I'm off to Chicago for the night. My daughter Annie is the head sketch writer for the big annual Nortwestern student produced revue (the Waa-Mu Show). All of Evanston is buzzing about it.
In the meantime...
Got an email from Jamie Frevele, a new friend I met after she wrote a piece on the HuffingtonPost ripping my AMERICAN IDOL recap from last week. In her email she asked some great questions that I thought would make a nifty post. If you have questions send ‘em in. Happy to answer whether I know what the hell I’m talking about or not.
Do sitcom writers ever look at writing episodes as if they're one-act plays, just with the same characters? And do any of them have theater backgrounds?
I can’t speak for all sitcom writers but for myself, depending on the show, I will think of a multi-camera show as a one-act play. FRASIER for example. To me that show was as good as anything on Broadway. And when I was writing it I would imagine the live performance night, not the edited version ultimately shown on TV.
CHEERS was a little different. I always thought of CHEERS as a radio play. Director James Burrows used to say you didn’t have to watch CHEERS to enjoy it. You could derive a lot just by listening to it.
Many television writers – comedy and drama – come from a theatre background. From Aaron Sorkin to Joe Keenan. There’s no greater training ground. Which is great because in most cases there’s also no money.
Who was your favorite character to write?
I loved Hawkeye but if I had to choose one I’d say Frasier Crane. Especially when he was angry. It was like writing an intellectual Daffy Duck.
What show do you wish you could still write for?
I always loved writing CHEERS. David and I wrote 40 episodes over the years and I never tired of writing it. The characters still could surprise me. I loved writing MASH but in my heart of hearts I knew that on my best, most inspired day, I could still never write the show as well as Larry Gelbart. Even today after many more years of experience under my belt.
Which show would you want to write for now (whether you feel it's amazing and you want a piece of it or because you think it's godawful and needs help)?
I would never want to write a show I didn’t like. If it’s too hard to even watch it, I sure don’t want to subject myself to writing it. There are series I WISH I had written for. TAXI, SEINFELD, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. But among current shows, at this point, I would want to stretch myself and try something new. Maybe one of the hour dramas. I don’t want to say which ones because I don’t want it to seem like I’m trolling for an assignment.
Same for directing, although I’d want it to be a show where I feel I personally could really make a contribution. Oh who am I kidding? I’d love to do THE L-WORD.
And what is your feeling on hour-long "dramas" that incorporate as much comedy as a sitcom (like Bones, Ugly Betty, Ally McBeal being one of the first)?
Fine if they’re genuinely funny. Some of the biggest laughs I’ve had this year have come from HOUSE. When patients aren’t coughing up their livers or bleeding from their eyes it’s really quite amusing.