Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Okay. Here we go…
A few years later VHS became the standard. The tape was 1/2 inch, would record up to six hours of content, and the cartridge size went from Mini Cooper to Mini Mac. I bought one of those and my 3/4 inch machine became obsolete. I eventually gave it away. Let the Council of Jewish Women figure out what to do with the freakin’ thing.
But I kept the 3/4 inch tapes I had recorded. And of course I haven’t played any of them for years. God knows how much they've deteriorated over time? At best the color would be smeared and washed out. At worst I’d be looking at dust. Recently, during a spring-cleaning project I discovered a box of these clunky relics. Most were MASH episodes. I now had DVD copies that were far superior in quality to those musty cartridges and took up a fraction of the space so I got rid of them.
But there was one tape I kept – the first pilot David and I were ever associated with. We wrote it for NBC through Universal for the 1976/77 season and it didn’t go. Back then networks aired their unsold pilots in the summer. We used to call this programming FAILURE THEATER. On July 20, 1977 our pilot aired on NBC.
A little backstory: During our early freelance period we met a certain producer who took a liking to us. He had a development deal at Universal. He said if we ever had a pilot idea to bring it to him. We were newbies at the time and couldn’t get in to pitch networks ourselves, but if we were under the umbrella of this veteran writer/producer the networks would hear our spiel.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE had recently premiered and was a huge hit with the younger generation. Our idea was to do a cross between SNL and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW – a local late night comedy sketch show in San Francisco where the cast also wrote the material. The sensibility of the humor would be very edgy (like SNL). We were 30 ROCK and STUDIO 60 only 30+ years earlier.
This producer liked it. We took it to NBC and we sold it in five minutes. We came back with an outline that they approved, and a first draft that they loved. Minor notes, a second draft, and based on that script NBC greenlit the pilot. Gee, this pilot stuff was easy!
We were invited to the taping (how nice of them). And I just remember being horribly disappointed with the final result. But that was then. Would time be kind to our first official television pilot?
I have a good friend, Stu Shostak who has the facilities to digitize old tapes. (If you have stuff you want digitized this is your man.) So last week I brought him probably the only remaining copy of THE BAY CITY AMUSEMENT COMPANY and as he made a digital copy I got to screen it again for the first time in 35 years.
This was easily the single worst piece of shit I have ever seen. Watching this travesty was like having your wisdom teeth removed without Novocain. And our names were on it. And not just that. Kaprall tried to get shared writing credit and we fought him and won in arbitration. We went to great effort to get our names on this stinkburger. (Why? Because creator credit means royalties for every episode and we didn’t want to surrender any of that, especially to someone who had made the show worse).
The direction was atrocious. Everyone was playing so big and burlesque you wanted to crawl under a chair. Mugging, double and triple takes for every clam joke. Imagine Jerry Lewis at his most insane wacky zany nutty maniacal – he was Ben Stein compared to how these actors were asked to perform. The also wore gorilla suits, loud jackets, cowboy outfits, and were pulled around by their neckties. I guarantee they tested worse than the Manson Family.
And our names were on it. And back in those days there were only three networks so even if the show finished last in the ratings, more people saw it than last week’s AMERICAN IDOL.
I will give you two examples of actual jokes used in this pilot. Our idea was to have the level of humor edgy and hip like the original SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE remember? Instead, these were the types of gags that made it to air.
The owner of the station was a Gene Autry type. When he tells the writer/performers that he has a problem one says to him (and this is verbatim): “Did your horse make doo doo in the house again?”
Our names are on this!
Later at one of the character’s apartment everyone barges in around dinner time. One asks: “Is that a roast?” And another answers: “No, it’s a chicken in blackface.”
Kaprall WANTED his name on this?! Holy shit!
You will never see this pilot. No one will ever see this pilot. I will never see this pilot again. And I will never say another bad thing about WHITNEY ever again.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM