Tuesday, April 07, 2020

What I won't write

A lot of playwrights are busily writing their Coronavirus plays. I’m sure there are 800 plays about couples cooped up in self-isolation. (Forget that there’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?).

Since the current theatre trend is to stage as many zeitgeist-themed plays as possible, what better? Suddenly all the playwrights with immigration and trans plays are out of luck. Coronavirus is the new hot thing.

I will not be writing one.

Once TV series go back into production I imagine there will be a slew of Coronavirus-themed episodes as well. Certainly on the doctor and hospital shows. But I suspect every show will have at least one main character who comes down with it. 

I will not be writing one.

And I’m sure screenwriters are busily cranking out their post-virus doomsday movie scripts.

I will not be writing one of those either.

Here’s my feeling: After this horrible ordeal, who the hell is going to want to watch a Coronavirus play, or movie, or episode of STATION 19?

I believe we will watch anything BUT Coronavirus stories.

When this is all over, it might be a good time to revisit a little genre called COMEDY.

That I will write.


Troy McClure said...

I love LAW AND ORDER: SVU, but I wouldn't be surprised if Dick Wolf launches yet another spinoff, this time called LAW AND ORDER: COVID-19.

Jim S said...

I noticed after 9-11, most shows DIDN'T directly reference the incident. You might see a New York fire fighter flag or symbol on the refrigerator (Friends, Charmed), but that was about it. "Everybody Loves Raymond" featured a character who was a New York policeman, but didn't mention it. "Frasier" just had a scene where Niles couldn't go past security anymore, but maybe other shows dealt with the crisis directly.

But you're right about the medical shows. I can see a year from now, "Grey's Anatomy" or "New Amsterdam" doing some soap opera version of the crisis, with the voice over artist for the 30-second promo saying "Ripped from the headlines, the doctors and nurses of Hospital X face a crisis that will change them forever." Those are the kinds of shows that I skip. Just not for me.

Friday question. I was watching "Bob hearts Abishola" because it was something to do before "Better Call Saul" comes on and it takes place in my hometown of Detroit and I always watch shows that "take place" there to see just how wrong the writers are when writing about a place I know. ("Justified" writers were actually very accurate about things like geography and where the wiseguys would hangout.)

But I notices the show is filled with actors from the Chuck Lorre stock company. Got me to thinking, showrunners will often bring actors they've worked with from prior shows. What's the thinking behind that?

Keep safe.

Honest Ed said...

I take your point. I spoke to my agent the other day and he was hearing much the same from prodcos here in the UK.


Films like Contagion, and other shows touching on pandemics are doing really, really well right now.

And I recall hearing much the same in the aftermath of 9/11. That people wanted entertained, comedy, not dark drama. I actually had an episode I was writing at that point cancelled because it was too dark. And it wasn't due to be on till 9 months later. Yet the shows of that time which I recall doing really well, and making an impact were The Sopranos. Did any lighter shows really take off in 01/02?

I recall hearing much the same kind of thing in the aftermath of the 08 Crash. Entertainment, not dark drama... Yet the shows I recall really taking off then were Mad Men and Breaking Bad. How did the lighter shows do in 08/09?

J Lee said...

There's definitely a dark comedy waiting to be written about all the societal changes caused by coronavirus, from people being in close quarters for too long, to the toilet paper hoarders, to the general political inanity. But that's something for a ways down the line, and not right now, while the wounds are fresh and the nerves are raw.

nonchalantsavant said...

“Ripped from the headlines!”

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I'm still waiting for an Iraqi War sitcoms in the same vein as M*A*S*H was to Korea, or HOGAN'S HEROES was to WW2.

But, can I just mention how much I hate the zeitgeist? From a YouTube perspective, it's like that's the only way the content you create gets any notice, is if it happens to fall in line with whatever the zeitgeist is . . . there's no room for originality anymore.

Barry Traylor said...

Any show with COVID-19. written into it will lose me as a viewer.

Unknown said...

I have always been uncomfortable about any 911 themed shows. Way too soon to profit off of misery like that. The same goes for Covid. Good for you.

Baylink said...

The only series in production at 9/11 that really *couldn't not avoid* it were things like Third Watch (for whom dealing with it was required by their setting) and The West Wing, who dealt with it by going out-of-band.

But as much as I don't really want to invoke him, I think the requisite callback here is this one:

Michaels: "Can we be funny?"
Giuliani: "Why start now?"

It seems nearly impossible to find that clip on YouTube these days, though it used to be there...

Buttermilk Sky said...

I've never watched, or indeed heard of, CBS's ALL RISE, but they're jumping right in with a "virtual" episode to air May 4. The actors will appear in footage filmed in their homes, and a virtual trial will take place. Too soon?


Craig Gustafson said...

I was scheduled to direct "Cabaret" for a local theater. A week before auditions, we realized that it just wasn't going to happen and the show was canceled. I suggested to the board that they also switch the next play to a comedy as it really isn't the right time for "The Diary of Anne Frank."

Michael said...

That Cheers scene where they disinfect the bar is a classic of comedy.

A Friday question: Ken, you didn't mention David Schramm's death, and I wondered if you had any thoughts or stories.

VincentS said...

I would assume, though, that there is comic potential in this since one of the rules of comedy is put two people in a room who don't belong there and let them fight it out. An example of which is the so-called "stuck in" episode, where the characters are stuck in an elevator, or cellar, or snow-bound cabin, etc.

Anne in Rockwall, TX said...

Dear lord, THANK YOU Ken Levine!

Anonymous said...

Is it too soon to laugh at Covid-19?

I think not: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-skA4GhVX7k

Anonymous said...

It's too early to predict how the crisis will land politically, but there's every indictation that it's going to be an embarrassment for the right, which means it will be fair game for lots of television and film "relevant, responsible, giving back" dramas to "help us heal."

However, big business might also be implicated (or colluded) so they may also fall into the same category--unless the corporatization of Hollywood makes that a no-no from "above."

At the very least, there will be a superficial movie about how Hollywood heroes somehow either saved the world from the virus before it was too late, uncovered the barrier to getting the cure, revealed the coverup themselves or or how like minded stalwarts fought the system (of which they are also a part in reality) to get to the "truth).

Then it will win an Oscar, and the actor (turned director) will dedicate to the lives lost and all of those (who make so much less money than he or she), but limited of course a select and socially approved segment or segments.

John said...

I just ran across this article today, and I thought you might enjoy it.


John in NE Ohio said...

As I recall, NYPD Blue mentioned 9/11 and had a case later where someone was listed as dead from 9/11 who reappears.
Sopranos mentioned 9/11 many times. I think there was a storyline of Tony and FBI colluding to find a terrorist. Might be why FBI tipped Tony off about other mob being after him.
Both are fuzzy since it's been almost 20 years

Liggie said...

It'll be a few years before we get to any art pieces about the virus, as we're still in the midst of this and we'll need a few years of digestion afterward. It was like we needed a few years after 9/11 for films like "United 93", and how Irish novelists told me in 2011 they needed a couple of more years before they could write about the crash of the economic Celtic Tiger.

On a side note, someone on Twitter jokingly mentioned rewriting "The Apartment" for today, where the Fred McMurray, Jack Lemmon and Shirley Maclaine characters were stuck in quarantine in that apartment, together. That would be interesting.

Janice said...

I'm hoping you'll pen a tribute to David Schramm in light of his passing.

Troy McClure said...

I recently watched Room Service. I never get tired of watching the wonderful performance by John Ducey as the hotel room waiter. It takes real acting skill and comedic ability to make just saying "OK" so hilarious.

As a kind of Friday question, have you run into him in the years since that episode? Do you tend to stay in touch with people who acted in your episodes? I looked up his imdb and he's been working steadily in TV and film, which is great.

Saburo said...

Man, people are sharing their daily COVID diaries and I am not clicking a single one of them. My own situation is crushing enough -- why consume any more?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

A lot of shows set in NYC had to decide whether to leave the Towers in the credits, though. And most made at least some nod to it in the closing credits, even if it was never mentioned in the show itself. And I think we have 9/11 to thank for the ensuing spate of terrorist dramas - 24, HOMELAND - and endless superhero shows. (I mean, obviously 24 must have already been commissioned, since it debuted only a couple of months later, but the eventual shape of the thing and its long success surely owed something to its timing.)

Jim S: It seems logical to me that if you've worked with an actor and you knew they were good, professional, funny, and a pleasure to work with...you would want to cast them again! Lorre's recidivists are all terrific (Christine Baranski, Laurie Metcalf, Johnny Galecki, Sara Gilbert, Matt Jones, Mimi Kennedy...)


Janet said...

You're absolutely right. I consume a little virus news but then we put the inlaws on "no news until 6 pm" moratorium.

I'm much happier binge watching MASH, or FRIENDS or even DIAGNOSIS MURDER reruns.

Ted Kilvington said...

In 2001, "Law & Order" actually shelved a completed set of crossover episodes about an NYC terrorist attack:


"A planned miniseries which would have featured Detective Robert Goren and united the casts of Criminal Intent, Special Victims Unit, and the original Law & Order was cancelled because of the events of 9/11. The plotline centered on a terrorist attack using biological weapons. The cancellation was likely done out of respect and to avoid controversy."

Andrew said...

An animator in Ohio made an honorary video of Governor Mike DeWine and Director of Health (and official superhero) Dr. Amy Acton. I thought Ken and commenters would enjoy this. It's set to the Laverne and Shirley opening credits.

I know it's a little cheesy, but I found it both funny and moving. We need leaders like them right now.

If you'd like to see them in action, their press conferences are online, with clips on YouTube. To see a very intense example, watch this video (compiled by the Columbus Dispatch). It's only 3 minutes long. I wish it could be sent to every person in the country still living in denial.

Tom Galloway said...

It's already happened. Kind of. Including a special episode of Fraiser.

Seems New York magazine contacted a bunch of showrunners (including Norman Lear!) and asked them what they'd do for a coronavirus episode. And a bunch replied....

(Christopher Lloyd did the Fraiser episode)


Mike Doran said...

Put this one under Life's Little Coincidences:

Recently, MeTV started rerunning the later episodes of Wagon Train - post-1961, after John McIntire replaced Ward Bond.
I don't think I ever gave it a thought at the time, but seeing those shows now, I was stunned by how many of those episodes dealt with contagious diseases of one sort or another.
Of course, this would have been an obvious way to go for any Western series set at that time of history - and Wagon Train is one example that can serve for many.

There is nothing new under the sun …

John Trumbull said...

100% agreed, Ken. I'm sick of hearing about the Coronavirus NOW. I'm really not going to want to hear about it when this is all over, especially in my entertainment. I watch entertainment to escape the real world, not be reminded of it.

McAlvie said...

I'm looking at this from the historical perspective. You don't find much fiction set during the Spanish Flu era, and even WWII is mostly portrayed as something heroic that happened somewhere else. In a way this is terribly sad because these are pivotal events that changed life right here at home, and yet later generations are largely unaware of the sacrifices everyday people made.

At the same time, though, I get it. Because if you have lived through terrifying events, you don't find them very entertaining in fictional form. You are anxious to get back to some kind of normal, and even while you are living through it, you are also very tired of hearing about it and desperate for a little escapism.

I think it will be important to put references to this pandemic into our fiction, in the same way that it is important that the Great Depression and WWII are referenced. Because for future generations that may be all they ever know about it. The everyday heroes who are getting us through this moment won't be sensational enough for a movie, and the rest of us are even more boring - our main job in this crisis is to stay home! For the doctors and first responders who are dealing with the more tragic aspects - too many people are living through that right now to find it entertaining.

All that said, I think we should make an effort to be sure its never forgotten. In classrooms, history is often glossed over or rewritten. We have let that happen before, and thus generations grow up thinking that The Civil War wasn't really about slavery, or that the flu doesn't really kill people, or that making Nazi salutes and wearing swastikas is harmless fun. We need to do a better job of making sure the generations that come after us get the whole truth - its the only way of making sure they learn from our mistakes. Its the only way we have of protecting them. They can't learn from history if we ignore it.