Friday, April 23, 2010

Washington DC -- home of two of our failed pilots

Hello from Washington D.C. My partner David Isaacs and I once wrote a pilot set in this town (well, actually two pilots but the same theme). It was set in D.C., we spent several days in Washington doing research only to learn that all of the great dynamics we thought were in the premise did not in real life exist. Plus, ABC was nervous that the subject matter might be too controversial. So what we were left with was a show with no conflict and no bite.

Today, that would be enough to stop us. Today we’d go back to the network and say we can’t write this. There’s no show here. If we had to produce 13 of these we’d end up in ICU. But then we were young so we wrote it anyway. ABC was thrilled with the script. But they didn’t pick it up. It was STILL too controversial.

We actually breathed a sigh of relief. But a month later HBO called. They had heard of the project and wanted us to re-develop it for them. Except they wanted it super edgy. Our only guideline – don’t make it anything like any other sitcom you might see on traditional TV.

So we wrote that script. It was a very funny scathing satirical piece about Washington.

We had a deal at Lorimar at the time and its president, Lee Rich so hated the new version he tried to fire us from our deal. Everything HBO asked for was everything he despised. Needless to say, that project died. He cooled down and didn’t fire us. But CHEERS came along and we left there so fast you can still see skid marks.

I still say Washington D.C. is fertile ground for a sitcom. Just not the ones we wrote.


Anonymous said...

I agree - there's plenty of material with DC. And the various shades of suburbs. I worry that you'd always be under threat from executive meddling - the local angles wouldn't translate outside of DC and it's too easy to set somebody off on politics unless the show creator has a long leash.

gottacook said...

I live in the Maryland suburbs of DC (since 1993) and take the metro into town three days a week. Life here has often been frustrating - it would be even worse if I couldn't routinely work at home - and sometimes very sad. For example, one week ago the former assistant principal at my daughter's middle school (who had since been recruited to be principal of a DC middle school, and really made a difference there) was found murdered in his home in Silver Spring - no one has yet been charged - and if that's not bad enough, one of the local right-wing papers, the Examiner, ran a "news" story yesterday that implied that he himself was to blame because he was gay. Moreover, you can't listen to the radio or TV news without risking hearing about the temperature at "Reagan" National Airport, the result of a bill passed by the then-GOP-controlled Congress and signed by Bill Clinton at his lowest political ebb (a few weeks after the Monica Lewinsky story broke in early 1998) as an 87th birthday president for the Gipper; half the people around here call it simply "Reagan" and half call it simply "National." If anyone can find comedy in such divisiveness, please let me know ASAP. Otherwise I won't be able to retain my sanity until the kids are off to college and we can move away - the public schools here (in Montgomery County, not DC) are quite good.

blogward said...

The UK does political sitcom regularly: Yes, Minister (which went to 5 seasons), The Thick of It, The New Statesman; Blackadder was politically satirical (with a four-inch brush) - I guess we like to revel in our cynicism, and still maintain a class system. There was also Citizen Smith, about a constantly-failing revolutionary.

Roger Owen Green said...

I was always fond of The Powers that Be that didn't last very long. It starred John Forsythe, Holland Taylor, Valerie Mahaffey and some guy named David Hyde-Pierce, who apparently never got an acting job after that.

dodz said...

i really want to go there. but i can't afford he he he Washington is cool

Unknown said...

Hands-down greatest comedy ever on American TV: Frasier.

Greatest British comedy: Yes, Minister (and subsequent spin-off: Yes, Prime Minister).

I don't know how the civil service works in the US, but an Americanization of Yes, Minister would be interesting...provided you could equal the talent of the British original.

Jim said...

I'm really curious what you mean by "all of the great dynamics we thought were in the premise did not in real life exist."

Dave Creek said...

The West Wing, though primarily a drama, also found plenty of comedy in D.C. It looked at the specific situations the characters found themselves in and those characters' reactions, like any good sitcom.

And although Aaron Sorkin definitely came at it from a liberal Democratic viewpoint (one I share), he also gave Republicans valid points at times and found the foibles even of characters he obviously identified with.

A. Buck Short said...

Just when we think we know everything about you guys from this blog, you pull something like this out of your hat. Or are these long-repressed memories only triggered to the surface by powerful stimuli like, say, the Washington Monument? (That’s why I’m still distressed the Equal Rights Amendment never passed. The Martha Washington Monument: a 555 ft.-5-1/8” hole in the ground.)

Whenever I get bummed about the Texas Rangers narrowly avoiding another one of their longest slides in years, like they just finally did at Fenway, I remember they used to be the Washington Senators, and assume they had to have entered into another pact with the devil, aka Tom DeLay.

Our home town team is still apparently trying to finagle its way to the pennant with similar arrangements involving the nation’s capital. Unfortunately nobody believed that it wasn’t Rangers manager Ron Washington who tested positive for cocaine at last years’ all-star break – but former Washington mayor Marion Barry attempting to inhale the first base line at Nationals Park – built with public funds after the Montreal Expos made their own pact with the devil (aka Goldman Sachs) to sell subprime mortgage derivatives short-stop. (Yes I realize that’s an awfully long way to go for a lame quip – but not nearly as long as the Nats, Rangers, and your Mariners have gone without a pennant.)

Incidentally, so help me God, there’s a yogurt I buy religiously, only because its flavor is Marion Berry.

The only thing I remember about Montgomery County is that it seemed to be a pretty posh place and we were married there at the Woodmont Country Club, where my mother-in-law once golfed with Frank Mankiewicz while dating his uncle Manny. The Woodmont now reminding me of your recent story about Woody Allen shooting and strapping a moose to the hood of his car, while Montgomery County had a Moose as chief of police, trying to find a sniper shooting people out of the trunk of a car. [What, weren’t you already warned about marathon distance punning?]

Ken, yesterday your buddy Earl Pomerantz posted that he’d been ask to join a boatload of DC pundits and Beltway insiders as a contributor to a well-respected news source, I commented back that he should distinguish himself from the others by calling his blog from LA Sansabeltway.

Does the chair hear a motion to adjourn? It's hazardous waste recycling weekend at our neighborhood rec. center, and they're bringing a shredder truck. That's the kind of excitement we get around here.

WV: swagg (half the stuff I'll be shredding in about 45 min.)

AlaskaRay said...

>>And although Aaron Sorkin definitely came at it from a liberal Democratic viewpoint (one I share), he also gave Republicans valid points at times and found the foibles even of characters he obviously identified with.<<

The Republicans in West Wing didn't really need valid points once Sorkin brought Emily Proctor on board as a super smart Republican consultant. Any point she tried to make was fine with me.

I actually live just outside DC in Northern Virginia and work as a counter-terrorism consultant. The guys I work with are all very smart, very nice, and very Republican. I usually refer to myself as the token liberal, but we all get along jsut fine. It's a reminder that we're really not separated by our differences.

I know the son of one of these colleagues (and a good friend of mine for many years) reads this blog.

See you tonight for dinner, Ken.


BrigittaV said...

I, too, am still waiting for a smart sit-com about DC. I know it's out there.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the BBC's most recent political satire, The Thick of It. I was glued to my set and writhing with laughter. It's vicious, profane, and not for the faint of heart. I recommend it highly.

Sandy Koufax said...

Wasn't "Spin City" a sitcom centered in Washington D.C. ? I thought it was...

-bee said...

I think Frank Burns would have ended up as a big shot in DC - maybe as some sort of lobbyist.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I love the idea that a sitcom about Washington was "too controversial." Maybe you should have set it in Branson, Mo.

There was a Britcom called "The Fairly Secret Army" that I enjoyed (a spinoff from "Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin") about an ex-army officer and his dodgy friends preparing for some kind of coup. Maybe you and Mr. Isaacs could tweak it into a satire of our militia movement. Too controversial? Yeah, probably.