After a New York screening Wednesday previewing the upcoming Season 2 of Borgia: Faith and Fear, available in the U.S. on Netflix, series creator Tom Fontana and I had a quick chat… about Borgia, about Netflix, about the status of the DVD release of St. Elsewhere, and about slipping a very sneaky in-joke Extra into an episode of his BBC America series Copper.
On how much fun he’s having writing and shooting Borgia, which for Season 2 [soon to premiere on Netflix] moved to Italy for its location shooting:
"It’s the most fun of my life. And you know how much fun I’ve had. There is just something so incredibly insane about the fact that, at 61 years old — a time when most guys my age are out of the business, and not by choice — I’m getting to do a show that I love, with actors I adore, and shooting in Italy! Okay?"
On one Season 2 premiere episode location in particular, a stunningly evocative outdoor arena, in which one character practices for a bullfight:
"It’s this ancient Roman amphitheater. They showed me the location photo, and I went, all right! Originally, I wanted to do an actual bullfight, and they said, 'Too expensive.' So I went, all right, I can do it without doing it. But I loved that location so much, I was like, 'I can’t not shoot something here.'"
On Borgia, an international co-production, being distributed in the U.S. on Netflix:
"When it first started streaming on Netflix, they did no publicity for it whatsoever. And it was very quickly in the Top 25. What happened was, it became one of those things that everyone wants, which is have people go, 'Oh, have you seen that fucking show?' And so people started watching it, and it caught on. And people were watching, like, six episodes in a row — and to me, that’s insane, but kind of great."
On the continued, frustrating unavailability of all but Season 1 of St. Elsewhere on DVD:
"You’ve got to talk to them… I think it’s 20th Century Fox. I spoke to the guy, and he basically said to me, 'Well, it didn’t sell well.' But they’re doing the same thing to Hill Street, to Lou Grant — where’s Lou Grant?"
On the hidden Extra inside the election episode of BBC America’s Copper, another current series by Fontana:
[In the episode, opportunistic detective Andrew O’Brien, played by Dylan Taylor, is working an election scam out of Eve’s Paradise, a bar. He has fake beards and wigs on hand, and offers men free liquor in exchange for voting for the candidate backed by Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall Democratic machine, adopting a new look, and new name, for each vote cast for George B. McClellan, the 1864 presidential opponent to Republican incumbent Abraham Lincoln.
When the first man approaches the bar, O’Brien slaps a wig on him, points to the shots of whiskey laid out on the bar, and tells him, “There you are. Take your free drink, courtesy of Mr. Tweed. This time your name is 'Jack Morrison.' Then comes another man, who is fitted with a similarly sorry disguise, and told his new name for this round of voting: "Tim Bayliss."
Jack Morrison, of course, was the name of the doctor played by David Morse on St. Elsewhere (above, right), and Tim Bayliss was the detective played by Kyle Secor on Homicide: Life on the Street — both of which were shows on which Fontana was a writer-producer.]
"That was an old habit,” Fontana said, acknowledging his long-standing penchant for slipping silly in-jokes into even his most dramatic series.
"But I needed Irish names — and we were having such trouble clearing names. It was really ridiculous. The lawyers were going, like, 'No, you can’t use Patrick Kelly, because there’s a Patrick Kelly living on 42nd Street. And I’m like — there are eight million Patrick Kellys, and these guys lived in 1864. So he’s going to sue us?…
"So I needed two names very quickly, and I went, 'You know what? I know those clear.'"