The question I get asked most is ‘how did you come up with the idea for Bates Motel?’ To answer the question, I have to go back to April 1989. I was 13 and had just seen Psycho. It was a religious experience. I was already a horror fanatic but there was something about Hitchcock’s masterpiece that hit me like a bolt of lightening.
I realize now it was Joseph Stefano’s script. It’s safe to say Joseph Stefano’s screenplay for Psycho is not only one of the best horror scripts, it’s one of the best scripts ever written. Shortly after seeing Psycho my family took a trip to Los Angeles.
A Massachusetts native, I was excited to see what Hollywood had to offer. Like many tourists, we went to Universal Studios. While on the back lot tour, my jaw hit the floor of the tram when I saw the Psycho house and the Bates Motel in the flesh. It was like an arrival at heaven’s gates. My idea of heaven at 13 anyway. It got even better. I saw the set was ‘dressed’ because they were filming a new Psycho movie, Psycho 4: The beginning, and the original writer, Joseph Stefano, was back. The plot was intriguing, a parallel storyline that would show the origin story of Norman Bates.
I couldn’t wait and felt blessed to have touched a sliver of Psycho history. Two days later we got tickets to The Arsenio Hall show (This WAS 1989). My family took our seats behind the band AKA DOG POUND and learned Anthony Perkins was going to be the guest that night. I went crazy! After his interview, we watched from our seats as Mr. Perkins made his way through the backstage area.
A number of us called after him. I shouted ‘Can’t wait till Psycho 4!’ (I was 13, that is the best I could come up with.) He stopped, nodded to me and smiled. Most kids idolize ball players; my childhood heroes were cinematic maniacs. You can actually see The Arsenio Hall Show segment by clinking on the link below. Thank you, You Tube.
I would see Psycho 4 upon its release. While I thought Henry Thomas was fantastic as Norman Bates and Olivia Hussey was creepy as hell as Norma Bates, I felt like 2 hours wasn’t enough time to truly get to the bottom of Norman Bates’ psychosis. I figured TV would probably be better. I could sit for hours through that story. Fast forward to 2004. I was a new writer in Hollywood.
I had a meeting with Vertigo Entertainment. They were looking for horror ideas for TV. I had one. Would it be possible to tell the origin story of one of cinema’s most infamous homicidal maniacs? I laid out my vision. The vision I had obsessed over and thought about since I was 13.
The response was ‘Sure, if we can get the rights’. I figured that would a take a week.I was still a new writer. 2 years later after pitching Universal Bates Motel multiple times, I was allowed to take the pitch out. In August of 2006, I got the best birthday present I could have ever asked for. My Bates Motel pitch sold to SPIKE TV. I was finally going to get a shot at realizing my childhood dream.
I grew up Catholic, so the countless rosaries, petitions to every saint under the son and fasting at lent finally paid off. Being TV, however, the hour pilot offered an opportunity to write a 2 hour back door pilot. So, if it got made but never aired, it could be released on DVD.
I added a character, Norma’s boyfriend, Hal. Then I gave him a mistress. That allowed me the extra half hour I needed. The original draft below includes the added characters. Ironically, when Bates Motel finally aired, the extra half hour was cut, including the characters I added to satisfy the time extension. I submitted my script but ultimately the brass at Spike TV in the summer of 2007 felt the world didn’t need a Bates Motel TV series. So, as it happens with so many projects in Hollywood, the script sat on a shelf. And sat. And sat. 6 years later, A&E opted to turn Bates Motel into the series you see today. The link below is the original Writer’s draft.
It is safe to say, I could not be more appreciative to Joseph Stefano’s take on Robert Bloch’s novel. To stand on the shoulder of giants, if but for a moment, was more than my 13 year old self would have ever thought imaginable. I will be forever grateful to them, as well as the Universal Studios tram tour for planting the seed, and of course the talent coordinator on The Arsenio Hall Show for booking Anthony Perkins in April of 1989.