‘Tucson’: The anecdote that became a TV show

Nov 25, 2002  •  Post A Comment

“Greetings From Tucson” might as well be called “The Accidental Pilot.”
After all, the show’s creator Peter Murietta didn’t intend to pitch a show during a meeting he had at The WB.
Mr. Murietta showed up for a general meeting with The WB’s Mike Clements and Tracey Pakosta, the network’s co-senior VPs of comedy development, in 2000. “I thought it would be a nice general meeting, and I told some funny stories about growing up with my dad,” he said. “I got a call from my agent in the car [that afternoon] that they wanted to buy my pitch, and he said, `Yes, you pitched something about your dad,’ and I said, `I was just telling stories.”’
Ms. Pakosta and her partner were smitten with the idea. “We just got to talking and he started telling us about his family life and Tucson,” she said. “We felt his family experiences [while he was] growing up were incredibly relatable. He is one of the funniest people I have ever met.”
The show is loosely based on Mr. Murietta’s life growing up in Tucson, Ariz., where the Hispanic population has grown from about 20 percent in 1980 to about 30 percent today, and on his often tumultuous relationship with his father. As in the show, Mr. Murietta’s father is Mexican American and his mother is Irish American. The comedy series is told from the perspective of 15-year-old David Tiant, played by Pablo Santos.
“I want to make a show about a family that is truthful to my relationship with my father and to relationships with fathers and sons,” Mr. Murietta said. “What I am trying to do is show the complexity of being a teenager, not the pat nature. It’s hard to be a grown-up and it’s hard to be a kid.”
The pilot was picked up a day before the upfront began last spring. One night during the pilot shoot Mr. Murietta got a hint the show would be well received. At 9:30 there were still close to 150 agents, managers and executives watching the production from the green room, he said. The show’s director, James Widdoes, took Mr. Murietta aside and said, “On the good ones they stick around and on the bad ones they go home.”
“Greetings From Tucson” is down in several key ratings demos from “Raising Dad,” which occupied its time slot last year. Season to date through Nov. 10, the show is pulling a 1.5 rating and 16 share among viewers 12 to 23, down 12 percent from last year, according to Nielsen Media Research. The show is down 7 percent in adults 18 to 49 with a 1.3/4 from a 1.4/4 but is even in adults 18 to 34 with a 1.4/5. The network, however, gave the show a big vote of confidence when it picked up the back nine episodes in late October.
Mr. Murietta, 36, is not an overnight success, nor is he the quintessential example of a struggling writer in a Hollywood story. He started his career with Second City Improvisational Theater in Chicago as an actor and writer and then moved to Los Angeles in 1993. Before his writing career took off, he spent 18 months working nearly 18 hours a day as a set carpenter for New Line Cinema, working on movies such as Jim Carrey’s “The Mask.”
“It’s a struggle to be in Hollywood,” he said. “I just kept writing and submitting scripts to people. I wrote on weekends.” He was then accepted into The Walt Disney Co.’s writing fellowship program in 1996. He has since written for NBC’s “Jesse” and “Three Sisters” and Fox’s “Ask Harriet.”
Being a Latino showrunner is significant because it has become intrinsic to his job, Mr. Murietta said. Part of his time each day is spent answering questions about what it means to be a Hispanic shepherding a show, he said.
He said he knows that the success or failure of his show could be pivotal for the future of Hispanic shows. “If I can stay on for another year, it will probably mean other networks will take a stab at a Hispanic show,” he said. “There’s a chance we will be back and a chance we won’t, and I hope if we aren’t we will still prove creatively that this can work and someone could do a better job commercially next time.”
Regardless, he knows he is now in an enviable position. “People know who I am,” he said. “I’m not a superstar. I’m not the flavor of the month, but people know who I am. I don’t know how many Latino writers there are in that position.”