Sunday, June 29, 2014


Yesterday I discussed the process David Isaacs and I employed to come up with the story for our MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW spec.  Too bad I didn't have the dream that I shared last week.  That was better than what we did come up with.  But in those days I was too busy dreaming about unattainable women.   This is the story what we arrived at:

In the first scene we’re in the WJM newsroom. We establish that Murray is unhappy and unappreciated. Things get worse when Lou comes out of his office and chews Murray out for something. Things escalate. An uncomfortable Mary is in the middle trying to be the peacemaker. Laughs ensue. Murray mentions that a rival channel has an opening and Lou tells him fine, go for it.

Murray comes in the next day and hands in his resignation. He got the job. Mary is sad to see him go. Murray takes the opportunity to let Ted have it.

A few days later. Lou is interviewing candidates for Murray’s job. Fun with goofy applicants. Mary meanwhile, is trying to do her job and Murray’s job and is frazzled. We give Mary a chance to really show off her physical comedy chops.

We go to Mary’s apartment that night. Murray enters. We learn he’s miserable in the new job. Act break.

Act Two: Continuous. Mary’s apartment. Murray wants his old job back but felt he burned his brdge with Lou. Asks Mary to talk to Lou for him. Mary is uncomfortable being in that position but agrees to accompany Murray.

Next day. Lou is in his office. A sheepish Murray enters the newsroom. Mary knocks on Lou’s door. He says come in and they enter to find both Lou and Ted. So now Murray has to try get his job back in front of Ted to make things even more humiliating. Murray is tongue-tied and Mary winds up doing most of the talking. It results in negotiations and Mary becomes a tough bargainer on behalf of Murray. He keeps wanting to say I’ll take it but she says no, hold out. It’s ultimately resolved and everybody’s happy. Some tag I now forget and that’s it.

It felt like a good story for them. It centered on their characters and put Mary in the middle. We tried to construct it so that the jokes could come out of the characters and the tough situations we put them in.

A couple of months later we saw that they did a similar story. Murray was unhappy and decided to leave. But here’s what they did different: Instead of going to a rival station, Murray went to work for Sue Ann. There’s a scene where Mary and Lou go down to Sue Ann’s set and see first-hand that this new job is sheer hilarity hell. (Great moment where Lou punches out a puppet.) Mary then helps Murray get his newswriting job back and the story again resembled ours.

But we learned a great lesson. They took the same premise and did it better. They SHOWED Murray in the nightmarish new job. We just had him talk about it. Always better to see rather than to have off-camera exposition.

No wonder a different writer's name is on the screen instead of ours. 

Our UCLA experimental school writing teacher Crazy Ron had a MARY TYLER MOORE night. Four of us had MTM specs and he read them all aloud. Two were God awful, ours and one other were very well received. We asked the girl who wrote the other good one how long it took her to write it. Two years. Okay, she was no competition.

So armed with a script that had been well-received (by fifteen writing students) we set out to conquer Hollywood. Stay tuned for future installments.


Roger Owen Green said...

Off topic, sad news: 'Designing Women' Star Meshach Taylor Dies at 67. He was also on Dave's World, of course.

Eric Hsu said...

The MTM episode:

Very interesting to note in the MTM episode that Murray doesn't leave out of feeling unappreciated. It seems by Season 6 the newsroom had settled into a stable family structure with resigned conflict, as opposed to the earlier seasons of a workplace with actual conflict that split the community.

Puppet punch out is actually in Sue Ann Gets The Axe:

Bill said...

Friday Question.

My girlfriend and I are going through the entire Frasier series on netflix and laughing our heads off. I've always enjoyed your behind the scenes stories of working on Frasier so I surprised to see that IMDB only credits Levine and Issacs with writing 7 episodes. However I see that you guys are listed as creative consultants for at least the first few seasons we've gotten through.

What are the responsibilities of the creative consultants and how does it differ from being the writer and where you the creative consultants on the shows you are credited with writing?

Louie Louie said...

Apropos of very little, I saw Ed Asner in Kid Galahad yesterday...he had hair!

Klee said...

I loved the end of that episode!!! One of the funniest Betty White's performances!

Bob Leszczak said...

And the frosting on the cake is when Sue Ann becomes one with the frosting on the cake.

Johnny Walker said...

Aren't these stories going to make their way into a book at some point, Ken? Also, can't you share your original spec with us? (I'm guessing you don't use it to get jobs anymore :)

chuckcd said...

So, how often to shows steal the ideas from spec scripts they receive?