Monday, October 28, 2013
Characters change. On Tuesday the best friend suddenly becomes the sister. At the first table reading mom and dad are both present. By mid-week dad had died ten years ago and it's just mom. The scene at the coffee shop is gone replaced by one at a bank and the waitress is now a teller.
Actors are fired and hired all the time. It's quite frankly brutal (and often unnecessary). I helped out on one pilot where a new actor was hired every day to play one particular role. It was a horribly written role.
But the strangest pilot I worked on was this:
I think it was about two married couples and the guys worked together. It’s been a long time and the pilot didn’t go. Patrick Warburton was one of the guys. I had never seen him before but remember thinking, “Wow! This guy is a find!”
The runthruogh was uneven and the assembled writers went back to rewrite and eat Red Vines late into the night.
Traffic was bad the next day so I arrived for the runthrough just as it was about to begin. The first scene was a married couple in bed. Except now Patrick Warburton was in the bed. I thought, “This is weird? We’re now saying that Patrick is sleeping with his best friend’s wife?” The dialogue was pretty much what we wrote last night. Not only was there no explanation of why these two people were having an affair, the dialogue made no sense in this new context.
After the scene I cornered the creator to ask, “What the fuck?” That’s when I learned that the decision was made after we had left the night before to just flip Patrick and the other guy. So now Patrick was her husband. Yeah, that's fine, Patrick's funnier, but the problem was that these were two very different characters. So the rest of the runthrough was completely weird. Imagine Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer just switching roles one week on TWO AND A HALF MEN.
When something doesn't work is it because the joke is bad, the actor didn't deliver it well, you don't believe that actor having that attitude, or you just remember it better yesterday with the other guy saying it?
The rewrite that night was insane. I wasn’t the only one confused. The creator would say, “We need a line for Fred,” I’d pitch something and he’d say, “No, that’s a Gary line,” and five writers would say, “Which one is Gary again?” We couldn’t keep the two actors and the two characters straight.
Like I said, the show never aired. Whose decision it was to make the flip I do not know (but I suspect the network). I totally forget who played the other guy and clearly Patrick Warburton has gone on to prove he’s a gifted comic actor.
Thank goodness one of the characters didn’t also have multiple personalities. I’d probably still be in that writing room trying to figure it out.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM