…it’s awesome because there isn’t a 90-year-old guy who’s not really in touch with things writing dialogue for us.
I don’t want to name any names, but I’ve worked on television shows where there’s a guy writing for my generation who’s like 60—and it doesn’t work.
So what do I think?
This may surprise you but I don’t disagree with him. There are rhythms and exchanges in HAPPY ENDINGS I couldn’t come up with, but since I don’t feel I’m competing with that show, I can just watch and enjoy. And I like him a lot.
But let me offer a few points.
But Knighton might be surprised to learn there are older writers who could make his show and any show better. I suspect HAPPY ENDINGS wouldn’t suffer if Larry David were around, for example.
That said, you need the right older writer. Yes, there are a lot who are out of touch ("That's not the way we did it on WEBSTER!"), but the ones who are good are very good and they’re experienced. I see story turns and clunky scenes on shows and I think, this poor staff is trying to re-invent the wheel. There are obvious fixes that they don’t see because there’s no one experienced around to show them. So yes, the older writers can’t write twentysomething dialogue without putting "dude" at the end of every speech, but they might construct sharper stories, structure funnier block comedy scenes, and I know it’s a generational priority – but they could push you to make your show more emotionally satisfying.
Is it just a coincidence that most big hit sitcoms (BIG BANG THEORY, MODERN FAMILY, TWO AND A HALF MEN) have older writers on their staffs?
One big difference between now and when I broke in (back in the Paleolithic era) is that shows today are more targeted for specific demographics. So writers in their 20’s write for characters in their 20’s. And that’s fine (I mean "awesome"). I wrote for characters my age too when I was starting out. But at 26 I was also writing for 40 year-old characters, and 50 year-old characters. I worry that today if you can only write for characters in their 20’s you are limiting yourself and potentially shortening your career. You want to be versatile, not just a niche writer.
As for the dialogue itself -- In the interview, Knighton also says this:
The great thing about these guys (their writers) is they’ll write a line and the cast will have some weird idiosyncrasy that we add to it. We’ve had this running gag recently, I don’t know how it worked itself in, where we say “homey” like [in nasally voice] “how-me”—and the writers are fine with it, which is really unusual. I think that’s also what makes this show special. We have all these dumb inside jokes and we let the audience in on that. And I don’t know how, but they get it. For some reason saying [in nasally voice] “What’s up, how-me?” is really funny to people.
Writers beware! Those “idiosyncrasies” are not jokes, they are crutches. They are easy familiar laughs. And if that’s what makes your show “special” you’re in trouble. Knighton makes it sound like they invented the form. From “Kiss my grits” to “Dy-no-mite” to “Would you believe?” sitcoms have been glomming onto catch phrases since before Lucy first went “Waaaaaaaa!” They get old. They get tired.
And here’s the thing: once “homey” has been established, anyone can write it. And it's a trap. It’s easy to be lazy. And get away with it. “Homey” will get you out of scenes. For awhile. And it might get you out of a job because the P.A. can write "Homey" as good as you and costs just a fraction.
But the good writers, the ones who will have long careers, are the ones who discard the crutches and strive for new, fresh, funny things. Again, this comment was from an actor, not a writer. I imagine the writers on the staff know these are crutches and have better perspective. So why is the actor making such a big deal of it? Because he’s so tickled that he can contribute. And that’s how they contribute – not by creating an original joke or concept, but by saying an existing word in a funny voice.
But those are quibbles.