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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Watched 30 Rock last night as well. Some of it was funny. Some of it was dumb. Some of it was dumb-funny, which is just fine.

As with Studio 60, few of the laughs were in the show-within-the-show comedy skits. (Though I did like "Science, Schmience" in S60's 3rd ep.)

And that's a danger in putting art within your art. A comedy sketch within your comedy (or drama) suffers from the "make me laugh" syndrome: you're telling the audience something is funny, which is a practically guaranteed way to make sure it's not funny. Jokes come from derailment, and if you have a comedy sketch within your comedy, you've already derailed the train before it can get up to steam.

There's a similar danger any time you want to show that someone is a great actor, or a great artist, or a great dancer. If you've got someone performing "To be or not to be" in your TV episode and you're telling us this guy can really act -- well, it better be one of the most impressing freakin' "To be or not to be"'s we've ever seen. Otherwise you provoke a reaction: That's brilliant acting? (I didn't find Jack Crew's "To be or not to be" in Slings and Arrows to be all that compelling. Did you?)

Whereas if you tell us your character is the best race car driver in the world, we'll just buy it. We have no way to evaluate one race car driver vs. another. Well, except that winners win. And we all know what winning a car race looks like. We just accept that the hero wins because he's good, not because he has a better car.

If it's something the audience can't evaluate, we may just buy it. I've got a couple of characters in my current feature that are supposed to be good artists. We'll try to get good artists to do their charcoal sketches for them, but everyone's got their own idea of what a good piece of art looks like. I don't think too many people in the audience will reject the art, so long as the technique is good.

Sometimes you have to fake it intentionally. Real ballet, to my mind, doesn't look that interesting on film, at least not to the mass audience. It seems to me that much of the time you have a ballet scene that scores, the filmmakers have jazzed it up. I doubt Jennifer Beals's dance moves would have got her into ballet school in Flashdance and I doubt John Travolta's moves in Stayin' Alive would impress Balanchine either. But they worked on film. (And while I'm horrifying the purists: I prefer Tex-Mex to authentic Mexican, and I prefer Upper West Side Szechuan to authentic Chinatown Szechuan. Because I'm an Upper West Sider, not an authentic Chinese person.)

Be careful when you put art within your art. If it's something the audience knows well, it better score. In Broadcast News, James Brooks had real news editors edit the news segments, rather than his usual feature editor. He wanted to be sure the broadcast news segments smelled right to an audience that knows exactly what a broadcast news segment is. If you can't make the art within the art score, find a way to give us clues how we're supposed to interpret it, or better yet, find ways that you don't have to put it up on the scre

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8 Comments:

Hate to put you on the spot like this, Mr. Upper West Sider, but now that you bring up food.... Whose bagels do you prefer, those of your native city or those of your adopted city?

By Blogger Webs, at 1:00 PM  

St. Viateur all the way!

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 1:55 PM  

I watched it last night too. I still find it so strange that after a drought of so many years, we now have TWO shows about television. Like they say at that restaurant I can't really remember the name of right now, I'm lovin' it!

I thought 30 Rock started weak - to the point where I got that "I'm embarrassed by that scene and/or joke" feeling - and ended strong.

In particular, for a show by a comedy writer as revered as Tina Fey, I thought the opening scene with the hot dogs was lame. I didn't find it funny that she was that passionate about the situation, and the follow up conversation with her producer sounded like canned character development. (She said something like "You know how I don't like it when people cheat or lie?") It was bad. What did you think of it?

However, there were some super funny moments. Thank God for PVR; A couple of times I rewound the part where she first meets Tracey. I loved the bit where they were sitting at the table, Tracey gets insulted when the waiter offers him Pumpkin Steak (or something similar), so he leaves for a place more to his taste. As he enters the new diner he asks the woman to get him an Apple Chicken and some other fruity type meal. I honestly thought that was the show's best joke, and it was basically a throw away.

And of course, Alec Baldwin is great no matter where you put him. "Five inches. But it's thick."

Sorry for rambling!
The Rambler

By Blogger Trellick Tower, at 2:01 PM  

Alex,

Just started reading your blog today and love it. One question - any chance I can convince you to not make the post titles in all caps?

I syndicate your blog into my Netvibes, and seeing a big thick stacks of capital letters hurts my soul. I'm sure I'm not the only one who think so.

By Blogger IA, at 5:20 PM  

Actually, I think the joke you refer to is that he was offered pumpkin ravioli and he takes her to a place where there's real food and they have beer and fried chicken.

I still didn't find it that funny. Alec Baldwin was hilarious. But the rest just get me laughing that much. The hot dog thing was horrible ... what a weak way to limp into a series.

Maybe I am prejudiced by my pity for Rachel Dratch. She's funny, and totally wasted. It seems she's the designated idiot stick holder for each episode, which is a hard pill to swallow when you were originally the star.

By Blogger Caroline, at 11:30 PM  

Ah yes, it was pumpkin ravioli. I couldn't remember the dish. Yes it's true he went somewhere with real food and he knew everyone, but I really think that joke was intentional, ie. No to pumpkin ravioli, but Yes to apple chicken.

Glad to see some there is some agreement on the hot dog scene.

By Blogger Trellick Tower, at 11:43 PM  

I thought 30 Rock was really good. I was in a bad mood when I started watching and in a better mood when I finished. Then this morning on the drive to work I chuckled remembering some of the jokes. So all in all, a good sign.

Plus, on 30 Rock nobody is saying that The Girlie Show is brilliant or the network's flagship show or anything. Maybe it's terrible and that's why they're bringing in Martin Lawe--er, Tracy Jordan.

Now Studio 60 on the other hand...

Well, I've been liking it, and forgiving it for having the "funny show" not be that funny, but the last episode really p'd me off. They may as well have said it was all a dream.

And does anyone really care about the President of NBS' ex-husband?

Or about the head writer or producer of the show? I knew the head writer of SNL was Tina Fey becaus she was on camera, I wouldn't know her if she was only a writer, and I'm a fan of TV and of SNL in particular. Lorne Michaels also performs on camera sometimes, so he's easy to know.

I guess Studio 60 is just conceited in general. I'll probably drop it if it doesn't improve a little soon.

By Blogger Dante Kleinberg, at 2:14 PM  

I thought it was pretty lame. Tracey Morgan pretty much can only play Tracey Morgan. I like Tina Fey, but I don't know about this show.

By Blogger Lawrence, at 1:30 AM  

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