Tuesday, November 7, 2017

"Answering JED"

In response to a recent post entitled, “Why I Never Wrote With A Partner”, commenter JED asks me to fully elaborate on

 “… how it is different to write with a partner rather than with a group of writers.”

The thing is, I only did one of those things – the second one.  (Which I dutifully performed to supplement my income and broaden my career opportunities, though it was not my favorite scriptorial undertaking.)

To delineate the former writing setup with a degree of scientific accuracy – which, as we know, is the only accuracy that matters – “Ninety-nine out of a hundred people guess this pill will really work” – “No good!” – I would have to be two “me’s”:  The “Real Me” who never worked with a partner, and the “Control Me” who did.

“What was it like growing up in Albania?”

“I don’t know.  I grew up in Canada.”

It’s like that.  I have no awareness of that experience.   Leaving me comparing apples with… something I never once did in my life.

It is not like I never wanted to work with a partner.  I asked one guy after I sold Best of the West, and we were collaborating magnificently on the scripts.  He said he wanted to leave TV and write movies.  I probably asked him, not because I really wanted a partner but because I was scared of handling the responsibility alone.  Maybe he sensed that distinction and decided he’d rather write movies than partner up with a scared guy.

At the end of my career, I asked this extremely talented young woman to team up with me on a series I was developing in which the “Lead Character” was a young woman.  She said she was burnt out on the television business and wanted to stay home with her children.  (They had wonderful excuses, didn’t they?) Perhaps she just preferred to stay home with her children than team up with a writer at the end of his career.  

In both cases, I had a feeling of deficiency – though not necessarily a writing deficiency – sensing a need for bolstering assistance.  But underneath, was this always anchoring insistence.  Herein illuminated by an example.

At my Universal Studios boss’s request, I had agreed to collaborate with a writer with no half-hour comedy experience to develop (the ultimately successful) Major Dad.  The writer had been an Executive Producer on Major Dad star Gerald McRaney’s previous one-hour series Simon and Simon.  Both were seeking a transition to half-hours. 

In our negotiation, the writer demanded that he receive an Executive Producer credit on Major Dad, though, lacking comedy-writing credits, he was demonstrably unqualified to be accorded one.

My reaction was an acquiescing shrug.  I did not care, I explained to him, what credit he received, “… as long as…” – and I actually said this in italics, surprising myself greatly, as I had never done that before –

“… as long as I have final say in what goes into the script.”

As Marshal Kane said in High Noon, in a differing context:

“That’s the whole thing.”

Fortunarely, the writer was as disinterested in what goes into the script as I was in his Executive Producer credit, so it worked out acceptably for both of us.

For me, the “final say” was all that mattered.

As I mentioned in the earlier post about writing with a partner… excuse me, about not writing with a partner… my primary consideration, after my original apprenticeship where I (mostly) did as I was told – was that whatever appeared after the “‘Created By’ or ‘Written By’ Earl Pomerantz” screen credit must be a qualitatively admirable reflection of my imaginatorial uniqueness. 

Paraphrasing the old “standard”,

“It Had To Be Me.”

This cannot be the primary concern of writers in teams.  Front and center for them was, they wanted to work.  They also wanted to effectively accomplish the job.  And they believed they would be more successful achieving both those objectives if they wrote together, rather than working alone.  Plus, they enjoyed the collaborative company.

Me, I just wanted to be heard.  (Both is style and in content.) 

With all the neurosis and misunderstanding of the business I was in that misapprehension of reality implies.

Though I frequently did it, I was – and for similar reasons – never excited about writing in a group.

Here’s a confession.

Commenter JED mentions “…how you could be so successful in the writer’s room in so many series…”?

I am not certain I was.

Helping out on other people’s shows, I knew my professional obligation was to  “write like the show.”

On invariably all occasions, however, I argued vociferously that, though I was not in charge, everyone involved should instead write only like me.

And is my face red in retrospective regret.

Why did I do  that?  Because I thought – and had been trained to believe – that an assiduous attention to character and story consistency yielded the highest quality comedy outcome.  They talk about doing things “The Right Way” in sports?  That was “The Right Way” in sitcoms.   

A writer in the room suggested a joke I felt did not logically “fit in” or not reasonably “make sense”, I’d argue passionately against it, though the room had exploded in laughter when it was originally pitched.  

Was I just jealous of the superior joke writer?  Or steadfastly sticking to my guns?

Who knows?

One thing was sure, however.  I had forgotten the successful recipe behind the rewrite room process in the first place:

“It takes all kinds.”

Whether appropriate or not, I wanted the final say in what went into the script.  An equal partnership would never insure that.  Nor would a heavily populated rewrite room.  So I primarily wrote alone.

Arguing only with myself.

As I do to this very day.


“As I still do today.”


“Arguing only with myself” – and stop there.


Writing with a partner may have been faster.  But nowhere nearly as much fun.

Wait.  Do I need that?


1 comment:

JED said...

Thanks for answering my question, Earl. I didn't ask a very clear question but you still answered it and I learned something more about a fascinating and, to me, mysterious process.