A writer-producer breaks through a block with The Guest Book.
Procrastination and writer’s block can be debilitating for any wordsmith.
But longtime TV scribe and show creator Greg Garcia (My Name Is Earl, Raising Hope) has found a way to turn a writer’s worst enemies into creative gold with his latest creation, the comedy anthology The Guest Book, now airing on TBS.
A few years ago, Garcia needed a quiet place to write. So he rented a cabin in the mountains outside Los Angeles, where he could come up with story ideas for his CBS comedy, The Millers. Procrastination was no longer an option for this married father of three.
“Now you’ve got to get something done,” Garcia recalls telling himself. “You’ve spent money, you’ve made the drive….”
The problem was, he had a serious case of writer’s block. Fresh ideas weren’t coming, which can happen when you’re working on the fifth network comedy you’ve created and you’ve already made hundreds of hours of television. But, like kismet, Garcia spotted the rental house’s guest book and thought it might help get the creative juices flowing if he concocted a tale to share in it.
“I started to walk around the house and thought, ‘What could have happened in this place?’” Garcia remembers. “I sat down and started writing it.” Before he knew it, he had 30 pages. He followed suit at his next dozen writing getaways, from California to North Carolina.
“There are rental houses littered with my entries in their guest books,” says Garcia, who initially thought he might publish the tales as a book of short stories.
But then he ended up in front of TNT and TBS president Kevin Reilly, who’d bought two of Garcia’s ideas when he was president of entertainment at NBC. Garcia told Reilly about his collection of guest book stories, which he proposed turning into a comedy anthology. Reilly loved the idea and bought 10 episodes of The Guest Book for TBS, seven of which came directly from Garcia’s original entries.
Among the first season’s storylines: Jenna Fischer (The Office) uses the cabin to rehabilitate a former Klansman who has Alzheimer’s. And Michael Rapaport (My Name Is Earl, Justified), a love-struck numbers nerd, throws a party for two in hope of spending time with his office crush, Kate Micucci (Raising Hope, Garfunkel and Oates).
“I just love the show,” Garcia enthuses. “Everything — for me, at least — feels fresh. I wouldn’t have been able to tell these kinds of stories on [broadcast] network TV. It doesn’t have to end with the character having some momentous transformation. They come and go every week. You just have to tell an interesting story.”
As for the real-life guest book addiction, Garcia is still all in. He’s been known to write entries for homes his wife is staying at without him (she sends him photos for inspiration). And he travels with his own guest book. Because, he explains, “sometimes I’d get to a place and there’d be no guest book. And I’d go, ‘Uh-oh, what do you do now?’”
This story originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2017