Wednesday, March 24, 2010

"Story of a Writer - Part 30"

I’ve been holding back writing this, because it’s nearing me to the end of my story. At least my story as a working writer who got paid. Plus, the project was not successful. I’m not entirely sure why. Those two things may very well go together – the demise of my working career, and my uncertainty as to why we failed. Somehow, without my noticing, I may have lost my touch, consigning me to a writing group to whom paychecks would no longer be written.

Or, it could have been something else.

Kristin was a half-hour comedy, starring the Broadway musical phenomenon, Kristin Chenoweth. We filmed thirteen episodes, but NBC only aired six. They used to say, about filmed episodes that were never broadcast, that they turned them into “guitar picks.” Now shows are shot “on digital.” I don’t know what they turn the unaired chips into. Maybe Doritos.

Ignorance. It’s a wonderful thing.

My involvement with Kristin began in a similar fashion to my involvement with Lateline. Both shows involved John Markus, a writer I had hired on The Cosby Show, where he remained and flourished long after I had left. John’s subsequent invitations for me to participate in projects he was involved in reflected his appreciation for the opportunity I had provided him, as well as an awareness that I, maybe, knew something that could be helpful. I am grateful for his efforts on my behalf.

John, who lives in New York, had – I don’t actually know how it happened – but as a result of things that took place before I showed up, NBC had guaranteed thirteen produced episodes (meaning no pilot needed to be made), of a series that would star Kristin, be created, written and run by John, and be released through the auspices of Paramount Television. Who had a “Development Deal” with me.

That’s how you get a job. I was affiliated with the project through two connections – my deal with the studio, and my relationship with John.

The option to participate was mine. Of course, there’s always the “We’re paying you weekly and you haven’t sold anything in quite a while” issue hanging over your head, but no pressure – beyond the unspoken one – was applied. I could have told the studio, “No.”

Though they were paying for my lunches.

John sent me the script he had written. The first time I read a script, I try not to pre-judge. I relax my mind and let the material pour over me, allowing my response to it to be spontaneous and true. John’s a good writer. I had liked his script a lot. After that initial reading, however – and there’s no way to may this sound not arrogant – I was confident I could make it better.

My reaction was a compliment to John’s efforts. Aside from “breaking the ice” and actually getting something on paper – a noteworthy achievement on its own – John had created a series that made me think, “This is a really good start. I like the concept, I am excited by the star that’s attached, I feel comfortable with the tone and type of humor he’s going for”, all of which pressed the “Excitement Button” in my head, that makes me believe I can help move this idea further in the direction the writer’s indicating he wants it to go.

This doesn’t always happen. Actually, it hardly happens at all. Generally, I read a pilot script, or a series proposal, and it’s like, “Yeah, no.” Which means, at least in my opinion, that the work the writer’s doing here, is, uh, terrible.

There is also another reaction: “I get what they’re going for. But it’s not for me.” This response occurs more frequently than “Yeah, no.” It’s not that I’m picky. I have a limited range. Another reason I’m at home writing a blog.

With Kristin, as with Lateline before it, my reaction was the opposite. What John had written made me eager to get involved.

The next step was to re-read the script – a script that had triggered my enthusiasm – and wait for the place in my head that does these things to inspire with ideas that I believed – because that place in my head invariably comes through – and I hoped John would agree, would enrich and enhance – without altering the writer’s intention – what had already been done. (A three double-dash sentence. I believe that’s a record.)

Next: The importance of casting. And getting it wrong.

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