the show about a college town or about a college. And we were like, “Hah, what about this, what if we make that town a college town and October Road is that road that separates the town from the college and we’ll have the college element to it as well.”
Can you explain the premise of the show?
Ultimately it’s a relationship ensemble drama set again, in this college town. Particularly in the pilot, you’re following the journey of these characters, played beautifully by Bryan Greenberg. It opens in 1997 where he’s supposed to travel to Europe for the summer and that turns into 10 years. He wound up in New York, he’s written a best selling novel that depicts people from his town and in their mind in an unflattering light. There’s a couple of reasons he returns home, one of them being that he wrote this book about the people that he grew up with and his family. Now it’s ten years later and it weighs so much on him, and it’s time to go home again. And we pick up in the pilot when he returns home and there’s the girl he left behind played by Laura Prepon. Her life has changed dramatically, she has a son, and the age of the son corresponds to right around the time Nick left so there are big questions there for him. His friends felt betrayed both by the book and by the fact that they had plans together. That’s where the show starts, Nick’s reentry into the town. I feel like the first two episodes, even though they are great, are kind of a lie because they’re so centered on Nick. But from Episode 3,4,5,6 on and hopefully in future seasons, it really becomes this whole big ensemble. One of his friends is the laziest man in America; he’s a shut in and hasn’t left the house in five years. He forms a relationship with the pizza girl. There are opportunities just to explore all the different kinds of things we see in our own friendships and our own lives.
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