HAH! A NEW RESOURCE!
The WGA East has a dandy collection of interviews called On Writing
-- with people like Aaron Sorkin and Budd Shulberg -- all available as PDF's for the download here
. If you don't hear from me for a few days, I'm reading them. I can particularly recommend On Writing #4
, which is a series of interviews with veteran TV writers, who really give a sense of what it's like to do it, and how they broke in ... I'm going to steal a lot of it for my book.
A few interesting thoughts from the interview with Bill Persky and John Markus (The Cosby Show
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show had horrible testing and horrible ratings when it started. Fortunately the network had committed to airing 26 episodes. Grant Tinker wouldn't let them be bought out.
- The Dick Van Dyke Show was cancelled after one season. But Sheldon Leonard convinced Proctor & Gamble (the sponsor) to give it another year.
- Give your actors some action to do even if the scene is dialog. Don't have someone pouring coffee. Have her cleaning jelly off the floor. And people are stepping in it. And she's trying to stop them. All while the brilliant scene you wrote is playing. And if the character is a neat freak or a control freak at the same time, all the better: play off your characters' weaknesses.
- Play to your actors' strengths. Persky: "Mary cried great. Carl Reiner wrote a show with her toe stuck in the faucet of a bathtub where you hardly saw her and she just cried a lot." (If you were speccing this show, you'd know that Mary cries well. We love watching her cry, and we know how she does it. We know how Ricky says, "Looooocie, you got some 'splainin' to do"...)
- Markus: "What the network is most nervous about is, who is the show runner? ..." Persky: "You take a mediocre show with a great show runner, as opposed to a great show with a bad show runner, and you have a better bet with the mediocre show.." This is, incidentally, why the networks don't want to see a pilot from an inexperienced writer -- they're hiring a showrunner who's brought them a show, they're not buying a show that has a showrunner attached.