Earl Pomerantz, in his wonderful blog, wrote a recent post describing his “All-time favorite job”. A few readers of both his site and mine have asked me what was my all-time favorite job? Here’s how blessed I am – it’s really hard to pick. I could easily say MASH, CHEERS, or ALMOST PERFECT; each for different reasons. Throw in FRASIER too. But that’s like trying to pick which of your four kids is your favorite? So putting those shows aside, I’d have to say the winner was BIG WAVE DAVE’S.
95% of you not familiar with BIG WAVE DAVE’S, it was a short-lived
series that my partner David Isaacs and I did for CBS in 1993. You can watch the pilot here.
made the pilot in March of that year. It was multi-camera, in front of
a live audience. Usually you’ll have a laugh spread of two or three
minutes, which allows you to trim out the things that didn't work. BIG
WAVE DAVE’S had a ten minute laugh spread – pretty good for a twenty-two
tried to edit it down to time but it was impossible. So we figured,
“what the hell?” and submitted a rough cut that was seven minutes too
long. The heads of CBS noted it was too long and offered to watch it
with us and determine further cuts. They couldn’t find additional trims
either. We were allowed to turn in that version. (When the show got
picked up we had reshoot some scenes so characters didn't fly across the
room when certain lines were cut out.)
It tested great. Jane
Kaczmarek tested better than Bob Newhart did on his new show. We went
back to New York for the May Upfronts feeling we had a real shot at
getting on the fall schedule.
Unfortunately, CBS had commitments
to Diane English and Linda Bloodworth and there was no room for us.
But we knew they loved the show and figured we’d at least get a pick-up
Several weeks went by. We heard nothing.
they came to us with this proposal: As an experiment they wanted to
try putting new shows on in the summer. They had success with that
strategy with NORTHERN EXPOSURE. They wanted to air six episodes of
BIG WAVE DAVE’S on Monday nights at 9:30 following MURPHY BROWN (their
top sitcom at the time).
Here was the problem: it was the
beginning of June. They wanted the show to begin airing mid-summer.
We’d have to assemble a staff, hire a crew, rebuild the sets, and go
into production in two weeks. We had no scripts, nothing.
So we came back to them and said, “We will do it… but only under one condition. There can be NO NETWORK INTERFERENCE.
will not run story notions by you. You will see no scripts ahead of
time. No notes after runthroughs. No casting input. No rough cuts for
approval. Nothing. You could watch the show on the air." (We gave
Every show must deal with Standards & Practice
but even then, we said their notes had to be minor and any disputes
easily resolved or we had to shut down production.
This was not
about us being prima donnas; we physically could not do the show if we
had to go through those hoops. As it is we would be making a lot of
decisions on the fly. And we understood if that kind of autonomy went
against CBS’ policy but then we’d respectfully pass on their offer.
We’d take our chances that they still would order us for mid-season.
To our shock and amazement they said okay; they’d go along with that arrangement.
quickly assembled a staff (Dan Staley, Rob Long, and Larry Balmagia),
brought on Andy Ackerman to direct and Larina Adamson to gather a crew.
The next three months were insane. We were writing around the clock,
editing, casting, post production. But God bless CBS, they were true
to their word. They did not interfere even once.
what it made it my all-time favorite job. I can’t tell you how
creatively invigorating it was to have the chains removed. I think we
did some of our best work (even under ridiculous circumstances). The
truth is I’m sure we were tougher on the scripts than the network would
have been. Rewrite nights tended to go long. But we all had so much
The show aired and got a 19 share every week. We kept close
to 100% of MURPHY BROWN’S audience. The headline in the LA Times
entertainment section when the first week’s rating came out was BIG WAVE
DAVE SAVES CBS. If you got that number today you'd get a five year
Everything was going great (except for the Tom Shales
review – he said single-handedly destroyed television, which I view as a
pan) and thought we were on our way. But after the six episodes CBS
cancelled us. Why? They felt they didn’t need us. They had sitcoms
coming on in the fall starring Peter Scolari, Faye Dunaway, and Shelley
Long and there was no need. Besides, they felt our star, Adam Arkin
wasn’t strong enough to carry a series. A couple of years later he
proved them wrong with CHICAGO HOPE on their network.
that was my all-time favorite job... in television. (I have all-time
favorite radio and baseball jobs too. Subjects for future posts.)
And I still believe television would be better today if selected writers
who have proven their worth were given that kind of autonomy.