Here are some Friday questions and answers:
Did you ever, or were you ever tempted, to try working as a stand-up comedian? Are comedy writers frustrated stand-ups, or is it the other way around? Also, have you ever worked on a show with writers who were stand-ups and if so is it good or bad?
Personally, I never had the desire to try stand-up. Most stand-ups I know tend to be tortured. This didn’t appeal to me. They're lovely people but generally FUCKING NUTS. It's understandable considering the years of rejection, knocking around tiny clubs, and the cutthroat competition. At least in the old days Johnny Carson would give them a break and book them on THE TONIGHT SHOW. Longtime comedian Jay Leno never does. Way to pay it forward, Jay. Anyway, between radio and improv I have enough outlets.
Most of the writers I know are not frustrated comics. They’re tortured enough just writing.
I’ve worked with a few comedians in writing rooms. Dana Gould on RAYMOND comes to mind. He was damn funny. I know Patton Oswalt does punch-up work from time to time on movies. I’d love to be in a room with him.
Sally creeping down the alley has a few MASH questions:
1. When a show (especially a hit show) changes head writers or brings in new writers to lead the staff, how much contact, if any, do the new people have with the previous writing crew--is it a pass the torch sort of thing or a complete break from the past?
It was a very easy transition when we left MASH. We knew and admired the new staff coming in and remain friends with them today. We even worked with them briefly on MASH. We wrote the GOODBYE RADAR two-parter after we had left the show. And they graciously didn't rewrite the shit out of us.
At the time we had a very small staff so it was really the changing of the guard. Nowadays the staffs are larger and writers just move up through the ranks. The new MASH staff came in from the outside.
2. When an actor (like Alan Alda) gets involved in the framing and writing of his or her show, how does that effect the writers?
I’ve worked on two shows where the stars involved themselves in the writing -- Alan on MASH and Ray Romano on EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. Both were pleasant experiences. On the other hand, I understand Bill Cosby was not a dream. Nor was Roseanne.
3. How did you deal with the various egos of the actors on MASH, did it effect how you wrote for those involved?
I know this makes for boring blogging but there really were no ego problems on MASH. No one counted lines. No one had tantrums. Maybe that’s why there’s never been an E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY on MASH.
From A Non-Emus:
I recently watched the Cheers episodes with Boston Celtics player Kevin McHale and noticed what a natural comic actor he was and what great chemistry he had with the cast. One of the best performances I've ever seen from an athlete. Was this just dumb luck or were you guys tipped off that McHale had a comedic talent? Or did you guys put him through some kind of comedy boot camp to ensure that he would fit in with the cast?
I once devoted a post to Kevin and how great he was. You can find it here.
What happens if an actor either leaves (Melinda Kanakaredes, CSI: NY) or is sacked (A.J. Cook, Criminal Minds) during the summer, before the new season starts? Is it more of a headache for writers, or par for the course?
It depends on who they are, and when they depart. If it’s last minute and five scripts are written and ready to go, then yeah, it’s fucking hell.
If the actor is a pain-in-the-ass or the staff knows he’s not coming back when they’re planning the season then it’s fine. Maybe preferable.
And finally, from Anonymous – an often asked question.
I'm in my early 40s and I've heard a lot about it being impossible for anyone to break in who is not in their 20s. What's your take on that? Is it possible, if you have talent, to break into the business in your 40s? Or should I try novels instead?
I don’t mean to dash anyone’s dreams but yes, it is much harder to break in if you’re in your 40s. Not impossible but the odds are stacked against you. The only silver lining I can provide is that when you submit a script no one knows your age (unless your name is Grampa Adams).
I once wrote a spec screenplay that a young studio exec responded to. So a meeting was set. The minute I walked in you could see he was shocked I was an “old guy”. Things got worse. He complimented me on the writing and thought it was a really impressive first effort. Then he wondered what I’d been doing up until then. When I told him he turned red with embarrassment. The meeting went downhill from there. Note to studio execs: Google people you’re going to meet with!
But if you’re in your 40s and you do write a script that’s a great first effort you might buck the odds. Best of luck.
What's your question?