Thursday, June 02, 2016

"Regrets? I've had a few..."

"...but then again, too few to mention.”

Lyrics from a Sinatra song. Yes, I’m sure he had some regrets. There were still four women on the planet he didn’t sleep with.

But I was reminded of that lyric last night when I watched a YouTube interview with one of my writing heroes, William Goldman. Over the decades he’s turned down many projects. The interviewer asked which ones he regretted. Goldman said THE GODFATHER, THE GRADUATE, and SUPERMAN (he had reasons for passing on each).

So it got me thinking about my own ersatz career. Besides regretting that I wasn’t asked to play Superman, there really aren’t many projects I regret not taking. But for a long time there was – although I don’t regret it anymore.

David Isaacs and I were asked to write the original COSBY pilot. But at the time we were exclusive to 20th Century Fox and couldn’t do it. When the show became a mega-hit it gnawed at me – this was a series that was going to be in reruns forever. Yeah, well… how'd that work out? Now not being associated with Bill Cosby has its own rewards.

We were asked to write POLICE ACADEMY. We met with the producer who said he had this great idea for a movie. “Police Academy!” “Yeah?” we said, “And…?” “That’s it,” he beamed. “A funny police academy.” We moved on. In fairness, had we accepted that assignment and written a screenplay, I suspect we would have been fired and they would have thrown out our script. POLICE ACADEMY was a big hit, but that’s not the kind of comedy we write.

In 1996 we were offered the chance to write the Academy Awards, but we were showrunning ALMOST PERFECT and couldn’t abandon our own series. I hear it’s an assignment fraught with peril but still, it seems like for one year it would be worth the experience. (I’d have trouble reviewing myself however.)

Ann Jillian is a longtime childhood friend. When she got the commitment to star in her own series she asked us to create it for her. We had just come off a series and were beginning other projects so I had to very reluctantly pass, but her show ended up disappointing and I wish I could have spared her some of that (although there’s no guarantee I could’ve done better).

Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with our choices. Some projects worked out better than others and some were more pleasant experiences than others, but that’s life (another Sinatra song).

And there are way more projects we passed on that I’m glad we passed on. Movie rewrites that we knew were nightmares going in. (A good rule of thumb: When they won’t even show you the script before they want you to commit that’s usually a good sign to RUN.) Also, taking over troubled TV series. We once got asked to step in and rescue a sitcom starring Arsenio Hall. He apparently had been such a monster that he literally made the showrunner cry in front of the cast and crew during a runthrough. No thank you.

But I think back to the words of my agent the day he offered that assignment. When we turned it down (immediately) he nodded, said he understood completely, but then added:

You guys would be twice as rich if you were twice as crazy.

I'm sure he's right.  And now, if I may end with another Sinatra lyric… Excuse me, while I disappear.

12 comments:

B.A. said...

"Why do you think I made you watch those POLICE ACADEMY movies?! Because they were funny?! Well I didn't hear anybody laughing!!!"
My favorite Goldman is the original "Princess Bride" novel. Hardcover it came with maps and showed Goldman's interjections in red ink. He used the comments to express frustration with the movie system that existed when he was working on BUTCH. I like his anecdote about his "the world wears bifocals" line. Plus, the tone of the novel was darker, as they would say now, and had a more ambiguous ending than than the beloved Morning In America 1980s movie.

Carol said...

Sort of a tangential question: Can you think of any television shows that you liked that failed? You mentioned Ann Gillian, and she had this short-lived show where she played a 'golden age of Hollywood' ghost. This kid's family moves in, he's the only one who can see her, hi-jinks ensue. Mid 80's or so. My friend and I watched it, and we really liked it, but it just didn't fly. Made me sad. Ditto with Wizards and Warriors and, more recently, Galavant. (although at least we got 2 short series out of it)

And I guess, to keep it relevant, did you watch a show you liked, but failed, and you thought 'this is what I'd have done to save it'?

Mike Barer said...

I saw enough of Arsenio in Celebrity Apprentice (which I watched before the real Trump was known) to figure that I was a bad apple.

VP81955 said...

Friday question: In last week's "The Envelope" in the L.A. Times (which included a conversation between Norman Lear and Chuck Lorre), it was noted no multi-cam sitcom has won a best situation comedy since "Everybody Loves Raymond" in 2005. What do you think will be the next one? That issue had a FYC ad for "The Big Bang Theory," though "Mom" is the best show in the Lorre stable. I'd also like Anna Faris to finally get a nomination; Allison Janney is great, but Anna's character Christy is the heart and soul of that series.

emily said...

Ken, I read your Blog Night And Day. Yep, I've Got You Under My Skin. I Get A Kick Out Of You. If Ever I would Leave You, Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone.

I'll Never Smile Again. It All Depends On You.

SharoneRosen said...

"my own ersatz career????"

hmmm... M*A*S*H, Cheers, Almost Perfect, Frasier... yeah... what a poser!
(you had me at MASH)

Brian said...

Hi Ken, a Friday question: What do you think of Tina Fey's shows, 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt?

Unknown said...

Turns out, M*A*S*H* is the president's favorite TV show. Any regrets about that?
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2014/06/27/presidents-have-favorite-television-shows-too-heres-a-list/

Peter said...

Don't be a tease, Ken! Name some of the movie rewrites you turned down. Was The Flintstones one of them? They assembled about 20 writers and it still ended up an unfunny load of shit. I suspect your and David's writing would have been deemed too smart. The guiding principle on that movie appears to have been "dumb it down as much as possible."

Ditto The Cosby Show. I always found it simple and gentle humour. I doubt they would have wanted anything witty and intelligent.

Mike Scully said...

You could have written The Cosby Show in your sleep. In fact, he would have helped you sleep.

CarolMR said...

"Excuse me, while I disappear." Ken, I love you even more than before - closing with Angel Eyes!

Nevin ":-)" Liber said...

Speaking of William Goldman,a friend of mine pointed me to a Kickstarter for a documentary about him. (I'm not involved, other than we share the same birthday and I used to live in the town he was born in.)