Tuesday, August 31, 2021

CHEERS to the jokes we didn't use

I saw a CHEERS episode recently (no, it wasn’t one we wrote) and noticed a certain joke was missing.  Not worth telling you the joke; you’d have to know the context.  But it was probably cut in syndication so they could squeeze in more reverse mortgage ads.  

But it got me to thinking.  There were so many jokes over the course of a season of CHEERS that never made it to air.  Not because they were bad (well some of them were), but because the story shifted or time constraints or we just thought of better ones.  

Let’s take a typical episode.  The writer works with the staff to lay out the story.  Along the way the staff pitches possible jokes. These are transcribed and the writer may use them when writing his outline.  He uses a few, meaning a bunch are washed ashore.  He writes alternate and new jokes.

He meets with the staff again to get notes on the outline.  More jokes are offered.  Sometimes the decision is made to change whole chunks of the story.  So all the jokes in the discarded chunks now don’t apply.  

The writer composes the first draft, adding a lot of new jokes along the way.  He gets notes, more jokes are cut, new story elements are introduced and other jokes are left by the side of the road.  

Once the writer turns in his second draft it goes to the staff for the rewrite.  Scripts can change from 10-100%.  Jokes and sometimes whole storylines are thrown out.  

Once the script goes into production, there are table readings or run-throughs every day and those require rewrites.  More jokes crash and burn.  

The show is filmed and generally is too long.  Editing eliminates even more jokes, sometimes really good jokes, but you never want to sacrifice story for jokes.  

And then there’s editing for syndication.

Now imagine this happening 25 times a season.  That’s a shit-ton of jokes that never make it to air.  But we always considered that was part of the job.  To be on staff you had to be prolific.  It’s not like a comic strip where you’re required to come up with seven jokes a week.  If you were on a staff of CHEERS (and this goes for most sitcoms I’m sure), you needed to churn out seven jokes every twenty minutes.  It can be a grind, but boy, you laugh a lot.  The jokes just keep coming.  If you've got to spend twelve hours a day in a room, there are worse ones I can think of.


Leighton said...

Speaking of cutting jokes. TV Land was AWFUL, when they edited shows. I've said this before. They cut classic scenes from "MTM," that won the show Emmys. They butchered the Veal Prince Orloff scene, as well as the spectacular Cloris Leachman episode introducing Betty White's Sue Ann Nivens character. What jackass was editing for TV Land???

Mike Bloodworth said...

I hate to waste a Friday question, but here goes.

FRIDAY QUESTION: Today's blog makes me wonder, do you have notebooks, old napkins and/or computer files with potential jokes, premises, situations, etc., that you saved because you felt that you could use them someday? Sort of the comedy version of hoarding.
Follow up. If yes, have you used any of that archived material in, for example, in any of your recent plays?


P.S. No mention of Ed Asner?!

MikeKPa. said...

Just curious, when the writer of the episode is off working on the outlines and drafts, what are the other writers in the room doing?

Mibbitmaker said...

The length and nature of the show definitely allows for an even larger amount of jokes told writing MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, both in the '90s and nowadays. And that's just counting the jokes they use. Including ones they didn't use, that's got to be a tonnage right there.

KB said...

MikeKPa -

They're breaking future stories, punching up this week's script, addressing notes on the next episode's script, bitching about lunch etc...

ScarletNumber said...

I will give Comedy Central credit for not trying to shoe-horn an old sitcom and all the added commercials into a 30-minute slot. With The Office, they just play the episodes with the added commercials and the new one starts when it starts.

whynot said...

You've mentioned jokes before, and for me I HATE it when a sitcom has "jokes". Nobody goes around in daily life cracking jokes. The best shows, like MTM and Dick Van Dyke, NEVER had jokes ("Laura is so nosy, she'll probably use her teeth to open that package" - Rim shot). And shows like Cheers, Golden Girls, and others devolved into nothing but mean-spirited snide comments and "jokes" instead of actual humor.

KB said...

whynot -

I have to disagree. I, along with others I know, do crack jokes in daily life. And of course MTM and Dick Van Dyke shows had jokes! Maybe not as hacky as your example, but they did.

Sue Ann Nivens: I was lying in bed last night and I couldn't sleep, and I came up with an idea. So I went right home and wrote it down.