Wednesday, October 25, 2017

"Everything Old Is Old Again"

Once in a while I see recognizable names on the credits of current TV shows.  I am not jealous.  Nor bolsteringly encouraged, as in “If he (or she) can, I can.”  It’s more a perplexed, “If he (or she) can… how can he (or she)?”

But that’s for later.

Contemporary (though some years younger) Glenn Gordon Caron, creator of the deservedly, lavishly praised megahit Moonlighting in the 1980’s is currently Executive Producer on the TV blockbuster Bull.  I have an impulse to drop him a line with some cautionary advice concerning the show, which, although doing exceedingly well in the ratings, I feel is essentially hollow… or is it shallow…. or is it both, or is it “conceptually unrealized”?  In my mind, Bull is a much-watched show that is detectably floundering – I actually wrote about that already.  I watched the “Season Two” debut?  There is still something not right.

I have personally experienced this type of phenomenon before.  It happened on Phyllis.  First year, it was in the Top Ten; the second year, it was cancelled.  Why?  Call it “Popular Emptiness.”  That’s how I feel about Bull.

Although I know Glenn Caron, I am reluctant to contact him, fearing coming off as an ossified “cast-aside”, ranting at my television and going to bed clutching my Emmys.

(Assuring Note:  I do not do the second one.  And not just because they’re pointy.)

If I wrote to him, I would also inform Glenn – as an interesting sidelight – that there was the name of a street near my house in Toronto – Glencairn Avenue.  When you’re working yourself to the bone on a TV series, sometimes an extraneous factoid can be a ray of restorative sunshine.  I thought maybe that might help. 

GLENN CARON:  “Wow.  I’m a street spelled a different way in Toronto.  For a moment there I forgot that the show’s star is an idiot.”

(Note:  I am speaking generically here.  I have no idea if Bull’s leading man is an idiot.  Although, you know… he’s the star of a highly-rated television show.  Place your bets, ladies ang gentlemen.  And be prepared to give “points.”)

Anyway, this isn’t about that…. entirely.

What it’s about is the recent rebooting – wait, is it “rebooting” if it comes back entirely unchanged, or does “rebooting” imply some meaningful upgrade? 

(Just trying to learn something here, education being a prominent element in this blogatorial exercise.  Well, not prominent, perhaps, but considerably above “Don’t bother me with that; I know enough as it is already.”  I am nothing if not a sponge for unfilled gaps in my understanding.  A dried-out, raggedy sponge, but a sponge.)

Was I a big fan of the original Will & Grace?


Was I a regular viewer?



It was frothy.  Sometimes, that’s all it takes.

So they bring back Will & Grace, and, like Woody Allen in Sleeper – it wakes up, and it is exactly the same.  Will & Grace – the first cryogenic TV show.

I read the show’s original writers are all back.  I imagine they figure if it worked great the first time, why veer from a successful formula?  Although if it’s the same writers, they’d be unable to veer if they wanted to.

My unshakable mantra:  You are what you are.  And you write what you write.  (No optional “veering” available.)

I watched the second half of the resuscitated Will & Grace – I had forgotten it was premiering – and, besides a predictable, musty storyline, where their relationship is jeopardized, then gooily reconciled at the end – in a period of one-and-a-half or so minutes, they delivered a joke structure which is my least favorite joke structure in the world, one I believe led as much as anything to shows filmed in front of a live studio audience finally wearing out their welcome.  Although here’s Will & Grace back again, so apparently they did not wear out their entire welcome.  At least NBC believes there’s still “juice.”   Of course, reviving old hits is considerably easier than developing a new ones.

NBC EXECUTIVE:  “That’s not fair.”

Well, isn’t it?

“It is, but that’s not fair.”

The joke format I most hate (and probably wrote an embarrassing number of during my tenure):

“The old – and inevitably infuriating – “‘180- Degree’ Turnaround.”

Here’s how it works.  (Or, to me, works annoyingly.)

Karen, a staunch Republican, gets Grace, a confirmed Democrat, a shot at redecorating the Oval Office.  Although acknowledging this huge career opportunity, Grace adamantly refuses to consider the assignment, proclaiming it goes against all of her principles to work for “that man” then storming angrily out of the room.  When Karen informs her their appointment at the White House is at ten-thirty, Grace, without missing a beat, replies, “I’ll be there at ten-fifteen.”

And then we are supposed to laugh.  Why?  Because she said the diametrical opposite of what she had previously proclaimed?  Isn’t that just… stupid?

HACK SITCOM WRITER:  I’ve heard people do that.”


“Okay, never.  But it works every time.”

Really?  Like twice in a minute-and-a-half?

Will says he’s meeting a gay congressman.  Jack warns Will not to giggle, like he
usually does when he meets someone important he is physically attracted to. 

“Jack,” insists Will, “I do not giggle.”

Then he meets him and he giggles.

NOSTALGIC TV VIEWER:  I remember those jokes.  Why don’t they do them anymore?”

Because they’re not funny?

“I know, but I miss them.”

My original thoughts about this post related to how writers, out of the saddle for over a decade would respond to a situation they had plaintively pined for to which they were surprisingly and unexpectedly returned. 

I know how I’d respond.

After the excitement of the “resurrection” and the reunion and the parking space on the studio lot with my name on it had worn off and we were ensconced in the “Writers’ Room”, breaking stories and pitching jokes, eating indifferent “takeout” out of Styrofoam containers, the safety of hearth and home long in the distance because you have to stay there until it’s finished, my three-word summarizing reaction would be,

“Oh yeah.  This.”

The Will & Grace writing staff went back to their jobs.

I am so glad I was not on it.


I’ll bet it was cool, receiving the phone call.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'm not fond of that trope either. Watching a character struggle when their principles conflict with their temptations might be funny, or at least interesting. But the comedy notion that everyone who claims to have principles is just one invitation away from abandoning them bothers me. Listening to them rationalize it: "It's my chance to change the system from within", "It's my chance to tell him what I think of him", etc., might be funny.

This wasn't.


Blondi said...

Once upon a time.
Kinda. Ontario ... Saskatchewan ... Still, you're one of ours.