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Saving Zero: Hiring Misty Horse Play

Dan Burns and BenBy Dan Burns (read the full Saving Zero series as we are running it here.)

With two percent of our kids on the autism spectrum, a million down and more to come, we are challenged to answer two questions: How is the autism epidemic reshaping our lives? And what can autistic kids, teens, and adults give back to the communities that support them? That is the subtext, the challenge underlying the TV series I and my colleagues Sandra Williams and Robert Reynolds are writing, “Saving Zero.” – Dan Burns.

Logline: A retired gay dad, founder of a Texas ranch for autistic young adults, takes on a charismatic and possibly pathological teen. 


(With a nod to Aaron Sorkin)


ANGELA, SLOOPY, NATE, ARTIE, AND JOSH are seated around the kitchen table, organizing the evening tasks.

ANGELA: OK, staff. Whadda we have to get done before dinner?

SLOOPY: Neurotherapy. I’ll work on Annie’s performance anxiety.

NATE: Round up the chickens and the goats.

ARTIE: That’s Annie’s job.

SLOOPY: She’ll be in neurotherapy.

NATE: We gotta feed the horses.  And mount the video camera.

ANGELA: I’ll put Hamster on the horse chores.

NATE: No. He chokes. Can’t stand the smell of manure. Pulls his T-shirt over his nose.

ARTIE: He's a sweet guy.

NATE: He chokes.

ARTIE: He'll learn the job.

NATE: No he won't. You know why?


NATE: Cuz he chokes.

ARTIE: I saw Hamster carry a sack of horse feed to the truck.

ANGELA: Dinner is in an hour. I’d like to move this along.

NATE: You know what, Artie, when my stable boy Jess was workin’ for me, like Hamster DOESN’T, he pretty much had to carry the feed sack THROUGH the manure to the horse stalls.

ANGELA: Moving on …

SLOOPY: I once carried a 60-pound sack of feed to the stalls all by myself. Through the manure.

NATE: I’d like to go back to the chickens.

JOSH: (to Angela) You fired Gretchen, didn’t you.

ANGELA: No, she quit.

JOSH: Why?

ANGELA: Because she’s a no-good liar. And she badmouthed me.

JOSH: That’s why she quit?

ANGELA: Yep. After I fired her.

MISTY (from the common room): Miss Angela, there’s a naked man on the TV!

ANGELA: Josh, take the meeting.

Angela hurries to the common room.


MISTY, mid-twenties, inexperienced but well organized, is applying for the role of Ranch Director, replacing Gretchen.  Misty intends to bring order to the ranch and enforce state standards so the group home can qualify for Medicaid funding.  She sees the world in black and white. She’s sitting with her back to the TV, trying, unsuccessfully, to ignore a male stripper.

ANGELA: I apologize for Zero’s stunt. He’s a new resident.

MISTY: I see this as a case of oppositional defiance disorder. With a little narcissism mixed in. I read about it in my graduate...

ANGELA: (interrupting) Looks like gay porn to me. (yelling to next room) Zero!

ZERO (yelling from his room): Wong thumb dwive!

Angela turns off the TV.

ANGELA: (to Misty) You look a little nervous.

MISTY: This is my first job interview. I just graduated from St. Ed’s with a Master’s in . . .

ANGELA: (interrupting) Fine. Let me ask you some questions.  What are your favorite activities?

MISTY: Beg pardon?

ANGELA: Where are you strongest? Horses? Creative arts? Horticulture? Your strengths.

MISTY: Oh, I’m good at regulations.

ANGELA: OK. Let's talk about relationships.

MISTY: I said regulations.

ANGELA: I heard you. Relationships.

MISTY: We could talk about medication schedules.

ANGELA: (sarcastic) Oh you're pretty strong in medication schedules, are ya?

MISTY: Not as strong as regulations, but...

ANGELA: Name three things the ranch needs to do to get more residents.

MISTY: (getting up) I could come back later.

ANGELA: Three things.

MISTY: Could I get another question?

ANGELA: Sure. After you answer the first one.

MISTY: What does the ranch need ... Oh gosh ...

ANGELA: Three things.

MISTY: (stands up) Miss Angela, I would be great at this job. I grew up in an orphanage. With nuns. I’m a single mom. I have three kids, all daughters, one adopted, one autistic. I got my master’s degree from St. Ed’s in group home administration. I know the Texas state rules as well as I know the Bible and I know that rules aren’t enough. Unless you’ve got the spirit, you’re running a prison. I’ve read your blog. You’ve got the spirit. And in spite of your problems – no, BECAUSE of your problems -- there’s not a place in Texas I’d rather work than here.

Angela raises an eyebrow.

MISTY: What do I have to do to convince you?

ANGELA: Just name three things.

MISTY: Find jobs for the kids.

ANGELA: Yes. Good start.

MISTY: Get rid of the junk food in the fridge.

ANGELA: Dream on. One more.

MISTY: (pause) Tell Zero to shape up or ship out?

ANGELA: Excellent! Welcome to Hope Ranch.

Angela leaves to rejoin the staff meeting. Misty does a victory dance.


The horses are getting out at night.  How?  Nate and Hamster are preparing to mount a security camera that will monitor the horse stalls.

NATE is wearing a cowboy hat. He’s carrying the CAMERA and a MONITOR.

NATE: Who lifts the latch?

HAMSTER: The film’s the catch. We’ll snag the blackguard, boy or beast.

NATE: I bet on the beast. Horses are smarter than people. Like Will Rogers said ... (Nate pushes his hat back and strikes a Will Rogers pose, chewing gum and scratching his head) “Ever hear of a horse goin’ broke bettin’ on people?”

Hamster nabs Nate’s cowboy hat.

HAMSTER: Or how about this one? (imitating Will Rogers)  “A fool and his money are soon elected.” Ha!  (chokes and coughs) Stink patty!

NATE: Some cowboy. (Nate sticks a feather in Hamster’s hat) Here. The Cherokee Kid.

HAMSTER: Much ado. Let’s revel.

Nate picks up a ukulele.

NATE: (playing and singing) Oh give me a home where the horses don't roam ...

JASPER THE HORSE (behind him) You always start that song but you never finish it.

NATE: (to Jasper, surprised) Did you say something?

HAMSTER is holding the loose flesh under JASPER’s mouth and moving his lips, a horse ventriloquist. NATE picks up the camera and moves the focus between JASPER and HAMSTER. We see the image on the MONITOR.

JASPER: Did you bring me carrots?


JASPER: Then go away.

HAMSTER: Tell me how you’re getting out.


HAMSTER: No more carrots for you then. Ever.

JASPER: I was just kidding.

NATE: Would you give me a kiss?

JASPER: Finish the song.

NATE: OK. You are such a stubborn horse.

Nate picks up the ukulele again.

NATE: (playing and singing) Oh give me a home where the horses don't roam

HAMSTER: Where the goats and the biddy birds play.

NATE: Where never is heard a bedeviling word

HAMSTER: And the staff are not carping all day.

JASPER whinnies his approval and gives Nate a kiss.

Nate sets down the ukulele.

HAMSTER: Human or horse, we’ve set the course.

NATE: Only hitch is ... where to hide the dad-blamed camera. In the hay roll?

HAMSTER: Conceal it among the rafters. I’ll get the ladder.

NATE: Will Rogers don’t need no ladder.

He picks up a rope, makes a lasso, spins it, and tosses it over a rafter. He hands the camera and the free end of the rope to Hamster.

HAMSTER: (as the Cherokee Kid) Yeeee Hah!

NATE: Climb. And don’t touch the electric fence.


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