With another Writers Guild strike looming, I thought I would add one more day to my Sitcom Room seminar next weekend. I’d give all the participants signs and have them march around the hotel.
One byproduct of a writers strike is that studios may shoot existing scripts but may not change them. So jokes can’t be fixed, lines can’t be tailored to actors, locations can’t be changed (too bad if an exterior gets rained out – you can’t move inside to a new location), and special effects have to be executed just as described (whether they’re possible or not).
In 1985 there was also the possibility of a work stoppage. Back then our contract ran out March 1st, which was idiotic. We’d strike right as the TV season ended. So we’d be out for four months before the producers even knew it. All signs pointed to a peaceful resolution so life went on as planned. NBC asked for a last minute additional episode of CHEERS and David Isaacs and I were asked to write it. There was a big time crunch, the show needed to start filming the following week, so we had three days to write the script. The idea was we’d bang out a draft, turn it in on Friday, we’d all polish it on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday it went into production.
We turned in the script on Friday afternoon and on Saturday negotiations blew apart. An immediate strike was announced.
So now they had to film our very first draft, as is, no changes. This was the first BAR WARS episode. Needless to say, show night was one of the most terrifying nights of my life. I thought, “this is where we’re discovered as frauds”. Amazingly, the show played well. Not as well as it could have, don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of places where jokes could be improved and turns could be better finessed. But on the whole the show worked and there was no noticeable drop in quality.
I’m sure several writers find themselves in that spot today. The lesson here is that even if you’re only given three days to write a whole script, don’t just knock it out. Give it your best, treat it with the same care and hold it to the same standards you would anything bearing your name. Because you never know.
And the good news is, for maybe the only time in your career, the actors will HAVE TO say your words, as written. It’s almost worth taking the assignment just for that.