Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thoughts on comedy

I think somebody asked about whether writing specs of multi-camera half-hour comedies was wise. Based on the fact that TWO AND A HALF MEN just got renewed for 3 seasons and BIG BANG THEORY got renewed for 2, I'd say yes. It's fairly rare for a network to put so much faith in shows, and I don't really see it happening for a lot of single-camera shows. But it makes sense...they're consistent. They pull huge ratings numbers. They have clear identities that everyone understands. And it's unlikely any of that's going to change. As long as those shows keep doing what they're doing, they'll continue to succeed. If you want to be a comedy writer, I think it's smart to have examples of both single-camera and multi-camera shows.

I sat down with a TV Lit Agent the other day who suggested that getting into half-hour comedy at all is pretty hard, just based on few of them are on the air. It's a numbers thing. More drama shows mean more jobs for drama writers. Comedy was king in the 90s, and all those writers are still hanging around town. There's just a lot of competition. It's my opinion that this business will always be tough, so you should just forge ahead and do what you want to do... but if you're thinking you're not sure whether to do drama or comedy, you might be positioning yourself better by writing dramas. I feel like I meet a lot of people who tell me they're comedy writers, and I find myself thinking, WHY ARE YOU NOT HILARIOUS? I dunno. Not everyone is funny. It's okay if you're not. As long as you think I am.

Andy writes: Is it even possible to do a show based on a dysfunctional (snobby) family after Arrested Development? Would agents immediately pass on the idea since AD was so good yet "only" lasted a few seasons?

Hmm. I say write what you want to write...but whether you should outwardly compare it to ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT is another matter. AD has some very passionate fans, but it just didn't get enough viewers, and at the end of the day, that's what executives have to be buying. Shows that will get viewers. And agents want to represent people who write things that executives will buy. Usually you only want to compare your work to successful things. Saying it's just like a show that nobody watched is probably going to attach a negative connotation. Like I said, AD falls somewhere in between a hit and a show nobody watched...but in general I'm not sure.

But simply for the topic of a dysfunctional family, I say go for it. It's definitely a good idea to have some kind of interesting hook or world that makes your show different, but I don't think any settings or concepts are totally off-limits. Families will always be fodder for writers since they provide natural relationships and believable conflict. And we can all relate. My advice is - please just be funny.

Also, a sort of general note - agents do not represent scripts. They represent PEOPLE. You need at least a couple of scripts before you get an agent... and like I said, agents are looking for material that's sellable. But it's not about just one script. It's about you as a writer, your voice, your style, etc. Even if you write a spec screenplay or spec pilot that never sells, your reps will use it as a sample to get you staffed (or, in the feature world, get you considered for open writing assignments).

Bookmark and Share


danny said...

Great post!

Nicholas said...

Holy pigs on a pogo stick! I'm a huge fan of TBBT, and have been since I watched the pilot preair months before it premiered. The fact that it is set to stick around for another 2 seasons...well, words do not describe.

And the fact that T&aHM got picked up for THREE...that's INSANE! The only show to ever technically have that done, that I know of, is Lost. And I think Family Guy was by default renewed for four seasons given the terms of Seth McFarland's deal a year or so ago.

But still...bulk renewals are seriously rare. This is awesome!

Little Miss Nomad said...

One thing to note is, just because someone's not funny in person, or not "on" all the time, doesn't mean they're not a hilarious writer. I mean, you wouldn't expect a writer for a drama like Breaking Bad to be bleak and depressing all the time, right? One would hope, anyhow.

My problem with multi-cam scripts is only that they're a bitch to format. The all caps in action and double-spaced dialogue always looks bad, and my screenwriting software refuses to double-space dialogue. So annoying.

LazyWriterOnTheTV said...

3 & A Half Men - Worst show ever. Daylight second. Daylight in Antarctica in summer where it's day for like 6 months.

That's a lot of daylight.

LazyWriterOnTheTV said...

PS. Re previous post. Dan Williams. Less is more mate.

Or better still, start your own blog.


GregM said...

I think there's a difference between *writing* funny and being funny in person. I'm fairly mild-mannered in person. However, if you'd seen my comedy about vampires "Bloody Lies" when it went up in 2006, or "This Is Your Life" in 2008, chances are, at some point during the performance, you'd be laughing 'till you cried.

Nicholas--the only other bulk renewal I know of is "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia," picked up for three more seasons.

Dan Williams said...

LazyWriterOnTheTV said:

"PS. Re previous post. Dan Williams. Less is more mate.

Or better still, start your own blog.


If you don't like the length of my postings, then don't read them. But don't interfere in what I'm doing as the plot information is terrific and has a real good chance of advancing Amanda's career whereas you can't say that about your own postings.

The anger you are feeling is not a result of my posts, it's a result of your own character. For you, maybe, less is more. But for writers, more is more. The more you write, and the better, the more you get paid. It's about getting better at the writing. Okay?

(I'm obviously not trying to tick you off. I'm obviously a friend of the blog. And so what if a post is long? Generating content is what we writers do!)

Kristan said...

Question: What if you don't want to be a TV writer, though? What if you just have ONE sitcom idea that you want to have made, and want to work for, but you're not interested in the rest?

(I don't see this as selfish -- more like, leaving opportunity for others -- but I suppose others might see it differently.)

How do you go about getting people to consider your show? (Let's assume you've written a treatment and a pilot episode for it.)

PS: Hi, I'm new to your blog, but I find you quite funny and informative! :)

cind said...

Kristan -- It's probably unlikely to get representation with only one script, and even more so with one idea. Agents like to say, "Hmm, this is ok, what else you got?" and if you say, "Nothing,
I don't want to be a writer, I just like this idea" they will move along to the next potential client. Because if the production company the agent shows your script to says, "Bring her in to pitch a couple of ideas" your agent can't say, "Actually, she'd rather not, she only wants this one made." I'm not sure you can sell a pilot without representation. It's such a tough game that if it's not something you're dying for, you probably won't keep playing after all the rejection.

What you could try to do, though, if you have an idea that you really need to get out, is write it for yourself, and maybe find some people with equipment and acting skills, and put together some kind of youtube web series. If it's well done, something can come of it. If not, at least you made it and got it out there.

Kristan said...

Thanks! I totally see what you're saying.

Anonymous said...