As Major Dad was about to go into production, I was putting together a writing staff, which involved, besides working my way through a tall stack of “audition scripts”, being required to meet, not only the “finalists” but also writers who, by status, connections or reputation had earned the right to be evaluated in person.
It was not my favorite part of the process. My favorite part of the process? A tie, actually, between getting paid substantial sums of money and hearing audiences laughing at material I had hoped they would laugh at and now my judgment had been happily confirmed. My next favorite thing was sitting alone writing a script. Down the line was anything involving interactions with other people, especially in situations where their career futures were, at least temporarily, in my hands. It gives me the sweats just thinking about it.
But it went with the territory, so I did it.
I had lunch with an established writer looking for a writing staff position on Major Dad. (Not only do show runners read scripts by aspiring job candidates, writers who had advanced to the level where they can “pick and choose” read and/or screen the various pilots, determining an interest or lack of interest of their own.)
The woman I met with was, I don’t know, early thirties. (I was forty-five.) She was intelligent, she had a respectable list of credits. But almost immediately, her distinct personality came to the fore, and that personality… was neither for me nor for my show.
In an approach that felt like almost a parody of a Vegas lounge comic, the potential job candidate peppered the conversation with punchlines and obscenities. (Maybe it’s what she thought I expected; maybe it was just her.) Was she funny? I suppose. But her type of comedy made me uncomfortable. It was also incompatible with the nuanced intentions of Major Dad.
So, “No sale.”
(Would I have felt the same way about her if she were a man yes. My single-minded objective was to assemble the best people for the job and, as it turned out, of the six regular writers in the Major Dad rewrite room, half of those writers were women.)
I later met with an older writer – considerably younger than I am now – easygoing, no “hard sell”, who had been a member of the successful triumvirate that had developed Three’s Company. (Adapted from the English sitcom Man About The House.) Since his financial needs were ostensibly covered for life, I was surprised he was interested in a job, especially one where he would not be in charge. It turns out, the man simply wanted to work. I “get” that now. But it made little sense to me at the time.
Wikipedia characterizes Three’s Company as a sitcom centered on “escapades and hijinks” – misunderstandings, mistaken identity, improbable pratfalls – not at all my cup of tomatoes. (I remember watching the Three’s Company pilot on TV, laughing really hard, but predicting that every subsequent episode would be exactly the same. They were, weren’t they?)
There’s the chance that I was superficially stereotyping but in my observed opinion no comedy writer can write effectively in more than one comedic dialect. If you excel at broad comedy, you are unlikely to be equally adept at a more grounded form of comedy aiming for gentle jabs and telling observations. Even if “broad comedy” is not our natural proclivity, your conditioned experience will inevitably do you in.
So “No Sale” once again.
I conclude with the story of a young writer who garnered attention with his outline for a series episode.
“We’re not crazy,” warned his potential employer in a phone conversation, his interest aroused by the outline but who was concerned that the young writer – whose meager resume involved crafting sketches for variety shows – would be unsuitable for his sitcom’s more reality-based necessities.
The young writer was eventually brought in, his outline was developed into an episode, and he was sent home to work on the script. The finished product was deemed acceptable, and the young writer was given a job.
That young writer, as regular readers are already aware…
“Cha-ching”. (I believe that’s a cash register imitation.) The sale was made.
Why did my employer accept me, and I rejected the other two?
Because I sang in his key, and they did not sing in mine.
And that’s the name of that tune.