Happy 90th birthday, William Froug! Froug started out as a radio writer at CBS, transitioned to television, and wound up producing some of the medium’s biggest hits. He served as a producer on The Twilight Zone, Bewitched, and Gilligan’s Island, among others. When he left production, Froug began teaching screenwriting at UCLA and authored several books on the subject, including The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter and Screen-writing Tricks of the Trade.
Here are some selections from his 2011 Archive interview:
On the secret to writing for radio:
What’s the secret? I think the secret is just keep making it up as you go along. I really do. It’s one sentence at a time. I never had an outline for anything I ever did. Ever. Just start writing. If you can entertain yourself, there’s a chance you can entertain somebody else. That was my philosophy. I kept myself amused and I’m a short attention span guy. But each sentence would surprise me. I never knew what was going to happen next, and that kept me going. If I’d had an outline I would have dropped it long ago.
On working with Rod Serling as a producer on The Twilight Zone:
On why The Twilight Zone has continued to be a popular series after all these years:
I think Rod Serling. He wrote great scripts. That’s why. Stories were great. By and large they are great.
On being the Executive Producer in Charge of Drama at CBS:
It really meant I read all the scripts for dramatic series – met with the producers of dramatic series. Let them know I was going to be reading their material and make suggestions from time to time. I was greeted like cancer, you know. The blank stares “You think you’re going to tell us how to produce our series?” I’d been a line producer. I knew that wasn’t going to happen. But that was the job. So I read their scripts. Never said a word. Never met with them. That was my job.
On why he began teaching screenwriting at UCLA:
It’s in my blood. I can’t explain that. Like what made me have to be a writer? I just knew I wanted to be a teacher. I just knew I had to do it and I love it. When I first started at CBS in radio, in the very beginning, I started a course one night a week in radio writing at CBS in one of their offices. Had about three or four people show up. But I had this urge to teach. It’s just in me. There’s no “what led me to it” anymore than what led me to be a writer.
On producing Bewitched:
I didn’t have anything to do because Bill Asher actually produced it and directed it and correctly took the credit and was married to the star. There was no role for me there, really. He just wanted somebody to be the titular producer, who he could then blame for anything that went wrong. He wasn’t interested in me as a producer. He was looking for a fall guy, basically. Because when he had battles with his wife, he didn’t have anybody to blame. Now he could blame me. That’s all right.
On his philosophy on screenwriting:
Basically, find a clear line. The key is to find a line. The storyline is king. And Page 1, Line 1 is when the story must start. You pick up the script. Page 1, Line 1, the reader has got to know what kind of story he’s getting and what kind of genre to expect. Is it going to be a mystery? Is it going to be a comedy? What’s it going to be? I called it the opening signal: Page 1, Line 1. Then you’ve got to grab the audience within the first five pages, preferably the first two. That’s very important.
Happy 90th birthday, William! Here’s to many, many more!
Watch Froug’s two-hour Archive interview here.