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Friday, June 24, 2011

Know Your Audience. 2.

Harkening back to last time, when you are in a position of power over people who are trying to force spec scripts upon you, what factors are usually applied that determine whether or not you actually open the envelope containing said spec script, leaving you open to possible litigation and probable embarrassment if you are trapped into having to offer an opinion about what you have read?

In one instance early on in my career, when I was head writing on "The Odd Couple", when I was still somewhat of a softy, I insisted that
another letter be sent along absolving me from any charges of plagiarism.
I only made this insistence after outright pleading and begging over the phone by the prospective spec script submitter, before we had the screening process down to an exact science.
Many promises were made by the submitter.
About how this was easily the best spec script I was ever going to receive.
About how he knew "The Odd Couple" inside and out.
About how everyone he had shown the script to had told him that it was the best "Odd Couple script they had ever read.
This begs the question "How many "Odd Couple" scripts could everyone he had shown his script to have read?"
I was dubious at the prospect, but I had been systematically worn down.

So I received the letter of absolvement, and opened the envelope.
At least it was the right length, unlike the page-and-a-half full of "Howyoudo's" submitted by my relatives, which was never actually in an envelope to be returned unopened.
But that's the best that could be said about it.
In most respects, it was far worse than the page-and-a-half full of "Howyoudos".

The word most accurately describing it was "belabored"
It contained this massive, pointless scene about how Murray the Cop was eating a hamburger, and the thrust of the alleged comedy was how his breath was making Felix and Oscar nauseous because it smelled from onions.
Fifteen minutes of dialogue about onions and Felix and Oscar being nauseous about it.

It also had the added bonus of consistently having the word "onions", whether in dialogue, or description, spelled "Oinions".
And the payoff to the scene, which involved Murray having not the slightest clue why Felix and Oscar were acting less than positive towards him, was Felix saying to him "Murray, it's because you're eating OINIONS!"
(His caps, not mine)
We went into full "avoiding ever taking this spec script submitter's calls in the future" mode.
But some people are just too persevering.
These were the days before Caller I.D, and it was too easy for any caller to get through if he happened to pick the right time.
So I found myself confronted once again by this man, who tried to pin me down about the script.
At first, I told him there was nothing wrong with it.
I was met with "So when are you going to shoot it?"
I then had to inform him that we weren't going to shoot it.
I was then met with "I don't understand. Why wouldn't you shoot it? All my friends think it's great!"
I had to explain that all of his friends don't work on this show.
He pinned me down to the point that I had to break down and tell him that not only wasn't it going to be shot, but it was immediately going to be thrown into the trashcan.
It was easily the worst spec script we had ever read.
"What was wrong with it?" he inquired.
"What wasn't?. You gave more dialogue to Murray the Cop than to Oscar and Felix. You did a fifteen minute scene on making people nauseous, which would likely make the audience nauseous too. And you consistently misspelled "onions", turning it into "oinions".
He responded "Well that was just a typo."
I said "It's a typo if you do it once. After ten times, it's a lifestyle".

It soon became clear to him that we were not going to do his script.
I'm sure he had lovely things to say about me to his friends who adored the script.

To this day, in my house, and in my sister's house (My sister used to work for me at the time), the word "onions" doesn't exist.

It has been replaced, now and forever by "oinions".


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 for more info.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Know Your Audience.

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.
Blood relatives.
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.
Meaning me.
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 for more info.


Monday, June 13, 2011


I mentioned yesterday that my essay schedule will be altered somewhat, now that the Game is gone.
I will still attempt an average of three essays a week, but they most likely will not be on three consecutive days.
They will be spread out throughout the week.
With no particular pattern to it.
My work plate is starting to fill up more than I thought it would, and I'm afraid that if I am faced with the usual deadlines that I've usually imposed on myself on the blog, I will be dealing with unnecessary pressure.
I'd like to keep whatever standards have been established in your eyes around here on the same level.
I think I can.
But in order to do that, I need to give myself a little breathing room.
Check in on me as often as you usually do, and you most-likely won't be missing anything.

So, farewell to Tuesday Weld, Wednesday Addams, and Floyd Thursby as we have come to know them.

And I'm definitely taking tomorrow off.

After that, kien sabe?


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 for more info.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

You Can't Take Me Anywhere. Chapter 26.

I've reached a certain age where I don't take any shit from anybody anymore, and I don't give a shit what I say to anybody anymore.
Actually, I reached this certain age about twenty years ago, but it's just now becoming fashionable.
In any case, this can be a deadly combination.
Particularly if you're my wife, and you otherwise enjoy going out in public with me.
This past week, we went out to our local Sushi place.
A rather upscale establishment.
We love the Soosh, and go just about every week.
On this particular occasion, we found ourself seated next to a group of thirtyish, articulate women.
We could tell that they were articulate, because they wouldn't stop talking .
A problem developed.
Also at their table was a little girl.
I don't know how old she was.
Could have been anywhere from three to six.
I really can't tell these things.
Anyway, it was apparent that one of these articulate women was this little girl's mother.
I couldn't be positive which one, but I had my suspicions.
And this very cute little girl began banging out a pretty good rhythm with her chopsticks.
I was impressed.
Except for the fact that it was on our table.
A fact that went unnoticed by any of those articulate women, who continued on being articulate with each other, ignoring the fact that one of their children was knocking out a pretty good Gene Krupa impression with her chopsticks on our table.
Now, I had nothing against the little girl.
I mean, she was anywhere from three to six.
What did she know about restaurant etiquette?
But I started fuming at the little girl's mother, having a pretty good idea as to which one she was.
I stared down this woman, and asked, out loud, "Is this MY kid?"
She replied "Excuse me?"
I replied "You know. This one here. The one doing Gene Krupa on my table."
"Gene who?"
Obviously the wrong reference.
How could I expect anyone in their thirties, even someone articulate, to be any kind of aware of Gene Krupa?
I simplified things.
"She's bangin' away with her chopsticks on my table!"
She responded with "It's not your table. It's the restaurant's table".
This gave me pause.
The kind of pause in which I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
I said "So that makes it all right?"
Miss Articulate says "That's no reason to be rude" about it."
I said "There's EVERY reason to be rude about it!
You're out in public with your kid, you're responsible for her.
You started the rudeness.
I'm just indulging in rude counterpunching.
How'd you like it if I leaned into your table and began using your table as a drumset?
Or would it still be just the restaurant's table?!"

I left her very little wiggle room, except for "My child is not a kid.
A kid is a Billy Goat".

I laughed in her face---"Billy Goat? Is that the best you've got?"

As she and her crew hadn't ordered yet they all followed her lead, and decided to dine elsewhere.

As they were leaving the restaurant, I leaned back and shouted to them "Gene Krupa was a great drummer. Played with Benny Goodman.
You probably never heard of him either!
I'm here every week! Come back any time!

They were gone.
During all this, I hadn't once looked at my wife to see what her reaction was to all of this.
I can never be quite sure where she stood after any of my occasional outbursts.
But it turned out that she was as put off by this woman as I was.
And wasn't too thrilled with the kid, excuse me, Billy Goat, either.

So I was that all too seldom a thing in her eyes: A hero.


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 for more info.



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About Me

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 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."