Tuned In: First script by local writer Peter McKay gets produced

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As first efforts go, Ben Avon's Peter McKay scored when the first script he sold actually got produced. Plenty of Hollywood writers sell multiple scripts before ever getting to see their words come to life on screen.

But Mr. McKay, a former syndicated columnist whose work appeared in the Post-Gazette Home & Garden section until he ended the column in February, gets to see the movie he wrote, "Pete's Christmas," debut tonight at 8 on Hallmark Channel.

How much it actually resembles what he wrote remains to be seen.

To sell a script to a Hollywood production company almost always requires having an agent or manager. Mr. McKay wrote an earlier script that didn't sell, but it did attract interest from a manager who would go on to represent Mr. McKay.

As is often the case in Hollywood, producers bought his "Pete's Christmas" script, he did a few rewrites and then producers hired another team of writers -- Gregg Rosen and Brian Sawyer -- to rewrite it again.

Mr. McKay, who is a lawyer and trade consultant when he's not writing scripts (he's also at work on a couple of books), said he never read the final shooting script, and, as of last week, he hadn't seen the film.

Critics received copies of "Pete's Christmas" last month and the movie is an entertaining, Christmas-themed "Groundhog Day" that finds middle child Pete Kidder (Zachary Gordon, "Diary of a Wimpy Kid") reliving the same Christmas Day over and over again.

Mr. McKay, who is married to Post-Gazette reporter Gretchen McKay, said he was inspired by an event four years ago: On Christmas morning as his 20-year-old son came down the stairs, he said, 'Merry Christmas,' then tripped on a step. The day after Christmas, Mr. McKay was sitting at the same spot at the dining room table when his son walked down the stairs, said 'Merry Christmas' and tripped in the exact same spot.

"It hit me, what if you had to relive Christmas over and over again, that was the initial idea," he said.

An incident from his childhood, which he wrote about in a column, also figures into the "Pete's Christmas" plot. One year he wanted a train set but his brother got a train set instead.

"Pete's Christmas" stars Molly Parker ("Deadwood") as Pete's mother, Bruce Dern as Pete's grandfather and Bailee Madison ("Bridge to Terabithia") as Pete's new neighbor friend.

Although the opening credits for "Pete's Christmas" evoke a nostalgic, almost "A Christmas Story"-type tone, the film itself is broader and more akin to something like "Home Alone." It is not too schmaltzy, a typical trait of Hallmark films, perhaps because "Pete's Christmas" airs under the network's "Walden Family Theater" banner, which seems to aim at younger viewers who might be less willing to tolerate a slathering of sap.

"They changed a lot of the comedic aspects of the film, and they added some characters," Mr. McKay said. In his script, Pete was 12, now he's a teenager. The neighbor girl was 5, now she's a teen, too, so she can be Pete's love interest. And in his script the makeup of the family mirrored his own more closely with a younger sister standing in for Mr. McKay's real-life twin daughters.

"I knew I couldn't have twins as little sisters so I whittled it down to one little sister and they whittled it down further to no little sisters," Mr. McKay said with a laugh.

And then there's the title change. Mr. McKay called it "Pete's Repeat Christmas."

"I never would have named the character after myself except I thought the title worked well. They lopped off the 'Repeat' part so now it just looks like I'm an attention hog," he said.

Now he's interested to see how the final film turned out.

"I'm just excited to see it and my kids are excited to see it," he said. "The whole process was learning as it went along."

In the glimpses he's gotten in previews, he's happy to see that at least some elements -- including a special box that's a gift from Pete's grandpa -- survived.

"I wrote most of the movie on my lunch hours, sitting in coffee shops with my laptop," Mr. McKay said. "In looking at some scenes in the movie, I can remember sitting in Starbucks writing those exact words, hoping that the movie would be made some day, but not really believing it would ever happen. Then to see those words come to life on the screen is pretty incredible."

'Hope' springs

Fox's "Raising Hope" (8 and 8:30 Nov. 15, WPGH) returns for its fourth season with a new showrunner -- series creator Greg Garcia has moved on to CBS's "The Millers" -- but it's essentially the same enjoyably goofy family comedy it has always been.

New showrunner Mike Mariano, brother of "Survivor" star Rob Mariano (so, brother-in-law of "Survivor" star Amber Brkich from Beaver County), wrote the season premiere (he's written for the series since its start), which begins a bit more broadly than usual but eventually comes around to a more on point, somewhat unexpected conclusion that flies in the face of political correctness.

The story involves a family member from Virginia's past. In one scene the family member from the past tries to introduce the Chance family to sushi, prompting a disgusted Burt to exclaim that it "tastes like the ocean sneezed in my mouth." As delivered by series star Garret Dillahunt, it's a funny moment.

JFK memories

Sunday's TV Week in the Post-Gazette will offer a preview of some of the anniversary coverage of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in the weeks ahead, including PBS's "American Experience: JFK," which will air at 9 p.m. Monday and Tuesday on WQED-TV.

Amazon series to debut

Amazon's first two scripted comedy series, "Alpha House" and "Betas" will debut later this month with their first three episodes available free via Amazon Instant Video. After that, one episode of each show will be available weekly on Amazon Prime Instant Video, which requires a membership.

"Alpha House" (Nov. 15), written by Garry Trudeau, follows four Republican U.S. senators who share a house on Capitol Hill. John Goodman and Clark Johnson star.

"Betas" (Nov. 22) is set in Silicon Valley and tracks the lives of four friends trying to strike it rich in the tech industry.

Free 'Time of Death'

Last week in this space I wrote about Showtime's docuseries "Time of Death," which follows the final days of people with terminal diseases and their families. Showtime has now made the premiere episode available to non-Showtime subscribers on Youtube.


ABC has picked up full, 22-episode first seasons of "The Goldbergs" and "Trophy Wife" but canceled "Back in the Game." The network ordered just four more episodes of "Super Fun Night."

Lifetime canceled "The Client List" after two seasons. Deadline.com reports the cancellation was in part due to a dispute with star Jennifer Love Hewitt over the direction of certain storylines in the series.

Deadline.com reports the Kyra Phillips-anchored "Raising America" and Ryan Smith-anchored "Evening Express" will be canceled effective Nov. 18, replaced by a repeat of "Showbiz Tonight" and reruns of ABC's "What Would You Do?"

Of local note

PCN will air "Voices of Veterans" profiles over the Veterans Day weekend, including two from Western Pennsylvania: Ruth Fairchild of New Castle (1:20 p.m. Monday) and Coban Shaw of Pittsburgh (4:30 p.m. Monday).

Golf legend Arnold Palmer gives a tour of his memorabilia warehouse on the next episode of "PCN Tours" (8 p.m. Sunday and 7 p.m. Monday).

Channel surfing

Marvel will develop four, 13-episode live-action series based on comic book characters Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist and Luke Cage for Netflix. The shows will begin airing in 2015 and will culminate in a "Defenders" miniseries featuring all four characters (a la "The Avengers"). ... FX has renewed "American Horror Story" for a fourth season to air in 2014; Jessica Lange will return as a series regular. ... History is developing a remake of the 1997 miniseries "Roots." ... This week Damon Wayans Jr. returned to Fox's "New Girl" as Coach, a character last seen in the show's pilot, and Deadline.com reports he'll stay with the show through the 2013-14 TV season. ... The eight-episode second season of "Lilyhammer" will debut on Netflix on Dec. 13. ... "Saturday Night Live" is a rerun this week but returns with new episodes Nov. 16 (Lady Gaga is host and musical guest) and Nov. 23 (Josh Hutcherson hosts with HAIM as musical guest. ... E! will air "Saved by the Bell" reruns weekdays 7-9 a.m., beginning Monday. ... Military Channel will air the "Homeward Bound Telethon" (7 p.m. Sunday) to benefit vets with PTSD. Alan Alda and Joe Mantegna will host the four-hour telecast. ... History will rerun "The Bible" beginning Monday at 8 p.m. ... The Fred 5K is a new run that's part of Philadelphia's Y12K Road Race, sponsored by Philadelphia's PBS station, Saturday at 8 a.m. in Philly's Fairmount Park. The Fred 5K will honor the late Fred Rogers and runners are encouraged to dress as their favorite character from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." Details at www.whyy.org/y12k/register.php. ... This week Comcast updated its Xfinity TV Player App, now called Xfinity TV Go, allowing customers to watch up to 35 live TV channels over the Internet on their Apple and Android-powered mobile devices.

Tuned In online

Today's TV Q&A column responds to questions about "Face Off," "Longmire" and "Lucky 7." This week's Tuned In Journal includes posts on "Arrested Development," "Agents of SHIELD," "Killing Kennedy" and "The Greatest Event in Television History." Read online-only TV content at post-gazette.com/tv.

This week's podcast includes conversation about "Dracula," "The Returned" and "The Good Wife." Subscribe or listen at http://old.post-gazette.com/podcast.

TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook for breaking TV news.

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