When you are in a position of power in the world of television or film writing, you have to exercise much caution about accepting spec scripts.
For various reasons.
One is that you always run the risk of being sued if there is the trace of a notion in something you've written that shows up on the screen that even slightly resembles a piece of spec material you've received.
Spec material is usually quite awful, so having to steal from a spec script makes you a particularly low brand of lowlife.
Good spec material is so much more the exception than the rule.
It's how I got my start, so early on in my career, I suppose I was a little more sympathetic than most.
But I usually wouldn't read any of it.
It was usually returned unopened, sparing me from any conceivable litigation.
But occasionally, I was forced, yea confronted, with spec material that was already opened, and was forced to read and comment upon.
I mentioned that when I was recently in Arizona, and a ten year old child and I were discussing Black and White TV, that she was also a writing student.
And that she asked me some questions about writing.
And that my answers satisfied her.
This was one of the stories I told her--------
A couple of close family members were invited to my house during my one-season wonder days in the late 70's.
People I couldn't throw out of my house.
There was information that they had withheld from me about their appearance that evening.
They had collaborated on a script for my current series.
They had high hopes for this collaborative effort.
This was going to skyrocket them into a show business success at least equal to their relative.
I wasn't at all concerned in the least about getting sued.
But I was going to have to read it.
In front of them.
And I, being the worst poker player in the world, could not possibly bullshit my way into convincing them that I loved it if in fact I didn't.
Nor could I conceal my rage at being imposed upon like this.
So I guess I was praying that it would in fact be great, and be the answer to their show business prayers.
My prayers were not answered.
One of the main problems was that most scripts for half-hour sitcoms were between 40 and 50 pages.
This script was a page-and-a-half.
Noticing this, I thought to myself "This had better be the best page-and-a-half ever written, or it's going to be a Red Alert."
It wasn't the best page-and-a-half ever written.
It was an atrocity.
At this point, it's brevity was an asset.
Aside from it's poor punctuation and grammar, it contained a Cardinal Sin.
My friends and I, some writers, some just friends, had an expression that we used with each other.
To make each other laugh.
It was derived from Buddy Hackett's Chinese Waiter routine.
In it, he would greet each customer by saying, in an Oriental accent, "Howyoudo???!!!"
So my friends and I would always find ways to pepper our conversations with "Howyoudo????!!!".
It usually made us laugh quite consistently.
I swear to you, in that page-and-a-half, there were at least eight "Howyoudo???!!!!'s".
I said to my relatives, what's with all the "Howyoudo's"?
They responded with "Well you and your friends are always saying it.
We thought you'd think it was funny".
I had to say to them, "You know, I've been involved in an awful lot of half-hour sitcoms.
You've come to an awful lot of filmings of them.
Have you ever, once, in your whole lives, ever hear one of our characters ever say "Howyoudo"?
They replied that they hadn't.
I pressed ahead.
"Has it ever occurred to you WHY you've never heard any of our characters say "Howyoudo"?
They admitted that it never had occurred to them.
I continued. "Do you think that maybe, just maybe, the audience wouldn't have the slightest idea why they WOULD say "Howyoudo"?
That maybe it was just an inside joke among friends?
That it was not meant for America's ears?
And if it was, it would require a lot of explanation?
Which isn't provided in your page-and-a-half?"
Seeing that their hopes were dashed, they gave up.
I wished they had seen it before they put me through my ordeal, and I put them through theirs.
So my lesson to that little girl in Arizona was "If you want to write sitcoms know who you are writing for.
You're not writing for your own amusement.
You're not writing for your friends.
You're writing for millions of people whom you don't know personally.
If you can bring your own voice to it, that's great.
But first and foremost, you're writing for America.
And if you get really lucky, you're writing for the world".
My new book, "Mark Rothman's Essays", ones that were culled from the blog and are no longer there, along with a surprise bonus, is available for purchase.
Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.
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- mark rothman
- Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at email@example.com. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."