Friday, April 25, 2008

Lawrence Hertzog R.I.P.

Lawrence "Larry" Hertzog, the television writer and producer best known as the creator of the cult series Nowhere Man, passed on Saturday, April 19, at the age of 56. The cause was cancer.

Lawrence Hertzog was born June 25, 1951 in Flusing. He grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey. He moved to Los Angeles in 1977. In 1979 he broke into television writing episodes for Kate Columbo. He also wrote episodes of Hart to Hart. He wrote several episodes of Hardcastle and McCormick and was also co-executive producer of that show. He was also an executive producer on Stingray, for which he also wrote episodes. With Stephen J. Cannell he co-created the series J. J. Starbuck. He wrote three episodes of SeaQuest DSV and was a supervising producer for six episodes on that show.

Ironically, the show for which Larry Hertzog would become most famous did not have a particularly long run. The series originated from the soon to be launched UPN's need for programming. With only a few months to go before the new network would make its debut, UPN executive Michael Sullivan approached Hertzog about creating a series for the network. Hertzog created a show centred around documentary photographer Thomas Veil, who abruptly found his entire life "erased" and on the run from a vast, secret organisation which wanted negatives to a controversial photo he had taken. It was effectively a cross between The Fugitive and The Prisoner.

Nowhere Man was received very well by television critics, even getting a good review in The New York Times. And for a series on a fledgeling network, it got fairly good ratings. Unfortunately, there were those in leadership positions of UPN who simply did not like Nowhere Man. Worse yet, changes in the leadership of UPN would result in the decision to focus on urban comedies instead of action series as it originally planned. Nowhere Man was then cancelled after one season and 26 episodes. Despite this, through the years Nowhere Man has maintained a loyal following. It was even released on DVD on December 26, 2005.

Hertzog would go on to work as head writer on the series La Femme Nikita (which was similar in many respects to Nowhere Man in its "trust no one" premise). The final series on which he worked was the Sci-Fi Channel original Painkiller Jane, on which he was a writer and associate producer.

Lawrence Hertzog was not necessarily the most successful producer and writer in American television. With but a few exceptions, none of the shows on which he worked were smash hits. But he was arguably one of the best producers and writers in American television. Where Hertzog excelled best was writing (and in the case of Nowhere Man creating) shows that were different from almost anything else on television. Nowhere Man dealt with a man whose identity had been erased, ten years before identity theft became a common crime. La Femme Nikita combined Sixties style spy drama with the paranoia of The Prisoner and The X-Files (and Nowhere Man as well). Painkiller Jane (based on the comic book of the same name) dealt with an agent of the government with superhuman abilities who hunts others with superhuman abilities (Gil Grant of Covington Cross fame adapted the comic book into a TV series).

Of course, it was not simply that Hertzog worked on unusual shows. Quite simply, Lawrence Hertzog was also very good at what he did. Nowhere Man would not still be remembered, nor would it have been released on DVD, had it been a poorly written show. Hertzog did not simply have a knack for creating unusual situations, but also well developed characters to place in those situations. It is a talent that few television writers and even fewer television producers possess. It is then sad to know that he has been taken from us all too soon.

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