‘Saturday Night Live’ Writer Tom Davis Dies at 59

Saluting our own:

Emmy Award-winning writer and comedian Tom Davis passed away today from throat and neck cancer in his home in Hudson, NY
by Alison Willmore

One of the original writers for “Saturday Night Live” when it premiered in 1975, Davis formed the comedy team “Franken & Davis” with Al Franken when the two were still in high school in Minneapolis. When the pair were first hired at SNL, Lorne Michaels negotiated for them to split a single writer’s salary of $350 per week. In addition to their years of writing and creating famous characters on the comedy institution, they also sometimes performed together on air in sketches like “The Brain Tumor Comedian.” Off air, they cowrote the 1986 film “One More Saturday Night.”

From the New York Times:

He and Mr. Franken were so close that Mr. Franken named his daughter Thomasin Davis. But the two broke up as a team in 1990 as Mr. Franken tired of his friend’s drug abuse. They reconciled a decade later, and Mr. Davis obliged his friend by publishing his all-too-candid autobiography only after Senator Franken was elected. In his book, Mr. Davis wrote, “I love Al as I do my brother, whom I also don’t see very much.”

Reviewing that memoir, “Thirty-Nine Years of Short-Term Memory Loss,” at Salon, Stephanie Zacharek noted Davis’ recollection of hearing the clue “He was the comedy partner of Al Franken” on “Jeopardy” in 2004: “‘Everyone was stumped,’ Davis writes, with unself-pitying amusement, including Ken Jennings, the greatest ‘Jeopardy!’ champ ever.'”

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More Writing Wisdom from Joss

Someone’s right on the cusp of major over-exposure. But, till the fall:

Geeking Out About Storytelling with Joss Whedon
by Charlie Jane Anders

Joss Whedon is in the unique position of being both a cult icon and a huge mainstream creator, thanks to projects like Firefly and The Avengers. But both halves of his success spring from his ability to create addictive stories, that leave you desperate to know what happens next.

This interview was very kindly set up by Dark Horse Comics, so we tried to keep the interview pretty focused on the comics that Whedon is doing with them — including Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9, Angel and Faith, and some upcoming Firefly comics. But we also took this opportunity to geek out about comics versus other media, and the nature of serialized storytelling.

You’ve said in the past that TV shows are a question, and movies are an answer. What are comics?

I will put comics in the TV camp, because of the serialized storytelling, the growth over the years… but at the end of the day, you do sort of come to them needing a thing that is both cinematic and has that kind of resolve. So… both. I feel like when Spider-Man defeats the Tarantula, you get your answer. But then you need to know where he’s going from there. And could I have made more of a Seventies reference than that? In my mind, it’s all Ross Andru. But I think it’s definitely both. Because you don’t just want to move forward. You want something that says, “I’m here for this hero to win the day.” The way you go see a movie and say, “I want that resolve.”

That kind of feeds into our next question. Historically, both TV and comics depended on the illusion of change. You were part of a generation that challenged that, adding more arc-based storytelling and actual change. Like, Buffy graduates high school, drops out of college, moves to San Francisco, and so on. Do you think that was a good move, in retrospect?

It was good for us. It was good for the kinds of storytelling that I want to do. Is it good for all comics? I don’t think so. Some things really should stay the same. Reed Richards should always have exactly this much gray. [Gestures at the sides of his head.] But um… You know, the problem is, when something goes on for as long as most things have, then they’re just looking for any change. Either they reboot it, or they do something drastic, because they can’t write the same thing over and over. I mean, TV shows don’t run since the Sixties. Whereas some of these comics have.

But with the newer stuff, the more graphic novel-y stuff, when you get a story that’s just about the progression of the story, for me it’s harder to dive in than when I know, “This guy is going to have this power and that’s the thing.” It’s a different experience. And for me, I feel like comics — that sort of comfort food that I refer to a lot of recent TV as — I seem to want that from comics.

You want the comfort food.

A little bit. I want to see the costume. I want to see the power. I want to know what the sitch is. And from there, I like the comfort food… but there’s a lot of exceptions. Like with the Luna Brothers’ Girls, which was a book that I never knew from issue to issue what was going to happen. I just adored it. But when I think about creating comics, I think more in terms of, “Why are we coming back? What do I love?” Not, “What can I change?”.

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Now, Joss, listen to us carefully. Time to take a deep breath, man. Step backward. Chill. Enjoy your life and – this is our biggest suggestion – see if you can go for, oh, let’s say a month without being quoted anywhere. We mean, what if you say something even more brilliant, but everybody’s decided not to listen anymore? You can’t let that happen to you, Joss. You can’t let that happen to us.

‘Sleepy Hollow’ Story Headed for TV?

…Set in modern day? By the geniuses who took everything the slightest bit Roddenberryish out of STAR TREK? Yikes!

Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci Pitching Modern ‘Sleepy Hollow’ TV Show With Len Wiseman To Direct
by Kevin Jagernauth

After their attempt at non-explosions filmmaking earlier this summer with “People Like Us” fizzled out, it looks like “Transformers” and “Star Trek” franchise writers/producers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are going back to their bread and butter. Only this time, it’s in the shape of Hollywood’s latest favorite trend — take very old (and more importantly, likely copyright free) fairy tales and popular stories, and goosing them up for modern audiences. And the latest to get the treatment is Washington Irving’s “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow.”

The duo are currently pitching “Sleepy Hollow,” a reworking of the story of Ichabod Crane that will take place in a contemporary setting, partner him up with female sheriff, and the pair will solve the supernatural mysteries of a town in the midst of a battle between good and evil. This sounds predictably pretty terrible, and if you’re going to remake “Sleepy Hollow” but then remove the period setting it’s known for, it seems entirely pointless to us. But we’re not producers making millions of dollars, are we? Anyway, Kurtzman and Orci and teaming with Phillip Iscove to write the script, with the thoroughly uninspired choice of Len Wiseman to direct.

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You really should click above to get the full benefit of Kevin Jagernauth’s delicious outrage. We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Well, maybe we could, but it would’ve taken way too much work. Muchas gracias, Kev!

EDITED TO ADD: Holy crap, Sony sold this project to Fox Network. Somebody get us some of those Fox Network drugs!

EDITED AGAIN TO ADD: Holy another crap,  the CW is developing a whole ‘nuther modern day SLEEPY HOLLOW thing with writers Grant Scharbo and Patrick Macmanus, formerly writers on the short-lived ABC series, MISSING. And this one’s premise sounds just as scornworthy as Sony’s.

Joss Whedon’s Guide to Avenging Screenwriting

Yeah, the title’s a stretch, but…you know.

Joss Whedon’s Top 10 Writing Tips
by Catherine Bray

Joss Whedon is most famous for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer, its spin-off Angel and the short-lived but much-loved Firefly series. But the writer and director has also worked unseen as a script doctor on movies ranging from Speed to Toy Story. Here, he shares his tips on the art of screenwriting.

1. FINISH IT
Actually finishing it is what I’m gonna put in as step one. You may laugh at this, but it’s true. I have so many friends who have written two-thirds of a screenplay, and then re-written it for about three years. Finishing a screenplay is first of all truly difficult, and secondly really liberating. Even if it’s not perfect, even if you know you’re gonna have to go back into it, type to the end. You have to have a little closure.

2. STRUCTURE
Structure means knowing where you’re going; making sure you don’t meander about. Some great films have been made by meandering people, like Terrence Malick and Robert Altman, but it’s not as well done today and I don’t recommend it. I’m a structure nut. I actually make charts. Where are the jokes? The thrills? The romance? Who knows what, and when? You need these things to happen at the right times, and that’s what you build your structure around: the way you want your audience to feel. Charts, graphs, coloured pens, anything that means you don’t go in blind is useful.

3. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY
This really should be number one. Even if you’re writing a Die Hard rip-off, have something to say about Die Hard rip-offs. The number of movies that are not about what they purport to be about is staggering. It’s rare, especially in genres, to find a movie with an idea and not just, ‘This’ll lead to many fine set-pieces’. The Island evolves into a car-chase movie, and the moments of joy are when they have clone moments and you say, ‘What does it feel like to be those guys?’

4. EVERYBODY HAS A REASON TO LIVE
Everybody has a perspective. Everybody in your scene, including the thug flanking your bad guy, has a reason. They have their own voice, their own identity, their own history. If anyone speaks in such a way that they’re just setting up the next person’s lines, then you don’t get dialogue: you get soundbites. Not everybody has to be funny; not everybody has to be cute; not everybody has to be delightful, and not everybody has to speak, but if you don’t know who everybody is and why they’re there, why they’re feeling what they’re feeling and why they’re doing what they’re doing, then you’re in trouble.

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This was first published in 2009, and we found it by a lucky accident while web-surfing the other day. And, no, we’re not about to get snarky with or about anything the Jossman has to say. Because there’s absolutely nothing to get snarky about.

The Book No Writer Should Ever Need…

…Because we’re all so clever already. But just in case:

Not our book but useful nevertheless…especially in showbiz

Insults & Comebacks For All Occasions

Need insults and comebacks? The Lines for All Occasions book Insults & Comebacks is the right choice. Arm yourself with barbs targeting everything from looks to age to intelligence, and you’ll always be ready with an appropriate – or completely inappropriate – comeback.

  • Pocket book with one-liners on a variety of topics
  • Over 500 insults and comebacks
  • Hardcover
  • Size: 3-1/2″ x 5-3/4″ (8.9 cm x 14.6 cm); 112 pages

Order here (not affiliated with TVWriter™)

Let’s face it, writers. Every one of us should at the very least have the potential to write this kind of book. Because all you have to do is go to lunch once in H’wood and you discover – usually the hard way – that this is how everyone you need to hang out with talks…when they’re being nice…