So my sitcom class has gotten very mixed reviews in terms of format and teaching style. The kids who are graduating and moving to Los Angeles in two weeks find the seven hour classes burdensome as they try to transition their lives. What takes place during those seven hours? Well let’s just call say we make up the classic dysfunctional family–Hollywood style!
But without a doubt, one of the most pleasurable parts of the course has been participating in conference calls to some pretty famous people in terms of TV comedy history…probably the biggest of these being Norman Lear, the creator of the series All In The Family, which was a show that changed the TV landscape forever. Well into his eighties, he is excellent conversationalist on current events and trends, and a very articulate and interesting storyteller about event in his own life. We’ve also spoken to Paul Reiser, who created and starred in Mad About You, and Warren Littlefield, who was the President of NBC during the nineties, through the tenure of shows like Cheers, Friends, Seinfeld, etc. He told a little story about the beginning of Seinfeld. They had seen Jerry’s stand-up and given him a small deal to come up with a pilot. Originally, Jerry was paired up with a more experience sitcom writer, but when the time came to turn in the script, Jerry called Warren and said, “I can’t show you the script.”
“I hate it.”
“Okay…I, um, can’t pay you.”
“I don’t care”
“So…what do you want to do?”
“Well I’ve been talking to friend Larry (David), and we want to try writing something together, based on our lives and our friends.”
Seinfeld in its original incarnation was about three guys. Warren pulled the framed test results from the wall of his office to read them to us. It received a ‘lukewarm” reaction from adults and teens, and a low reaction with kids. The audience thought George (Jason Alexander) was a wimp, while Kramer (Michael Richards) was “mildly amusing.”
Despite this, the network ordered four episodes, and Warren stole the money for these from the “specials” budget (like Thanksgiving and Christmas specials). The only network note was that they should add a girl.
Jerry asked Warren, “In the history of Television, has a successful series ever started with a four episode deal?”
Assured of this, Jerry and Larry assumed they would end up showing the four episodes to their friends at a party some time, and that would be about it. They used material they thought was funny, and that they thought their friends would like.
The episodes aired after Cheers on Thursday nights, and as it turned out, the audience was not unreceptive. Warren said, “They didn’t accept the show, but they didn’t reject it either.” So the network decided to order thirteen more episodes. They called Jerry and Larry and let them know.
After they got off the phone, Larry ran to the bathroom and threw up. Jerry asked him, “Why are you upset?” And Larry answered, “Now we have to figure out what the show is about!” He was afraid he didn’t have any more ideas.
He went on to write for the series for seven years, and now has his own show
Curb Your Enthusiasm, which I haven’t seen yet. I have friends who are huge fans, and others who say they can’t watch it. Opinions? Should I order it from Netflix?
A final note, in the year Larry David wrote for Saturday Night Live (1984-85), only one of the sketches he wrote ever made it onto the show, and they put it at the end. So I guess I won’t give up on being funny just yet!