(TO THE TUNE OF THE SANFORD AND SON THEME SONG)
Larry Sanders…bada beeda bada bum
Larry Sanders…bada beeda bada bum…
Sorry. That just tickles me. I don’t know why.
Chuck Sigars recently sent me a question about The Larry Sanders Show – bada beeda bada bum. Sorry, I had one left.
First of all, I consider The Larry Sanders Show to be the granddaddy or, more accurately, the unmarried, cranky uncle of Curb Your Enthusiasm. If you’re interested in hearing why I think that…
Today, it’s Chuck’s concern that is front and centre. Apparently, Chuck NetFlixed a few seasons of The Larry Sanders Show, and found, specifically the earlier episodes, disappointing. Then Chuck said, and I quote…
“…suddenly, it got better. …Amazingly enough, this corresponded to the name, ‘Earl Pomerantz’, scrolling by at the end.”
Well, what can I tell you? I saved the show.
At least, that’s what Chuck seemed to be suggesting. If you allow me, just for a moment, I’d like to bask in the glory of this flattering accolade.
Okay, that’s enough.
It’s not true.
In his comment, Chuck’s primary query was expressed thusly:
“Have you seen one specific writer’s voice change the tone of a show with some seasons under its belt, for better or worse?”
My answer will be specific to The Larry Sanders Show. But first, let me just say that I ran Major Dad during its first season. The first season of Major Dad had, as its goal, to deliver clever, and original, character comedy.
I left the show, and the guy who took over broadened its comedic approach, making it stupider though, arguably, commercially successful. In that case, a change in writing leadership, and the accompanying change in “voice”, made the show, in my opinion, worse.
So there’s that.
Larry Sanders was a different story.
At this point, I will introduce, what they call in court, hearsay testimony. The information is not first-hand. It was related to me by Larry Sanders’ Head Writer, whose veracity on the matter I have no reason to doubt. But it’s still hearsay. Meaning, I have no direct evidence that things happened precisely the way the Head Writer told me they did.
Like all sitcoms, the first step in developing an episode is that Garry and his writing staff would hash over various story ideas. When one of them tickled their collective fancies, the story structure would be discussed in general terms, after which a writer would be dispatched to take a crack at a first draft. So far, no surprises.
Here, however, is where things changed. According to the Head Writer.
A draft of the script would be completed in a timely fashion. It would then be submitted to Garry Shandling for his reaction and “notes.”
Garry Shandling, a notorious procrastinator, never read the script.
Or, he read it, but he persisted in deferring the “notes” session. Either way, the script just sat there. The essential next step of rewriting and refinement never took place.
On the Sunday before the Monday on which the script would go into production, Garry Shandling would invite the Head Writer over to his house. It was now time to deliver his “notes.”
Garry would participate in his regularly-scheduled basketball game with his friends, David Duchovny and Ben Stiller among them.
The game would last till late in the afternoon, after which Garry would clean up, and then, finally, he would sit down to conduct his “notes” session on the script. Garry’s always insightful “notes” would be detailed and substantial. It was not until eight or so in the evening that the Head Writer was dismissed to go home and begin the rewrite.
The rewriting took all night. The script had to be delivered early enough the following morning for it to be duplicated and disseminated to cast and crew. The Head Writer had a handful of hours to rework an entire script.
Understandably, the delivered script was not in perfect shape.
For two seasons, I was recruited – for my first season once a week, for my second season twice a week – to come in and help. My contribution focused on the clarity, consistency, character and the comedy, by which I mean coming up with specific lines of dialogue that would comedically nail down the moment. Since he was highly competent, I have little doubt that, given saner working conditions, the show’s Head Writer would have come up with all or, at least, a majority of the improvements himself.
For me to do what I did required first, one writer to complete the painstaking chore of making something out of nothing with the first draft, followed by the Head Writer’s heroic effort with his all-night rewrite.
It was not my “voice” that made the scripts – and the resulting episodes – better, if, fact, they were.
It was experience, a resonating sensibility, and time.
Though I would like to take credit for the whole thing.