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05/30/2007: Joke Hold
Scott in Toronto wrote in a while back with some interesting questions. Apparently I let this letter sit a little longer than I should have, since one of Scott's questions asks if there's any point in writing an Andy Barker PI spec. At this point I'd have to say there is not.
Scott also asks a really interesting question about when you have to remove something from your spec. Here's the deal: he has a certain joke in his spec for "The Office." Recently, he saw a very similar joke actually used on the show. He wants to know if he has to change it.
Well, technically, probably not. He feels the joke is an important one that ties the story together, and I will point out that this certainly isn't as big a deal as seeing a whole plot duplicated.
But, I will ask, Scott, that you give serious thought to replacing it. The Office is a hugely popular show in these parts, and it's likely your reader will have seen the episode in question. And I bet you can find another joke that's just as good and that does the same job of tying the story together. Remember, there is always another joke. I've been amazed, over the years, at the stuff that can get pulled out of scripts without damaging them. And almost always, when a change is made, it turns out to be change for the better. This happens simply because you're being forced to really think hard about the story.
So give it a try. If you really can't beat the joke, then you can leave it in if you must, but if you can beat it, you get a better script, plus you won't be running any risk of a reader thinking you lifted the line.
(Scott also asks about spec-ing "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia". Well, a little checking does show that this FX comedy would seem to be eligible for the ABC/Disney Fellowship application. It's a more obscure show than many, so any writer will face that classic problem of weighing passion for a show against possibly dealing with a reader who has never seen it. You will have to flip that coin yourself, Scott.)
Lunch: an avocado and swiss cheese sandwich -- a very nice combination