That's the look. "The Stare". If you're a sitcom showrunner or producer with responsibility, this is you starting today. Until the wrap party you will have that "Village of the Damned" glassey eyed stare. (I imagine the same is true or worse in drama but my only personal experience comes from half hour comedy.) Any writer who has been on staff knows what I'm talking about. The holidays are over. The rest of the season awaits.
Here’s the timeline for a 22 episode full season. The staff assembles right after Memorial Day. The first few weeks are breezy, long lunches, catching up on who got what in the divorce, freewheeling discussions about the characters, foosball, possible stories and arcs, trashing THE OFFICE because you’re not on it, and usually at 4:00 it’s time to wrap it up for the day. There’s only so much OFFICE bashing you can do.
Pre-production continues mid June. Stories are broken and assigned. Staff members go off for a couple of weeks to write their drafts. Long lunches. Much bitching about not getting enough respect from the network. In your car by 5:00.
July – the drafts come in. They all need work. “What we were thinking with half these stories?” Only weeks away from production. Suddenly the realization hits: you’re already behind. No more off campus lunches. Work begins in earnest. Scripts are rewritten. Casting for guest stars and day players begin. The network wants some stunt casting. You inquire about Denzel Washington and wind up on your knees to Urkel. You have conference calls with your stars (who are in Hawaii) filling them in on the direction of the show and holding your breath that they don’t have “a little problem” with it. For the first time you utter that dreaded sentence: “Maybe we better order dinner.” Soon you’re working till 9:00. And the actors haven’t even come in yet.
August – The actors come in. Production begins. You feel like Columbus setting out to find the new world. Hopefully you have enough provisions, won’t encounter any perfect storms, and won’t veer so far off course that you wind up in Egypt.
The first few shows go pretty smoothly. You’ve spent a lot of time on those stories so they’re in pretty good shape. Rewrites wrap at 10:00. It could have been 9:30 but there was the foosball tournament. You hear that another show on the lot is already in trouble. Yes!! This helps you get through the month.
Early fall – things start bogging down. You hit your first rough script. Every season there will be at least one. It’s snake bitten from the first day. And here’s the thing – you can never predict which script it will be. Rewrites every night till 2. You look at the production schedule and for the first time that season think to yourself, “How will we ever make it?” You will forget that you asked that same question every year and every year you DID make it. But you set a goal. Just get to Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving arrives. You get a four day break. And you know you only come back for a few weeks until the holiday hiatus. Those December weeks are filled with parties, gift exchanges, calls from your travel agent, and three of the sloppiest rewrite nights of the year.
The Christmas hiatus. Usually two weeks. Sometimes less. And sometimes you have to write a script over the break (which you generally put off until after the Orange Bowl halftime show). Two weeks of relaxation, recharging the batteries, and hearing your relatives rave on and on about THE OFFICE.
And that brings you to today. It’s over. The hiatus, the Rose Bowl, even the cousins from Mizzou. The ship sails on. And it’s the last reel of MASTER & COMMANDER. You’re in now for that last long haul. Three months. No real holidays. In fact, no weekends off. You’re out of stories, have to slap them together in a day, gang bang scripts, one of your stars breaks his leg, the post production lab goes on strike, and that’s when you develop “the Stare”.
You’re past fatigue, you’re past fear, you’ve taken up smoking (because you’ve heard good things).
These next few months will seem overwhelming, impossible, back breaking. But the shows will get done. You will hit land. There will be hugs, speeches, and a gag reel.
And by next June you’ll be ready to start it all over again.
And here's the good news that you won't believe today but you will this March. Along with "The Stare" usually comes some of your best work. You won't know how, you won't even remember doing it, but you'll screen those last few shows and be so proud that facial expressions might actually return.
Full speed ahead!