Tuesday, August 13, 2013
One Thursday night I was watching a first-run episode that I believe Sam Simon wrote. It was very good. I was laughing at the jokes, surprised by the story turns. All of a sudden a scene came on and the dialogue sounded vaguely familiar. It’s as if I had seen this scene before. But how could I? This wasn’t a rerun. And the rest of the show was unfamiliar. Still, I was almost able to predict the lines. Like everybody, I’ve experienced déjà vu, but not for four minutes at a time.
Finally it dawned on me why I seemed to recognize this scene. We wrote it.
Backstory – That was the year that Shelley Long was pregnant. The creative decision was made that Diane should not be. So how to hide it? The Charles Brothers came up with an ingenious way. Early in the season she would not be showing, and when she started to show they could hide her behind trays and that sort of slight-of-hand. And they set up the following storyline: Diane and Frasier would go off on a long vacation to Europe. All of those scenes would be written in advance and shot early on in Shelley’s pregnancy before she started showing. By the time she couldn’t hide it any longer the scenes were all in the can, ready to go.
All of this was laid out even before the season began. We wrote an episode over the summer that contained one of these European scenes. Diane and Frasier are shown their hotel room and don’t know how much to tip the bellboy. As I recall, little or nothing was changed from our draft in that scene. The night it was filmed however, I was out of town. So I never actually saw it.
But I guess the show ran long. And they decided to swap our Europe scene with a shorter one from another show. This was not an uncommon practice. Teasers and bar runs got shuffled around all the time. But no one informed us. And Sam’s episode was scheduled to air before ours -- maybe in January.
So there I was seeing my scene for the first time... on the air with the rest of America. Now you might be saying, “if you wrote it how could you not immediately recognize it?” I suppose the answer is that I so wasn’t expecting it. My first thought when something looks familiar is usually I must’ve seen another movie or show that did something vaguely similar, not “I must’ve written it.” Also, it aired eight months after we had written it.
I’m sure there have been cases where writers have seen shows or theater productions and realized that their material had been outright stolen. That obviously wasn’t the case here. I’m just glad our scene didn’t bring down Sam’s show. But it was a weird viewing experience. I imagine that’s how Paris Hilton must’ve felt after watching a sex tape for fifteen minutes and finally realizing, “Hey, that’s me.”
Again, I know you join me in sending out prayers and best wishes to Sam Simon.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM