John Scott Shepherd almost choked to death once while eating a steak sandwich in a hotel room.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God. I’m going to die. What a ridiculously small way to die,’ ” he says. Fortunately, the novelist and screenwriter sent the Grim Reaper away empty-handed.
Of course, that wasn’t the first time he has contemplated God. “My wife and I have a lot of discussions about the whole meaning and purpose of human life,” Shepherd says. “All those questions you want to explore.”
During a particularly tedious period in his recent writing life, when he found himself drowning in network script notes, he decided to go ahead and write about a topic that moved him. As it turns out, the final product moved speedily around town, eventually becoming the singlecam NBC comedy “Save Me,” which was picked up to series for midseason.
“Save Me” stars Anne Heche as a woman who hits bottom in her personal life, has an epiphany and begins performing wondrous acts. The pilot script attracted interest from Showtime and ABC before settling at NBC and getting a 13-episode order.
Shepherd understands that God and religion are touchy subjects for certain folks.
“I didn’t want to shoot fish in a barrel or insult anyone’s belief system,” he says. He felt a lot more at ease after the pilot tested tremendously well.
The lesson from his “Save Me” experience wasn’t exactly new, but it served as a valuable reminder to him: When you try to write to satisfy the marketplace — and react to every network script note — the results are often disappointing.
“Whenever I’ve tried to do that, it hasn’t gone well,” says Shepherd, who is also developing the pilot “Fame Whore” for Showtime. “Nobody knows what they want until they see it.”