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01/02/2007: A Little Bit More About the Great Divide
Ooh. I love it when I learn something from you, gentle readers! A very interesting letter has arrived from Betsy in Los Angeles. She's asking about that weird dividing line between TV comedy writers and drama writers. Her father was a TV writer, and she supplies us with this info:
"When my father was working (60s-80s), there was no strong distinction between being a comedy writer or a dramatic writer. Many of his friends would write a Mary Tyler Moore episode one week, then a Streets of San Francisco, and so forth. Nowadays it seems a writer has to classify themselves as strictly one or the other... or do they?"
First reaction: Oooh. That sounds amazing. How much would I love writing a MTM and then a Streets of SF? Much.
I had no idea there was such mobility then. When I entered the business in the early 90s, the line was pretty strict. You really were one or the other, comedy or drama, although I'm sure there were ambidextrous exceptions. I was specifically warned against making the switch because it would require "starting over."
When I was a kid, I once heard an opera singer being interviewed about his "realization" that he was, in fact, not a baritone, but actually a bass. He had to learn everything over again. I was, and am, a bit puzzled by that. What do you have to learn to, um, sing lower? I guess there's technical singy stuff I just don't know. Anyway, TV writing was like that -- changing over was treated as if you were starting a new career.
But now, I'm happy to tell you, Betsy, that things seem to be going back to being like they were during your dad's career, with more and more comedy writers finding their way onto the staffs of dramas, and with shows like Ugly Betty further blurring the distinction anyway.
Betsy herself has a preference for comedy, but is wondering about whether to try her hand at a drama spec, maybe something in a procedural, which would, of course, be at quite the other end of the continuum.
Yes. Do it. Comedy is coughing up blood right now anyway, so you probably would need to explore drama even if it didn't interest you to some degree. And I personally think demonstrating versatility is worth something in its own right.
My only warning is that you have to be careful of trying so hard to be *different than comedy* that you end up with something purposefully dry and characterless. A Law and Order spec, for example, can have that feel, and might fail to convey your strengths. I would recommend something like Heroes or House or a spec pilot of your own devising, that will allow you to show off some drama skills while still getting a script that benefits from your ability to write comedy.
Good luck, Betsy! Sounds like you're off to a good start!
Lunch: A "Fat Burger" from "Fat Burger."