Tuesday, May 17, 2016

My attempt at writing a FRIENDS script

Had the weirdest dream last night.  It’s a strange variation of the workplace nightmare where you forgot to do your assignment and everything is going wrong and the clock is ticking. Whether you’re a writer or shoe salesman you’ve experienced some version of that dream. But like I said, mine was somewhat different. Okay, here it is:

I was hired to join the staff of FRIENDS, probably as a producer. I was the new guy. It was the beginning of a season. I didn’t know any of the other FRIENDS writers. (In truth, I know most of the FRIENDS writers.)

Our offices were in a cool house set up on the Warner Brothers lot (much like the “Big Brother” house ensconced in the middle of CBS/Radford). There was the writers’ room in one part, and living quarters for the actors in another. Yes, the cast of FRIENDS all lived together. (Why would Courtney Cox buy her own mansion when she can share a room with Lisa Kudrow? But I digress.)

For some reason, even before the first day, I had decided to write a FRIENDS script on my own. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. In real life I would NEVER do that. It’s an utterly INSANE thing to do.

I still don’t know what motivated me. Did I think I was that brilliant a writer that I could just go rogue and everybody would be blown away? Was I trying to impress Kaufman & Crane? Was this one of those horrible side effects they list on TV drug commercials?

In any event, I bang out this script, and in the dream I’m really proud of it. I have a PA make a couple of copies. The copier, of course, is in the actors’ living quarters.

I’m now in the break room, still enormously impressed with myself when Jennifer Aniston comes in to pour herself some coffee. She’s talking to the PA and I overhear her say, “Do you know who wrote this script? I read some of it and it was just horrendous. Who is this person? He obviously doesn’t know the show.” Then she turns to me. I had never met her. She squints and says, “Did you write this piece of shit?” At that moment I panicked and lied. “What? Me? No way.” She walked out saying, “Good luck when Marta (Kaufman) reads this.”

And now I’m alternately thinking, “What the fuck did I do?” and “How could it so bad? I’m a funny guy. I wrote for FRASIER, I can certainly write for FRIENDS.” So (still in the dream) I screened an episode of FRIENDS to see where I went wrong. The first scene was in Central Perk and I realized I didn’t even have one scene in Central Perk. How could you have a FRIENDS episode without at least one scene in that location? Again, what the fuck was I thinking?

So apparently I couldn’t write a FRIENDS – certainly not without the benefit of the staff’s input (or permission). Mercifully, I woke up before Marta could hand me my head.

I wondered what the point of this dream was. Surely, there had to be some point (other than a chance to kick my own ass during peaceful slumber time).

I think it’s maybe that I made a common rookie mistake. Instead of doing the hard work and really coming up with the story, and seeking help from those more experienced, I chose to just go off half-cocked. In my twisted mind I must’ve thought I had enough talent that I could just bang it out without an outline or even firm grasp of the show and the brilliance would still just shine through. Uh...WRONG.

I’m still a little puzzled as to why I had this dream. Like I said, I NEVER just go off and write a script without at least some outline. I always know my ending. I always devote time to knowing my characters, what makes them interesting, and what are their goals? So why? But then again, when I have the standard college nightmare that it’s the day of the final and I never studied and my alarm didn’t go off – I was always way too organized in real life to ever let that happen. And yet I dreamed it anyway.

The moral here: Don’t just dash off work. Take the time to do it right. It was humiliating enough for me to be rejected by Jennifer Aniston, but for my writing??? That’s five more years of therapy for sure.


BA said...

Ken to Mrs Levine: "Honey, I had this long strange dream about Jennifer Aniston..."

Carol said...

I have (another) Friday question!

So I decided not to audition for this show - my theatre is doing 3 episodes of Fawlty Towers this summer. Amongst the reasons for me deciding not to do this (not really a part for me that I want, etc.) I decided it really wasn't my kind of comedy. I watched one of the episodes they are doing, and it involved Sybil basically beating up Basil. I have a real problem with that kind of joke - why is it funny if a woman is beating up a man, etc. (I know, style of the show, climate of the times, etc. but it just bothers me.)

Then I watched the Fraiser episode when we find out he'd had an affair with his piano teacher at 17. It made me wonder if that episode would get more flack today because the 'underage' thing; again - it's comedy when a boy sleeps with his female teacher, but if a male teacher slept with his female student, it's a drama.

So my questions are: Are there things you wrote back in the day that you wouldn't do now, just because of the 'climate of the times' nowadays? And where do you draw the line in comedy - would you do 'wife beats husband' jokes now? Or ever? Do you feel like writers today have to be more careful simply because the internet gives everyone a forum in which to be outraged about something?

Mike Barer said...

Give it a shot, I'd love a see your rendition of a Friends script.

Fred Nerk said...

Maybe you will write a Friends, it's inevitable that we will be able to convincingly reproduce human images and sound using the data from video or film, enabling us to remake anything with anybody you choose doing and saying whatever you want just by telling it to the computer. The top sitcom 50 years from now could be a remake of The Odd Couple starring Woody Allen and Hitler, in 4d.

dan o said...

so in your dream, you came into a show from the outside, having written a script on your own, thinking it would be an easy thing to do. then you had to deal with the anxiety of being critiqued by insiders. i wonder if it's connected to your having written a dick van dyke show episode.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

ISTM that what the dream is really about is fear of humiliating failure - and I don't think there's ever a stage in a creative person's working life (I can't speak for other professions) where that's not a commonly held fear - and one that's valid every time you create something new. In Tom Stoppard's play THE REAL THING, Annie has a great line when she's about to start work on a production of 'TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE and she says she's feeling what she feels at the beginning of every new project: "This is the one where I get found out."

Are you writing another play, Ken? :)


Patrick said...

Friday Question about FRIENDS

Why did FRIENDS take so long to shoot? Was it always like that or did it happen towards the end when they became super famous? Was it because they weren't prepared or were they just having such a great time it just went on forever?

VP81955 said...

Just to be fair, I hope at least one of the "Friends" writers has had a similar dream about writing for "Frasier." ("OK, I'm making money hand over fist, but with a middlebrow sitcom millions love, but no one really respects. If I wrote for "Frasier" to show how witty and erudite I am, imagine the critical praise I'd get.")

Charles H. Bryan said...

Dreams are nature's way of making people wake up and think "What the hell is wrong with me?" For me, double that self-puzzlement if I've had garlic. No, really.

Maybe a Friday Question: So, I was thinking this morning about all of the CASTLE scuttlebutt (my rumination topics are hitting a low point) and I wondered about the directors and so on who come into work sporadically on a series - how do they have knowledge of potential problems with cast and crew? I imagine the EPs, showrunner, writing staff, and the crew might know of any problems, but is there someone whose job it is to talk to that episode's director about any off-stage/backstage issues? "Okay, so-and-so and such-and-such just broke up when so-and-so's spouse found out, this other one had food poisoning and has been vomiting for five hours, and the Grip just lost fifty grand on the Super Bowl - which wouldn't be so bad if he'd had fifty grand to lose. I don't know why he isn't vomiting. Tread lightly, please."

Maybe another Friday Question: Networks gave up on Saturday night a long time ago. Could they also please give up on the month of May? I'd like to go outside now. It seems the number of episodes produced would make more sense to just run through April (leaving out some mid-season repeats) and the sweeps numbers would be better before daylight lasts too long. Any idea why there still seems to be this allegiance to an outdated schedule?

Thanks, Ken!

Roseann said...

Excellent post, Ken

MikeN said...

I'm confused, is this post actually the script of your Friends episode?

Cap'n Bob said...

All I can say is that if I ever had a dream about Jennifer Anniston she wouldn't be getting coffee.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...


The Michael Strahan and the Kelly Rippa's of SITUATION COMEDIES:

NBC is the Strahan in this situation, that's not funny.
Last Friday I see on Twitter that "UndateableLive" was cancelled by NBC. Sad to me. But then about an hour later I see that Bill Lawrence (E.P. of the show) finds out.

Which means that NBC made the announcements to the world without telling the ExecProducers.
In my book, completely unprofessional and DISRESPECTFUL.
Especially considering Lawrence is someone that has worked with NBC successfully (Scrubs).


Mike & Molly had their TV series Finale Last night.
It was one of the rare excellent series finales in sit-com history.
It had everything the fans and actors could want from a stand-alone show plus enough laughs and sentimentality and warmth.

Cheers to a good solid show that could have gone on for another year.
As another reader said recently, "...And 2 Broke Girls is STILL on?!"

Jim said...

You want a really weird dream? That would be the Czech Comedy . Middle-aged hen-pecked Henry is an engineer with a problem. He's trying to find a way to support a heavy bit of machinery, but nothing works. Then one of his assistants leaves a comic on his desk, open at the story of Jessie. She's a busty blonde who runs around in a little tiny dress that just happens all the time to accidentally get snicked on protruding nails, branches, and the like. She's also an engineering genius, and in the current episode she's invented a pair of anti-gravity gloves, and she's trying to keep them out of the clutches of her mortal enemies, a Superman rip-off, and a cowboy. And this being the world of film, his first thought is not "who's been skiving", but "how can I make a pair of these".

That night he's still thinking about Jessie, chasing after her in his dreams to find out the secret of the gloves. Chasing so hard, in fact that he wakes his wife up. That's not a good idea because Rose is something of an expert on dreams, and just that day she was testing a special serum that can get rid of nightmares. So she connects Henry up to the portable dream visualiser that she just happens to keep beside the bed, and is not all that happy to see Jessie. SO it's a big injection and a night on the couch for Henry. But what she hasn't realised is that her serum works by forcing the nightmares in to the real world. SO the next morning Henry wakes up next to Jesie, there's a cowboy in the bath, and rip-off Superman is pulling apart the kitchen.....

Back in the Sixties there was talk of a US remake with Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine, but the Russian invasion of '68 put a stop to all that. Jessie was however meant to have been the role model for Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Paul Guyot said...

I don't think the dream has anything to do with your writing career. Run it through your personal life filter and see what you find.

On another note, I'm amazed you are still blogging! Good on ya. I remember years ago when you asked me for blogging advice. Crazy.

DBenson said...

I spent years in school and community musicals. My nightmare involved an incomplete show going before a small and disinterested audience; myself unprepared beyond hearing the Original Cast record and reading the notes. The detail I remember is running back to the light booth at the back of house because of some tech glitch, and looking front to see an empty stage - evidently I was supposed to do the complete set change at that moment as well.

AJ Thomas said...

Friday Question:

I'm watching an older show on Netflix and an actress that is currently starring in a show is playing a bit part. A while back you discussed the role of the casting director in these sorts of situations. As an actor what kind of calling are they responding to? Something along the lines of "Hot young female bartender who has 3 lines interaction with the main cast, so screen time is going to finally be a reality for you."? Or is that to direct? Thanks!

Chris said...

No joke here, but I actually had a dream about YOU last week. Turns out you were my next door neighbor, and had been for years. You said something to the effect of "Why didn't you come over and introduce yourself before this?" Then we had a cup of coffee. It was lovely. I'm not going to assign any weird or deep meaning to it. I'm guessing that, since I read you every day, it was just me thinking of you as a very comfortable part of my life. For what it's worth, you were wearing loafers but no socks. I don't know if that means anything.