Friday, March 6, 2015

"Going Exclusively In the Other Direction"

If you require absolutely certainty in your blog posts, you might want to skip this one, because it is unlikely to produce a definitive resolution.  I say “unlikely” because I have not written it yet so there is no guarantee where I’ll wind up and, who knows, I may surprise us all and come up with an answer.  The “smart money”, however, remains on “unlikely”, and I wanted to forewarn you about that, so that your wasted time is limited to reading this paragraph, rather than submitting to the entire enterprise and at the end going,

“This blog post explains nothing!

Consider this a “public service”, and I shall hopefully see you on some future occasion.  Bye-bye, now. 

For the rest of you who, like myself, have available time on their hands…

Here we go.

The earliest half-hour comedies I wrote for – and you would think therefore the most influential ones on my developmental tendencies – were situation comedies involving single people and the workplace. 

By the time I wrote episodes for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mary’s outside-of-work buddies – Rhoda and Phyllis – had both decamped for series of their own, evolving the Mary show into a comedy in which the still single Mary’s workmates performed double duty by re-appearing at her apartment as her friends.

I wrote four episodes of Mary.

Then came Taxi, where nobody went home because, except for Elaine, who was a single mother, none of them had families.  Come to think of it, Elaine didn’t go home that much either, her two children, presumably, raising themselves. 

I wrote nine episodes of Taxi, with nary a single scene about “bedtime.”

Finally, there was Cheers, where the single (except Norm) characters were effectively coworkers, but rather than turning out a news show or driving a taxi, the activity they were collectively involved in was drinking. 

I wrote four episodes of Cheers.

At that point, I was offered the opportunity to create a half-hour comedy series of my own.  Based on my writing background, it would have been natural at that point to have rendered my own version of a “workplace” comedy populated by single participants.

Instead, however, as this post’s title foreshadows, I went unilaterally in the other direction.

Every series I created was a family show.

“Best of the West” – a young family relocates to the American frontier.

“Family Man” – Did you catch the word “family” in there?

“Major Dad” – A former bachelor Marine marries into the family comprised of a woman with three daughters.

Those were the shows that got on.  Through the succeeding decades I also devised failed pilot ideas such as Island Guy, in which a Beverly Hills family goes all “Culture Clash” with a Polynesian “primitive”, The Home Team, about a former baseball superstar becoming a “stay-at-home” Dad (in the 1980’s when that was actually a novel idea), and House Rules, wherein parents are forced to move back into their old house which they had in the interim passed on to their married daughter.

Six series – and there are others – none of them look anything like Taxi.

Those were the shows I did.  Spontaneously and unprovoked.


I don’t know.  (Throw in a shrug reflecting bewildered authenticity.)

Were family shows my favorites when I was growing up?  Not particularly.  I preferred the workplace comedy “Sergeant Bilko”, and The Dick Van Dyke Show, which, though it had an appealing family component, was the most fun when the lead character went to the office.

Were family shows popular when I was creating them and I was simply pursuing my best chances for commercial success?  (The “Desperately Hedging Your Bets Factor”?)

I don’t remember, but it wouldn’t have made any difference.  I am not that calculating.  Besides, I am talking about show ideas spanning more than three decades, during which times, the family sitcom, like Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, kept “going in an out of style.”

While I was compiling the above list of series, I noticed – surprisingly for the first time – that both Major Dad and Family Man involved male protagonists who were in either full (Major Dad) or substantial (Family Man) “Stepdad Mode.”

I am a Stepdad.  (Though I subsequently became the kind where you help make the kid yourself.)  Although the decision was never overt, maybe I felt more comfortable writing what I knew.

The thing is, to my knowledge, nobody who created Taxi ever drove a cab.  Nor did – dare I mention the name? – Doctor Cosby ever deliver a baby.

Though you may be subliminally attracted to the subject matter you know, such issues are hardly determinative.  Given research and the fertile writerly imagination, you can theoretically write anything.


Series about single people inevitably involve relationship difficulties and sexual entanglements.  You know me.  Does writing in that area seem to you like my natural terrain? 

(I once wrote a script about a reclusive single guy with a pet falcon.  That’s as close as I got to a non-family-centered sitcom.  And that series went nowhere.)

Bottom Line: (though unlikely a satisfying one.)  I wrote family shows because I wanted to.

Though I am not exactly sure why.   

(You see, I told you – no resolution.  Though this could quite possibly have been a self-fulfilling prophesy.)

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