Friday, April 06, 2012

How to find a writing partner

Here are some Friday Questions to kick off your weekend and the baseball season.

Trixie Malone wants to know:

How does a budding comedy writer find other budding comedy writers to partner up with? I've tried the number on the bathroom stall trick, but those people just aren't funny. Any suggestions?

One of my readers, Darren, saw this and offered a great suggestion:

Try this group.  

It's an online group of about 600 TV writers around the world. Occasionally, people post looking for writing groups and partners. We share info, scripts, do meetups in LA and commiserate. It's 3 parts education, 2 parts support group, 1 part Alcoholics-Not-Very-Anonymous. Good luck!

Thanks, Darren. Another avenue is through writing courses. Lots of people pair up that way.

From time to time the WGA holds events where writers seeking partners are encouraged to attend. Go to their website and keep an eye out for future events. David and I once spoke at one of these and the ad read, “Who knows? The next Levine & Isaacs could be formed at this meeting.”  My reaction was, “Hey, WE’RE the next Levine & Isaacs!”

Nick asks:

I've often heard the old story about how Cheers came dead last in the ratings in it's first season - my question is an obvious one: How or why was Cheers even renewed for the second season when it's ratings were so bad? Also - when did the ratings start to improve (because the quality of the show is evident even in season #1) and if it was on the air today would it survive? Or is today's TV environment too different?

We were renewed because Grant Tinker (pictured: left)and Brandon Tartikoff of NBC believed in the show. They appreciated its quality, were proud to air that kind of show, and… (real reason) they had nothing else better to replace it with.

NBC was in a re-building period and that takes time. It was like trying to make a U-turn in a battleship.

Tinker and Tartikoff realized the ratings problems with CHEERS wasn’t the content but the network’s inability to adequately promote the show because they had no hits to help launch it. And ironically, the disappointing numbers CHEERS had then (1982) would make it a runaway smash in today’s landscape.

Two things helped CHEERS: winning the Best Comedy Emmy that first year (no easy feat since the competition was the last season of MASH and the last season of TAXI), and then COSBY’S arrival season three. COSBY was an absolute game-changer. It exploded onto the scene, getting unheard-of shares in the 40’s. Riding its coat-tails, CHEERS rocketed into the top ten and stayed there for the rest of its run.

Hard to say whether this could happen today. I suppose it’s possible if the network powers-that-be are willing to stick with a show they believe in. I suppose the big difference between then and now is in 1982 NBC championed CHEERS. Today they champion WHITNEY.

On a related subject, Chris wonders:

Any idea why CBS would keep trying to screw over a good show, that also has good numbers, like RULES OF ENGAGEMENT? First they move it to Saturday nights to put on HOW TO BE A GENTLEMAN then they force it to go on hiatus for months to give the slot to ROB! Why would they try to mess a show with good numbers up?

Because CBS considers RULES OF ENGAGEMENT a bullpen show. It's the pitcher you bring in once the starter gives up eight runs.  RULES performs for them but they don’t really love it. I was involved in a similar situation with BECKER. CBS never really believed in the show. And yet it continued to get good numbers wherever they placed it. So they just kept moving it around to shore up holes. Good for them, not good for a show trying to build an audience.

I can’t tell you how many people have said to me they discovered BECKER in syndication and love it. But they had no memory of it being on the network. BECKER was on CBS for five friggin’ seasons.

I bet RULES OF ENGAGEMENT has the same fate. People will think it’s a nice new cable show.

From SkippyMom:

Opening day is finally here. I hope you enjoy this season as much as you did all the others. I am quite jealous I might add. What was your favorite/most memorable night in the booth?

A spring training game in Glendale, Arizona in 2009. I was filling in for the Dodgers on the radio. It was also a TV game, which meant that Vin Scully did the first three innings as a simulcast and then the last six on TV. So for that one glorious March Sunday afternoon, Dodger baseball was broadcast by Vin Scully and me. I still have the tape of Vinny tossing it to me for the play-by-play. I don’t think I could covet an Oscar more.

What’s your question?


Jake James said...

On Frasier, did you (and David) create the character of the over-the-top Bebe Glazer (the wonderful Harriet Sansom Harris) and how was she found for the part - she was brilliant?

And who, you or David, wrote the line, "Your glockenspiel has sprung to life." From the episode, A Mid-Winter Night's Dream (a brilliant episode).

Redhead said...

I don't have a Friday question, but wanted to note that I watched and loved Cheers from its very first episode. If I recall correctly, it followed Fame and Gimme a Break in the schedule -- is it any wonder that so few people saw that first season? I just happened to be 11 ( but a bright 11), a weird in-between age meaning that I could sit through those two shows, yet still appreciate the wit of Cheers.

I still remember watching that '83 Emmy telecast on my parents' upstairs black-and-white TV and occasionally yelling down to them when somebody I was rooting for won. It's been awhile, but I'm pretty sure I remember being particularly happy about Christopher Lloyd (for Jim on Taxi), Rhea Perlman, and of course, Cheers taking home the prize for Best Comedy Series. I knew that meant my new favorite show might actually have a shot at returning to the Fall schedule.

Amazing to think that if Cheers had been canceled, NBC might have replaced it with Mr. Smith (the orangutan from Every Which Way But Loose becomes a congressman), Manimal (Simon MacCorkindale can change into any kind of animal in his efforts to fight crime...but mainly he changes into a hawk or a panther, since the only two transformation sequences they'd filmed were used and re-used throughout the show's 13-episode run), or Misfits of Science (Courteney Cox's best role to date...whatever happened to her?).

SkippyMom said...

Okay, now I'm truly jealous! I understand that being #1. WOW! Thank you for the sharing.

Nat Gertler said...

On the advantage of a good lead-in:

During his days starring in Night Court, when it was part of NBC's killer line-up, I went to see Harry Anderson's magic act in Atlantic City. For one trick which involved a glass of liquid, Harry raised the glass in a toasting motion, and said "cheers". Then, after a pause, "okay, if we're really giving credit where it's due, Cosby."

Michael said...

Nat, if that doesn't prove that Harry Anderson is a genius ....

Ken, next to my wedding day, the greatest day of my life was meeting The Vin when I was nine years old. So, yours is #1 with a bullet.

Johnny Walker said...

Becker was actually on for six friggin' seasons. Even worse than you thought!

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I once read an interview with Grant Tinker right before The Cosby Show premiered (which means that when he predicted NBC was about to turn itself around, he was actually right) where he mentioned that in addition to believing in Cheers, the show was also doing well with "urban, upscale viewers" who are of particular interest to advertisers. That's the same reason he was able to keep St. Elsewhere, and much later, the reason 30 Rock lasted so many seasons despite low ratings.

David Das said...

Unrelated to your post, but just thinking about shows getting picked up and renewed, I just came across this wonderful vintage original video pitch for the Muppet show -- thought you might enjoy:

Don Rooney said...

You and Vin in the booth together! Wow! Here's my baseball dream-come-true, Philadelphia-style: I was serving as emcee a few years ago for the Philadelphia Associated Press Association awards luncheon. One of the other board members knew the late, great Harry Kalas and asked him to announce the winners in the sports broadcasting category. Harry couldn't make it to the luncheon but he graciously agreed to pre-tape his part of the program to be played over the PA system. When he was done, his pre-taped voice came over the speakers saying, "And now, back to Don Rooney with the rest of the awards." I still have that tape!

Eric J said...

I remember thinking, "Who would want to watch a program about barflies?" Seriously. As a result I avoided the first season, then got completely hooked in summer reruns, and remain a fan to this day.

Kirk said...

One of the ironic things about CHEERS, and, really, TAXI, too, is that both shows were considered "sophisticated" yet, for the most part, they were about unsophisticated people. Yet neither show looked down nor patronized its characters. Sure, much of the humor on CHEERS did revolve around the characters lack of sophistication. However, the two most sophisticated characters, Diane and Frazier, were often the butt of the jokes.

I guess such clever writing is what, in the end, made CHEERS so sophisticated, huh?

Doug said...


I'm jealous of your association with Vin Scully. He's the best.

In fact, last night (Thursday) I flipped to the MLB Network to find the Padres / Dodgers game on.

I'm a Diamondbacks fan, but I watched this game for the pure joy of hearing the master. He did not disappoint.

What's amazing about Vin (one thing among many) is that when you hear him. you expect a color analyst to chime in because Vin is carrying on a conversation. He is, but the conversation is with ME, the listener. How cool is that?

Vin is unbeatable. God love 'im.

Redhead said...

I also remember Open All Night, which aired when I was 10. I was a weird little girl, I don't deny it! I don't know that I saw all of the episodes that aired, but I do remember liking it.

OH!! Here's a Friday question! Was Open All Night at all based upon the UK show Open All Hours?

Matt Patton said...

I was afraid that this time would come. When I would have to explain the Facts of Life to a Hungarian . . ."

Birdie said...

I like all of Cheers but ironically my favorite seasons are in fact the first two, when no one was watching. Anyone else with me?

In fact, if we were judging on first seasons alone, Cheers would be my favorite series.

I don't think Taxi had much of a chance that year since the show had been cancelled - after its year at NBC.

Cheers was lucky in that it came around when the 70s sitcoms were either gone or on their way out, and before what we knw as the 80s sitcoms came on the scene. While Shelley Long I think would have deserved that Emmy in any year, I remember her actress competition being particularly weak.

Similarly, while my personal opinion is Cheers deserved the Emmy that year hands down, I think the reality is that they were lucky there wasn't much competition - as that season represented a sort of lull between two highly competitive sitcom eras.

John said...

1) The importance of a lead in cannot be overstated. Almost without fail the top rated new shows are ones with a strong lead in. This doesn't mean that the shows are bad, but it doesn't mean they are good either. It is just like real estate - location, location, location.

2) Friday question. What show is your biggest disappointment for cancellation because of time slot / time changes ? Sometimes even the good shows get the axe over it. IIRC Drew Carey was doing fine and ABC moved him to anchor a struggling night. He struggled, and then repeatedly jumped the shark trying desperately to boost ratings, while getting pushed from slot to slot. The last season was aired because of contract and ABC dumped them in the middle of summer, two at at time. Pity. Similarly the current CBS Monday lineup is suffering in my household because of time slot tinkering. We used to watch HIMYM, BBT, 21/2Men and then turn it off. Now the prospect of 2 broke girls in the middle of it means we almost never watch it. And I don't know the last time I saw BBT on Thursday.

ChicagoJohn said...

Friday question:
I think that JK Rowling once said that she loved to write Luna Lovegood. With that in mind:
Do you have a favorite character to write, or a character that you couldn't wait to write?

Johnny Walker said...

Good question, ChicagoJohn! I'd like to know the answer to that.

Birdie, I don't think you're alone there. Early Cheers was phenomenal.

Mike Schryver said...

Potential Friday question:
Ken, you talked the other day about the changes in the Frasier character.
That got me thinking about sonething else. It seemed to me that the Niles character became a lot less stuffy over the run of FRASIER, to the point where DHP almost gave him a different voice in later seasons. Early on, his delivery was tight and clipped, and later was much more like a regular guy.
Is there anything you can tell us about that transition? Is it interesting only to me? Should I stop watching FRASIER episodes and go out and get some sun?

Pat Reeder said...

I remember watching the first episode of "Cheers" the night it debuted, knowing nothing about it. Diane and her pompous professor date came in, and the date began quoting a long poem as Sam poured their drinks. At the end, he said, "That's Donne." And Sam said, "I certainly hope so." That's when I immediately realized this was something special on the TV scene and never missed it again. Sort of like when I stumbled into episode two of "House" while channel-surfing, having never heard a word about it, and landed on one of House's bitter but hilarious monologues about his patients' dishonesty and self-delusions. I never missed an episode of that again, either.

My question would be: "Where did you find that picture of me and my former writing partner?"

Anonymous said...

Giant game-changing shows like Cosby don't come around anymore. You were fortune indeed to be on the tail of a comet. You gotta love it when a plan works out like that.

David Baruffi said...

To begin with, I can't understand why CBS keeps "Rules of Engagement" on the air! That show's been absolutely terrible for years now, and I often complain about how come it hasn't been cancelled yet. You're about "Becker," never getting a real shot, but I did find it on the air the first time and for most of the show, it was quite good.

Actually, I do have a question, 'cause somebody mentioned about how well the ratings in certain demographics shows like "Cheers" and "Taxi" got, and I think networks right now are creating and producing shows that are too demographic specific. The worst offenders I think is the CW channel, that I'm convinced only wants stupid 10-year old girls. (Not the smart ones, the stupid ones)But it's all through the networks for a couple years now, as a show like "30 Rock," get high ratings among a key demographic, while a totally different demographic watches "Gossip Girl" and another watches... I watch TV reruns sometimes and think "'Mary Tyler Moore,' wasn't aiming for only middle-class single working females, it was just good." Are the major networks leaning towards shows because of the ratings they get in specific demographics, or are they leaning towards getting specific demographics more than they used to, or am I just taking an overly-critical eye and imagining things?

Johnny Walker said...

Mike, as someone who has been enjoying watching the entire run, I have an opinion on that.

If you think about it, it's something that happens with a lot of shows: Their characters become more "normal" and likeable as time goes on. I think this is probably due to a number of things: The characters becoming more like the actors. The characters learning more lessons as time goes on. Affectations slowly dropping away as writers realise they're becoming cliched, or just getting in the way, or are otherwise unnecessary for the character to work (think how Miles no longer cleans every chair he wants to sit on). Finally, I remember Ken writing about the writing staff falling in love with the characters. Winchester from MASH being a good example: Becoming more reasonable and likeable as the show progressed.

I'm sure Ken has more to say on the subject and can put it much better than me.

Michael said...

Johnny, I'm not the Mike you addressed, but I have a thought on that. Namely, we're talking here about intelligent characters on long-running series, and I chose my words carefully. Winchester's character existed on MASH for six years, twice as long as the Korean War. Even if he had been there the whole time, would he be flash-frozen or evolve? Larry Linville said a key reason he left a show he loved was that the character had nowhere to go: he couldn't suddenly become competent or lovable. As funny as I think MASH was in the later years of Linville's tenure, Frank really had become too much of a caricature.

Liggie said...

Friday question, related to baseball. I think MLB someday would love to add two more teams, so they can have an NFL-like 4-divisions-of-4-teams structure in each league. You get that feeling too? If so, where would you put those two teams (assuming the stadiums can get built)?

Anonymous said...

If you're looking for a writing group -- this one is pretty good:

Many of their members are professionals, and admission is by invitation only. But there are also many newer writers, so go ahead and submit.

Dan in West Seattle said...

If you could contrive and produce a reality show, what aspects of your subjects life/lives would you focus on - job, personality, obsession, lifestyle, family, bad habits, other, all of the above? This is a truly magical show where you are allowed full control of content and your first season will play out on whatever channel and time slot you choose.

Also, can you please talk about Ken Wilson and Ron Fairly a bit. Love them both. Thanks!

Johnny Walker said...

Hey Michael, I think you're absolutely right. I'm sure Winchester would change. I was referring to something about writers falling in love with their characters (which I believe is something Ken once talked about, but I can't remember where).

I think the difference is that characters start changing in the same way: Having their edges softened. Not so much a decision on how someone might actually change, but rather a slow drift towards likeability (for lack of a better word).

You see what I'm trying to describe in a lot of different shows, I'm just doing a terrible job of trying to describe it.

cadavra said...

Speaking of Harry Anderson's toast, whenever I find myself in that situation and someone says, "Cheers," I clink their glass and reply, "Frasier." Maybe half of them get it right away, and a few more after giving it some thought. If I have to explain it, I know the conversation will not last much longer.