Twenty years ago, Philadelphia native Tony Sawicki crafted, wrote and produced “Under the Pink Carpet,” one of the first weekly television news programs to highlight LGBTQ-plus arts, nightlife and culture.
What started locally on Philadelphia’s WYBE MiND TV eventually moved to New York City on WNYE-TV and became a national hit. Because of his show’s success, Sawicki was given entrée into the world of Hollywood entertainment. His newest book “Danny Smashed” shows an intimate knowledge of Tinseltown, as it follows protagonist Danny, a complicated, conflicted and controversial gay celebrity down a path of success and failure.
PGN: How did the success of “Under the Pink Carpet” affect your life?
TS: Under the Pink Carpet was the ultimate learning and growing experience of my career. When I first started producing that show, I was a young 30-something who was interested in creating shock and awe television that would get attention. I was not conservative, and I wasn’t afraid because I really didn’t know any better. And so we broke many boundaries and are now credited with a lot television firsts. “Under the Pink Carpet” debuted before “Will and Grace,” “Queer Eye,” or “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” At that time, the real gay subculture had never been portrayed in the mainstream. We broke barriers. We were the first TV show in history to feature a drag queen reporter, Clover Honey — the audience loved, loved, loved her. We were the…first to question disco legend Donna Summer about her controversial comments on the gay community. “Under the Pink Carpet” was, ultimately, a great accomplishment for me. We gave tremendous exposure to LGBT artists, and we also brought an unsanitized version of the gay subculture into people’s living rooms. As a result, we are now recognized as helping to pave the way for mainstream acceptance of the gay lifestyle as portrayed in mass media. I’m very proud of that.
PGN: After “Pink Carpet,” what did you do?TS: After “Pink Carpet,” I produced a series called “Urban Animals,” which was an educational show on PBS that ran for three years and focused on animals in city environments. I am now in production on my first scripted television series, a screwball comedy, “City and the Beast.” Beginning next month, episode one of “City and the Beast” will be distributed across multiple connected television platforms (Fire TV, Apple TV, Roku, Samsung Smart TV and Sony TV). It is a hilarious show about an aging hippie guitar player who inherits a goldfish rescue. Be prepared to laugh your ass off. I also have a recurring role in director Phil Scaringi’s “Admit One,” which is a “Park and Recreation” style show that streams on Amazon Prime. I play a kooky, eccentric theatre owner.
PGN: The title of your new book is “Danny Smashed.” Who is Danny?
TS: The thing about Danny is that, like most stars, he is an enigma. On one hand you feel as though you know him, but he is complex and mysterious, and he is guarded. You always want to know him more deeply, to unpeel the onion on this flawless looking, yet highly flawed protagonist. When the book is over, even though the story is all tied up, you want to understand him more. Everyone who reads this book is galvanized by the character and tells us, “I want more Danny. I want to know more about him. You have to do another book,” which is already in the works. The other thing about Danny is that we have been very careful to avoid putting his face on the book’s cover or in advertising artwork. We don’t want people to have a preconceived notion of what he looks like. We want each reader to be able to picture him in their own way.
PGN: Tell me about writing with a partner, Gregory Mantore?
TS: While a television series starts as a fairly solo experience, it quickly escalates into a group effort. Writing a book with just one other person is actually a smaller and more intimate endeavor. We write mostly over speakerphone, hammering out plot, developing characters and creating dialogue. The creative duality has its pros and cons. The pros are that two heads are better than one, and each one of us brings different backgrounds and experiences that, combined, make the story stronger and more realistic. The cons are that we are also best friends in real life, and when we disagree, it can become contentious. There has been an evolution of our creative process, and, as we move forward, our collaboration has become more intuitive.
PGN: How did you decide to include Philadelphia’s “Gayborhood” in the book?
TS: Part of the focus in the story is about how an unrelated group of dissimilar people, and their lives, can intersect and converge. The “Gayborhood” in Philadelphia is character driven, and it is the place in the story where an interesting, colorful and amusing bunch of characters live and work. As the Philadelphia story opens, these characters are individually preparing for “Rainbow Ball Weekend,” a celebration of LGBT pride that has filled the city with anticipation and excitement. Each character has a different level of involvement and a different motivation for being a part of this event, but all of their lives collide in an explosive scene that takes place when controversial gay icon Danny Smash makes a scheduled appearance there. To me, the Philadelphia Gayborhood is the best gay enclave of any city that I’ve ever experienced. The vibe is totally unique. It is peaceful yet infused with energy; urbane, yet totally charming; sophisticated, yet friendly; steeped in history, yet completely current…. It’s even got one of the last standing independent gay book shops in the country, Giovanni’s Room, which incidentally was one of the first bookstores to carry “Danny Smashed.” The Philadelphia Gayborhood is a picturesque place to live, work and visit. Plus they have an awesome and inspiring Pride Weekend. It’s the ideal setting for a story, especially one that has a definitive LGBT component.