Thursday, May 13, 2010

"My All-Time Favorite Job"

Recently, I was asked,

“What was your all-time favorite job?”

I had to think about it. I assumed they meant, “What was your all-time favorite writing job?”, the clarification being necessary, because I had also taught school in London at St. John’s Church of England Infants and Junior School for six months, and had wrapped toys at Harrods, also in London, for three.

I was pretty sure the question asker had not meant those jobs. Though they were both pretty fun.

Thinking back, aside from the aforementioned employments, I have never made a dime at any job other than writing (and, here and there, performing). Over the past forty or so years, I have written for newspapers, magazines, radio, television, movies (though none of them got made), a baseball program, and now, blogs. It’s a good thing that worked out. I have no aptitude for anything else.

My first thought when I considered my all-time favorite job was The Cosby Show. Collaborating with a immensely gifted comedic mind was, at its best moments, off-the-charts exhilarating. Working with Cosby was like sitting in with a world-class jazz band, trying your darndest to keep up. And, half the time, succeeding.

Once, Cosby, who, at least early in the series, provided most of the ideas for the episodes, sketched out a story with me – about his wife Claire’s sudden craving to have another baby – and sent me off to write the script.

I finished the script, and nobody liked it. To his credit, Cosby took personal responsibility, acknowledging, “This one’s on me.” The script I had written had carefully followed Cosby’s instructions. But, somehow, though the story was a good, it had seriously missed the target.

To his credit, he took the blame.

We were now in serious trouble. We had a show to do next week, and we didn’t have a script. At that point, Bill Cosby performed comedy magic before my disbelieving eyes.

Sitting in a room, surrounded by the show’s producers, the director and a very anxious me, poised with a pen and a legal pad, Cosby proceeded to pitch out an entirely different version of the same story.

This one was noticeably better.

After half an hour of Cosby’s spontaneously extemporizing the outline, and my non-stop getting it down, he stopped.

“Is that a story?” he asked me. I liked that he respected me enough to solicit my opinion on the matter. Which I immediately gave him.

“That’s half a story,” I replied.

Cosby blinked, slowly shook his head, and then looked around, filling the room with “This guy’s pushing me to the limit” irritation. Fortunately, it was accompanied by a gleam in his eye that said, “This man knows his stuff.”

I did.

It was only half a story.

Cosby took a deep pull on his cigar. And then proceeded to pitch out the second half of the story. We were done in forty-five minutes.

I’ve been around some excellent writers – Jim Brooks, Ed. Weinberger, Stan Daniels, Garry Shandling. I never saw anyone pitch out an entire episode in forty-five minutes.

I looked at the man in awe and admiration. Bubbling inside me, I could feel the gravelly, satisfied chuckle of “Fat Albert.”


The problem was, I now had three days to write the script, and the fastest I had ever written a script before that was seven days.

That’s what made The Cosby Show not my all-time favorite job.

I would have to keep looking for what was.