Here are some Friday questions to take your mind off the six feet of snow you have to shovel.
Ref wants to know:
Mine is more general. Are actors who gain success in a certain role usually typecast by their own choice (Comedy's easy for me, so I'll stick with them) or is it done to them ?
An actor never chooses to be typecast. Being a breakout character can be a blessing and a curse, especially for a character actor. Jamie Farr is so identified with Klinger it’s hard to imagine him not in a dress.
Some actors have a schtick and are able to keep getting part after part doing the same thing. Paul Lynde springs to mind. So does Ben Stein.
There’s also the problem that some actors just don’t have much range. It’s all the more reason I admire Ted Danson. After CHEERS he decided he didn’t want to forever play that Sam Malone character. He took the part of Becker precisely because it was so different from Sam. The actor always runs the risk that (a) he won’t have the chops to pull it off, and (b) the audience won’t accept him in a role that’s such a departure. Ted took that gamble and it paid off handsomely. He was fabulous as Becker. And recently as a villain on DAMAGES he was equally surprising and riveting.
Is there an etiquette among scriptwriters, both inside and out of the writers' room, of how to let your colleagues know that you don't get the joke, or even worse that you get it but you think that it stinks? Or does everyone else just quietly move on and let you work it out for yourself? And is there a further etiquette for when you think that you've just come up with the funniest line ever, all these other fools want to move on but you refuse to give up so easily?
Each showrunner is different of course, but I’ve always tried to be as diplomatic I can when rejecting a pitch. I’ll say stuff like, “Yeah, it’s getting there” and “it’s funny but I’m not sure it’s right.” If you really shoot the writer down you run the risk he’ll clam up and then he’s worthless to you. On the other hand, I know showrunners who rule strictly by fear. You pitch something he doesn’t like and he’ll take your head off. You might say, don’t they realize they’re only stifling creativity and shooting themselves in the foot? And I would say, yes, but they’re assholes. I’m lucky. I’ve worked for showrunners who had their quirks and I wanted to kill them but I’ve never served under one of these tyrants.
There was a showrunner who would say, “How the fuck is that funny? Explain to me how anyone is going to laugh at that.” Needless to say the writers’ testicles retreated so far up his body he needed tweezers to find them.
Comedy writers need to develop a thick skin and often times showrunners are under tremendous pressure so they may not be as gracious as you would like. But I’ve always felt one of the showrunner’s jobs was to create a safe fun environment in the room so every writer could produce his best. To me it’s a complete win-win.
As for the second part of the question, this is more than etiquette. This is pretty much a RULE.
If you pitch a joke, even if you think it's the greatest joke ever conceived, if it’s rejected the DROP IT. It makes no difference if you’re right. The fastest way to get yourself fired from a show is to belabor joke pitches. You get one shot. If it doesn’t go in then move on. Don’t pout, don’t bring it up a half hour later, don’t say “we’d be home by now if you went with my joke”. And for godsakes, if the line that did go in didn’t work on the stage DO NOT say your joke would have killed.
And finally, from willieb:
This will probably be addressed in that book you're writing, but I can't wait: how did you make the transition from radio DJ to TV writer?
This answer requires a little more space. Next week I’ll do a couple of posts on just how David and I met and how we got started. I know. I’m a big tease.
What's your question?