Thursday, September 04, 2008

Why do I write for television?

Bridget Loves BernieFriday Question of the Week time. There is one of those meme things going around. Various scribes on the blogosphere are being asked why they wanted to write for television? You know me. I can’t resist a good meme (whatever the hell that means).

My partner David and I started out at a time when television comedy was vastly superior to film, certainly in quantity and variety of styles. This was the early 70’s (1970s not 18) and with the exception of Woody Allen and Mel Brooks movies there was very little hilarity on the silver screen. It was a golden age of cinema with Coppola, Spielberg, Friedkin, Lucas, DePalma, Scorsese, Ashby, Altman, and whoever directed BLACKUA turning out one classic after another. But comedy was relegated to the back seat.

TV was a different story. This was the heyday of ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, MAUDE, BARNEY MILLER, THE ODD COUPLE, and BRIDGET LOVES BERNIE. We were much more inspired to write for television (especially that last classic.

Plus, when we started we knew NOTHING about writing. I had to buy a TV script just to see what one looked like. So we figured it was probably easier to master 35 pages than 120. And since we’re still trying to master those 35 pages I’d say we were right.

Another thing I like about TV is the immediacy of it. You write something, it gets filmed next month, the following month it’s on the air, ten minutes later it's on HULU, eighteen minutes after that the DVD comes out, and within an hour used copies are available for $ 19 on Amazon. You can serve it while it’s hot. Movies take forevvvvvver… and that’s if you’re even lucky enough to get one in production. We wrote our first draft of VOLUNTEERS in 1980. It came out in 1985.

TV is also a writer’s medium. Film is a director’s. Writers become show runners in TV. They get thrown off the set in movies. TV writers have some control. Movie writers get rewritten by the director and his wife’s slow cousin.

And it used to be that if you wrote a show that aired on a major network, more people would see it, even if it finished dead last in the ratings, than have seen all the live productions of HAMLET put together. But with NBC’s line up that’s no longer true. Still, more people will see a show you write for the Peacock network than have seen all the productions of Joan Rivers’ one-woman show ever staged.

There are certainly plusses for writing screenplays too, and we’ve been fortunate enough to do both. But for some reason we always come back to television. Of course that could also be because they’ve heard of us in television.


Gail Renard said...

And don't forget George Burns's maxim: There's no heavy lifting.

Tallulah Morehead said...

You imply that William Crain, who directed BLACULA at the venerable age of 21, is a HACK?

Did you see any of his brilliant, critically-acclaimed episodes of THE DUKES OF HAZZARD? He brought out the magic of monnshining hicks driving recklessly.

How about his episodes of STARSKY AND HUTCH, THE MOD SQUAD, THE ROOKIES, MATT HUSTON, or SWAT? And don't forget his other cinema gems, JOY RIDE: AN AUTO THEFT, and DOCTOR BLACK AND MISTER HYDE. And ALL directed in his 20s! (He's barely 7 months older than yourself.) The moon shines out of his moon, or at least out of his moonshine.

Now Bob Kelljan, who directed SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM, he was a hack.


Anonymous said...

Why you not write to radio programme also?

stålar said...

Ken, I'd be interested to know what the difference is between the different writing credits you see on a show; you have your staff writers, story editors, creative consultants (which I think you described once in a post as authorities doing basically nothing) etc etc , could they all be that useful?

Anonymous said...

This is not a meme, just a fad. A meme (as it's currently used) is a general idea recognized by a culture, transmitted by its own people. Like "The french surrender". Originally, a meme was just a single unit of cultural information transmitted from one person to another (the name comes from the word "gene" used in genetics), like one guy would make the joke "the french surrender", that's a meme. Then the second guy would repeat it differently, as "the french escape from every conflict", that's another meme (because of the slight variation), and they keep going around, mutating. Alltogether, they form the generally recognized notion that "the french surrender", that we call a "meme".

Nowadays, memes are easilly transmitted by actual people, instead of being mostly pushed by the media (like my example above; sit-com writers seem to think that's hillarious), through this new thing we have called "the internet".

Tallulah Morehead said...

Meme is also derived from the same root as "Memory", a meme being a mental artifact after all.

Of course, no one can stand a French Street Meme.

On a recent episode of DOCTOR WHO, titled THE END OF THE WORLD (It was an early recent episode), a row of identical monks were introduced as "Adherents of the Repeated Meme." When The Doctor pointed out that a meme was merely (or memely?) an idea, the empty monks robes all collapsed.

Anonymous said...

Whay dont you do some movies review on this blog?

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