Check it out.)
I’m still waiting for Carl Reiner’s reaction. When I receive it I will share it with you immediately, even it means delaying a post where I again plug one of my damn books.
Okay, so first off Bill sent me this email:
Reading the script was like a time machine transporting me back to the 60's; Obviously you capture the rhythm, style and sound of the show and characters, and the jokes were great and in character- you really had Alan cold. As to the story, we probably would have handled it differently. I'd be happy, with or without Carl to have a conversation about it, Another thing that I have thought about, and is clear in what you did, is how innocent we were, and how narrow the boundaries we functioned in- even though we were tough on some issues. I don't know that you could do the Van Dyke Show today without the episode of Rob getting caught watching porn in the office. Just let me know what you would like to do, and I'll be happy to do it. Bill
Is he a mensch or what? I then arranged for a phone conversation, which lasted probably a half an hour.
When I turn in a first draft I EXPECT there will be lines, or jokes, or moments that the powers-that-be will request be changed. But I’ve found that when you’re always second guessing yourself, wondering what will please the showrunner instead of writing what you think is good, you’re going to turn in a tepid draft.
I also should mention I’m much more receptive to doing the notes given by the showrunner because it’s his show. He knows it better than anybody. If he thinks a character wouldn’t say a particular line there’s no debate. He’s right.
Very semi-briefly: This was my thought process on how I broke the story. I thought it would be fun to have Alan Brady be an unwanted houseguest. Selfishly speaking, I wanted to write that character. I think my all-time favorite scene in THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was the Alan-Laura scene in COAST TO COAST BIG MOUTH. (If you haven’t seen that episode you really need to. It's on YouTube. Go and come back.)
I created the car accident to establish Millie as a blabbermouth so she would ultimately pose a threat.
I needed a reason for Alan to hide out at Rob’s house. I wanted it to be scandalous but 1960s appropriate. And I wanted it to be a funny situation. So I thought of him being caught with strippers. Still, it needed a comic spin so that’s when I came up with the funeral angle.
Once Alan got to the house I wanted to introduce a flip. The audience would be expecting the obvious – he’s pushy, overbearing, obnoxious. I wanted to do something unexpected and yet plausible. That’s why I structured it that he cooks them dinner, is nice to Ritchie, will sleep on the couch. The twist is Laura sees he left the kitchen a mess and is not a good houseguest at all.
And what seemed like a nice gesture to Ritchie is actually corrupting him and by sleeping in the middle of the house Alan's snoring is keeping everyone awake. I also had Rob explain that Alan must be in real pain having to keep up this facade. So Alan’s niceness is not out of character, it’s a conscious choice.
To make matters worse, Buddy and Sally were summoned the next day. More upheaval and another chance to write Buddy and Sally.
I was building to Laura having to make a tough decision – sacrifice her reputation or throw Alan under the bus? The new car was to help make her feel more guilty. Always make it harder. I personally love constructing stories where characters have to make tough choices. They're relatable predicaments (which is why a DICK VAN DYKE SHOW episode still connects with viewers decade after decade) and their decisions really help define who they are.
It also tied into the other storyline because Alan knew their car was heavily damaged in the accident. Back in those days it was almost customary for the star to give people cars as a way of thanks. Desi Arnaz used to do that all the time. Producer Danny Arnold would give a writer a car if he had to write a script quickly and didn’t sleep for two days. So Alan Brady giving Laura a car seemed justified to me.
I wanted Alan to have to make a big decision too. Let Laura take the fall or fess up? That's why I had Rob lay out the consequences of Millie thinking their marriage was in trouble.
Would Alan step up and let Laura off the hook? He let her off the hook in COAST TO COAST BIG MOUTH. Judgment call – I thought he would.
Okay, so that was my game plan. Now let's see how much better it can be.
As Bill said in his email, he had problems with the story. He felt the car accident didn’t really pay off. I used it as a device, but he felt I could have done more. I can't argue with that. In fact, he thought it could be expanded into a whole episode.
He said, what if Laura was driving somewhere and Millie was following her? Then the two of them get into an accident and the issue becomes which of them is at fault? Put Rob in the middle. The show becomes about two best friends who have a falling out. Could Ritchie still play with their son? It's simple but universal. Who hasn't had a falling out with a close friend? And again, the star of the show is in the middle of it. Much better than what I had.
Another option is to keep the accident as part of the Alan Brady story but let Alan get involved. Let him have some take on the accident and argument.
Bill said they probably would have let me say that Alan was having an affair. That’s the advantage of working out the story with the writers. As a freelancer I would not have known that. But then again, unless they’ve established that already as part of his character, they would not expect me to know that. Oh, he thought the funeral/stripper angle was funny.
Bill felt I didn’t need the scene in the writers room. Alan could have just barged in on Rob & Laura and announced he was staying for a few days. This would have amped up both Rob & Laura’s reaction and given Rob less time to prepare. It would have been a more fun surprise for the audience too. He’s totally right. If I went in that direction, however, I would like to find an alternative scene in the office. Those office scenes are always fun.
I mentioned to Bill that the character I had the toughest time writing was Rob. Did he and the writers feel that way too? He said, no, not at all. And if I had trouble it’s because I didn’t give him enough to do. Providing him that little physical (choking) routine wasn’t enough. Putting him in the middle of an argument between Laura and Millie would be better. Or, in the Alan story, let Rob be the one to do all the dishes and try to clean up Alan’s mess. As he was saying all this I thought to myself, “Jesus, of course that’s better. Why didn’t I think of that?”
You're never too old to learn.
MORE TOMORROW including his final thoughts on my script and the age of innocence that this series was produced in.