And the show would be charged $500. Probably $500.02. They charged for the Xerox copy.
But as a result we would go out of our way to find alternative avenues of obtaining our research.
One was to just guess and put it in the script. In addition to a research department, all studios hired companies to fact-check finished scripts (protection against lawsuits). So since we were paying for that anyway we just used them. A memo would come back that said, “Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis not Betty Boop.”
Or we would ask amongst ourselves, who knows someone who might know this? Like using life lines on WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE? For example, I could always call former girlfriends if there was a question about celibacy.
The point is, we were always looking for ways to skirt the ridiculously expensive research department.
One time, when I was working on that Mary Tyler Moore series we co-created, a certain sketch actor from the ‘60s came up in conversation. None of us had seen him in years and there was some question as to whether he had died.
To save $500 I called our casting director, Molly Lopata, and said we had a part in next week’s show we were writing and wanted to check on the availability of this sketch actor. We figured either she might tell us he’s dead, and if she herself didn’t know, when she called the agent she’d surely learn.
So I said, “Is ********* available next week?” There was a long pause. “Oh, listen….” She said in a pained voice, obviously searching for just the right words to break the sad news, “I don’t know what the part is, but please, I beg of you, let me find you someone who’s better.”
Progress isn’t always the best thing. Today we’d just Google him and have the answer in five seconds, thus denying us a laugh that must’ve lasted for ten minutes. (By the way, he was still alive. I explained to Molly the true purpose of my call and she said, “Oh, thank God. I thought you guys had lost your minds.”)