Back from Seattle. Sorry I was there for so short a time. Would love to have met some of you readers from the area. Next time for sure! Anyway, here are some Friday questions, the first one involving the state of Washington and Washington State.
How did the character of Tom Tuttle from Tacoma, Washington come to life? What inspired you to make him a Wazzu grad? Great character and so very well played by Mr. Candy.
We wanted someone really earnest, really gung-ho middle-America, but we didn’t want him to be from the Midwest. That seemed too cliché. So we figured that the Pacific Northwest would give us those same qualities. As originally envisioned, he talked really fast, so we thought giving him a name with alliteration would help the actor build up a head of steam. Hence, Tom Tuttle. And to continue the alliteration we made him from Tacoma. As for which college he went to, we researched fight songs and really liked Washington State’s. And the fight song plays a part in the movie so it was sort of important.
John Candy did a sensational job. We were afraid when he was hired that he would change a lot of stuff – like I said, it was written for a wiry somewhat hyper guy little guy – but John did the dialogue verbatim. God, I loved that man!
From Simon H.:
Were you and your writing partner ever approached to work on "Taxi"? I always thought it was one of the greatest shows in Television history, and certainly one of the most under-appreciated. Given that you worked on "Cheers" while "Taxi" was still on the air, I'm surprised you and David Isaacs never had a chance to write for it.
We were approached several times. For the first few years of the show we had exclusive development deals with other studios and couldn’t. And the last year of TAXI was the first year of CHEERS, which we co-produced. Sam Simon & Ken Estin of TAXI graciously invited us to write an episode and we would have LOVED TO, but the CHEERS staff was very small and we needed to write as many episodes of that as we could.
Like you, I think TAXI is one of the finest situation comedies of all-time. But it is very different from today’s hit comedies, and I don’t know if today’s viewers would respond to the slower pace and more character-oriented stories they did on TAXI. I'm hoping the would. Or at least would give it a chance. They may discover that it's a way better show than they thought.
Jim S wonders:
You said that in the past both you and your longtime writing partner David have written stories alone.
How is that different than writing with a partner? What are the fears and how do you compensate for the input from the partner?
Well, it’s much lonelier writing by yourself. And if your car is in the shop there’s no one to pick you up.
But seriously, a good partnership can make the process easier and much more fun. It's certainly more social. But a bad partnership can be like WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF meets GROUNDHOG DAY.
We split up one assignment a season and wrote the two acts separately just so we would feel confident that we could write on our own if we had to. We stayed partners out of choice, not dependency.
You compensate by just trying to fill in the gaps yourself. The big problem I find when I write by myself is that if I’m stuck I tend to go down one road and try to find the solution there. A partner might suggest an alternate path. And so I have to really force myself to just step back and think, “What else could I do here? What other direction might I take?”
With comedy especially, you have to rely on your own judgment more when you’re writing solo. There’s no one to bounce jokes off of.
As for fears, there’s really only one. Will you learn from this exercise that your partner has all the talent and you’re just a fraud? What was gratifying and a huge relief was that when David and I put our two acts together you really couldn’t tell who wrote what. So we're both frauds.
And finally, from Richard Y:
When watching at home and the 'set-up' for the reveal is made and the camera pulls back for the character punch line, we, sitting in our couches at home get the joke and laugh when we see the wide shot - along with the studio audience. NOW, the studio audience already sees the reveal as it is already on stage in some instances. How is the studio laughter controlled?
If it involves a sight gag we’ll often have screens set up in front of the set and just remove them just before we’re ready to shoot. We’ll record the audience’s reaction and slot that in the appropriate place.
But if it’s a wardrobe thing, or as you say, contingent on a camera reveal, you sometimes have to do a little borrowing from the laugh track. Or you pre-shoot the scene and show it back to the audience so they are reacting as if sitting on their couches. But we've found you get a greater response from just about anything if you do it live in front of them, even if it means spoiling the reveal.
We have to always remember, we’re making these shows for the millions of viewers, not the two-hundred folks in the bleachers.
Yes, some jokes won’t have the impact they should but on the other hand, studio audiences love seeing all the behind-the-scenes stuff. And they do have monitors. So they can watch and see what we’re going for. They may miss a few laughs but they don’t feel cheated.
With the reveal already exposed to the studio audience how do you get them to laugh as is they just saw it like it is to be seen at home?
I’ll be 1000% honest. We ask them to. Just like for pick-ups and reshooting entire scenes. We ask them to help us out and pretend they’re seeing this for the first time and laugh just as loud. And for those who didn’t laugh the first time, we’re giving them a second chance.
What’s your question?