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Home » Archives » January 2006 » Diary of a network show
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01/18/2006: Diary of a network show

Get this, Dear Readers. Jake in Progress has sprung back to life!! It’s a miracle! ABC has decided to let us complete our order of 13 eps, holding them to run at some later time when a better timeslot becomes available. This is, believe it or not, a very good thing. The bad thing would have been if they’d aired a few more, sort of unpromoted and unannounced, paired with some random other show at a strange time, then pulled us quickly when we failed to perform. What is happening instead is actually a pretty hearty vote of confidence. At least in the world of television it is, in which anything that is not active desperation is called confidence. (Note that the reverse is also true.) Gotta say, it’s pretty menschy of ABC to let us finish the thirteen. It certainly preserves our chance of becoming a sophomore hit. It’s like we’re the main character in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, you know? Getting a second chance at youth and beauty and love.

People ask me all the time about how a show is written. How does a staff of writers work together to create episodes that link together to create a season? Well, it’s not pretty. Even when a staff is incredibly experienced, and the episodes flow into each other with a surprising inevitability, and the jokes are precise illuminations of characters, there are miles of chaotic process behind it. What you don’t see at home are all the false paths. For every story turn, and for every joke, there are tiny threads that connect to the story turn not taken, the joke that was pitched, or written, and then replaced. (I'm gonna give you examples and some handy tips for joke-writing in later posts, but right now I feel more poetical than practical.)

You also don’t see the passion – hear the raised voices in the room (not angry, but genuinely emotional). What I am forever impressed by is the degree to which very experienced writers will care, passionately, about one specific moment, one word in one joke in a headpiece to a scene that will probably be cut for length anyway. I love this! Sometimes it’s a firm belief that something must be removed, but more often it’s an insistence that something be kept. And this is not about saving ones reputation. The link between the “written by” credit and any one particular joke in a half-hour script is chancy at best. I think, instead, this is about a moment that strikes a writer as golden. As having the sparkle of the best jokes of the best shows that they remember laughing at before they were in the business. How lovely is that? Pretty lovely. Maybe we're all writing for the 15-year-old us.

Today’s lunch: Ribs! Meaty and slathered with sauce! Also: baked beans and a crisp Caesar salad. Delish!


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