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Two TV shows from script to screen

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at how the programs 'That's So Raven' and 'Darcy's Wild Life' made their way into your living room.

By Marilynne Scott Mason / September 27, 2005

Ever wonder how your favorite TV sitcom got on the air? There are, of course, many different ways a show can reach the tube. But, as several new programs launch this week, we thought we'd explore how two children's shows made their way into living rooms across America.

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For one of the creators of the show "That's So Raven," now in its third season, it all began with an idea and a conversation. The children's sitcom, which airs on the Disney Channel and ABC Kids, is about a fun-loving teenage girl who sees a little bit into the future.

"Initially, a friend of mine named Susan Sherman had an idea about a buddy comedy," says Michael Poryes, a co-writer and producer of the show. "We asked ourselves: 'What is the one thing an adolescent would want to be able to do?' To see into the future! To know if you talk to that boy, that he'd be interested.... To see what is coming around the next block.... That's where it was when we pitched it."

A "pitch" is when writers talk to network programmers about their concept to see if they'd like it developed into a script. The pitch is important - it's the first big hurdle to getting a show on the air. A well-known writer has an easier time lining up a meeting. Mr. Poryes has been working in TV for quite a while, so executives were willing to listen to his and Ms. Sherman's ideas.

Meanwhile, writer/producer Stan Rogow didn't really have to sell the network on his idea for the show "Darcy's Wild Life," which debuts its second season Oct. 1 on Discovery Kids on NBC. Discovery actually approached Mr. Rogow (who also created the hit TV series "Lizzie McGuire") and asked him if he would help create a show for Saturday mornings.

Rogow came up with the idea of Darcy, a teen from a wealthy Malibu Beach community. Darcy's mom doesn't want her to grow up spoiled, living in a bubble of privilege. So she moves the family to the small, fictional town of Bailey, where Darcy must adapt to a life of fewer luxuries and more responsibilities. Darcy adjusts well, makes friends - and even learns about all kinds of animals.

How did Rogow come up with the idea?

"The origin of Darcy was really in the history of literature for young adults," Rogow says. "There are a lot of books that deal with young girls and their horses. There is something magical about that subject. I asked myself: 'How could I tell that story again and make it fresh for a TV audience?' "

Writing the script

Creators acknowledge that a lot of thought goes into crafting an appealing script, creating strong characters, and forming a storyline that holds up, episode after episode.

When both Rogow of "Darcy" and Poryes of "Raven" work on their scripts, they feel it's important never to talk down to their audience, but to speak to children honestly.

Like any thoughtful person, young or old, children are trying to make sense of life and of their place in it, Rogow says.

Both "Raven" and "Darcy" creators aim to tell stories that convey a meaningful point to kids - such as what it means to be a good person and why unselfishness makes a difference in the world. "You can make a point about friendship and honesty without being preachy," says Poryes.

On "Darcy's Wild Life," for instance, Darcy makes the most of her situation when she moves. Instead of getting angry with her mom and acting rebellious, she has a positive attitude and tries to make others happy, too.

On an episode of "That's So Raven," Raven could temporarily hear other people's thoughts. She respected her parent's privacy enough to warn them - so they wouldn't think about anything they didn't want her to hear.

The writers agree that their shows reflect how it feels to be a young teenager, but they like to get comical and downright goofy, too.

Casting call

After a script is written, it's time to cast the show. Actors audition for each role in front of a committee of writers (seven to 12 is typical) as well as directors and producers.

For "That's So Raven," casting became an important part of the process.

"When we went into casting," Poryes recalls, "[actress Raven Symoné] was so terrific, we had her read for both the [lead] and the goofy friend. The [lead] character is the natural center of the show, but we asked her what role she'd like to play, and she wanted to play the goofy friend."