Here's some Friday Questions because it's... y'know... Friday.
Stoney Stevenson wonders:
How involved were you with the Cheers episode in which John Cleese guest starred?
I was on the show at the time but didn’t write that episode. Peter Casey & David Lee did. Cleese was and is an idol of mine. Happy to say he was very pleasant and professional. Peter & David wrote a great part for him, building to a vintage Basil Faulty meltdown.
Cleese killed at the filming, but I always contend that as good as he was, earlier in the day at the dress rehearsal, he was even better. I just remember standing in awe, thinking I was truly in the presence of comic greatness.
Ger Apeldoorn asks:
How hard is it to write a scene with feeling as a duo or in the room? I always found that was hard to do, as it is easy to top a joke, but hard to give a line more feeling.
The key is searching for the truth of the scene. If both partners agree on what that truth is then it’s just crafting the best version. David Isaacs (my longtime partner) and I have a slight advantage in that we like writing those scenes and moments. I know a lot of comedy writing teams that loathe writing emotion and sentiment. It goes against everything they’re good at – being funny, subversive, and cynical. We embrace it. Always have. For us, the best comedy comes out of character and the best characters are rooted in reality. We want you to laugh, but we also want you to care. So we actively look for that moments that are more serious.
We have a saying (we didn’t coin it but do live by it): “Don’t be afraid of the quiet moments.” Especially in multi-camera shows shot before a studio audience there is the temptation to always be funny. You have to make a conscious effort to not go for laughs for a few moments, and at times that can be very difficult.
From Angry Gamer:
Do you feel that your jumping from station to station in Radio and then moving to TV helped your creativity?
In my field I have noticed that some of the most creative people I have worked with are vagabonds. These creative people have moved from design group to design group from company to company. They ooze new ideas and directions because of their varied experience.
No. It didn’t help my creativity. It just increased my anxiety and debt in lost apartment deposits. I moved from radio station to radio station because I was fired and had to move. Happily, that wasn’t the case for me in television.
As an employer (or showrunner) I want stability in my staff. I want people I can count on. If they’re young writers, I want people I can mentor and then reap the benefits when they blossom.
When I see that a writer has bounced around from show to show continuously I am always wary. Usually there’s a reason and it’s not a good one. “He’s very funny but abrasive.” “He’s helpful when he’s here, but he’s in his office on the phone half the time.” “He stops bathing around episode nine.”
Then there are the “climbers.” These people are always looking for the next, better job. You’re merely a stepping stone to them. I have no use for these people.
Another problem with vagabonds – for all the new ideas they ooze, they also learn bad habits, which they bring to their next gig. I don’t want to have to re-train them. I’d much prefer people who learn my system and stick around.
There’s a reason why you see the same names as a group on different shows. As a showrunner, when I find writers I trust and admire I keep hiring them.
Everybody finds themselves in bad situations from time to time. Creative differences, a boss who’s an asshole, a two-hour commute, horrible pay – you name it. And it’s realistic to think that on someone’s resume there are going to be brief stops along the way. But it’s easy to see a pattern. If a writer works one season on seven shows but all those shows got cancelled, it’s not his fault he didn’t stay longer. But if he’s worked one year on seven different long running hit shows, that sends up a flare.
All that said, I know people who just have to change jobs, just have to change locales, just have to change wives every few years. It's who they are. And if it works for them, hey, more power to 'em. The lost apartment deposits alone would discourage me.
What’s your Friday Question?