Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 12/19/13

Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are

  • Wayne Beach (MURDER AT 1600) is writing the pilot for WGN America’s suspense drama, AMERICAN DREAM about a homicide cop trying to nail a mega-zillionaire CEO. (Sounds like a cool series…if only we knew who/what WGN America was. Anybody wanna google it and tell us?)
  • Kurt Sutter (a little thing called BREAKING BAD) is developing THE BASTARD EXECUTIONER as a series for Netflix. (Cuz he’s Kurt Sutter and he can damn well develop anything he wants to – and get paid. Yes, okay, we’re definitely eating our heart out here.)
  • Patrick Macmanus (MARCO POLO) is writing THE INN, a supernatural drama pilot for NBC. (A classic ghost story complete with a group of strangers gathered together in a weird hotel? Execution will be everything. Wait. Did we say “execution?” Maybe Kurt Sutter will join the process with his bastard?)
  • Matthew Perry (Yeah, that guy) is writing a new version of Neil Simon’s THE ODD COUPLE with Danny Jacobson (MAD ABOUT YOU). (Cuz God forbid Neil Simon should be allowed to put his stamp on his own creation. His style has been the basis for TV comedy for almost 50 years, but, you know, enough is enough.)
  • Chas Smith is adapting his book, Welcome to Paradise, Now To to Hell into a Fox 21 Productions cable series about crime/murder/adrenalin and – did you guess it? – surfing. (This one might be a little iffy, cuz you know what happened to the last big surfing series on cable. No? Google JOHN FROM CINCINATTI and you’ll sadly see.)

A Brief & Inadequate History of TV Comedy

by Larry Brody

For me, television comedy began with Uncle Miltie. Milton Berle, whom I first laughed at/with/from in 1948. In just a few short years he was joined, as my definition of comedy, by Sid Caesar, Martin & Lewis (why did Dean get first billing? No wonder Jerry was mad), Red Skelton, Bob & Ray, and Ernie Kovacs (above), who I still believe was the cleverest comic who ever lived.

Yes, I’ve left out Lucille Ball. Because as a child I couldn’t really laugh at her. All that angst, that desperation to be loved – sorry, but she made me way too tense.

By the late ’50s I was getting most of my laughs from the One And Only Harvey Kurtzman, originator of Mad, first a comic and then a magazine and always batshit insane. I still remember how I felt when I saw my first issue and met “The Lone Stranger.” It was incredible. The most joyous moment of my then short life…because I had just found out that I wasn’t alone. That others – who got published! read! paid! – saw the same absurdity everywhere that I did.

I will happily argue (and have, in my sadly now out-of-print book Turning Points in Televisionthat until the birth of The National Lampoon in 1970 Harvey Kurtzman and his Uncle Miltie-plus-incredibly-complicated-panels-Jewish-humor sensibility were the basis for all popular humor. Every stand-up comic. Every sitcom. They all owed an incredible debt to:

The most influential comedy mayven of the ’60s probably was Neil Simon.

In one sense he was the spawn of Sid Caesar, but Sid Caesar was, in essence, Harvey Kurtzman on the screen instead of the page. Simon, AKA Mr. Badeep Badop Badoop, had a very definite dialog rhythm, page after page of:

  • set-up
  • set-up
  • punchline

Over and over, bringing tears of laughter to Broadway audiences and, then, to TV audiences as writers like James Brooks, Ed.Weinberger, and dozens of others (including another noted Sid Casesar alum, Carl Reiner) translated the Simon rhythm to the small screen…and, for my money, outdid him time and time again.

Until The National Lampoon, comedy was about the shleppers, the oppressed who laughed at the oppressors, delighting in raining on the parade of the uncaring, stupid 1% (although of course they weren’t called that then). Nat Lamp, however was Harvard through and through, humor for the Überclass.

That effect was even stronger when it made its way to TV on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. Chevy Chase’s heartfelt, “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not” said it all. (How do I account for John Belushi in view of my statements above? Well, he was a big exception, and we know how well that went for him, don’t we?)

The 21st Century brought another sea change, ushering in our current era, The Judd Apatow Rebellion.

I say “rebellion” because I genuinely believe that. From THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW to UNDECLARED to any and all of his movies, Apatow has taken us back to the schlemiel losers with their cockeyed perspectives, disdain for the ruling class, and undying hope. His influence now is all-pervasive. Neil Simon was a shlepper compared to Apatow, whose slackers understand what Sabatini’s Scaramouche (my favorite hero, dramatic or comedic, of all time) knew so well:

He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

I love current comedy. The chaos of it. The disrespect. But I have an admission to make. Every time I read about some comics property being turned into a film or TV series my mind goes back to Harvey Kurtzman and I wonder: “Why, why, why, isn’t someone making his greatest creation [with the truly awesome Will Elder]?”: