This is an upbeat or downbeat story depending on your perspective.
And, of course, since I’m writing it,
It is easily guessable in which direction it is likely to lean.
Although that’s actually not fair.
I lived it, my reportage thereby colored by the way it turned out.
Were I not a congenital pessimist,
It may have possibly turned out otherwise.
“The Shadow of Pessimism” –
And subsequent narratives.
Well, ending this ruminative fore-section,
“Whattaya gonna do?”
(Note: This story mentions “The Cosby Show.” In case that’s a problem.)
Every show biz career suffers the inevitable “ups” and “downs.” At this moment in history, I was experiencing a “downs.”
1984. Known for many things, some of them more important than my personal experience. Although not to me.
Shortly before, I had suffered a disappointment with the cancellation of Best of the West. (Difficult because it was over, but also a relief because it was over.)
My friends, Glen and Les Charles, who created Cheers, generously hired me to write scripts for it, though I knew little about bars and even less about pre-marital hi-jinx. I wrote mostly the “Coach”-featured episodes. Because I knew about baseball, and I was familiar with not knowing what was happening around me. As long as at least one character has an atypical “take” on reality, I would comfortably continue to work.
But I was not working a lot.
Let me interject with a saying I made up, which should probably appear earlier but it just returned to me now.
My oft-uttered aphorism went:
“I’d rather be a boss than have a boss.”
This insight entered my consciousness after seven or so seasons of “having a boss.” Before that, I was quite happy to be anywhere.
My bosses were nice enough – Stan Daniels was a particular standout – and when they weren’t nice enough, I – respectfully – reminded them to be.
The primary annoyance was the comedic template.
They set it; I, dutifully, though not always enthusiastically, followed it.
My bosses were superior joke writers. By contrast, my brand of comedy, derived primarily from noticing things, was less traditionally organized.
As a result, I was categorized as “A good writer who doesn’t write jokes.”
Rather than “A good writer, finding surprising ways of eliciting laughter.”
If I were a boss – rather than having a boss – I could establish the comedic template. And that would be better.
Rather than “me, writing like them” there’d be a staff of “Thems”, writing like me.
And so, when I was shown a Cosby Show presentation – which was fourteen minutes long, rather than the “pilot-length” twenty-two – and I went nuts over it – because its comedy was also about noticing – I immediately said I wanted to work on the show.
“What do you want to do on the show?” I was asked by one of its co-owners.
“I want to run it!” I replied, in a burst of exuberance. (Mixed with mistakenness.)
And so, I was given the job as the first “Executive Producer” on The Cosby Show.
I lasted seven episodes of the first season.
And then I went home.
(The Cosby Show was produced in New York, one of the reasons I departed the show, but not close to the more explanatory, “He couldn’t handle the job.”
It turned out there were more things to being a boss than “establishing your comedic template.”
And I was not terrific at any of them.
(It also turned out no one could follow my comedic template.)
The “up” side of the story…
My experience on The Cosby Show led to a lucrative development deal at Universal, where I developed the commercially successful Major Dad. (Which I also ran, but left after one year for virtually identical reasons.)
Retooled Aphorism (tempered by personal experience):
“I’d rather have a boss than be a boss.”
(The Reason You Went Wrong: Your reputation creating the situation causing the temptation.)
The thing is, however, after you’ve been a boss, it is really difficult to go back.
You can see the problem that engenders.
If you can’t be a boss and have difficulty having a boss…
Those are the only two they make.