A Little TV Trivia

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.”
“Why not”
“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?”

Apparently not.

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!

Top Tens…oh no

So for the first day of my TV/comedy writing class, we were asked to prepare a list of the top ten favorite items on our i-pods (or equivalent), and to identify the top ten people, movies, TV shows that influenced our comic sensibilities. It is a task for which I am singularly unqualified, but I gave it my best shot, although I couldn’t resist adding a small disclaimer or two.

B Seetachitt’s Not Really A Top Ten List

I’m not so good at top tens. I had a boyfriend once who knew his favorite everything. Favorite movies, favorite rock artists, favorite Broadway musicals, flavors of ice cream, kinds of sandwich at Dagwood’s Deli. He’d ask me about my favorite stuff just to watch my brain implode. Then he’d have to talk me through it, like I was a kid with Asberger’s trying to figure out whether the dude in the picture is happy or sad.
“Do you like Vanilla?” he’d say. “Think about it, is it better than chocolate?”

“Okay, let’s go back. Do you like ice cream? Do you know if you like ice cream?”

“Do you even remember what ice cream tastes like?”

On the other hand, seldom having opinions of my own makes me exceptionally agreeable to be around. Like if I’m taking a road trip with my husband, and he says, “I’m going to listen to this song by Nelly sixteen times in a row.”
I say, “Okay.”
“And for the next five hours, we’re going to listen to the soundtrack to Wicked.”

Thus most of my mental musical library is not the result of my own growing taste, but simply a record of my changing environment. I didn’t have a radio of my own until I was twelve, so along with classical music, I grew up listening to my dad’s old albums: Chad Mitchell Trio, Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary. I loved these because they had lyrics that told stories, even though I didn’t often get their satirical nature. However I don’t think I would invest in digital versions, so they would probably not make the i-pod list.

The summer after 8th grade, my friend Barbara visited from Utah bringing Depeche Mode (would I pay to own it again? maybe no), Thompson Twins (yes), and somehow in my first Columbia house Record Club six-for-the-price-of-one order also included Sting’s Dream of the Blue Turtles (probably).

At my friend Amy’s house after school in high school I memorized the lyrics to the Violent Femmes (no, I’m too old to shout “don’t point point point that thing at me” on the elliptical machine at the gym) and INXS (tough call). In college, my friend Kyle was a fanatic for R.E.M and we saw them in concert four times in two years (yes, at least Life’s Rich Pageant and Dead Letter Office.) He also turned me on to Sarah MacGlachlen and Lyle Lovett (yes and yes).

From my roommate during summer stock theatre I acquired a taste for Nancy Griffith (yes). Various boyfriends were into Prince. I think I read a review when it came out and fell in love with Paul Simon’s Graceland (yes-a great album for pacing a workout with).

When I started dancing I heard a lot of swing and blues, and Salsa—Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Mark Anthony, Celia Cruz, Buena Vista Social Club.

Then there are my friends I’d go camping with, Moby, Chemical Brothers (we’re into all yes territory now), Along with some Beatles, and maybe some Tom Waits and some Morphine, that’s what I might have on my i-pod if I knew how to program it.

What’s really on my i-pod though? The same songs my husband had on there when he gave it to me a year ago. I just finished replacing the battery this week, took it to the gym and discovered what was on there.

Raspberry Beret and Little Red Corvette–Prince
Beast of Burden—The Stones and the Bette Midler versions-I think I made him put these on there.
Fever-the Sam Butera Version
Those Jeopardy skits from Saturday Night Live,
Chris Rock talking about insurance—though I find him less funny than depressing lately
Boys in the Hood –Dynamite Hack
Cherry Lips—Garbage
Eye of the Tiger-Survivor—okay I don’t really listen to that, but it just makes me smile every time I scroll through.
Les Mis soundtrack—I don’t listen to this much either, but it scrolling past inspires me to learn how to add other music sometime soon.

Steve Martin—what a smart guy! His stand-up, early movies, L.A. Story is a flawed fave.
Mel Brooks—Young Frankenstein primarily
David Sedaris—neurotic is funny
Chris Rock—lays it out there
Mitch Hedberg—Non-sequiter, flat delivery, like Stephen Wright but better.
Ben Stiller—Zoolander and Dodgeball get me every time.

Shows I grew up with: Mash, The Brady Bunch, Cheers, some SNL
Then: Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier
Animated: The Simpsons, The Family Guy
Recently Rented and really enjoyed: Scrubs, Arrested Development
Closest to my heart: Joss Whedon, (Buffy, Angel, Firefly),