EXCLUSIVE:Microsoft is taking a major step towards growing its entertainment footprint. I’ve learned that the software giant is in talks with former top CBS TV executive and now CBS consultant Nancy Tellem for a high level post, in which she would lead Microsoft’s expanded efforts in entertainment. Details on the position are still sketchy as I hear negotiations are still in early stages and an agreement is probably several weeks away, but it is believed to be a broad position overseeing creative and business partnerships as well as the production of original content across Microsoft platforms, including the flagship Xbox Live game and video service.
Aaron Sorkin is back! I loved THE NEWSROOM. It’s the perfect vehicle for his whip-smart dialogue. (It was also nice to see the wonderful Emily Mortimer finally not in a thankless role.)
But essentially THE NEWSROOM was BROADCAST NEWS as written by Aaron Sorkin. James L. Brooks wrote that terrific movie along with co-creating THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. So that got me thinking — what if Aaron Sorkin wrote THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW? Here, with great affection for Mr. Sorkin, is how I envision what a scene might look like:INT. W.J.M NEWSROOM – DAYMARY AND MURRAY ARE WORKING AT THEIR DESKS. SUE ANN ENTERS.
SUE ANN: Hello, union mules. I’m in a wonderful mood. Care to guess why?
MURRAY: You just learned you’re not part of the 17.8% of the population that has a venereal disease?
A fan who wishes to remain anonymous (yeah, that’s mostly the kind of fans I have) recently sent me a web synopsis of the first TV episode I wrote for the first show that ever hired me, HERE COME THE BRIDES. And, whoa, does this bring back memories.
BRIDES was an hour-long dramedy back in the days before we called them dramedies. Set in post-Civil War Seattle, for all practical purposes it was the musical 7 BRIDES FOR 7 BROTHERS on TV. With only three brothers, of course, because TV made everything smaller in those days.
Every week the series dealt with the romantic problems of logging company proprietors the Bolt brothers, played by Robert Brown, Bobby Sherman, and David Soul, and the gaggle of young women who’d been imported for them and the rest of the townsmen to procreate with. Thrown into the mix were the Town’s Rich Evil Asshole, played by Sarek, Spock’s father (Mark Lenard to ye of little faith), the Town’s Motherly Madame, played by my pal Norman Powell’s mother, AKA Joan Blondell, and various recurring characters with the usual misguided good and bad intentions.
It wasn’t great television, but it was solid and professional, and a great place for me to learn from people like William Blinn, Bob Claver, Paul Junger Witt, and Stan Schwimmer.
Besides learning the need to walk the fine line between having characters saying too much and saying too little, I also came to grips with:
The care and feeding of actors – when Bill Blinn told me I had to revise a script to make David Soul’s part smaller that week because, according to Bill, David had deliberately gotten himself kicked in the head by a horse on the set in an attempt to avoid being drafted and getting sent to Vietnam
Studio politics – when I was assigned to rewrite a long, dull script originally written, it turned out, by the studio’s head of production, who couldn’t wait to ask me what I thought of it and became my Enemy For Life when 23 year old me foolishly told him
Hollywood social castes – when a certain staff member of the show refused to come to a party at my apartment because, “You live behind Bruno Corvette? I can’t go there!”
Producerial turf building – when I discovered that a certain producer of the show was telling everyone how hard he had to work to “save” my scripts, but confided in me that he was saying that just so no one else would use me and I’d be available for more episodes of BRIDES
Oh, the synopsis of my first episode, ripped from a site I recommend to all ’60s nostalgia lovers, the one and only BobbySherman.Com:
One of this writer’s favorite episodes. A group of Greek settlers, led by Telly Theodakis (Lou Antonio, in real life one of Bobby’s good friends) have settled on Bridal Veil Mountain , believing they own the land because they bought a land grant for it. They will not listen to the Bolt brothers’ explanation that the mountain belongs to the Bolt family. For a while, there is harmony, as the brothers decide to allow the Greeks to stay there, at least until they can have a circuit judge come into town and prove to the stubborn Telly that he is wrong. The brides provide food and drink for them, as they are quite poor (but proud!). Jeremy and Telly travel to Olympia , and when Telly sees the valid grant, proving that the land belongs to the Bolts, he is crushed. He does not know how he can go back and tell his people that he was wrong, and that they have all been tricked. He angrily decides to try to track down the con man who sold him the fake land grant, and Jeremy agrees to help him, although he feels it’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack. They do track down the man, but unfortunately, he and his partner are onto them, and tie Jeremy and Telly up in a vacant barn, deciding that they know too much and will have to be killed. Lou Antonio is priceless in this episode, as Telly unwittingly delivers some hysterical lines in his perfectly rendered, Greek-accented , fractured English(“We are done for, Jeremys[as he calls Jeremy]—dead men have no tails.” ) Lou A. gets to deliver even more of these comic malaprops in episode #47TO THE VICTOR.
They narrowly escape their captors, and in the end, safely back in Seattle, he must tell his people the truth –they have all been tricked. But there is a happy ending! (Note: Mitzi Hoag, who plays Miss Essie (Big Swede’s wife)for all of the first season, is seen in this episode as a Greek settler, Telly’s wife! It is interesting that the producers were apparently hoping that audiences would not remember Mitzi from the first season, but they lost that gamble! Ms. Hoag left a very strong imprint in her wonderful performances as Miss Essie!)
I have no idea who “this writer” is, but I’m glad he or she liked the episode. I do, however, have a confession.
I worked my butt off on this script, trying to get the Greek immigrant speech pattern down just right. Research, more research, writing, rewriting, more rewriting. And when it aired I was rewarded by hearing – none of it. Every single line Lou Antonio/Telly said was completely changed because, “it was just too hard to say that way, Larry. And who cares?”
Yes, another exciting lesson learned, but not the ultimate one. Not the most important. No, the most important lesson I learned on HERE COME THE BRIDES was this:
Nothing – absolutely nothing – in the world feels better than getting into your car in the morning and driving through the gates of a big Hollywood studio, waving at the mostly dour-faced guards and going to work. I hope that everyone reading this gets to do it, and that you enjoy the hell out of those tears that come to your eyes.
Jesse Curtis Morton and another man encouraged attacks on show’s writers over episode depicting Muhammad in a bear suit
A Muslim convert from New York has been sentenced to 11 and a half years in prison after admitting threatening the writers of South Park over their depiction of the prophet Muhammad…
Morton worked on website postings with Zachary Chesser, of Virginia, who pleaded guilty in October 2010 to sending threatening communications to the South Park writers and to other charges. Last year Chesser was sentenced to 25 years in prison, and Morton was arrested in Rabat, Morocco, and brought back to the US.
He admitted helping Chesser in taking repeated steps in April 2010 to encourage extremists to attack the writers for an episode that depicted Muhammad in a bear suit. Most Muslims consider any depiction of the founder of Islam as offensive.
Our not-so-tame Saskatchewanian, Anil, has spent his entire L.A. lifetime in the local comedy club scene. Time now for a short report on what he’s learned:
To save aspiring comedians and comedy writers a lifetime of awkward silence from their sensitive comedy brethren, TVWriter.Com presents the simple rules for navigating the minefield of Joke Court. Take these rules to work-out rooms, smokey patios and dive restaurants full of funny people assured justice will always be served.
The Rules of Joke Court
Make sure you’re in court. Even if it seems like a fellow comedian is asking for help, s/he may not be. Sure, s/he just said, “I really need help fixing this joke” out loud, but the subtext was “I’m dying on stage and the universal panic move of all comedians is to narrate their own act. I know I’m in the toilet, but I’m thinking out loud. Don’t interrupt me.” Always ask if you can make a suggestion, and only when the performer seems ready and receptive.
Listen. Nothing helps less than notes on material no one heard but you.
Don’t confuse style with mechanics. Sometimes a joke falls flat because it doesn’t fit a comedian’s POV, or has meandered structure. Don’t offer your version of the joke. Focus on the mechanics, and help shape their version of the joke. It will help your writing immensely.
All records are sealed. A spitballing session can quickly turn into a heated, explicit debate about politics, sexual deviancy, criminal behaviour or religious beliefs. Don’t get offended. Don’t judge. Don’t take the transcript out in public. Some of the best material comes in the worst mess, but you’ll never find it without a safe place to do the digging.
Everything is on the record. If you want to use something funny that came up in conversation, ask. Let it be known you’re interested in developing the gag. If there’s a dispute over who’s ‘brilliant idea’ it is, drop it. There’s no shortage of funny in the world. Something else will come along.
Don’t hold grudges. The people who give you the best notes are the ones who genuinely want you to be your funniest. Consider all options.
The judge’s ruling is final. Even if the jury hates it, the comedian who wrote the bit passes the final sentence. If s/he wants to stick with it, don’t push prosecution after the gavel’s been dropped.
EDITED BY TVWriter™ TO ADD THE FOLLOWING 2nd THOUGHT: Okay, so you might not want to use these rules in this particular workout room/club: