Thursday, July 09, 2015

Another writing secret to success

As if you’re not already bombarded with enough of them. But if you’re an aspiring writer, versatility could give you a big leg up.

The style of BIG BANG THEORY is very different from KIMMY SCHMIDT and VEEP is a different style from either of them. So is SHAMELESS. So is LOUIE, not to mention MODERN FAMILY (which I just did).

There are lots of comedy writers who are one trick ponies. They can write the shit out of BROOKLYN NINE NINE but would be buried trying to write THE MIDDLE. You might say, "well I like BROOKLYN NINE NINE better. It’s more my sensibility." And that’s great except what if the only opening was on THE MIDDLE?

So can you write a good episode of 2 BROKE GIRLS (assuming that’s even possible) and a good episode of EPISODES?

In a very competitive field you do yourself a big favor by being able to answer yes.

What this unfortunately means is extra work on your part. Don’t just write your one spec pilot and wait for offers. It’s still helpful to write scripts for existing shows. It’s still a big plus to have both a single camera spec and a multi-camera spec.

Being a “funny person” is not enough. I would hope that aspiring comedy writers really study different shows. The tone and storytelling of NEW GIRL is miles apart from the tone and plotting of MOM. You’ll be miles ahead of “Mr. Funny Person” if you learn them.

Early on in our careers, my partner David Isaacs and I tried an experiment. We decided to write an evening of one act plays. There would be four of them – all in different comic styles. We had an overall umbrella theme of Los Angeles but that was the only similarity between the pieces.

The four styles were witty romantic comedy (a la Neil Simon), shock, a one-man monologue, and a farce.

Honestly, we were more successful at some than others. But it forced us to up our game on the genres that were the weakest links. And trust me, the audience told us which those were.

But in the end, that experiment made the transition from MASH to CHEERS much much easier for us.

Agents talk about wanting writers with a fresh unique “voice.” And that’s true, but you help yourself tremendously if you can also do impressions.

As always, best of luck to all aspiring writers. Someone has to break through. Why not YOU?

17 comments:

VP81955 said...

Nick Bakay's resume ranges from "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" (where he also voiced Salen, the animatronic cat) to "The King of Queens" to "Mom" -- three sitcoms with wholly differing sensibilities. But he's helped make them all work.

Terry said...

Not related to this topic but a Friday question for you, Ken: When writing insults for characters to hurl at each other (as happened quite often on Cheers and MASH), do you take the actors' feelings into consideration? Especially if the insult revolves around a physical characteristic? I remember Carla, for example, being referred to as "brillo head" or something similar at least once on Cheers. Would you run something like that by Rhea Pearlman first to make sure she was okay with it?

blinky said...

When you are a funny hammer, every joke looks like a nail. Better to be a funny Swiss Army knife I guess....

Joseph Scarbrough said...

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT sounds really stupid. Now, if it were something like UNBREAKABLE SARAH SCHMIDT, I'd pay to see that.

Andrew said...

@ Terry. Thanks for asking that question. I've always wondered that too. Carla's insults to Diane were brutal too.
Other examples I'm curious about: Jason Alexander and Wayne Knight in Seinfeld (weight, baldness, shortness).

Ed said...

Another Nick Bakay fan!

In addition to the shows mentioned above, he's also written / co-hosted Dennis Miller's late night talk show and did a great bit on ESPN's SportsCenter called Tale of the Tape.

If there was a Bakay fan-club, I'd join!

YEKIMI said...

Here, let me try my hand at writing a "2 Broke Girls" script: "Vagina. Vagina. Balls. Tits. Vagina. Penis. Vagina. Boobs. Nuts." Nailed it!

benson said...

Completely off topic, but bad rerun editing has been discussed a fair amount on this blog:

Last night, the worst rerun edit I've ever witnessed. TVLand, God Bless 'em, edited out the individual solos from "You Need Us", the song sung by the Honey Bees in "Don't Bug the Mosquitos".

Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but, still, wow.


Les said...

Just out of curiosity, how much do you think NBC et al is going to lose from never being allowed to air the Cosby Show again in syndication? $25 million? 50? more?

On the plus side, it seems that any regret you may have had about not being able to write the pilot must now be a giant sigh of relief!

Gary said...

I'm assuming actors are forced to develop thick skins. I remember one Cheers episode where Lilith called Carla a "hideous gargoyle." Wow! No matter who you are, that would have to hurt a little.

Karl said...

I remember watching reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies as a kid and wondering if Nancy Kulp, who played Jane Hathaway, wasn't ever a little offended or hurt by the steady stream of jokes lobbed at her over her appearance and lack of sex appeal. I mean, I guess actors just separate it out. It's directed at the character. Not at them personally. Still, I wonder sometimes. Like all those overweight women on Married with Children who were hired to be insulted by Al Bundy as being fat and unattractive.

Mike Barer said...

The trouble with Veep, while I love the show, is that it seems like one writer is doing all the characters, hence they all use analogy as their sense of humor. For instance, this season's best line "your the worst thing to happen to this country since food in buckets..!"

Pablo said...

True artists aren't necessarily good at everything except their specialty. Could Picasso manage realism a la Rockwell, or could Rockwell do abstract like Picasso? Which might beg the question - are sitcom writers true artists? Which also might beg the question, would the comedies on the air be better off if they were manned or "womaned" by writers who specialized in that show's given genre? But I get your point - as a matter of practicality and employability, I guess you need to be all things to all showrunners. As for Cosby, I think Seinfeld should feature him in the premiere episode of next season's "Comedians in Cars". Jerry could pick him up in... "a 1955 Chevy convertible, top speed 93 miles per hour, the American symbol of dominance and power in which underage girls found themselves hopping into the backseat for a little unanticipated action, the perfect vehicle for today's guest, Mister Unanticipated Action, himself, Bill Cosby." ... Bill: (over phone) "Hello?" ... "Bill, it's Jerry."... Bill: "Jerry, my lawyer?" ... "No, Seinfeld. Want to grab some coffee?" ... Bill: "Is she cute? The phone cut out after you said, 'Want to grab'."

Rashad Khan said...

Potential Friday Question: In your opinion, what is the ideal number of characters to have in the regular cast of a half-hour series? Is there ever a case of having too few characters on a show, or too many?

MikeK.Pa. said...

"Early on in our careers, my partner David Isaacs and I tried an experiment. We decided to write an evening of one act plays. There would be four of them – all in different comic styles. We had an overall umbrella theme of Los Angeles but that was the only similarity between the pieces."

What a great exercise to stretch your creative muscles and get outside your comedy comfort zone.

Diane D. said...

Since Comedy has always been considered true art, why would 20th/21st Century Situation Comedy not be considered art? This is an honest question. I've always been a little obsessed with the definition of art. There are so many that it isn't easy to figure out what most people mean when they say it.

Jay Walker said...

I discovered your blog just recently and have been pleasantly binge reading over the last week. It's a fascinating peek behind the curtain and inside the heads of those who create entertainment. Now that I'm retired (survived) from radio, I am really enjoying reading about the creative process in that "other" media. I only wish I could read the blog in chronological order since it would help me keep the stories straight. I just wanted to drop a line and say Thank You.