Tom Lynch, Creator
South of Nowhere
A Message from Tom Lynch
My good friend Travis has just let me know that today is the third anniversary of SOUTH OF NOWHERE’S final episode airing on the N ( Now TEEN NICK). It took me back to a very great place in my creative life. The series originally came to me when one of my best friends told me his fifteen year old son had come out to him. I asked my friend how he re-acted? He said he asked his son how he knew he was gay, his son looked back at his father and said “Dad, how do you know you are straight?” That simple question, it’s innocence and purity, seared itself in my consciousness and the journey started. I imagined a series where being gay was no different than being straight to the individual. I always knew that the outside social issues would have to be dealt with. I started to think of the series as a family show. What would Mom , Dad, brother, friends all think and how would they world react to a member of their community coming out? These themes had been dealt with in past series and movies. Most from a male perspective and almost always it was a “GAY EVENT”, meaning that the individual would announce their sexual orientation, there would be drama, and then a resolve either positive or negative and it was over. The Gay Event goes back into the closet.
I wanted to show a life of a person coming to terms with their sexuality in the context of youth, ( Spencer was 16 when she started to feel that she was not what was expected). Also in the context of a religious family ( the Carlin’s were Catholics, a faith that has been slow to embrace sexual orientation) and in the context of modern culture, the American high school where it’s all about sexuality. I don’t care if you are an athlete, a techno god, or a fashionista , everybody is trying to get ,or deflecting, a hook up.
I knew that I wanted to see this through the eyes of a girl. I have had success in the past in creating female characters, as I have always thought they were the smarter of the genders at the high school age. No offense to boys, I have four sons , and I tell them “Listen to the women in your life, they are smarter than we are”. I believe that the female intuition is a highly developed sense that will be correct in terms of emotional reality more times than not. This believe comes from the magnificent women I have known throughout my life.
I started to read published journals of kids who came out. What I wasn’t prepared for was the humor that some of these journals had. These were stories of making courageous choices and standing in the light . Heroic stories with great comic interludes. There were also the stories of pain. Families denying their children, ministers banishing them to hell, communities physically abusing those brave enough to live honest lives. It was here that the tone of the series started to jell. I wanted a series that showed “life in motion”. That no matter what happened , good or bad, that life goes on. No single event should define a life, rather a series of choices, reactions, mistakes, victories’ are what carve our character. I wanted a series that could reflect that. The prejudices and beliefs of all our main characters, shifted , evolved and changed over the four seasons. Mom’s prejudice and devotion almost caused her to loose her daughter, yet her humanity allowed her to contemplate an affair. Dad’s alcoholism, beautifully underplayed by Poppa Carlin, was a contrast to him trying to be a good dad. Spencer’s innocence was the gravity that allowed them to orbit around. She has no “original sin”. She was , in my mind, a great, normal , human being. No label or prejudice, just different than anyone expected. And she was okay with it, accepting of her orientation as one would be with a straight orientation
Once I understood what I wanted the series to be, I started to write the first EPISODE. It was originally titled OUT and it was one hour
The story came quickly as it was about a new start, one of my favorite themes. The Carlin family moving from the Midwest to a places that is looked at as crazy by most Americans, Los Angeles, Calif. The new jobs for the parents, the new teams for the basketball star brother, Glen ( it was originally football, but we couldn't afford to shoot football for the series and we had a basketball court at our location and it became basketball. Some choices are made for you.) New classes and a reverse prejudice for the adopted African American brother. Enter Ashley....and my personal secret.......
The great secret to the character of Ashley is that I never believed that she was gay. It was my intention to show that LOVE is stronger than sexuality. Ashley had come from a mom who was married four times, a father that had a lot of lovers , so basically parents that didn’t put to much stock in fidelity and commitment. Ashley wanted to be loved and cherished above all by someone. Male or female , I never thought was the issue, but rather the quality of the person that loved her. Her earlier relationships, except for the one with Aiden, always felt to me to have an air of desperation to them. A fix if you will to feel better in the moment but not one that was safe. When she and Spencer met, I believe Ashley felt safe for the first time since Aiden.
The writing process of the pilot owes a huge thank you to the pilot director ROSE TROCHE. She and I had met a year earlier about another project and I remembered her as being talented, insightful and fun. I called her up and asked her to read the script early in the process. She did, and we stared to talk about it over a period of about six months. She was always patient and constructive on her criticism
I remember one night I was fighting with myself and wanted to stop SON. The project was meeting resistance and people wanted changes that I didn’t understand. I called Rose and she talked with me for about ninety minutes about how important this project was and that I may be the only person that could get it made. She understood that no series with a gay female lead had been on the air, ever! I never saw that. I just saw that I wanted to tell a realistic story of high school love.
Rose, you are awesome and THANK YOU!!!!!
The rest is pretty well documented. We shot the pilot, part of it in my home, and part of it at my Church. The parking lot scene where Spencer asks Ashley if she is gay or not and Ashley replies “ I’m not into labels” ( my favorite line of the entire series) . My pastor, a Catholic Priest and one of my best friends another Catholic priest were on headsets hanging out when the line was spoken. They looked at me, and I smiled. I thought they were going to tell me to pack it up. But no, they smiled also. They knew that I was giving a voice to a segment of society that didn’t have much of one at that time.
Rose directed it and gave the series it’s aesthetic.
The series evolved with WRITER /PRODUCER NANCY LEE MYATT. Once the pilot was ordered to go to series( for future writer/producers, this is the scariest and happiest day of your life. They order the series, so your creation is validated. You are very happy for about one minute. Then, it sinks in that you have to deliver thirteen episodes over the next year and you just spent a year making one episode!!! ARGHHH!!! ) . Nancy Lee guided the stories with an air of authenticity. Her understanding of what I was trying to say and her own imprint helped a great pilot to sustain as a great series. She made me a better writer, and I am grateful.
Three years later , I am trying to do SON as a BROADWAY MUSICAL. The opening scene is a dance number of lovers in SHOWERS. The closing scene is an act of DIVINE INTERVENTION, also a dance number. That is all I will reveal.
I have no idea if it will ever come back as a movie , series, play or books. Maybe it was the time that made it so special, maybe it was the cast, maybe SON has played it’s part already? But MAYBE NOT!!!!! I am proud of the work, the people, and the cultural impact the series has made. I am most proud that it was on in the first place. Now there are a lot of gay characters on television, I’m not sure how many, if any, are the LEAD of their own series. We still live in a world with hate crimes. Kids, Religious leaders, politicians, advertisers, just about every group you can think of is still confused and afraid of sexuality. But I’d like to think not as many as before SON went on the air.
Thank you all for giving me such an extraordinary experience. If you hadn’t loved it, I it wouldn't have gotten made.
Love and Respect,
SOUTH OF NOWHERE