Festivals TV

ATX TV Fest 2018: “Nash Bridges” Writers Room Reunion

The creator of the ’90s comedic police procedural “Nash Bridges,” along with five of the show’s writers, gathered onstage at the Intercontinental Stephen F. Austin Hotel ballroom for a reunion. With film and TV writer Ben Blacker moderating, the group of creatives told stories from their time on the show, about certain episodes and about each other.

Creator and executive producer Carlton Cuse was introduced first, having a short one-on-one chat with Blacker about the origin of “Nash Bridges.” In the mid-1990s, Don Johnson wanted to return to TV and needed a star vehicle to do so. Police procedurals, while not new, were not as inescapable as they are today; they certainly never had a comedic buddy-cop bent like the show Cuse ended up creating after plenty of research.

Once they began talking about hiring for the show and coming up with a full season of episodes, the rest of the present writers joined the two on stage: Shawn Ryan, Glen Mazzara, John Wirth, Pam Veasey and Jed Seidel. Wirth had worked with Cuse on “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.” so that was a natural fit for the tone and atmosphere of the show. Pam Veasey had worked as showrunner, producer and writer on “In Living Color,” so she was more familiar with comedy formula than dramatic television, but was up for the challenge. The other three writers were relatively new to the scene when hired to write for “Nash Bridges.”

L-R: Blacker, Cuse, Ryan, Mazzara, Wirth, Veasey, Seidel | Photo by: Jackie Ruth

According to Wirth, he was unsure if the show would work, but was desperate at the time, having just had a new baby. To that, Cuse remarked, “I’ve never heard this part of the story!” Lo and behold, it did work – the show ran for five seasons on CBS. It also ended up teaching its writing staff great lessons, both professional and personal. Everyone on the panel has gone on to do great work: Veasey has worked as writer/producer on “CSI: NY,” Seidel worked as a producer on “Veronica Mars,” Ryan is now showrunner for “SWAT,” Mazzara served as producer on “The Walking Dead” for two years, and Wirth was a producer on “Hell On Wheels.”

The team seemed very close to each other, and it’s no wonder. In one story, they recalled how they referred to the writers room as The Aquarium: it had a long glass wall so they could look out, but they couldn’t leave; they would just watch the world go on around them. According to Mazzara, they once noticed a woman who was looking at them, then walked up to the window gesturing that she could see them, and they were shocked to find that anyone would pay attention. It turned out that the woman was actor Elizabeth Berkley, who ended up appearing on “Nash Bridges.”

Another crazy story involved an episode in which there was an ape that Nash and Joe (Don Johnson and Cheech Marin, respectively) had to babysit. In the episode, the ape falls in love with Nash and doesn’t want to leave when the time comes, so Nash gives a beautiful speech to the animal. The writers thought that maybe Johnson wouldn’t be happy with that story, or that he might feel as though they were mocking him, so they changed Nash’s part to Joe’s instead. Once the script went out, they got a rare call from Johnson asking to speak with all the writers – he was angry that the story wasn’t his, and he did want to do it after all, so they changed it back.

The panel did end up running out of time, so there were no audience questions, but it was arguably worth it for the reason time ran out. Cuse brought along the script and notes from Johnson’s neighbor, gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who wanted to write an episode of “Nash Bridges.” As Cuse read excerpts of it (noting that he was “very happy to see there’s no children in the room”), it quickly became clear that nothing along those lines would be able to run on CBS, but it was definitely entertaining. The story revolved around Nash’s daughter, Cassidy, getting a botched breast augmentation and wanting to marry the quack plastic surgeon. Nash beat the doctor into a coma, and even more violent and sexual twists and turns ensued. The kicker? Thompson suggested the episode be titled “Family Values,” which really got the crowd laughing. They did end up using some of the ideas in an episode that didn’t resemble the original script, giving Thompson a writing credit after all.

While it was fun to hear the writers and producers of “Nash Bridges” relive the experiences of working on the show, more than anything it makes me want to rewatch the series, a full 20+ years later. If you too want to relive the absurd cop dramedy, it’s apparently all available to stream via CBS All Access.

Featured image credit: Maggie Boyd/ATX TV Festival

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