BOOK REVIEW: Life’s Work, by David Milch


The work of life is a memoir by famed television producer David Milch, which counts Blue NYPD and dead wood among his credits. Milch’s story also touches on his considerable vices, including drug addiction and gambling. It’s a quick read, at 276 pages, and much of the book plays as if Milch is sitting next to you on a park bench. , sharing his life story.

Milch grew up in Buffalo. His father was a surgeon who dabbled in organized crime, sometimes operating on wounded mobsters. He was also a violent alcoholic and his son turned to alcohol very early in his life.

Milch’s best friend growing up was a child named Judgy, and his father was also an abusive alcoholic. Judgy did not live long, dying in a drunk driving accident while in college. But it appeared in Milch’s work at various points in his writing career.

This career began as a novelist. Milch studied at Yale, where his teachers included Robert Penn Warren, and his classmates were President George W. Bush and John Kerry, Bush a fraternity brother. Drugs and alcohol were avidly consumed by Milch.

Milch then went to graduate school at the famed University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where his teachers included Kurt Vonnegut. The addiction to heroin and alcohol continued and he drove his teachers crazy. While in Iowa, Milch was also involved in an illicit business involving the manufacture of acid.

Milch ended up in New Haven again at Yale Law, but was drunk most of the time and his heart was never in it.

Her first novel found a publisher but did not sell well, and Milch tried writing for television. He landed at Hill Street Blues in 1982, and learned the tricky trade from some masters.

Its spin-off Beverly Hills Buntz didn’t last long, but Milch and actor Dennis Franz moved on to Blue NYPD. On this project, Milch became close with Bill Clark, a New York detective who consulted on show scripts and remained close to Milch for much of his remaining life.

Blue NYPD gets a good portion of the book, and Milch shares that Franz’s Detective Cipowiz was based in part on his father.

Milch spent more and more time and money at the racetrack and said he bet a million dollars in a day – more than once.

He holds a string of big TV jobs despite his addiction to drugs and alcohol, and trips to the racetrack that involve frighteningly large bets. He shares his work after Blue NYPDincluding South Brooklynand shows that have not aired, including Big Apple and something called John by the way and his friend Tex. He also talks about the friends (Henry Winkler, Ed O’Neill) and enemies (Leslie Moonves) he has made in Hollywood.

Milch later launches a series on HBO detailing Christianity in ancient Rome. It reminds HBO execs of another ongoing project on the network, so Milch pivots and comes up with a Western set in the 1870s with a similar theme. dead wood was born.

He finds the project very satisfying, but is heartbroken when it is canceled after three seasons.

After it’s a bizarre surf drama John from Cincinnati. It launches on HBO from Sopranos series finale, but only lasts ten episodes.

Milch also talks about his doomed HBO series Chance, which aimed to make sense of the creator’s time on the racetrack. “The hope in this work, not fully articulated but nonetheless moving to me, was that through art my experiences on the track would be transformed, would come to mean something new,” he writes.

Chance had Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte in the cast, and Michael Mann on the executive producing team, but three horses died over the course of two production seasons and the project was scrapped.

Around the same time, Milch and his wife received a call from their business leaders that his gambling had plunged the family into a deep hole.

Needing to get back to work, he pitched HBO a series about a Murdoch-esque family called money, which had Brendan Gleeson, Ray Liotta and Nathan Lane in the cast. It never saw the light of day, although Milch acknowledges that another series detailing a Murdoch-type family, Successionachieved great success years later.

Amid his family’s dire financial situation, Milch receives a $40-a-week allowance. He is later diagnosed with dementia, which severely limits his ability to leave the house.

Other projects, bearing the titles Big city and Shadow Countrydon’t overtake the pilot either, but Milch was happy to get back on dead wood for a final film, which will be released in 2019.

He moved to an assisted living facility the same year. “It’s awful to be paralyzed like this,” he wrote. “Boitillé. It’s a hobble. It’s an accumulation of the ineffective. I don’t remember what I wanted to do.

By the end of the book, Milch finds peace with what he has contributed to popular culture and with his growing family. It can be summed up in one sentence: “My deepest belief about me is that, if I have half a chance, I will steal your drugs and help you find them.”

Milch isn’t shy about pointing out both his flaws and his attributes, including his generosity to staff writers, crew members, and those looking to break into Hollywood. The book moves quickly, only slowing down when Milch offers convoluted philosophical explanations of the genesis of his various shows.

It’s a testament to Milch’s talents that he has risen so high on TV, despite his addiction issues. One can’t help but wonder what he could have accomplished without those vices that held him back. ■


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