I was at some party and bumped into Allan Burns, one of the co-creators of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. It was the final year of the show (in my dream). I asked if David and I could write one of the last episodes. Our dream had always been to write a MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. He was thrilled we wanted to do one. I guess in the altered world of my dream we had a track record (or I just have the world’s most inflated ego).
Now we flash to the filming of our show. David and I are on the floor. That’s the beauty of dreams – you can skip the actual “writing” part. In INCEPTION everyone dreams elaborate action sequences and fantastical adventures. I dream filming nights.
The episode we came up with, I have to say, was pretty damn good. Someone filed a sexual harassment suit against Murray. So to prove his innocence he came out of the closet. This set up some fun reactions from his co-workers. Mary couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe she sat right next to a person for years and couldn’t detect that he was gay. Lou was unfazed. He knew it all along. Ted started asking Murray questions about what it was like. Too many questions and way too detailed to just be out of curiosity. Sue Ann came in and said something so offensive I can’t even repeat it but it did get a big laugh and clearly there were no CBS censors in my dream world.
What struck me afterwards was this: how different the storytelling is in sitcoms now as opposed to back then. No, this isn’t one of those “back in MY day we knew how to tell a story. Not like these young pissants today” rants. Just an observation. Comedies today are much faster paced. They’re usually jammed with story. Quick scenes, multiple plots. Or in the case of BIG BANG THEORY – just a barrage of jokes.
Storytelling in the 70s and 80s was generally a little more leisurely. I say “generally” because MASH was just as fast paced as today’s shows (or faster) and maybe that’s one reason why it still holds up so well.
But as a rule series used to be constructed differently. You’d have a collection of colorful characters that all had very disparate points of view. You would toss some issue into the middle of the room and watch as they all had their takes and interacted with each other. You allowed room for the characters to breathe, to just have discussions. The downside was the stories moved slower but the upside was you got to really learn more about these characters. And hopefully you would make a connection and start to truly care about them. So their plight in stories took on an added importance.
Now that’s great when it works. When it doesn’t you’re left with a boring half hour where nothing happens and nothing’s funny. Even that the industry got away with for awhile, renaming them “dramedies”.
Anyway, that was my dream. And it was a refreshing change-of-pace. Usually when I dream about Mary Tyler Moore she has big fangs and is trying to run me over with the car from DEATH RACE 2000.