Thursday, November 07, 2013
At some point you've got to be a writer
The Larry Gelbart “Hawkeye” was a far different person from the Alan Alda “Hawkeye” of the last few years of MASH.
David Isaacs and I wrote for the Frasier character from Kelsey Grammer’s first year on CHEERS till his final year on FRASIER. For good measure, we wrote him in the WINGS episode he guest-starred in, too.
When the FRASIER series began we were creative consultants, helping out on each episode. We also wrote a number of episodes during the first few seasons. Then we left to co-create and produce ALMOST PERFECT for several years. When that show ended we were invited to write another episode of FRASIER.
We of course said yes, and worked out the story with the staff. This was the show that became “Room Service” – the one where Niles sleeps with Lilith and Frasier catches them in their hotel room.
Before beginning the script we asked for a handful of recent episodes just to get up to speed with where the show was at the time.
What we found was a little disconcerting. Frasier’s speech had become much more flowery than we remembered it. He was more verbose, language dripping with ornamentation. We were in a quandary. Do we write the Frasier we’ve always known or this revised version?
Ultimately, we decided to just write the Frasier we knew and were comfortable with instead of trying to guess. Our feeling was if they wanted to take our script and adjust his dialogue to fit their new vision they were welcome to, but we wanted to be true to the Frasier we had always known.
Happily (and surprisingly), they kept our Frasier verbatim. In fact, they pretty much kept our entire draft. I guess it just worked so why change it? (And again, I credit that to the great story we worked out with the staff.)
Of all the FRASIERS we wrote, it's my favorite. A big thanks also goes to David Lee, whose directing was pitch-perfect.
Now I can’t tell you not to write in someone else’s voice. If you’re working on an existing show you have to. But I’ve seen writers tie themselves up in knots because they’re so busy trying to guess what the showrunner would write that they don’t trust their own instincts.
James L. Brooks put it best: At some point you’ve got to be a writer.
In other words, at some point you have to take command. You have to bring whatever talent and quality you have to offer to the script. You can’t really get in Aaron Sorkin’s head, or Matthew Weiner’s, or David E. Kelley’s, or Chuck Lorre’s, or Ken Levine’s. Write their characters the way YOU see them. What happens is this -- you stand a way better chance of pleasing the showrunner than if you just tried to mimic him.
And who knows? In time, maybe the characters will evolve in YOUR direction.