Jim Geoghan [Interview]
When I was young kid in the early 90’s, television was damn good! I remember relaxing after a day of play in front of the TV on Friday nights and enjoying the now classic line up known as TGIF. And there was one show that reigned supreme….Family Matters. Despite my skin tone, I always felt that I was a part of their family. Not that there was anything wrong with my family, I just loved the Winslows, and that show still remains my one of favorite sitcoms of all time, and definitely my favorite of the TGIF line up.
That being said, I am very excited to have one of the creators and main currators of not only Family Matters, but so much excellent work as a producer and a writer for well over 30 years. Currently he is the head man in charge for both of Suite Life of Zach and Cody series, and continuosly working on entertaining us. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the legend himself, Mr. Jim Geoghan!
[Note: You may notice that there is an abundance of photos below, more than usual. These are all photos that Mr. Geoghan himself was nice enough to pass along to us, all taken by himself as well! Another nice bonus!]
What is it like writing scripts for shows oriented towards kids in the pre-teen years like The Suite Life series? Do you feel any sort of limitations? What made you want to shift gears into this arena?
Writing scripts oriented toward children keeps you young at first but as the years go by you begin to realize how old you’re getting. I might need to reference a popular rock group in dialogue and the best I can do is a rock group that was big ten years ago. I’ll know instantly how out-of-date I am when the younger writers begin laughing at me. When the writing staff offers names of more current rock groups I won’t recognize any of them. It’s hideous. But ultimately half hour programs for children will always deal with issues of trust, friendship, courage, dignity, kindness etc. and those issues will never fade away.
Limitations; Orson Welles once said “The greatest threat to the creative mind is the absence of limitations.” I’d like to think limitations make creative people work just a bit harder. I’m always mindful that parents have entrusted me to entertain their children for thirty minutes. I don’t want to betray that trust with things that excede the boundaries of good taste for young people. As a writer and producer I have to remember the show is not just mine, it’s owned by a production company and a network that pays me.
When I want to write something that has virtually no limitations I write for the theater. Nothing is more exciting and expressive than writing for the theater. Sadly, there is only a tiny handful of people who can make a living writing for the theater.
You were one of the writers and creative masterminds behind my personal favorite sitcom of all time, Family Matters. I know why I love it, but please tell us what you believe made that show legendary to so many people and so many different demographics?
Family Matters had a great cast of talented actors, a sensational writing and producing staff and it was part of a Friday night block of sitcoms on ABC that kept families in front of their TV’s for two solid hours. The chemistry the actors had with each other was something of a miracle. It’s something you can’t always write. Urkel was also one of the great misfit figures of the nineties. I was a neurotic, insecure child and I always loved comedic characters who were misfits. I think I was relieved to see someone worse than me. I believe Urkel offered the same relief to kids during the run of the show. He was a social outcast but he never gave up and he would not accept criticism. The rest of the cast was masterful in showing their irritation with him. My years on Family Matters were some of the best years of my career.
Can you tell us a bit about Divided We Stand? What are some highlights from that time?
Divided We Stand was a comedy trio working out of The Improvisation in New York in the early seventies. I had been writing for the trio. They disbanded and when it was put back together I was made a performing member. Unlike other comedy performers I didn’t have a “break in” period of writing and testing material for months and months. Divided We Stand had well over an hour of stage tested material. The lines and the laughs were all there. I had seen these bits many, many times. My first time on stage was in front of two hundred people. We slaughtered the audience that night. Standing on a stage for the first time, getting huge laughs was like a drug to me. I’ve been hopelessly addicted ever since. The trio went on to appear at over four hundred colleges. We toured with a lot of big names; The Righteous Brothers, Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons, Jimmy Buffet, War, The Commodores… we performed in forty-seven states and in parts of Europe. Later on the trio became a duo, Geoghan and Fine. Marc Fine and I gave up the road and only played local clubs in New York. We were sensational. Everything I ever learned about performing comedy I learn from Marc.
You co-wrote the screenplay for the 1986 film Stoogemania. What inspired you to develop this story? Are you a big Three Stooges fan yourself?
I’m a big Three Stooges fan up to a certain point. I can watch face slapping and eye poking for twenty minutes, not much more than that. Stoogemania was made because three of the Stooges films had fallen into public domain. Someone in a studio somewhere forgot to renew the copyright. Atlantic Releasing had the idea of using clips from those films and weaving them together with new footage. My good friend Chuck Workman, who later went on to win an Oscar, asked me to write the film with him. It was great fun and my wife, Annie Gagen, got to play a role. I also got to meet and work with Sid Caesar my childhood comedy hero.
You went a little bit of a different route in 2002 with your screenplay for the independent horror film Fangs. Was this as drastic of a change in projects as it seems? What made you want to get into the horror field?
Fangs was my only horror film. Kelly Sandefur, a good friend, asked me if I would write the next film he was due to direct for Porchlight Pictures. It turned out to be Fangs.
Can you tell us a bit about one of your latest stage plays UG? What was this all about?
UG is a satire on theater. It’s been published by the Dramatist Play Service and has seen a half dozen productions around the United States. It’s a small cast musical with one set, a cave. Ug is the leader of a family of cave dwellers one million years ago. He’s grown tired of telling stories the same way every night. So he reenacts an event and by doing so accidentally invents the first play ever. A rival tribe is due to visit in days to come. Ug and his tribe decide they could be considered trendy if they performed their play for the visiting tribe. Moments later they’re at each other’s throats with rewrites and bickering during rehearsals. Rick Rhodes, a multi Emmy winner for composing music wrote the music for UG. I have the TV and motion picture rights to the popular comic strip B.C. I’m currently adapting UG as an animated feature for the cast of B.C. It’s very exciting.
What does the future hold for you? What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I’m working on too many projects to mention. I write every day whether it’s for money or not. I write for television, motion pictures and the theater. I have 8 published plays and I’m a member of the Actors Studio Playwrights and Directors Lab. I have a Drama Desk nomination for a play of mine that ran off-Broadway in New York for two years. I always like to point these things out because I never got more than a ‘C’ in English in high school and no one at my high school (Christopher Columbus in the Bronx) would let me write on the school paper because of my poor grades. But my high school did me a favor. It taught me to trust myself and to have the courage to move ahead even when I didn’t have support from “experts.”
What was the last thing that amde you smile?
Little kids make me smile. I have a cat at home that’s hysterical. My wife and daughter always make me smile.