Remembering Ernest Kinoy

November 17th, 2014
Ernest Kinoy

We're sad to hear of the passing of writer Ernest Kinoy, who died on Monday, November 10, 2014 at the age of 89. Kinoy started his career writing for NBC radio and went on to write for many live dramatic television shows including: Studio One, Philco-Goodyear Playhouse, Playhouse 90, and DuPont Show of the Week. He won his first Emmy in 1964 for an episode of The Defenders entitled "Blacklist," and won his second Emmy for the groundbreaking miniseries Roots.

Below are some selections from his 1998 Archive interview:

On writing "The Blacklist" episode of The Defenders:

[The Blacklist] existed, it was still there. The networks were still enforcing it, in a way. We - Herb [Brodkin] and must have been Buzz [Berger] at the time - we sat around and we said, "let’s do one on that. Let’s do one." Now we chickened out only in one way. We didn’t make the villain a network; we made it a movie company. Because we said, "we want to get the damn thing on. The principle will be the same." But we didn’t make CBS itself the villain. I think we would have had a little trouble if we had done that. So it was a movie company.

On his involvement writing the miniseries Roots:

Stan [Marguiles] sent me the first material. He had Bill Blinn sort of overseeing the first part of Roots. And Bill was doing the very first thing, which was the Africa part before. Stan asked me to start with the capture - when he was held in captivity through the slave ship and the first year in America. So I said, "fine." They sent me the material and it’s interesting because Alex had not finished the book by then. He was still working on it and only the beginning part was actually completed. I remember seeing in the material something about the first year in the country and then I called Stan up right away. I said, "Stan we have a problem here. The material I have explains how in 1774, Kunta Kinte is in a wagon and he’s going out to put up fences around the cotton field. We’ve got the barbed wire there. He’s going to put the fences up around the cotton field." I said, "there are two problems. Barbed wired was invented in 1885 or something like that, and in that time there was no cotton." Cotton wasn’t raised as a crop until about 1810 when Eli Whitney invented the Cotton Gin. So I said, "I think you’d better get somebody from UCLA or something like that in the history department to be a consultant..." Our experience is that I think, in a way, facts in the television show may have been more reliable than they were actually in Alex’s book. But those were minor things, because after all it was his grandmother’s stories that were the important thing. 

On advice to aspiring writers:

I would say the same thing that some science fiction writer told people. The first thing you have to know is to write. That’s not as silly as it sounds. You got to do something. Write it down. The second thing is finish it. And the third is send it to somebody. The fourth is when they send it back, send it to somebody else. And then you have to think about the next thing you’re going to write. Essentially, it’s not getting caught up in the poetry, the mysticism. If you’re going to do something, do it. See what happens. If it fails, it fails. But you’ve done it. You’ve tried, and do what you like to do the best and see what happens. When people say to me how do I get things to sell, I don’t know the answer to that. As you can see from my history, I sort of stumbled into it, and then by that time you’ve got something of a record and you can go to the next. I know there are people who are tortured because they cannot overcome that first thing. I think it’s become harder than it was in my time when I started. But indeed the only thing you can do is try it and see. One of the advantages the writers have over actors and directors is you can sit home and write. They can’t sit home and act. They can’t sit home and direct. You can do it. You can produce something and even if it’s just for the neighborhood players or something you can have fun with it and do it. Go somewhere else that’s great.

Watch Ernest Kinoy's full Archive interview and read his obituary in The New York Times.

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