Writing competitions can come with a wide variety of prizes, whether it be cash or just recognition, but winning the ATX Television Festival’s Pitch Competition gave Eric Rudnick something much better — a chance at having his own TV show. The L.A.-based writer beat out hundreds of applicants to win the television festival’s inaugural competition, in which writers pitched their pilot idea to a panel of showrunners and executives, including Justified‘s Graham Yost and EW’s editor Henry Goldblatt. The prize was big, as Rudnick has been paired with two television veterans and guaranteed the chance to pitch his script to various networks, including The CW and Hulu.
EW caught up with Rudnick to find out about his show, the inspiration for his project, and what’s next.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: In your pitch video (above), you’ve described Incoming as a dramedy set at a broken-down assisted-living facility for veterans. What was the genesis for this idea?
ERIC RUDNICK: My dad lived in an assisted facility veterans for the last 10 years of his life, so I was thinking about what to write next because I wanted to have something that was unique and that I had a personal connection to. And I thought about that and it just immediately seemed like the right thing to do because it was such the right kind of mix of comedy and drama and absurdity and that was his real experience, like all those things happening from one moment to the next because it’s an assisted living facility for veterans and they’re just trying to get through. When I sat down to write it, it started to come. I did a fair bit of research, going to veteran facilities and talking to veterans and making sure that I was getting it right because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible.
As you’re writing a black comedy, are there any specific shows that you looked to for inspiration?
I think you can’t not reference the shows that you watch and are inspired by. I think Rescue Me is the first modern show, an hour-long show, where it was laugh-out-loud funny and scary and sexy and all of those things at the same time, so that’s definitely an inspiration. And also the fact that you were dealing with the subject of 9/11 and the aftermath for the fireman, that if not handled in the right way could have been a mess, but Peter Tolan and Denis Leary did such a good job and created such rich characters and relationships, that you were like I totally want to be in this world. So I think that was something that really stuck with me. And then recently Orange Is the New Black in another hour-long show that to me really nails that kind of scary, funny, sexy, weird, because it’s multi-generational. I don’t think people realize what a cross section of humanity our military is and to not show all of that would be robbing yourself of one of the key elements that makes this show so relevant and vital. We don’t see it all the time because when I just talk to people about the show, they think, “Oh, this is old people in a hospital.” I’m like, “No, these are 19 year olds, who can’t walk and still have to live their lives.”
As a result of winning this competition, you were paired with Kevin Biegel, who seems to be a perfect match for your material as he created the military comedy Enlisted. How has that helped you?
Well, what’s great about the ATX Festival is that… I enter a lot of these things and sometimes the prizes are money and sometimes you get feedback or coverage, but what Emily Gipson and Caitlin McFarland, who run it, were offering — and it’s still incredible to me — is access and people. Kevin is great because he’s made and sold shows, he’s a writer, he’s also a showrunner, he’s also a creator, and obviously he’s pitched a lot, and pitched and sold a show about the military, so he’s fantastic in that regard because he’s great with the specifics of what people know and don’t know about military when you go into a room. And the other person that they paired with me, who is equally fantastic, is Dina Hillier. She has been on the development side, she’s heard a bunch of pitches, so she recognizes all of the pitfalls that you have in a pitch that can make it less than it could be, and also recognizes what makes a good pitch a good pitch. So having what would normally be two people on the opposite sides of the desk both on your side is incredible.
It’s been two months since you won. Where are you in the process now?
What’s also great… I’m sorry to say everything is great, but it really is great, it’s exactly where you want to be. It just means that you’re doing work that is specific and is kind of guided by people who have been there. So the work that I have been doing is honing this pitch. I’m on the fourth iteration of this material, which is the pitch that I will go into an office and give. So if we’re going into a network, I’ll give them that pitch, which is me speaking for about 15 minutes about the show and getting into it a little deeper and setting up the context of what the show would be. So what we’ve been doing, the mentors and myself, is I write and I send it to them and they send me back notes, which most of their notes are completely spot on and make sense. And it’s just about having that perfect kind of balance of all the information you want to give, but still leaving them wanting more when you’re done. So it’s setting up the world of the show, the tone, what is the inspiration, why are you the person to be writing this.
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Do you have a timeframe for when you will go in to pitch the show?
We are going to talk about that this week. It’s exciting. You walk into a place where you like their shows and you’ve seen their shows and hopefully done the research and hopefully dug a little deeper into the kinds of things that they’ve done and that they’ve been doing. You see if it’s a fit. And also I’ve pitched before and I’ve never had a team like this behind me that’s like, “Go do a great pitch.” I just feel like you’re walking in — even if they aren’t physically there — like a team that makes you feel like everyone wants you to succeed. Everybody has been super gracious with me and I’ve been doing my best to turn around the notes in a quick fashion because you want to get to the next part, but you don’t want to rush it.
What has winning this competition done for you and your writing career overall?
It’s been amazing because you can never count on something like this. You just write the best stuff you can and hope that it lands with somebody, and then when something like this happens it gives you such a boost in so many ways, the confidence in yourself as a writer, the reassurance that your initial idea was a solid idea and people are interested in it. What it’s done for me is all of a sudden given me a team of people who are coaching me and getting this into the kind of shape that it needs to be because it needs to be the absolute best version of this that it can be. I always had the rap on myself that I wasn’t that great at pitching and it turns out, “Oh, you’re pretty good at it and we’re going to give you these two people and they’re going to make you explode.” I’ve been writing for a long time and I just feel like now to have the ATX Festival behind me and to have an article in Deadline and to have Entertainment Weekly call me and for people to take me seriously as a writer, there’s no better feeling in the world because that’s all you want — your opportunity.