Monday, December 12, 2011

"A Response To Mac"

In response to my 1000th post post – and by the way thanks for your written encouragements, and the psychic encouragement from those who chose not to express your encouragements in print – a commenter named Mac wrote, in part:

Which brings me to a question I’ve always wanted to ask. Why don’t you write comedy pilots? Do you no longer have the urge? I find that difficult to imagine as you clearly enjoy writing just for the hell of it.

First, let us leave to the end the fact that Mac inadvertently answered his own question.

Secondly, as always, while reading the following, you must factor in the disclaimers, which I herein reveal, though not for the first time.

Disclaimer Number One: The “sour grapes” disclaimer, of a writer who was shown the door, or in this case the studio “exit” gate, considerably earlier than he was ready to go.

Disclaimer Number Two: Which regular readers will readily identify – I have this habit wherein I, more than sometimes, veer towards the negative, obsessing on the spot instead of the apple. This proclivity leads to a cloudying of my perspective.

Okay, so much for the disclaimers.


Why don’t I write comedy pilots?

A substantial part of the answer, hardly headline news:

Comedy has changed.

I will now reveal an essential element in my success:

For a gratifying number of years, my comedic proclivities were consistent with the comedy fashion of the day. The comedy fashion changed. I didn’t. Or wouldn’t. Or couldn’t. And my day in the sunshine was done.

It’s as simple as that. What makes you inevitably brings you down. And that’s the name that tune.

How has comedy changed? I just yawned writing that sentence. Has this issue not be analyzed to death? The quick answer to “How has comedy changed” is:

Watch it!

The clues are rather obvious.

I’ll be brief.

One: Comedy has changed generationally. Responding to the highly coveted younger demographic’s more relaxed acceptance of sexual-themed content, the networks’ “Standards and Practices” departments now allow writers to say things for laughs that writers of an earlier era would never have bothered to include in their scripts, because they would have been directed forthwith to take the “offending material” out.

I wrote or co-wrote something like a hundred half-hour scripts. I do not recall even thinking of typing the word “vagina.” Today, a “vagina”-free script would have a tough time making the grade. Could I have not change with the times, and learned to write genito-centric material? Let me put it this way. When Two Broke Girls did a joke referencing ejaculating in somebody’s face, I stopped watching it.

Two: Comedy has changed competitionally. (Which my computer tells me is not a word, having just underlined it in red.) To remain competitive with cable, both basic – South Park – and premium – Curb Your Enthusiasm – the networks’ offerings had to amp up their “edginess”, or appear to be products of an archeological dig, uncovering TV programming artifacts from 1976.

Cable programming has driven networks to “push the envelope” to the point that the envelope now includes extremes in language, tone and subject matter. My most famous episode involved a funeral for a goldfish.

And speaking of extremes…

Comedy has changed, I don’t know, like the way Darwin explained how biological species mutate and evolve. The ongoing “advancements” are almost imperceptible, tiny little “adjustments”, to provide never-before-seen surprises in order to retain the audience’s interest and as a consequence survive.

Inevitably, the “advancements” keep coming, to the point where the line of “What’s acceptable” is continually pushed back, and the concept of “taste” bites the dust like the mal-adapting species that inevitably went extinct.

Turning from the theoretical to the practical, you may not know this, but if you write the pilot – especially in comedy – you are obligated to stay with the series. You don’t let a great chef leave after you open the restaurant. The chef is the restaurant. As the show’s creator/pilot writer is the show.

If you don’t want to work on a series – which is exhausting and frustrating and anxiety-inducing and...did I mention exhausting? – then you don’t want to write a pilot. Doing one requires a commitment to the other. I have visited the series television inferno. And I am not eager to return.

Which brings us to the section of Mac’s comment, wherein the answer is included in the question:

Do you no longer have the urge {to write a comedy pilot}? I find that difficult to imagine as you clearly enjoy writing just for the hell of it.

Writing for the hell of it is the exact opposite of writing for television.

That’s why I do this.

And I no longer do that.


Johnny Walker said...

Great post. I have to ask: Given what you've just said, would you tell young writers to shy away from television?

Also, Joss Whedon was saying how he was forced out of TV by Fox in the early 2000s. I know you don't miss the exhaustion, but Whedon managed to return simply because the upper-echelons had changed. He still got the same old problems, and began to wonder why he'd gone back, but I'm sure you could have returned, too. If you'd wanted to?

Zaraya said...

Dear Mr. Pomerantz; I find that the genito-centric jokes leave me cold. Using shock and embarrassment to get a joke is not as satisfying as something that is genuinely funny.

blah, blah, blah. His penis looks a bit like that... if you turn it sideways. blah, blah, blah

is not really a funny thing.


p.s. sorry about cluttering your comments with that bit. Just how do script writers put pauses into a script? Do they do it, or do the actors delivering the jokes to it, either consciously or or unconsciously?

Frank said...

Good answer to a good question as like Mac I wondered and sadly can't argue about your reasoning Earl.

Greg Morrow said...

My suggestion: Write comedy pilots that you want to write; post them here. We'll read them. We'll laugh at them.

Not as lucrative as television, but perhaps less soul-crushing.