Wednesday, July 26, 2006

My worst script

In 1993 my writing partner, David Isaacs and I did a short run series for CBS called BIG WAVE DAVE’S starring Adam Arkin and David Morse. It ran that summer, got 19 shares, kept 100% of MURPHY BROWN’S audience and was cancelled. At the time CBS had starring vehicles in the wings for Peter Scolari, Bronson Pinchot, and the always hilarious Faye Dunaway so they didn’t need us.

We were given a production order of six with three back-up scripts. We assigned the first two back-ups to our staff and planned on writing the third ourselves. When the show was cancelled we put in to CBS to get paid for the additional scripts. They said fine, but we had to turn in the completed scripts. Gulp! That was fine for the first two scripts because the writers already had drafts. But all David and I had was a title, “Marshall’s Brother” (Arkin was Marshall).

We normally write scripts by dictating them to our assistant. (Lots of advantages to this rather weird method which I can discuss in a future post.) Having done this for so long we can usually write a half hour episode in three to five days. We called our assistant into the office and told her we were going to write a script before lunch. It was 11:30.

We had one ground rule. Anything pitched had to go into the script. There was no going back, not even to clean up a sentence. We came up with the idea that Marshall’s brother (Bill) had a hearing problem. Okay, we’re not proud of it, we know it’s not very PC, but this script was never to be produced, and we had a lunch reservation. A few weeks ago I shared some of our best scenes. Here’s one of our all-time worst.

BILL ENTERS.

MARSHALL
Hey, Bill.

BILL
What?

MARSHALL
I said hi.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
Hi.

BILL
Can’t understand you.

MARSHALL
Hello!!!!

BILL
Oh. Hello to you. How you feeling?

MARSHALL
Fine.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
I’m fine!!

BILL
Where’s Karen?

MARSHALL
In the back.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
In the back.

BILL
In the sack?

MARSHALL
No. The back room.

BILL
Why is she sleeping so late?

MARSHALL
She’s not in bed.

BILL
She hurt her head?

*******


And so on for 42 of the most rotten pages in comedy writing history.

We finished the script in about 17 minutes, turned it in, got paid, but deep in my heart I know – one day, thousands of years from now, long after some global thermonuclear disaster, someone will discover this vault, open it, and the only thing left of my work, my one lasting legacy, will be the “Marshall’s Brother” episode of BIG WAVE DAVE’S.

I wish now we had taken our time and finished it in 23 minutes.

7 comments:

Julie W. said...

Are you sure you didn't write that scene for "Gilmore Girls?"

VP19 said...

That story reminds me of when Frank Sinatra, near the end of his run at Capitol Records (he was chomping at the bit to launch Reprise, his own label), still had some obligations to record an LP for Capitol, this one called "Sinatra's Swingin' Session." Not in the best of moods due to all the litigation, he went into the studio over two days or so and cranked out a number of super-quick tunes, a majority of them under two minutes long, then released these 12 songs on an LP that registered less than 30 minutes. It's not one of his greatest albums by any means, and though it sounds hurried, it isn't quite slapdash. Something that just came to my mind.

BTW, there's nothing inherently wrong with fast dialogue, as anyone who's watched "His Girl Friday" can attest.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I thought I might have one of the unproduced scripts, but it turns out it was number 5 (by Levine and Isaacs from a story by Staley and Long).

I once had a series (here in Holland) cancelled after the second season was ordered. We were allowed to bill three episodes, which we have to give titles for bookkeeping purposes. The first one was called "They Killed Our Baby"

Stephen Gallagher said...

I wouldn't have been surprised to hear that they also insisted on giving you notes.

Julie O. said...

Ages ago, we took Grandma and Pop-Pop out to Steak & Ale for their umpteenth anniversary...

GRANDMA
Yup, we're getting old.

POP-POP
What? You're cold?

Love it when life imitates cheese.

DrBear said...

You probably would have got a note back from Standards and Practices: "Please remove all references to the brother's hearing problem."

It's still better, based on your brief excerpt, than any random episode of "According to Jim."

Cage Free Brown said...

what?