Saturday, July 09, 2022

Weekend Post

 Our first agent wasn’t very good. When David Isaacs and I were starting out, writing spec scripts, living on Kraft macaroni, and trying to break in we managed to get an agent. She was a legitimate WGA signatory but she wasn’t top tier. She wasn’t third tier. But shows would accept her submissions, which was all we really needed.

She sent our spec MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW to the great David Lloyd, who was one of their producers. When she didn’t hear back in a few weeks she sent him a blistering following up.

Several days later he responded. It was a rejection letter. The opening sentence was:


He then went on for three paragraphs to rip her a new asshole for questioning his integrity and accusing him of shirking his responsibilities.

Almost as an afterthought, he finally got to our script in the fourth paragraph and basically said it was a complete amateurish piece of shit (although I don’t think he put it that nicely).

Years later we worked together on CHEERS and I mentioned the letter. David being David, he said, “Well, I’m sure it was a piece of shit.”

I’m also sure he was right.

You won’t be surprised to learn that once we got our first assignment (that this agent had nothing to do with), we moved on to more reputable representation.

In my career, I’ve been on the other side numerous times. I’ve been the one reading and judging. I always write nice rejection letters, even if the script sucks eggs. I feel that good, bad, or indifferent, the person (or team) went to the effort of writing a script and the least I could do is let them down easy.

Plus, who’s to say I’m always right? I’m not. Along the way, I’ve rejected a few great people who went on to long and successful careers.  When a writer friend of mine was story editor on ARCHIE BUNKER’S PLACE he rejected a script by the Coen Brothers. It happens to all of us.

So when you get rejected – and we all do – take heart. You never know who’s going to turn out to be an A-lister.

My favorite story of that was from Larry Gelbart. Larry was one of the most gifted and successful writers of the last half-century. Among his credits: creating the TV version of MASH, TOOTSIE, OH GOD!, FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, SLY FOX, CITY OF ANGELS, CAESAR’S HOUR – it goes on and on. But when he was 18 he had a screen test for an acting part in a George Cukor movie at MGM. He did his test, he wasn’t chosen, and that was that. Many years later when he was an accomplished writer he happened to bump into Cukor at a party. He told him the story and Cukor said to him, “Well why didn’t you tell me who you were?”

Good luck and may you become who you hope to be.


Mike Barer said...

I saw a whole video of the experience that Howard Kaylan and Mark Vollman of the Turtles had with bad agents.

Earl Boebert said...

I think Larry Gelbart's "The Wrong Box" is in the running for the funniest movie ever made. Almost unobtainable for years, I see it is now available in a variety of places. Don't miss it.

maxdebryn said...

"The Wrong Box" screenplay was written by TWO gentlemen: the co-author was Burt Shevelove.

Michael said...

Ken, it appears that you and Freddie Freeman might have something to talk about regarding agents.

As for rejecting the Coen brothers, well, was it a good script? I mean, I teach history. My specialty happens to be US history. Please don't ask me to teach on Mesopotamia, because I'll make a mess o' Mesopotamia.

That's why I never got a script accepted.

Anonymous said...

I love the story! Thanks for sharing that experience.


I love the story. Fascinating.

Bruce said...

On the flip side... When I was trying to break in as a writer I got a spec MASH script to Larry Gelbart. Two days later... that's right, two days later... he called me. Didn't write. Picked up the phone and called me. Needless to say I was a little overwhelmed especially when he had such kind words to say about my script. Now, I didn't get my first writing assignment for another year and half. But it was those words of encouragement from Larry Gelbart that carried me. That phone call changed my life.

Buttermilk Sky said...

I haven't see MASTERGATE, Larry Gelbart's satire on Congressional hearings, since it was broadcast in 1992 but I have a feeling this would be a good time. It's on Vimeo.

ScarletNumber said...

Perhaps this is common knowledge, but David Lloyd is Christopher's father (the Frasier EP, not the actor).

Unknown said...

Buttermilk Sky, I remember thinking at the time how brilliant Mastergate was.

Burt Shrevelove also collaborated with Gelbart on A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

ScarletNumber said...

It is a little-known fact that David Lloyd was the model for The Great Gazoo on The Flintstones.

Ras said...

Why let them down easy? Perhaps this would cause someone who should move on to keep trying.

Last Comic Standing,
Norm MacDonald:'I think you're incapable of writing a joke.'
Comic:' OK. I'll work on that.'
Norm: 'No no. I said you are incapable of writing a joke'