Saturday, November 21, 2020

Weekend Post

When my partner and I started out we would lock ourselves in a room whenever we wrote. We couldn’t have any distractions. Most of the time that meant working in one of our apartments so it was easy to do… except for the neighbor across the courtyard who kept playing the Jethro Tull WAR CHILD album over and over. But we eventually killed him so that problem was solved.

When we finally went on staff of a show and got our first office we would always keep the door closed. Just the idea of people going by or our secretary answering a phone was too distracting. How could we be funny if we saw two people walking down the hall?

Then we got a job on MASH.   By then we had worked on staff of a show and were somewhat used to being in a writers room... with other writers.  It's a different form of writing, everybody pitching at once.  You learn to fit in.  

But it was still a writers room.  And a writers assistant sat in the outer office keeping anyone from disturbing us.  Genius at work -- that sort of thing.

The first day of filming every episode was a rehearsal day. The cast would move from set to set on Stage 9 at 20th Century Fox and rehearse their scenes. Once they were satisfied, David and I were summoned to come watch the scene and then go off and do any rewriting that was necessary. But since it made no sense to keep schlepping back and forth between our office and the stage every half hour, we just did our rewrites right there on the stage. We commandeered a table in the mess tent and that’s where we worked – with actors, crew people, extras, God-knows-who walking by. And in some cases just sitting down and joining us. We’re trying to fix a scene and some extra plops himself down at the table and begins eating a burrito. We eventually killed his character.

Again, it’s a skill that most writers have to learn.  A lot of writers prefer working in public, like Starbucks.  There was a lot more of that before the pandemic.  So for them, I'm sure the Mess Tent would not present a problem.  

What you realize when you're lucky enough to enter the business is that a big reason TV writers are paid more than police dogs is that they're not only talented, but they can create on demand.  We couldn't afford the luxury of isolating ourselves because we felt more comfortable that way.   You work when you're sick, you work when you're tired, you work when you're aggravated, and you work on a soundstage.

On multi-camera shows in front of an audience, writers will huddle to fix jokes that didn't work.  So there's a hundred member crew and two-hundred member audience staring at you.   Oh, for the halcyon days when it was only the Mess Tent. 



Lemuel said...

Killed who? Was it Ugly John?

Greg B said...

I so enjoy these insights. It really makes me appreciate the shows I have enjoyed over the years even more. For so long, I saw the end result by turning the TV on, not giving much thought about how the show came about.

VP81955 said...

I am so thrilled for my Twitter pal Chandra Thomas, who received her first credit on Thursday's episode of "Mom," alongside sitcom veterans (and "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" alumni) Nick Bakay and Sheldon Bull. Of course, as you've noted, Chuck Lorre series are a collective endeavor, with credits parceled out among the staff. Nevertheless, getting public recognition on screen is certainly great for her.

That said, I feel sorry for Chandra that due to Covid-19, writers' rooms are currently virtual, meaning not only do the writers miss out on face-to-face contact with one another, but they're barred from the set and can't interact with the cast, denying the give-and-take you get from actors (especially the veterans who comprise a series such as "Mom"). That and the absence of an audience has weakened multi-cams so far this season.

I'd appreciate your review of Lorre's latest series, "B Positive" (based on "Mom" writer and series creator Marco Pennette's experience getting a kidney transplant) It's still in the process of finding itself, but I can see the potential. And Annaleigh Ashford is wonderful.

DougG. said...

This reminds me of something Larry Gelbart said on E! Network's TV TALES back when E! was more than just shows about Kardashians and they did documentaries like the E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY and TV TALES. I've quit searching their program guide to see if they still do those shows today.

Anyway, Larry Gelbart said (with a wink) he left M*A*S*H because as a writer you don't have the six-month year an actor has; you have a 13-month year.

Douglas Trapasso said...

Possible Friday Q:

Did a lot of writing/rewriting of Cheers happen directly on set? Since the vast majority of the stories took place in the bar, I would imagine writing "on location" would make the writing come easier.

Tammy said...

Friday Question: What is your favorite sitcom setting (family, workplace etc.) as a viewer? And which is your favorite as a writer? Thanks!

tb said...

Yeah, I'd have killed that Jethro Tull guy too, good job, haha

Mike Bloodworth said...

Now I know why I could never land that regular extra gig.

I prefer "Aqualung."

Maybe you "are paid more than police dogs" for writing. But can you sniff out a shipment of black tar heroin smuggled in tuna cans? I think not.
By the way, how much does a canine get paid for a script?


J Lee said...

You probably needed to put the two deaths together in some show, and kill a guy repeatedly playing War Child while he was eating a burrito (you could do it as a flashback scene to 1989, and make the killer an angry Metallica fan, after the Grammy voters gave Tull the first-ever award in the Heavy Metal category.)

Dave-El said...

Hi, Ken! Your comment about using a table in the mess tent for re-writes reminds me of a possible Friday question I have: What exactly was Igor serving up in the mess tent chow line? Those pots were usually filled with some form of goop that was supposed to be mashed potatoes or creamed corn or something like that. Was it actually anything edible?

mdutch said...

I think you mean a 13-week year.

Dave H said...

Ken, when did Mash start filming for a new season (July or August?) and what month did you wrap for the season? Sorry if this has been asked before. And I am saying sorry because I am Canadian. A TV report said it's a Canadian thing. ;)