As we hurtle into the holiday weekend and the Superbowl of kitsch – the Jerry Lewis telethon, here are some Friday answers to your questions.
What is the biggest difference (if any) between the way you shop a spec script around today and the way you did it when you were starting out?
First of all, there’s paper now, not stone tablets. But semi-seriously, the big difference is that now agents and producers want to see original material in addition to specs from existing shows. This is a big change and a big benefit to you. Producers are looking for original voices, new ideas, novel characters. You’re no longer just hemmed in by the rules of RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (although you have to show you can do that too).
You also don't have to be categorized anymore as just a comedy or drama writer. You can write specs for shows like UGLY BETTY, PSYCH, and MONK that contain both.
I would say this about new material, though. Don't make it too weird. There's a fine line between original and completely insane. Don't submit the play where the audience is expected to build a house while the actors perform in clown make-up and only speak excerpts from Hillary Clinton speeches.
Have you seen the movie The TV Set? (It's about a TV writer/creator whose dream project is turned to dreck by compromises with the studio.) And if so, how much of it rings true and how much seems exaggerated?
I have seen it. Liked it but wasn’t knocked out. It rings true at the core – ideas get distorted, you’re asked to compromise every minute – but the TV SET was so over-the-top that I felt it undercut its message.
Even the most monstrous network executive is not as relentlessly overbearing as Sigorney Weaver was in this movie. She was such a caricature that her menace had no teeth. Trust me, real network execs can be both funny and terrifying without having to exaggerate to the moon.
There were also four or five times when I thought, no writer/producer would stand for that. David Duchovny would walk in five seconds.
And the episode where the actor goes off in his own direction while the cameras are running – here’s what would really happen: The writer/producer would take him aside and say, “Hey motherfucker, if you EVER do anything like that again, I will fire you on the spot and beat the shit out of you.” Or he would just start swinging first.
As for the director, there is always a tone meeting before the shoot where the writer/producer tells him how he wants it shot. And remember, the writer/producer hires the director. He’s going to select someone he feels can best execute his vision.
If you watch the movie and just know this is the gist of what happens and laugh at the jokes you should have a good time with it. But it’s not as deliciously horrific and hilarious as it could have been. As always -- real is better.
Drive carefully this weekend.