Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post because I wrote too much.
Mel Agar asks:
You've been blessed to write for some of the greatest television shows in history. Is there a show -- either from the past or a contemporary series -- that you wish you'd written for?
There are a bunch. Some are from the ‘50s so I’d be really old now if I had. Still…
THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW – To this day one of the most brilliantly written sitcoms of all-time thanks to the genius of Nat Hiken. How many comedy shows hold up sixty years later? When I showed an episode last year to my USC class they howled. When Millennials think an old black-and-white show starring a middle-aged bald man is a riot you know you’re on to something. To get on that staff you had to have chops. Neil Simon wrote for THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW.
YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS or the later similar CAESAR'S HOUR– These were live variety shows starring Sid Caesar that put together the Mt. Rushmore of writing staffs. Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon – and those were just the names you know about. Everyone on that staff was a hall-of-famer.
actually writing a spec DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. This series was so far superior to any other sitcom at the time (the early to mid ‘60s) that it was like Babe Ruth in his prime playing in a beer league.
THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS SHOW – This would be the only other variety show I would have liked to have written. The political humor and satire of the show was far ahead of its time. Among the staff writers was Steve Martin. I actually inquired about getting a job on that show. I was 17 at the time and had never written anything nor knew the first thing about how you do it, but that didn’t stop me from applying. For reasons I still can’t fathom, they hired someone else. A cool footnote: Years later when we won one of our WGA Awards the presenter was Tommy Smothers. It’s nice getting an award from someone who rejected you,
THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW – For my money the gold standard of character-driven comedy. When David Isaacs and I started out, that was our ultimate goal. We learned how to write sitcoms by studying THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. We wrote a spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (which got us our assignment with THE JEFFERSONS – the two shows are so much alike). And one of the writers of MTM really liked our spec and was trying to get us in to do a freelance assignment. But another freelancer turned in a script that apparently was so awful that the producers decided not to take chances on any other newcomers that season.
ALL IN THE FAMILY – We sort of came close. We did get to pitch story ideas to the producers, but they didn’t buy any.
So there you have it, but I sure don't feel cheated. The shows I was fortunate enough to work on were extraordinary. I do feel incredibly blessed and felt so at the time. To have even written one episode from CHEERS, MASH, FRASIER, or THE SIMPSONS is amazing. We wrote multiple episodes of each (40 CHEERS). You can’t believe the sense of pride there is in knowing that something you wrote decades ago is still being shown and still making people laugh. And I’m not 90.