Monday, July 14, 2014
And these are just the shows that got on the air. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of pilots that either died at the script stage or on the stage stage.
This is a concept that in the right hands with the right cast can be a killer series. You’re watching people you identify with, struggling to make sense of their lives, love, sex, future, and the World Cup. As each generation enters that age group there are new sensibilities and issues unique to them to go along with all the other hurdles. It’s an arena ripe for comedy.
It’s also a no-brainer for young scribes who need to write a pilot to break in. I suspect that 80% of the specs today are (a) versions of FRIENDS or (b) moving back in with your parents.
I’ve read many of these “FRIENDS” pilots (both spec and actually developed for networks) and most fall way short. There are a number of crutches that have emerged. Allow me to point some out so you might avoid them yourself.
There’s generally one character who is roaring drunk. That’s where the big “comedy” comes from. Vomiting in the car, doing outrageous stunts, saying appalling things because he has no filter. That’s all well and good, but if you need your character to be shit-faced for him to be funny you haven’t developed him correctly.
At least one of the women will be a hateful mean girl. That’s almost a guarantee. Self-centered, bitchy, demanding, condescending, and supposedly funny. Maybe they were twenty years ago but today they’re a stereotype.
Everyone speaks in pop culture references. In truth, young people today DO speak in pop culture references but not every other sentence. Be judicious. You’re wielding a double-edged sword. The pop references may make the show sound very authentic, but too many may date it beyond recognition long before its expiration date.
And then of course, the issue I’ve harped on before, characters speak in dripping irony, which is not a substitute for comedy. “Well THAT went well” is not a laugh. A great zinger is not “Seriously?”
So here’s what I suggest: Work harder. Dig deeper. You all have friends who have comic characteristics. Create characters that are fresh, derive their comedy from a warped worldview, have a unique style. Have them like things you wouldn’t expect. Make them real, not a sketch. Take time to consider how they relate to each other. How do they clash? How do they bond? Why do they bond? What do they want? Believe it or not, guys want more than to get laid.
And what's the hook? Why is this particular group of people together... other than 'cause you say so?
One thing about Millineals – they tend to be smart. Sometimes they think they’re smarter than they are. But their dialogue can be organically bright, sharp, and funny. Take advantage of that. It's always best to play characters to the top of their intelligence and it's a big plus when they are intelligent.
Let the comedy come out of character and stress the comedy more. Don’t shy away from it as if getting laughs is “not cool.” You’re in a highly competitive field. For your spec or sold pilot to rise above all the rest you have to be better. A real good way to do that is to be funnier.
Young writers may argue that irony is the style now, and I say, “It’s your script, your career. Do whatever you feel is right. And if you truly believe that, fine.” But I also wonder, is that a cop out? Are you not making the script funnier because you just don’t have the comic chops or might you be lazy? Again, this is all your call. There are hundreds of other writers out there banging on keyboards just like you.
Networks are dying for the next FRIENDS. If yours hits the mark it could be a home run -- a walk off home run. I want to see you get every advantage, avoid every pot hole. It’s your age group, it’s your time – crush it. Just give me all the credit when you’re a success. Best of luck.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM