Jerry Patrick Brown
Jerry Patrick Brown wrote the Tour of Duty episodes:
"A Necessary End"
"And Make Death Proud To Take Us"
And was a co-writer on the episodes:
"Terms Of Enlistment"
The following interview with Jerry Patrick Brown , took place in February 2002
HUM90:How did you become involved in writing for Tour Of Duty?
I had a short staff tenure on a nighttime soap, "Hotel."
Steve Smith (Smitty) was there at the same time. We became friends.
Following the '88 strike, I couldn't get arrested.
Nobody was interested. I had applied for a county job spreading sterile Mediterranean Fruit Flies from the back of a pickup truck... minimum wage chore... when Smitty called.
Was I interested in Tour Of Duty?
He recommended me to the Co-Exec, Dennis Cooper, who got a further recommendation from David Milch (I'd come to know him when he was doing "Hill Street Blues"), and on the same day I heard from the county that I passed muster for the fly gig, Smitty called to say I had the Tour Of Duty job.
I didn't spend a long time puzzling over which way to go.
HUM90:Did you have an opinion of the show before you got involved
Had you seen the first series before you got involved, or did you have to catch up when you joined to find out about the characters and how they had developed?
I was familiar with Tour Of Duty,
I had pitched some stories during its first season, to no avail.
So that's when I came on, partway through season 2, after the strike. I read everything that had been done prior to that, and immersed myself in reading everything I could get my hands on about grunt life, especially in Nam, and got tremendous help, as we all did for the life of the show, from our primary military advisors, Mike Christy and Lee Russell.
HUM90: Do you have a military background yourself ?
I know that Stephen Phillip Smith, one of the other writers, was a Vietnam Vet, as were the series' creators, Steve Duncan & L. Travis Clarke
I had no military experience.
Not as much a handicap as you might suspect, since the show hinged more on character development than on hardware and arena.
I never laid eyes on L.Travis Clarke or Steven Duncan either, for that matter.
Smitty was the heart and soul of the show during the time I was there.
HUM90: How did you feel at taking over, as it were, the lives of
characters that others had brought to life and developed?
Were you given guidelines/backgrounds for each character to help you write for them?
For story arcs that spanned several episodes
(Purcell's slip into drug addiction comes to mind), we had, kind of, a general overview.
Each episode done would usually put a little more or different spin, as the arc subject matter was incorporated into the episode itself.
The writers spent a lot of time talking about stories and how they'd fit together. And again, can't reiterate too often, Smitty was the guiding hand on the tiller.
Of course, it was all at the mercy of the all-knowing inspiration of our beloved network brains, the same inspired souls who saw a ratings coup by bringing the girls in (Kim DeLaney and Betsy Brantly, both fine actresses in SOME OTHER SHOW).
HUM90: As I'm sure you're aware, there are some 'Nam vets,' and
others, who disliked the second series because of the introduction of stronger female
characters, and the shows more "9-5 soldiers" line.
They complain the show's 'realness' was diluted down too much.
What do you say to them?
In answer to the complaint about bringing in the girls in Season #2... I agree
It wasn't the show.
I think it was done to compete with "China Beach." WRONG!
And the decision to bring the ladies in was made before I came aboard (not that I, staff writer", would have had jack to say about it).
HUM90: How did you all, as a group of writers, manage to write separate episodes yet keep the threads of the different characters & storylines running throughout the series?
For example, the episode you wrote, "The Luck", follows "The Volunteer" (the season 2 cliff-hanger , written by Stephen Phillip Smith). You already have a major part of your episode devoted to the fact that Anderson & Goldman are missing.
For these two episodes, did you and Stephen have to work together and write both episodes simultaneously, as it were, to allow the feel/ tension to run throughout both episodes?
I don't recall, specifically, what took place in formulating "The
Volunteer" and "The Luck,"
but I suspect it was something along the lines of
"In my episode, Goldman and Anderson get taken prisoner ... ",
"Yeah, okay, and in mine they escape ."
We'd all develop outlines of our episodes, and trade opinion and input, but the writing itself, once started, was a solitary thing.
The episode "And Make Death Proud To Take Us", has
humour in it, such as McKay and Goldman in the Hooch, Taylor and the newbie with the
Was this consciously written into the episode as a balance to the intensity of the battle scenes later in the episode?
HUM90: You also had 2 new guys to introduce Griner & Bell.
Did this help in this episode, as it allowed you to show the newbies reactions to being under fire for the first time?
Insofar as "Make Death Proud" was concerned, I don't recall that it was
a "story arc" thought that brought Griner and Bell aboard.
Most likely they showed up because the green recruit under fire for the first time is reliably solid grist, and also a good source of humour , which, as you recognized, is good counterpoint to the intensity of battle.
Getting Kyle Chandler as Griner was a stroke of good fortune... he stayed on through the finale.
He brought a fine delineation to the character of a backwoods boy unsullied by the world.
HUM90:In this episode you set some tough tasks for the actors, as a large amount of scenes have little or no dialog, such as the journey cutting through to the base, and the base battle scenes themselves.
Do you know if they enjoy this type of challenge/freedom that was sometimes missing from other more heavy dialogued episodes?
I don't think the action v. dialogue relationship occurs to a lot of actors,
filming done in snippets the way it is.
You might have someone bitch because they the think another's getting better lines, funnier lines or more dramatic lines, but a nice piece of action or dramatic tension can be more fulfilling from their standpoint than dialogue.
HUM90:How did you manage to convey your vision of these scenes to
Did you have to work closely with him on this episode?
George Kaczender was/is a pleasure to work with. I was a thorn in his side the
same as with each director who got one of my episodes. The difference was that George
wasn't so reluctant to listen.
Too many television directors like to think of themselves as storytellers. BULLSHIT!
The story's on the page before they even come aboard.
And for some (Jim Johnson comes to mind) the story's completely secondary. For them, the show's about the stunts, the fireworks, the hardware.
HUM90: There is a lot of use of silence, incidental music & background noises in this episode, with mosquitoes, bird noises, etc. How did you write these into the script?
Insofar as music, sound effects, and silence are concerned, that was initially the
call of our terrific cadre of editors, under the guidance of Vahan Moosekian, our line
producer who oversaw post-production.
After they'd put the show together, those of us toward the front end of the food chain would have ample opportunity to chime in... "Love it," or "Hate it," or whatever in between.
HUM90: You didn't let the prop's guys off in this episode either,
How did they react when they read in the script that they needed among other things, One Large Indian Elephant?
How did you manage to get this approved?, as its not strictly needed for the main storyline?
Apart from the elephant, you have a snake and a leech that we see. Is there a story as to why this episode has so many animals in it ?
As regards the use of critters and varmints... doing a show, as we were doing
especially in "Make Death Proud", which involved guys burrowing into the ground
and crawling around in the brush, it seemed appropriate.
Hey, even a blind hog finds an acorn, occasionally.
HUM90: The episode "Sleeping Dogs" has a subject as its
main theme, which is darker than many of the other episodes, showing an "Adrenaline
Junkie," and showing one of the effects the war had on some of its combatants.
This episode was one of many in the second season, which touched on the real psychological problems many vets at home faced, as an effect of the war.
Was this a conscious aim of yours to help highlight the problems vets faced then and that many still face now?
"Sleeping Dogs" was my first
episode, and probably still is my favourite. Greg is a prime example of how character was
at the heart of the show. Read some of the many "I was there" books about Nam
("Dispatches" is the best), and you'll see where characters like this came from.
They were real flesh and blood, and the issue of how guys who'd evolved into killers could go back to the World unaffected was an item we all dealt with at one time or another.
HUM90: The episode "Hard Stripe", among its many threads,
touches the subject matter of racism in the Army, with Taylor believing he has been
overlooked again for promotion.
Do you think that as a series 'Tour of Duty' adequately captured the feeling of the racism issue among the soldiers during the war?
Did we capture the racism issue? We
tried. Mightily. But I have no doubt, measured by the yardstick of experience on the part
of the guys who were there, we surely came up short.
You can't put that shirt on and take it off if you haven't worn it in life, for real. My opinion.
HUM90: "Payback", At the time of writing this episode, did you have knowledge that the show was not going to be given a fourth series?
"Payback" was the finale.
I knew it was the finale when I wrote it.
There had been some hopeful talk about at least a few more episodes, if not a full fourth season, but by the time I went to work, the handwriting was on the wall.
It said "Sayonara, m********kers!"
HUM90: Many fans have expressed a feeling that not enough was
answered in this episode, and that too much was left 'up in the air'.
Having written the last-ever episode, knowing that it was the last.
Im sure you did what you could to end storylines within the bounds in the single episode.
Why didnt more get tied up?
The last episode didn't put a button on things?
How could I bring things to a tidy end and stay anything like honest to the
characters and to the show?
The guys who were there were changed, and the world they returned to was changed, and there were no buttons to be had.
Ruiz's final monologue to his pigeons went as far as I would dare go.
HUM90: How many writers were working in the TOD writing team at one time?
We generally had five or six writers on staff, with a few episodes farmed out to free-lancers.
HUM90: What restraints, apart from language, did you find you came
up against, with the shows early schedule time?
As writers I'm sure you got around it, but did this effect the way/style of writing the show?
Our time slot never affected what I wrote.
I did an episode that had a self-immolation by a nun as a gesture of protest, and the production guys tried mightily to pull it off, but it was vehemently objected to by a bonehead at the network, so its awfulness was never realized.
But that had nothing to do with time slot.
It had to do with stupidity.
HUM90: Do you remember writing anything that caused the directors, or production crew great difficulties (such as the elephant), that led them to ask if it could be re-written ?
It was always a puzzlement to me.
I could get an elephant, but I'd play Hell trying to give a line of dialogue to an extra player. You see, they'd maybe get paid an extra dime or two.
HUM90: As the second/third seasons were filmed in LA, did you visit the set during filming at any time?
I was on the set
Sometimes I was even welcome. It would depend on the director's attitude. Posey and Kaczender... always open to talking about it. Others... forget it.
HUM90: Did you get to work with the actors? Did
any of them make suggestions for their characters?
Did any of their ideas make it to screen, that you remember?
had suggestions. Sometimes used, sometimes not. And sometimes they'd surprise us all.
More than once... "What'd he say? Where the Hell did that come from?"
HUM90:What is it like to see something you've written come to life?
What's it like?
You always see something you'd do a little different.
Try to make it a little better. Speak up a little louder.
HUM90:The episode "Sins of The
Father", written by Rick Husky, was originally titled "Payback", which you
later used as the title for the last episode.
Do you know the reason for this title change?
I wasn't aware Husky had almost used the title "Payback". Or if I knew it, I'd forgotten it by the time I used it. By then, Husky was long gone.
How long did you get to write an episode?
How long to write
How long have I got? That's usually the defining element.
And regardless of schedule there's always time for a rewrite.
But I can't complain. I was treated well. The one source of notes I tended to, unequivocally, were those few times Smitty had thoughts. He was always right. Usually, by the time a script was out, we'd published a synopsis, and then an outline, so there weren't many surprises.
Zev might have some thoughts, or Phil Krupp... or the other writers would have suggestions.
David Kemper's copy of a script would be laden with "maybe this" and "maybe that," but I always figured his brain had been tainted by his previous incarnation as a network suit.
I loved working with David. It was never dull.
Copyright 2013 Craig Blackmore. All rights Reserved.