Comedy Central's new series American Body Shop, which debuted Sunday night, likely would never have made it to TV had Sam Greene, who had the idea for the show, not decided to shoot his own pilot, stick it in an envelope, and mail it directly to the network powers-that-be.
Greene, who had spent 20 years writing spec material for film and TV but never sold a project, came up with the notion for a comedy series set in a body shop three years ago after talking with a friend who owned one. The friend suggested a reality show, but "I thought it would be much funnier to make a scripted parody of a reality show," Greene said.
However, he ran up against a roadblock right away.
"I couldn't get meetings because I didn't have an agent or a manager, and it's very hard without good representation to get in front of anyone (at a network)," Greene said. "It's hard to get people to read anything...I thought, 'I'll do this myself, and at the very least, people will watch a DVD."'
After spending some time in the shop and formulating a story, he decided to go ahead, and over three weekends shot a 22-minute pilot--putting up his own money, recruiting actor friends and crew members, and obtaining the proper equipment.
"I wore 10 different hats and called in a lot of favors just to save money," he said.
Still, he couldn't get a meeting with anyone in the entertainment business. So a neighbor suggested he "throw it in an envelope" and send it to straight to the networks, one of which was Comedy Central. Greene had mistakenly mailed it to the acquisitions department, which passed it on to development, where it ultimately landed on the desk of Lou Wallach, senior vice president original programming and development, East Coast. He in turn passed it on to Lauren Corrao, executive VP original programming and development.
Unbeknownst to Greene, the network executives liked his pilot.
"There was a combination of great development and humor, and then there was physical comedy, which isn't really on the air all that much right now," Corrao said. "It was a very good, quality pilot; there were only a few minor tweaks we wanted to make." (The pilot ultimately was reshot with the same basic story line but an almost entirely new cast; only co-star Tim Nichols remains.)
After three months of hearing nothing, Greene said he "assumed that it vanished into the black hole of the industry." One day, he was telling his wife he was done trying to catch a break in the entertainment arena and that he was going to put all his energy back into developing real estate, which he also had been doing for many years. Oddly enough, that same day, Wallach called Greene to tell him that Comedy Central wanted to develop his project.
"I thought it was a very elaborate joke," Greene said.
Corrao admitted that Body Shop probably never would have made it very far had Greene not shot the pilot.
"The thing about comedy is that ideas and concepts really matter so much less than sensibility, point of view and execution," she said. "How do you know (someone) has the wherewithal to make it successful? But (Greene) is a really bright and funny guy.
"We only learned through the course of negotiations that he had no real credits," she added with a laugh.
Corrao noted that not every aspiring writer-producer might have Greene's good fortune should they go the same route. Still, she said, she has a "no-stone-unturned mentality" when it comes to finding fresh, unique voices, pointing to the network's having taken a shot on unknowns Matt Parker and Trey Stone when they pitched South Park years ago.
Greene, who noted the irony in that "almost every agent in LA called me" after the series got picked up, still sounds a bit incredulous about it all.
"It's very surreal to me that I can throw something in an envelope and it became a series," he said. "It just shows that if you are tenacious and believe in what you are doing and hang on, it will eventually pay off."