Sunday, October 06, 2013

My worst script


In 1993 my writing partner, David Isaacs and I did a short run series for CBS called BIG WAVE DAVE’S starring Adam Arkin and David Morse. It ran that summer, got 19 shares, kept 100% of MURPHY BROWN’S audience and was cancelled. At the time CBS had starring vehicles in the wings for Peter Scolari, Bronson Pinchot, and the always hilarious Faye Dunaway so they didn’t need us.

We were given a production order of six with three back-up scripts. We assigned the first two back-ups to our staff and planned on writing the third ourselves. When the show was cancelled we put in to CBS to get paid for the additional scripts. They said fine, but we had to turn in the completed scripts. Gulp! That was fine for the first two scripts because the writers already had drafts. But all David and I had was a title, “Marshall’s Brother” (Arkin was Marshall).

We normally write scripts by dictating them to our assistant. (Lots of advantages to this rather weird method which I can discuss in a future post.) Having done this for so long we can usually write a half hour episode in three to five days. We called our assistant into the office and told her we were going to write a script before lunch. It was 11:30.

We had one ground rule. Anything pitched had to go into the script. There was no going back, not even to clean up a sentence. We came up with the idea that Marshall’s brother (Bill) had a hearing problem. Okay, we’re not proud of it, we know it’s not very PC, but this script was never to be produced, and we had a lunch reservation. A few weeks ago I shared some of our best scenes. Here’s one of our all-time worst.

BILL ENTERS.

MARSHALL
Hey, Bill.

BILL
What?

MARSHALL
I said hi.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
Hi.

BILL
Can’t understand you.

MARSHALL
Hello!!!!

BILL
Oh. Hello to you. How you feeling?

MARSHALL
Fine.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
I’m fine!!

BILL
Where’s Karen?

MARSHALL
In the back.

BILL
Huh?

MARSHALL
In the back.

BILL
In the sack?

MARSHALL
No. The back room.

BILL
Why is she sleeping so late?

MARSHALL
She’s not in bed.

BILL
She hurt her head?

*******


And so on for 42 of the most rotten pages in comedy writing history.

We finished the script in about 17 minutes, turned it in, got paid, but deep in my heart I know – one day, thousands of years from now, long after some global thermonuclear disaster, someone will discover this vault, open it, and the only thing left of my work, my one lasting legacy, will be the “Marshall’s Brother” episode of BIG WAVE DAVE’S.

I wish now we had taken our time and finished it in 23 minutes.

17 comments:

Oliver Schmitt said...

Still better than any episode of "Small Wonder" that I saw...

T.J. said...

Beat me to it! I was going with "Two and a Half Men."

VincentS said...

But was it better than anything you've seen on WHITNEY?

Hamid said...

I actually remember Big Wave Dave's. I liked it and I especially liked seeing Kurtwood Smith in a comedic role, as I only knew him prior to that for being the evil killer in Robocop and the strict dad in Dead Poets Society.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eduardo Jencarelli said...

To quote Philip J. Fry:

"It took me an hour to write. I guessed it would take me an hour to read."

MikeBo said...

A masterpiece! And the check cleared. You guys are geniuses. Plus you were on time for lunch. I am in awe.

Scooter Schechtman said...

In this age of meta-irony or whatever the hell it's called, this script will be discovered and performed by a school theater group, like a retarded "Waiting For Godot."

Every dollar of it said...

Who's on deadline, What's the point, I Don't Know why CBS bothered.

Hamid said...

You still spent more time on that script than Diablo Cody does on coming up with dialogue that doesn't rely on teen-speak and pop culture references as a substitute for characterization.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'm going to guess that the vehicles you mention for Peter Scolari and Faye Dunaway were, respectively, DWEEBS and IT HAD TO BE YOU. The latter was pretty poor - heavyweight female top executive falls in love with a widowed handyman with several kids and has trouble adjusting. But I had a sneaking fondness for the former, in which Farrah Forke tried to help an office of software-coding geeks understand the needs of the ordinary people their software was intended for.

wg

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'm going to guess that the vehicles you mention for Peter Scolari and Faye Dunaway were, respectively, DWEEBS and IT HAD TO BE YOU. The latter was pretty poor - heavyweight female top executive falls in love with a widowed handyman with several kids and has trouble adjusting. But I had a sneaking fondness for the former, in which Farrah Forke tried to help an office of software-coding geeks understand the needs of the ordinary people their software was intended for.

wg

Brian Drake said...

Hey, that wasn't THAT bad. Can we see the rest? :)

Mike said...

Upcoming attractions that may be of interest to discerning viewers of British TV programmes:
Dancing on the Edge by Stephen Poliakoff on Starz this month. Black jazz band hobnobbing with the aristocracy in '30s London. (John Goodman, Anthony Head, Jacqueline Bisset et al.)
Burton and Taylor by William Ivory on BBC America this month. (Dominic West, Helena Bonham Carter). No match for your double Emmy nominated Liz & Dick, naturally.
No need to thank me. I see it as missionary work.

DBenson said...

Another comedy concept for somebody who knows the industry: Some operator figures out how to bundle those odd obligations -- a script written because a network was committed to pay for it; a studio's promise to produce a star's vanity project; a use-it-or-lose-it option on a comic book property; an actor who lost a lawsuit to get out of a project; etc.

And out of nowhere this big-name package is penciled in for a major summer release after a "tentpole" was suddenly made unreleasable by a star's image-destroying hijinks.

The one little problem is that the big and small names the operator roped in not only hate the project with a passion; they hate each other almost as much as they hate him. And the operator sees his dreams evolve from a direct-to-video cult item (profitable because so little of his own money is in it), to the possibility of a genuine blockbuster, to simply escaping a location shoot with his life as the company breaks into warring factions, literally making different movies as rivalries grow homicidal.

The end would be the operator somehow surviving, but not making a penny. The annoying film student making a documentary about the production, on the other hand, ends up with a monster hit.

Again, send studio swag and it's yours.

Dale said...

Wow. You get paid for scripts that don't air???

I'm in the wrong business.

chuckcd said...

Finally I write like Ken Levine...