Hunting for a Sitcom Writer
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/17/2005 8:00:00 PM
Maxine Lapiduss and Stan Zimmerman have worked on some of the biggest hit sitcoms: Ellen, Roseanne, Home Improvement, Dharma and Greg, TheGolden Girls and Gilmore Girls between them. Now the friends are trying to create one out of thin air for Bravo as the producers and co-hosts of Situation: Comedy, a reality show dreamed up by Will & Grace's Sean Hayes. In the series, starting July 26, Lapiduss and Zimmerman spearhead an eight-episode hunt for the next hit sitcom writer. They'll mentor two teams to each produce a pilot show for NBC. B&C's Anne Becker talked with them about trying to save a suffering genre.
Why are there so few hit sitcoms now?
Lapiduss: There's no dearth of ideas or talent. There's this huge Hollywood pendulum that swings way over to where there are 85,000 comedies and six dramas and then it'll go the other way. Reality is going to get really tired. It's only interesting to watch uninteresting people for so long.
The Simple Life is reality, but it's totally a sitcom. These two chicks are totally a situation you could create, but [program creators] don't want to pay writers anymore. The networks are all in a different place. There are no huge hit comedies, and there's a lot of space to fill.
Zimmerman: If somebody comes up with a great traditional show, they could really succeed. It doesn't have to be crazy. There's no All in the Family now, no Roseanne speaking about what's going on in the world today in a smart way.
Haven't viewers and networks proved there's just more appetite now for reality shows like, say, Situation: Comedy?
L: We received 10,000 scripts. If this show gets an audience, NBC will pick up one of the pilots. We're begging America to watch it so we can put one of these on.
Z: Hopefully, this will jolt the creative community and the network executives at the top to explore new areas and new writers or go back to writers like Marc Cherry, adapt books, plays. It would be ironic if a reality show brings the comedy back.
Are there too many TV shows now about the industry: Entourage, The Comeback, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Fat Actress, The Starlet, etc.?
L: There are 765,000 magazines about entertainment. Our society is obsessed with celebrity. People have in their heads that, if they're in the business, it's glorious and glamorous. We're demystifying that.
Z: There's an element in Hollywood where people only know New York and L.A. It's a shame we're only looking at our own backyards. Ours is like the outsider coming in rather than about people inside the world.
L: Ours has a loftier goal. It's really about trying to get sitcoms back on the air.
Z: And help the writers.
What was the worst you got pitched?
Z: There were so many bad ones. A talking bird...
L: A lamp that thought it was a butler, talking lasagna. It was shocking how many Friends knockoffs there were or Sex and the City-meets-something. A lot of Northern Exposures and Wonder Years: ScottishWonder Years, fat kid Wonder Years. A million inheritance-shenanigan shows.
The shows were picked to be half-hour comedies consistent with what you could program on NBC's schedule now. We had a hilarious script called The Baron of Evil—this Muppet-y cartoon, over-the-top crazy show—that was so funny, but NBC wasn't going to put that on. They would look at us and go, “You're nuts.”
What surprised you most about how your show translated into reality TV?
L: The editors heighten the drama of “will this team get it?” When there was a blowout, there were millions of hours where we were hysterically laughing, but they dramatize the drama because it sells.
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