Interview with the creator of Judging Amy and Joan of Arcadia, Barbara Hall
Since relocating to Hollywood from her native Virginia in the early 80s Barbara Hall has written for or co-produced successful shows such as Family Ties, Newhart, Chicago Hope, Northern Exposure, I’ll Fly Away, and Moonlighting; more recently she’s created and produced the popular and critically acclaimed series Judging Amy and Joan of Arcadia; she’s also published seven novels (an eighth is on its way any minute) and written and recorded several records, both with her band, The Enablers, and on her own…
What have YOU done lately?
Hall recently slowed down just long enough to speak with BustedHalo about everything from television writing and poetry to physics and faith before. She then dashed right off again in order to keep her mortal enemy, downtime, at bay. Hall was last spotted leaping tall buildings in a single bound…
BustedHalo: What struck me first about your background is that you seem to be less of a TV viewer and more of a reader. Can you talk a little bit about how you ended up working in the medium of TV?
Barbara Hall: Well I moved out here from Virginia and my sister was a TV writer. And I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet, I mean I knew I wanted to write but I wasn’t sure what medium I wanted to work in because in college I’d done everything… journalism, short stories and plays…everything but screenplays. I really wanted to be a novelist so I wrote a novel and it fell into the hands of a TV writer who asked me if I wanted to write for TV and I was 22 and I probably would’ve written for cereal boxes if somebody had given me a check, so I said sure. And then I tried it and I didn’t fall in love with it at first cause I was writing comedy and even though I really love to be funny I don’t like the format of sitcom. It’s just too hard in terms of hours. You know you work until two in the morning every night and I had no life and I didn’t like the room-writing format. So then I found drama and that felt more like what writing was to me, you know sitting alone with your ideas and then I was fortunate enough to work on such good shows that it felt like writing fiction.
BustedHalo: You’ve actually published novels as well, haven’t you?
Barbara Hall: Yes, four young adult novels (meaning teen-ager) and three adult novels and I just sold another adult novel, so I continue to do it.
BustedHalo: Can you talk about some of the themes in your novels? How do they parallel the things you’ve created for television?
Barbara Hall: The first four were basically southern dysfunction,
you know. I didn’t realize it at the time but looking back what I write about a lot are socioeconomic issues and people on different sides of the tracks and people trying to overcome the class that they’re born into. And sort of making visible or seeing the invisible class structure. The new book is about music and physics.
BustedHalo: One of the great things about the show is there is a definite fascination with metaphysical issues, when did you start getting interested in these things.
Barbara Hall: I’ve probably had a lifelong interest in metaphysics. And as a child it took the form of ghost stories and anything like that, any world behind the eyes. And then later in life I became interested in science and the metaphysical poets. I was English major and I concentrated on poetry. Metaphysical poets like Yeats got me interested in metaphysics again. And then I just picked up physics as a hobby a few years ago…
BustedHalo: As a hobby! Wow…
Barbara Hall: [Laughs] Well I’m fascinated by it. Because
I finally understood you can’t understand metaphysics without understanding physics really. And then when you start reading physics and understand that things outside the realm of possibility are entirely possible… then I just fell in love with it. And I was fortunate to be working with someone who was a physics major on Judging Amy actually. And we would just sit and have these conversations for hours on end and he’d recommend books. So that was really when I really started picking up an interest in physics, metaphysics has been lifelong.
BustedHalo: You were brought up in a pretty strict Methodist household, correct?
Barbara Hall: Yeah, but I’d like to add southern-ness because that’s a thing in its own right. I would really say the strictness of the religion had more to do with the south than it did with the Methodist church. Because I’ve since met a lot of people from Methodist churches and my brother is a Methodist minister and it’s not like that really. I was from a southern
small town; rigid thinking. There was such a social aspect imposed on it that you couldn’t separate it. Church is where everybody kept an eye on each other. [Laughs]
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