And neither is Kal Penn but that's a different story.
The same network honchos who said multi-camera sitcoms were a tired obsolete format are now heralding them as the savior of comedy. What a difference two years of no new hits, a failed economy, and the BIG BANG THEORY can make. This pilot season is loaded with standard traditional (formerly tired, obsolete) multi-camera comedies. Suddenly family shows, workplace shows, and buddy comedies are fresh instead of hackneyed. Makes you wish you saved those bell bottom pants, huh?
As I’ve said often on this blog in between AMERICAN IDOL recaps and Natalie Wood tributes, with rare exceptions every great enduring American sitcom has been multi-camera – from I LOVE LUCY to THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, BILKO, the HONEYMOONERS, the MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, ALL IN THE FAMILY, MAUDE, ODD COUPLE, BOB NEWHART SHOW, TAXI, CHEERS, FRASIER, FRIENDS, RAYMOND, to SEINFELD.
It’s not the number of cameras. It’s the quality of the execution. It’s the writing.
But that’s not why they’re once again in vogue. It’s because they’re CHEAPER. They cost less to produce than single-camera shows like 30 ROCK. Yes, multi-camera shows like BIG BANG THEORY and TWO AND A HALF MEN get ratings (despite networks’ earlier insistence that they no longer would) but that’s just gravy. THEY’RE CHEAPER!!!
Networks now contend that in these tough economic times viewers once again have an appetite for comedies. That doesn’t explain why they also had a healthy appetite for them in the prosperous 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s but still. We’ll take whatever rationale suppliers have for commissioning comedies. People want to laugh during El Nino years – sure.
My very best wishes to all the young writer/producers who have multi-camera pilots under consideration. I hope you create the next great wave of comedy. I hope you bring fresh voices to the table and introduce us to new hilarious worlds. But I offer one piece of advice. And this is from a guy who’s ecstatically happy with his current job hosting baseball shows on that cutting edge of technological communication, AM radio – multi-camera shows are hard to do. Harder than you think. And there have been very few opportunities for young writers to learn how to do it. But there’s good news. The writers who DO know how to do it? They’re still alive. They’re still out there. They’ve written and produced all those great shows that inspired you to want to be a comedy writer. They’re now at Starbucks. They’re the men and women in the corner saying, “Fuck that Brett Butler!”
Hire one or two of them.
You don’t have to hire them all. You’re going for a new attitude, a different tone. Which is great. It’s what you should be doing.
When you and your young staff are at a runthrough and something doesn’t work can you identify just what that something is?
And how to fix it?
Can you and your young staff rewrite an entire script overnight?
Can you come up with that big joke at 3:30 AM that gets you out of the act?
Do you know how to deal with temperamental actors? (“Fuck that fill in the blank!”)
If you know your show is going to be long can you watch the quad split and know if you have the proper coverage to make the necessary lifts?
Can you budget your time between the writing, editing, casting, politics, and hand-holding required to turn out 22 episodes in about 30 weeks?
Can you get a tee-time at Riviera?
The experience these “veterans” provide will prove invaluable. And the Brett Butler stories alone will be worth their hire.