Just saw one of my favorite DICK VAN DYKE SHOW episodes, “100 Terrible Hours”. It’s the one where Rob was a disc jockey and had to stay on the air for 100 straight hours just before interviewing with Alan Brady for a writing job. I love that episode for many reasons but first and foremost is the structure. I imagine Carl Reiner and the staff thought it would be fun to see Rob’s initial job interview and of course it had to be a disaster. But how?
The obvious ways: he was drunk, he
got in an accident and was all disheveled, he spilled something on his
crotch, he had laryngitis, he had a bad cold and Alan Brady was a germ
freak, he barged in at the wrong time, etc. You get the idea.
they found a totally fresh device instead. Have him loopy because he’s
sleep deprived. And concoct the best comic way to get him sleep
deprived. Radio marathons were a staple of early Top 40 radio so
making him a disc jockey was not only ingenious, it was also real. The
best comedy always comes from reality. Plus, it gave Van Dyke a lot to
play as you saw him get progressively goofier.
This is called
getting “the most bang for your buck”. Find a good comic premise for a
scene and then maximize the possibilities. In this case, not only was
the payoff great but the set-up scenes leading up to it were terrific as
Give this some thought when plotting out your spec
script. Once the wakeathon story was laid out I’m sure it was much
easier for the writers (Sam Denoff & Bill Persky) to fill in the
funny dialogue. They had so much to work with.
hardest comedy writing in the world is when you have characters just
standing around with nothing really dynamic happening. You have to
manufacture jokes out of nothing. The characters start talking in
forced one-liners. When viewers say that sitcoms sound predictable and
bogus that’s usually what they’re referring to.
So do the heavy
lifting first. Construct a story that lends itself to great comic
possibilities. Easier said than done, you say? Yep, but that’s why
YOUR spec might sell and the others don’t.
By the way, in the
early 60s a San Bernardino radio station held one of these wakeathons.
By the end the disc jockey was hallucinating, thinking that a giant
Mickey Mouse was coming to eat him. I don’t know whether it was the
city that had to issue a permit or the union, but somebody insisted that
medical supervision be provided to lend assistance and monitor the d.j.
throughout. He would be on the air for 50 minutes each hour and get
ten minutes to use the bathroom, stretch his legs, eat, whatever. The
medical staff would check his vital signs and ensure he was in no health
A tent was set up near the broadcasting site (a store
window I believe, just like in the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW). Every hour the
disc jockey would disappear into it to get his examination. What the
city or the union or whomever didn’t know was that the around-the-clock
nurses that were hired were actually hookers. That probably kept him
going another twenty-four hours.
Now if they had done that on the
DICK VAN DYKE SHOW the title of the episode might have been changed to
“95 Terrible Hours and 5 Great Ones”.