Here’s another chapter on how David Isaacs and I began our ersatz career. In the last installment I explained how we wrote a pilot together despite neither of us having the faintest idea how to do that. You can read that post here. To the surprise of no one (even us) the pilot didn’t sell.
But it did attract the attention of an agent at a very small firm. Okay, it was just her and a telephone. And okay, it attracted her attention because David knew her daughter. But she agreed to take us on and claimed she knew people in the business. We didn’t bother asking who. It’s not like we had any other options.
We decided to take a writing class at UCLA extension. Wait, it was the UCLA experimental school, which is probably one step down from extension. Our teacher was a real character. We’ll call him Ron. He claimed he had written for BARNEY MILLER and quite a few variety shows. He was particularly proud of his comedic contribution to CHER. Those were the days before imdb. Years later when we did check all the BARNEY MILLER credits and his name wasn’t listed he said he ghost wrote the episodes. Uh huh. The thing is – if you’re going to lie, why lie and say you wrote for Cher?
Anyway, he really made his living playing in a high-stakes weekly celebrity poker game.
But his class was very valuable. We learned we had to write spec scripts from existing shows. David and I were both huge fans of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW so that’s the one we decided to write.
Ron wasn’t big on really “teaching”. If you had a spec script he would read it aloud and then we’d all critique it, which was valuable… but only up to a point.
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW was on CBS Saturday nights at 9. Believe it or not, Saturday night used to be a big night for television. Now it’s a dumping ground for reruns or burning off UGLY BETTY episodes.
Since David and I basically had no social life we got together every Saturday night, held a small microphone up to the TV and recorded on a Radio Shack cassette recorder that night’s episode of MTM. We’d then replay it several times, analyze it as best we could, and write a detailed outline. We did that maybe eight weeks in a row. And eventually patterns emerged. We figured out how they approached a story, how many scenes, the types of stories, the tone, etc.
We came up with a story of our own and were ready to write. Tomorrow: that story.