Off for a quick two-day trip to Gotham to speak at the Talkers radio convention. Meanwhile, here are some Friday Q’s for yous.
We all know that you've had the good fortune to work on quite a few classic sitcoms, but I'm sure you've probably done or have known other talented writers who have worked on shows that didn't work. How, as a writer who knows they're good at their craft, do you or they deal with a situation where no matter how hard they work on it, what ends up on screen will ultimately be a flop?
First, check your bank account. Food on the table is always a good incentive for staying on a bad show. It’s a tough situation, especially now since there are not many really good sitcoms out there. There are not many sitcoms out there period so you have to feel fortunate just having any job. But if you want to trade up , here are a couple of suggestions.
I would write a spec of a good show. Leave your ego at the door. Don’t think, “Well, I’m on a show. I don’t have to write specs anymore.” Yes you do. Casey & Lee went from THE JEFFERSONS to CHEERS based on CHEERS spec. And they were showrunning THE JEFFERSONS at the time.
Also, I would suggest writing a spec feature or play or novel or just anything that’s your own and reflects your sensibility. Alan Ball was an unhappy staffer on CYBIL and to keep his sanity banged out a spec screenplay when he came home at night. That screenplay was AMERICAN BEAUTY.
You just have to prove that you're better than the show you're on.
I've read one of Bea Arthur's beefs with the Golden Girls writers was that they'd put too many timely cultural references into the scripts, which would therefore hurt it in reruns (i.e., jokes about Miami Vice or Hunter or Ronald Reagan, etc). As a writer, how much did you think about things like that?
I think about it a lot. Current references can kill a show’s long term prospects. The classic example is MURPHY BROWN. Dan Quayle jokes? Phil Rosenthal, creator of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND had much better foresight. He made sure that there were no topical references in his series. I think RAYMOND reruns will be around forever. (It also helps that it’s a great show.)
I think one of Bea Arthur’s GOLDEN GIRL complaints was that not only were there too many modern references, seven-out-of-ten were Willard Scott jokes.
On CHEERS we sort of straddled the line. As a contemporary show we needed to pay some heed to the world around us but not be so specific that the gags would become anachronistic by June.
But it’s a double-edged sword. What makes some shows seem fresh and edgy is that their humor is up to date and topical. 30 ROCK springs to mind. But there may be a price later.
Meanwhile, on MASH we constantly sprinkled in references to 50s pop culture but what the hell? They just gave the show a richer texture and sense of time & place. Plus, who wouldn’t howl at a good Adolphe Menjou joke?
I assume you came up with the "Cheers" name for the bar and the show. So who owns the "Cheers" logo? Do you have a piece of it? Do you (or DID you) get revenue every time it was reproduced?
I did not come up with the “Cheers” name. Glen & Les Charles and James Burrows did. I don’t know what the royalty situation is but I suspect they and Paramount Television own the license and logo. I wanted to call the bar “Shit Face”. In hindsight they were right to pick the name they did, although it took me years to realize it.
David (not Isaacs) asks:
Who's the most beautiful actress you`ve written for as (a) a series regular and (b) a recurring character?
Are you kidding me? How suicidal do you think I am?
Please leave your questions (that I can answer without getting in massive trouble) in the comments section. Thanks.