Tuesday, May 31, 2022

A David Lloyd superpower

During my recent waiter rant, someone pointed out how annoying it is when waiters don’t write down your order.  And invariably they get your order wrong.  It reminded me of a story about David Lloyd.

David Lloyd was one of the greatest TV comedy writers of all-time.  Among others, he wrote the famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW.  He also wrote some of the best episodes of TAXI and FRASIER among others.  

On CHEERS when we gave a writer a script assignment he or she came in and we all worked out the story beats.  Along the way various joke suggestions were made.  A lot of information was flying around that room.  Early in our career, David Isaacs and I used to bring a cassette recorder and tape the story conferences.  (God, I wish I had some of those tapes today.)   

Every other writer would bring a pad and take copious notes.  Eventually, on CHEERS we had a writers’ assistant join us and take notes.  A session could be ten pages of jokes, fragments of ideas, plot points, things discarded, etc.  And even then things were left out.  But these were supplied to the writer as a back-up.

When David Lloyd came in he took no notes.  None.  He just sat, usually feet up on the coffee table, hands behind his head, listening and chiming in suggestions.  As he was leaving we said we’d send him the notes.  “Don’t bother,” he’d always say.  

I remember the first time thinking, God knows what we’re going to get back.

Astonishingly, he would turn in his outline and have EVERYTHING that was discussed.  Even joke pitches in the exact wording of the pitch.  We had the writers’ assistant’s notes to compare.   How he did that I do not know.   When I take notes in longhand I have 24 hours to transcribe it because even I can’t decipher what I wrote after that.  

Just one of the many reasons I was in awe of David Lloyd.  Then the script that followed the outline was generally brilliant.  Yet another reason. 


Chris Bernard said...

All men are created equal. Some more equal than others.

Fed by the muse said...

I'm sure Ken or someone else here knows the answer, but did David Lloyd, who I understand wrote for The Tonight Show (pre-Burbank days) prior to his MTM work, write the famous "Dragnet" parody "Copper Clappers," originally broadcast 20 February, 1968? Just thinking about it brings a smile to my face (Jack Webb being a good sport about mocking his Sgt. Friday character). Thanks.

Mike Bloodworth said...

I can't even remember what I had for dinner most days.
I have several books on how to improve your memory. I've started them, yet I've never finished them. (There is a very obvious, hackneyed joke that I chose not to include.)

My mom knew shorthand. Back then it was a skill that most women in business had; even those that weren't secretaries. I know. Kind of sexist by today's standards. But sometimes I wish I had that ability.

Too bad you don't have those tapes. The excerpts would make a great podcast.


Sy Rosen said...

When I was young and knew nothing (kind of like I am now) I sent in a spec script to the Mary show. I didn't know the format and part of it was hand written. David Lloyd called me and said he liked my jokes but I didn't know the format or structure. He mailed me a Mary script and it became my prized possession. I never sold a Mary script but due to David's encouragement I sold one to The Bob Newhart Show and then sold a few more. Thank you, David.

Jahn Ghalt said...


If, Ken, you had tapes of old story conferences - what interesting items would you expect to find - perhaps some triggers for VOL 2 of your memoir?

Jahn Ghalt said...


What is "Sexist" about acknowledging that the ancient skill of shorthand was recently dominated by women?


ON a sidebar the wiki entry shows The Lord's Prayer in Gregg and six other 19th-century systems


It notes that Cicero's scribe developed a system "so that he could write down Cicero's speeches".

I believe he used wax as a temporary, reuseable, medium for the purpose.

Randy @ WCG Comics said...

Years ago, at a restaurant birthday party, we had a waiter take our orders for our party of 12 without writing anything down. Of course it was a subject of much joking with the waiter. But he got it all right!

Anonymous said...

You are right about the shorthand. A proud Gregg 120 WPM stenographer here. It's how I made a living all those years ago. Janice B.

former server said...

During my recent waiter rant, someone pointed out how annoying it is when waiters don’t write down your order.

As Randy said above, some servers can do this effortlessly. The first time I saw it, it was deeply disconcerting (and the server was only doing it for a two-top). But then after *mumbles* over a decade in restaurants, I could easily do it for parties of 6 - 8 w/o even thinking about it. I made fewer mistakes than many who would write down the orders, probably largely from repetition (and knowing the menu inside and out and knowing exactly how I would enter things into the computer including substitutions, etc.).

But, that absolutely pales in comparison to David Lloyd's superpower.

ScarletNumber said...

Sorry if this is stating the obvious, but David is the father of Christopher, not the Taxi actor but the Frasier and Modern Family show runner.

WB Jax said...

His episodes of Frasier have some of favorite lines such as in the ep where Frasier leaves the Wine Club then starts his once a week radio segment on wine (after talking with a caller for some time) ‘In summary, Linda, the year listed on the bottle is not an expiration date. So that wine from 1997 should be perfectly safe to drink.’ Great stuff, right up there with ‘I think Claude Cooper copped my copper clappers...’

ScarletNumber said...

@Sy Rosen

Were you involved in the production of The Matchmaker at all?

Peter said...

A feat of memory that sticks with me to this day happened years ago, on my father's birthday, maybe his 90th. We went to an Indian restaurant, sadly now closed, and a server took our orders without notes. There were at least seven of us at that table. And she got everything absolutely perfect. Sometimes I think I'd love to have that sort of memory, but then I think of all the embarrassing or painful moments of my life--and speculate there must be many more lost in my tangles of synapses and am happy not to recall whatever has been mercifully shrouded. I have enough vivid and unpleasant memories; I don't really want more.

By the way, yesterday I took my daughter to a restaurant with some pretensions to fine dining--80 bucks with tip, which is maybe pale by LA standards but pretty damn robust by mine, especially when we had no salad, appetizer, or alcohol. And toward the end of waiting for the food, someone mysteriously brought us empty plates, which someone else just as mysteriously later picked up and whisked away. No bread was ever forthcoming, so the purpose of these appearing and vanishing plates is quite beyond me. Anyway, our server's dialogue consisted of such gems as "have we dined here before? No? Awesome. Are we ready to make our selection? Ah, the gnocchi bolognese and the chicken with couscous, pita, olives, and artichokes? Awesome choice. Does everything taste wonderful with those first bites? Awesome." It almost came word for word from your rant. I was chuckling internally.

Caleb Martin said...

Marilu Henner talks a lot in interviews and on YouTube about also having an insanely sharp autobiographical memory.

I wonder if the two of them ever discovered and discussed each other's superpower. I also wonder how "forgive and forget" works with folks like that.

Anonymous said...

Just watched one of his episodes of the Mary Tyler Moore show where Murray ghost writes an article for Ted and is sworn to secrecy about it even after it becomes widely acclaimed. A wonderful premise just beautifully executed with real pathos and laughs throughout.

DyHrdMET said...

That reminds me of a scene in the pilot episode of CHEERS where Diane recites the drink order that Carla had trouble writing down, impressed Sam, and got a job as a waitress there.