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05/30/2006: When Puppets Shouldn't Point Out the Hands up Their Bottoms
Once, when I was very young (27-ish), I was in the Star Trek: TNG offices shortly after a spec script had arrived. The episode was titled "Tangerine," and it had been accompanied by, get this, a crate of tangerines. Some people in the office were scared of the tangerines, but I ate one. It was lovely.
Now, here I am, years later, and I remember the name of that spec script. Does that mean this was a good technique? I gotta say, I don't think so. Especially in these security-paranoid days when unsolicited citrus fruits can get you detained without access to counsel. You want your script to be remembered as professional and well-crafted. Not sticky and freedom-endangering.
Sometimes the tangerines aren't literal. If you break the fourth wall in your spec script, it's almost certainly going to feel just as gimmicky as if it had arrived with a Harry and David gift box.
You know what it is, I'm sure, to break the fourth wall. That's any reference that calls attention to the fictional nature of our enterprise. (Or the fictional nature of *The Enterprise* if we're still in Star Trek land.)
Even if the show you're specing routinely flirts with the fourth wall (as Boston Legal has done throughout this season), I would warn you against it.
(By the way, what Boston Legal has been doing has been a sort of pseudo-fourth-wall construction, having their characters speak of their lives "as if" they were television characters. The same conceit was used in a joke on the Will and Grace series finale, in which Jack complains about how he and Karen are treated as if they're "supporting characters on the 'Will and Grace' show.")
A tempting example of breaking a fourth wall in a spec would be to have Lily on How I Met Your Mother make some joke about Buffy the Vampire Slayer, relying on the reader to know that Alyson Hannigan was one of our stars on Buffy. Tempting, but not worth it.
The problem with doing this in a spec, is that you're working as hard as you can to convince people that they're reading "the real show, " or, even better, that the Lily whom you are writing is a real person. You can't afford to raise the issue of artificiality. I don't even like it when actual shows break the fourth wall, actually. We're all trying to seem "real," so let's not mess with it.
Fan Mail Update: A big helloooo to Jessica in Lexington, MA! Glad you're enjoying the blog! And keep your eyes peeled for more Espisodes of television… update coming soon.
Lunch: flatbreads and artichoke spread