Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Sitcom Room Report

Thanks to all who participated in and survived the Sitcom Room (or, as the Hilton hotel had posted on our meeting room door – Sitcon Room). I’m sure some of the students will be commenting. I heard a number of them mumble something about revenge.

But it was a jam packed weekend. Saturday’s session began at 9:00 AM. And. depending on the group, ended between midnight and 6:00 AM. And no, I wasn’t lecturing that whole time.

Saturday did begin at 9 with me telling them everything I knew about comedy and writing and life. Then we broke for coffee at 10. After lunch we split them up into four groups of five. Four brave actors performed a ten-minute scene that needed, uh…work. It was like sending soldiers off to combat with nerf rifles. Then the groups were all treated to network and studio notes. And good thing too! No telling what horrendous scenes these people might write without the sage guidance and wisdom of the network and studio!

From there the teams were shown their plush (actually they were) writers rooms. I circulated throughout the day and evening along with my partner, Dan. By 9:00 PM each room looked like a bomb had gone off in it – leftover food, empty Diet Coke cans, Styrofoam boxes, paper everywhere. And the smell of a take-out dinner that will remain in those rooms forever.

The teams really bonded. Imagine THE APPRENTICE if the teams were smart funny nice people instead of Type-A insufferable self involved assholes. I got the feeling that some of the students actually, well…liked each other. Even after 2:30!

Following a luxurious night’s sleep of between four and zero hours the teams re-assembled in the meeting room at 9 A.M. The actors returned and performed their rewritten scenes.

And that’s where things really got fun.

I’m happy…and relieved…and thrilled to say that each group kicked ass. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. For all I knew it could have been PROJECT GREENLIGHT: THE SITCOM. But each scene was funny, inventive, brimming with great ideas. I could not be more proud of these dedicated talented exhausted people.

They went back to their rooms to polish their scripts based on the runthrough. Most accomplished in two hours what it took six hours to do the night before.

The seminar concluded with a panel discussion. I was joined by Sam Simon (THE SIMPSONS, TAXI, CHEERS), Fred Rubin (NIGHT COURT, ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE), Marley Sims (HOME IMPROVEMENT), and David Isaacs (see my credits). For two hours we shared advice, war stories, and answered questions. Topics included James L. Brooks, spec scripts, the state of comedy, nightmare actors, the process, Q scores, animation, Mary Tyler Moore, ageism, getting started, Captain Kangaroo, new delivery systems, first jobs, Standards & Practices, the problems women writers face, viewer complaints, the GIMME A BREAK theme song, partnerships, Drew Carey, fat stupid husbands and way too attractive TV wives, the Fat Albert Show, agents, Garry Shandling, the Disney Channel, Sam & Diane, WEBSTER, fanatic viewers, and big breaks.

Thanks again to Andy Goldberg, Jeremy Licht, Kimberly Wallis, KerriLee Kaski, my esteemed panel, Dan O’Day, “studio head” Cliff Levine, Kevin Gershan, Annie Levine, the guy who set up the coffee pot, and mostly the twenty terrific students who made this weekend come off so well.

I look forward to holding another Sitcom Room seminar, although I look forward to a nap more.

29 comments:

Dan O'Day said...

Actually, the sign said "Sitcon Room." That typo plus the fact that we kept talking into our lapels convinced the hotel staff that whatever we were doing involved national security.

Sorry this is so brief. I'm writing it from the hotel parking garage; their 100% automated ticket machine won't let me leave.

The Crutnacker said...

"It felt like sending soldiers off to combat with nerf rifles."

Wow, was Donald Rumsfeld there?

Given all of the nasty comments that have been hurled Sam Simon's way in articles detailing the Simpsons Movie premiere, I'd be interested in hearing what he had to say.

Project Greenlight: The Sitcom actually sounds enjoyable. Of course, if it was done as a reality show you'd have to pick those Type A assholes, just for "creative tension".

Rory said...

Ken sounds like your idea was a success, here's to many more!

Graham Powell said...

Two notes: First, I really wish I coulda been there. Second, as a fat stupid husband with a hot wife, I see no problem with fat stupid husbands with hot wives.

Dan Kelley said...

Congrats Ken!

Could "Sitcom Room" (or "Sitcon") become the next new reality TV series?

Dante Kleinberg said...

Am I the only one who watched Situation: Comedy on Bravo? Actually, I think I might be...

Sounds like fun. If I could've rounded up the cash, I would've been there (even though I'm not a TV guy).

Ben said...

The weekend was fantastic. I had fun, learned a lot, and gained more confidence as a writer.

I'd say more, but I'm too damn tired.

WF said...

Stay with the "Sitcon" handle. You could use a "Defcon" numbering scale to rate project quality.

Tony Danza funny = "Sitcon 1"

Patton Oswalt funny = "Sitcon 5"

(Example only - I don't mean to imply Oswalt is 5x funnier than Danza)

(Even though he is)

Gail Renard said...

For goodness sake, don't get writers used to plush writers' rooms! Whatever happened to your MASH set? Seriously I'm sorry I couldn't be there... but will you be issuing this or future events on podcast or DVD? Or what about a show on ice?

Alan Sepinwall said...

As someone who parachuted in to watch the performances on the morning of day two on Ken's kind invitation, I can confirm that all four versions of the scene were really funny, and easily distinct from each other.

And in the conversation between each performance, I picked up valuable sitcom terminology like "stabbing the frog" and "Jimmy magic," so even I learned something.

Paul said...

(Executive note)

Paragraph 3 would be funnier if you changed it to:

"Saturday did begin at 9 with me telling them everything I knew about comedy and writing and life. Then we broke for coffee at 9:03."

Alan Sepinwall said...

But Paul, that note is actually funny, so I don't know if it works as being from an executive.

Anonymous said...

I was there. Dan and Ken put together a memorable event. I loved their "surprises" and it truly was inspiring.

Thanks again guys,

Mark

benson said...

Timely article on the LA Times website this afternoon regarding sitcoms and "Back to You" specifically.

Even quotes some disc jockey turned comedy writer turned baseball anncr. turned blogger.

D. McEwan said...

No Dante, I also watched Situation: Comedy on Bravo, but I'd utterly forgotten it until you reminded me. Thanks for nothing. I'll bet even the folks who did it have forgotten it. Made ON THE LOT look good, which is impossible!

Sounds like a good time was had by all.

Michael Brownlee said...

It was definitely worth the time. Thanks for all your work Ken. Pat Dan on the back as well. Hopefully Jesse will hire us all when he takes over Hollywood.

Graham Powell said...

Am I the only one who watched Situation: Comedy on Bravo?

Ha, I ENTERED it. Never heard back. *Sigh*

Rick said...

Sitcom Room was an incredible experience! It taught me a lot about the craft, but as all really good workshops do, it taught me even more about myself and how to get in touch with my inner comedic muse. The panel discussion was awesome! As I watched the five writers at the front of the room - writers who were major players in the world of TV comedy writing for the last 30 years, I truly was in awe! PBS should have been filming it!

Rick

Lizbeth said...

Let's just say that The Sitcom Room was like the ultimate fantasy summer camp for aspiring writers and/or TV geeks. No boring lectures or stuffy meetings. Just hands-on writing and useful (but still humorous) tips from some of the most respected and talented comedy writers in the biz. I loved every exhausting minute of it.

And I'm not just saying that because I haven't slept or eaten in two days.

Thanks again Ken. And thanks for calling us nice and FUNNY! Knowing how much my fellow attendees (and myself) respect your work -- that is the greatest compliment you could have given us.

The Crutnacker said...

Ken,

Can we look forward to a traveling version of this seminar? After all, it's not like any real production work happens in California.

Stratman said...

Is there any chance the scenes, before and after the rewrite, might make it to youtube?

R.A. Porter said...

Man, I'm already getting the shakes. No one's gone on a twenty-minute rant about the appropriate color for an Iguana 2000 in over 24 hours.

Ken, when you and David need to staff your next show, you're going to want all our specs, right? ;)

If not, I'm lining up behind Michael for a job from Jesse.

dukies said...

I had a great time, and not just because of the snacks and the airport nude emporium down the street.

I knew I was going to learn a lot, but had no idea it would be so much and from so many sources.

Every lecture was power packed, the Sunday panel rocked...and I'm thrilled I was part of such a great writing team.

John

VP81955 said...

Sorry I missed it -- with luck, I'll find a way to attend "Sitcom Room 2," and find a way to hone my treatment and scripts about a sitcom-writing witch and his antagonist, a know-it-all Harvard-trained showrunner...

R.A. Porter said...

For anyone interested, I've posted my final(?) thoughts on the weekend at my blog.

This was an amazing experience that I'll never forget. Dan and Ken, you did a great job putting together the weekend. Ken, you're a great teacher. Thank you.

Tom Quigley said...

" PBS should have been filming it!
"...

Naw -- if PBS had been filming it, you guys would have had to stop every five minutes for pledge breaks so some stuffy old guy with a British accent who smelled of pipe smoke and wore a wool herringbone blazer with patches on the elbows could come into the room and tell you what a good cause your dollars were going to... Nothing like seeing your hard-earned money go towards producing another special that about .0008 percent of the population would be interested in, like a documentary on the sex lives of the sand lizards of the Kalahari, or a scholarly overview of the implements of torture owned by the Tudor Dynasty (which actually, now that I think of it, probably went hand-in-hand with their sex lives)....

But seriously, Ken: Congratulations on the success of THE SITCOM ROOM (and damn the hotel for spelling it wrong!)... Hope I can take part in the future...

Jeremy said...

Had a great time performing for you all, as did Kim. Hope everyone got something out of it, besides my strong dance skills, clear inability to pleasure my wife, displeasure in seeing a gay man sweet my wife off her feet, realize I'm in fact, not banging my hot secretary, and somehow managed to chip a tooth trying to install the Iguana 2000. Am I doing it wrong? -- jeremy
ps-- pasta fasul (he exclaims)

Kimberly Wallis said...

Thanks to Ken and all of the students from this past weekend. Jeremy and I had so much fun bringing everyone's words to life and seeing the vastly different approaches each team took with the same script. So much talent in one room! It was great to be a part of your seminar.

PS
Special thanks for the scripted leg massages, they sort of cancelled out having my toes stepped on.

Dan O'Day said...

Jeremy....

All of you guys were wonderful. Ken and I marveled at the grueling task of doing four different scenes...with the same characters, but with the characters drastically different from one version to the next.

With a full 10 minutes to see each script before you went onstage.

I personally was offended when you told "O'Day" over the phone, "And those bottle caps better have integrity!"

I realize that line was written by one of the teams. But you seemed to add a little more gusto than was called for.

Underneath the roar of laughter from the audience, I could sense that they, too, felt it was an unfair attack on me.

Aside from that, though...You guys were incredible.