How ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ Changed TV Writing Forever

by B. O’Malley

We’re writers for television and film. So let’s start off with a completely inappropriate cosmological metaphor:

If I Love Lucy was the “primordial big bang” of television comedies—spontaneously birthing into existence all we know and love about television’s situation comedy format, and causing the formation of galaxies such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in The Family, Cheers, and every other interstellar mass of wonder that comprise television’s brights and best sitcoms—

If we can use that clunky metaphor, with your permission…

… then HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998) was nothing less than that “big bang’s” greatest aftershock; one that we’re still feeling today as we scroll endlessly through our seemingly limitless streaming and cable choices.

So what was The Larry Sanders Show? Here’s the skinny:

It was a sitcom about a fake network talk show, but mixed in real celebrity guests who played themselves. That’s it in a nutshell.

Garry Shandling played “Larry Sanders,” an ego-soaked talk show host a la Carson, Arsenio, and Letterman. His foils were his Ed-McMahon-esque sidekick Hank Kingsley Jr. — a loaf of simultaneous self-love and self-loathing played by Jeffrey Tambor—and his bulldog producer/charmer/svengali, Artie, played by Rip Torn.

The show only ran for 6 seasons, but the ripple it left behind continues to reverberate as its tone, its format, its style, even its attitude, continue to influence the writers we love and the shows we watch today.

In what ways? Here are the two big ones:

Larry Sanders proved it was okay for mainstream sitcoms to make us squirm

The core mission of any good clown can be distilled down to one essential phrase: “Look at me. I’m a goofball.”

As an example: in I Love Lucy, Lucy regularly finds herself knee-deep in goofball and slapstick (as only Lucy could do) from stuffing chocolate into her mouth to keep up with the candy on the conveyor belt to getting stoned on Vitameatavegamin while hawking it on a commercial shoot. You’ve seen the reruns. They’re like Beatles songs. You know them all by heart.

Lucy’s clown is never dumb, but the comedy happens because her character—her version of the clown—quintessentially earnest. She’s trying to do good, even if she gets herself into a lot of crazy tangles. So we root for her.

Larry Sanders’ clown, on the other hand, is very difficult for anyone to root for. But that’s by design.

We hear the canard all the time as tv- and screenwriters: “Your main character has to be likable.” I’m going out on a limb and making a bold statement:

The reason we can call that “likable characters” thing a canard is because of characters like Larry Sanders.

From where I sit, without Larry Sanders’ overblown ego, we likely wouldn’t have had Ricky Gervais’s character David Brent in the BBC’s The Office.

And without David Brent, The Office likely would not have worked.

And if the BBC’s The Office didn’t work, we probably wouldn’t have had the NBC version of The Office, with its own lovable egotistical jerk Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell.

And without the success of that show, who knows if shows like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation would’ve been given a chance.

Larry Sanders, the character, makes us squirm at how much of a jerk he can be, as did David Brent, just a few years later on the BBC.

And now, speaking of Larrys, a different Larry is coming back to HBO after a bit of a hiatus:

Larry David, creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm. If we’re talking about egotistical, insensitive jerks playing the clown, Larry David’s fictionalized version of himself on the show is the legendary marble statue of David by Michelangelo.

And if Larry David is the Michelangelo’s David, then Larry Sanders was the original block of marble, the chisel, and the sweat. That is, I argue that a straight line can be traced from Larry Sanders’ egotistical, pampered clown to Larry David’s selfish, egotistical jerk clown.

Yes, it’s fair and accurate to say the character he plays on Curb is based on himself, and is the “freed from network tv’s constraints” version of the autobiographical jerk he brought to life as Jason Alexander’s George Costanza on Seinfeld in 1992.

And yes, Larry David is a brilliant writer and actor and the character he plays is nothing short of unmitigated genius.

But I argue that the character of Larry Sanders showed Larry David what was possible, in many ways, and David ran with it. And is running with it. And I’m addicted to Curb Your Enthusiasm and I love it.

Throwing out another example, for us fans of Louis CK:

Without Garry Shandling’s willingness to be unlikeable, would Louis CK’s FX show Louie have half as many cringeworthy moments?

I’d say it’s definitely possible. Louis CK is an extremely funny, extremely creative artist.

Without showing us it’s okay to cringe at a lead character, would Modern Family’s Phil Dunphy have as many cringey moments? It’s possible. Lots of good people on that show, (including my friend and fellow Roger Corman alumnus, editor Chris Miglio.)

Would Kenny Powers on Eastbound and Down be simultaneously so “punchworthy” and so enjoyable to watch at the same time? It’s possible.

Bottom line: The cringeworthy clown wasn’t invented by The Larry Sanders Show

And, similarly, the guitar solo wasn’t invented by Jimi Hendrix.

But like Hendrix’s explosive entry into the zeitgeist, Larry Sanders‘ paradigm-shifting happened at just the right moment where TV was about to make a big step away from years of traditional clowning and traditional “fast food” situation comedy.

Liberation from the traditional situation comedy format

After almost four decades of tv shows being locked into either film or video, or 3-camera and single-camera, The Larry Sanders Show blew everybody away by proving that a show’s format could be flexible.

While it’s hardly worth mentioning in today’s mixed-media jumble that a tv show would shoot on two different formats—video for the talk show portions to add to the verisimilitude and film for the behind-the-curtains lives of the people behind the show—it can’t be overstated how bold of a choice that was when The Larry Sanders Show did it 1992.

Beyond that was even more innovation, which I argue was even more important:

Fast-moving, handheld, documentary style filmmaking that grounded the show by giving it a sense of realism we hadn’t seen mixed within a traditional situation comedy previously.

And even better: the show didn’t try to signal where the laughs should come, a la any traditional sitcom.

As far as approaching overall pace and realism, the closest example I could cite might be M*A*S*H, but two key differences set M*A*S*H apart:

1) That legendary sitcom only rarely used handheld and moving cameras, and was 100% film, and

2) M*A*S*H had a laugh track.

By liberating the sitcom from format, I argue, perhaps a bit enthusiastically, I’ll admit, that Larry Sanders liberated the sitcom.

Again, I point The Office, or I can cite Flight of the Conchords, or even the show’s direct descendants in terms of style and tone: 30 Rock and Arrested Development.

Should Larry Sanders be credited with the creation and success of any of these shows, or any shows on network, cable, or streaming? Almost certainly not.

Yet The Larry Sanders Show proved a crucial, cosmological theory about the universe:

And that’s

1) that a sitcom’s format could be stretched, considerably,

and 2) that a sitcom’s central character could be a cringeworthy clown, and the show could still make a “big bang.”

That’s the theory, anyhow.


Brian O’Malley started his career working for legendary B-movie maverick Roger Corman in 1997 and has written and directed three feature films. Since 1999, Brian and his team of experienced script readers at Screenplay Readers have been providing expert and brutally honest script feedback to writers, agents, and filmmakers.

Bri Castellini: Alison Sumner and the Unreliable Narrator – @BrisOwnWorld

by Bri Castellini

In celebration of Brains getting picked up by SeekaTV, I decided to do something totally unexpected and write about Brains on my blog! I contain multitudes. This is a blog about why, specifically, I’m bummed about not getting more seasons. Warning: spoilers, obviously, so if you haven’t watched Brains yet (or you’re due for a rewatch), why not give it a go, right now, on Seeka?

A few months ago, a Twitter…. friend?… of mine wrote a rather critical review of Brains entitled “Brains: Great Concept, Not Enough Character.” This blog isn’t exactly a response to that critique, because I’m above that (I’m not above that), but it will reference the critique occasionally because one of its major issues with my show (“not enough character”) is kind of the topic of this post. I have the utmost respect for Nick (the reviewer) and his opinion, but I also have to point out that in a lot of cases, the lack of characterization for characters other than Alison was kind of the point, particularly of the first two seasons.

“Most of the characters in Brains are, pardon the pun, lifeless zombies. Almost none of them seem to have much of a personality outside of their role in the story…”

So that’s… harsh, and also a little short-sighted, especially when he concedes just one paragraph later that

“To be fair, Allison is actually pretty great. Castellini has a natural charisma, and Allison benefits from by far the most screen time in the series. She’s one of the only character who feels remotely like a real person…”

Brains is told entirely from Alison’s perspective. Despite the fact that other characters have screen time (unlike, for example, Lizzie Bennet’s mother in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, whose only characterization is seen via Lizzie’s reenactments), the in-world videos are filmed and edited by Alison, who has a very specific focus: herself, and her version of the motivations other characters have in relation to her story, which is about her. Even the episode in season 2 between Carl and Damian while Alison is out is about her, and considering that she still chose to edit and upload that video, it says a lot about her ego in these first two seasons. Alison believes that her interpretation of events puts her solidly in the right, and that everyone else’s reality is skewed. She is undeniably an incredibly unreliable narrator in this way, and her egotistical recording (and subsequent release) of events only serves to underline that.

The other characters in Brains in the first two seasons seem like they don’t have much personality outside their role in the story because Alison herself is casting them in those roles because of the way she films and edits her videos. Of course, they all work to break out of those molds in their own ways: Carl chooses to film moments where Alison isn’t present to give his side of the story, Greta refuses to play along with Alison’s pity party about their lost friendship, and Damian struggles with opening up to someone for the first time since he was turned into a zombie when all of that opening up is also happening on camera. But no matter what, for these first two seasons, Alison’s fingerprints are everywhere.

As teased by Season 2, Minisode 10, Season 3 would incorporate Sophie Bricker’s secret video diary taking the place of the minisodes in season 2. Essentially, in between Alison’s “main” videos, you would get Sophie’s take on the situation, since she’s very much aware of Alison’s videos but Alison is very much not aware of hers. You’d also get a story of a girl struggling to navigate her own death and reanimation, which is naturally very different from Alison’s boy drama. And Alison, reacting to Carl’s accusations at the end of season 2, begins to expand her perspective in season 3 as well. Her videos are still about her, of course, but with the help of her friends starts sending cameras off with people other than herself to get a fuller picture of events on campus, culminating in the season 3 finale where they’ve got three cameras set up to capture a massive battle taking place at the same time as final exams: one in an exam room, one in the food and rest area, and one passed off between students taking turns battling a horde of zombies.

Season 4, road trip season, would have also handed off the “minisodes” to people other than Alison, in this case recording events on campus as Alison and the main cast head off on their road trip. And even on the road trip, Alison and her new co-producer Sophie would have made a habit of handing off the camera any time they’re at a pit stop, regardless of whether or not Alison and Sophie are with said camera. Season 4 expands further Alison’s new ethos of capturing the whole of her apocalypse, not just her personal life, aided by Sophie’s sociology studies.

Season 5’s minisodes are less structured than the Sophie vlogs of season 3 and the on-campus check ins of season 4 as each episode shows the unique perspective of a different student or group of students entirely separate from Alison. Alison’s main videos also got a major makeover, now self-aware of how irresponsibly she used to treat the narrative and very focused on righting the previous wrongs.

Season 6 finds Alison’s videos at the center of national politics and revealing anything else would be WAY too spoiler-y, even for this post, but here’s the point:

Seasons 1 and 2 needed to be largely from Alison’s extremely unreliable perspective, because her character arc deals directly with her stubbornness and control-freak tendencies. This is a girl whose first impulse once the internet was put back up post-extinction-level-event was to film herself talking about a cute boy. I love Alison Sumner, but her ego is undeniably gigantic.

Eventually, by season 6, the videos aren’t so much about Alison as they are about the efforts of her immediate surroundings to put themselves back together after the horrors of the previous years as well as the normalization of human-passing zombies in this new, rebuilt society, but without the first two seasons of Alison-centric drama, I don’t think it would have been earned.

This is why, more than anything else, I wish we were able to film the rest of the seasons. Because two seasons is incomplete, for plot as well as character development, and that’s a shame.

So…. anyone want to send me a few thousand dollars to keep making Brains?


Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. This article was originally published on Bri’s most excellent blog. Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, BrainsHERE!

Question for LB: “How Do I Get a Job as a Studio Reader?”

Glad You Asked Department 9/28/17
by Larry Brody

Time now for another of my not-so-regular visits into the TVWriter™ mailbag. I chose this particular question to answer because I figured I could keep this article short and sweet. So, hoping I don’t once again let myself get carried away, here’s my latest “Glad You Asked,” erm, Question & Answer:


Question from O.M.:

Hi Larry,

I’m getting ready to make the move to L.A. and get into writing for television, and I’m hoping to broaden my contacts there before I go.  I’ve heard that being a reader is a good way to meet people and get into the Industry. I’ve also heard that it’s pretty competitive, so while I would certainly like to make some money if I can, if push comes to shove I am happy to do it even for free.

Do you know anybody who is looking for a reader? Or how I can get in touch with somebody who does?

Answer from Yours Truly:

Nice to hear from you, O.M.

Delighted that you’re planning on taking that all-important first step of living in L.A. It isn’t half as bad as you’ve probably heard. I lived there for 40 years, on and off, and really enjoyed the first seven of them.

Or maybe it was eight. Yeah, I think eight. Then I got a wee bit tired of working with people who couldn’t understand why I took what I was doing so seriously when, “After all, we’re not exactly working on the cure for cancer” while smiling smugly and bragging about how much they made.

(Favorite overheard side of a Very Big Deal Writer-Producer’s phone conversation with a guy who wanted to sell him a sports car. “No. $40,000 is an absolute no sale. I’ve got to pay at least fifty grand. Anything less and I could never tell my friends.”)

And there I go, digressing before I even begin. Time to start over with my take on the Hollywood reader gig situation. Let’s see if I can make myself cut to the chase:

I’d love to have a stack of names of people I could refer you to, O.M. But most of those I’m close to in showbiz are TV writers, and TV writers, even showrunners, just plain don’t have a need for readers.

When a busy TV writer-producer gets sent an outside script, s/he has a wide variety of options for handling it. The easiest way is just to ignore it. The next easiest way is to have an assistant send a standard “Sorry, but we don’t read outside scripts here for legal/company policy reasons” reply.

On the off-chance that the writer-producer actually cares about knowing whether the script or its writing (not necessarily the same thing, after all) is any good – because of studio or show policy, or because there’s an immediate, emergency need for new material – what usually happens is that the screenplay or teleplay gets handed off to the lowest ranking member of the writing staff, or that self same assistant I mentioned earlier, and things move on (or not) from there.

On the other hand, readers are pretty much a necessary part of life for executives and, even more so, agents, and my kind, gentle, loving attitude toward those folk, well known to regular TVWriter™ visitors means that I no longer know, or deal with, or even talk to such folk. If I wanted the pleasure of their company, I’d still be living out in Hidden Valley, hanging with the Live Oaks there instead of the Cedars here in the Pacific Northwest.

I also – and I believe that this is important for you to understand and accept – probably wouldn’t be very good at putting you together with someone who needs a reader anyway because, let’s face it, I don’t know you nearly well enough to be able to vouch for your expertise or potential for the gig. Not only that, but a good reader, as in one who is a genuine help to the executive or agent boss, is one who understands exactly what the boss likes and needs. Readers who recommend a submission that the boss hates or pass on one that the boss would have loved, have very short joblife. And the friends or business associates who helped them get hired can almost as quickly find themselves ex-friends-and-associates. For, I think, good reason.

My advice for anyone who wants to get in the Hollywood Writer door is, forget the reader thing and concentrate instead on doing what it takes to get an assistant job. Preferably on a TV series. And not just any assistant job. What you want is to be a writers assistant because that way you have the chance to ingratiate yourself with the showrunner and other writers and also the various execs and agents who are in and out of the office every day. Let them see how kind, sweet, respectful, intelligent, and helpful you are and decide that they absolutely can’t live without you to yell at and abuse.


Hmm, looks like I didn’t keep this nearly short enough. I’ll try harder next time…. What’s that? You want to know what it takes to get that kind of assistant gig? Write in and ask me, and I promise I’ll answer, or at the very least, point you to the answer, right here for all to see. And, yes, if you do it soon, I promise so will I.

LYMI, LB

David Perlis: WRITE CONFLICT THAT COUNTS

by David Perlis

The night is cold. In the moonlight, the leafless branches appear like arthritic fingers, poised to drag aimless wanderers into the underworld. The four hobbits hide in the dirt, careful not to even breathe as the Ring Wraiths creep by. If they’re seen it’s all over—what are our heroes to do?

They remember the nearby Bucklebury Ferry, and if they can make it, they just might live to tell their tale. They race for the dock, but the Wraiths have noticed them, and they’re galloping towards our powerless heroes. Frodo, with the ring, has begun to lag. Ahead, his friends have already set the ferry adrift. They scream for him to hurry—a Wraith is hot on his tail. Frodo’s heart pounds as he tears down the dock with all his might. His legs ache. His chest burns. It’s too far. He’s too tired! There’s no way he’ll make it.

Then he leaps from the dock, lands safely, and they’re on to the next leg of their journey.

And you’re basically left to wonder: what was the point of any of that? The way our characters conveniently escape this ostensibly inescapable danger—doesn’t it almost seem like a neatly disguised *gasp*—deus ex machina?! Well, it may not quite fit that definition, but the tidy resolution of a conflict like this is only a half-step above that sin of all dramatic sins. And yet we see this all the time—even in cinematic classics! How is this possible? And how can we avoid it?

Writing drama often gets reduced to “add conflict.” Where’s the conflict?  Start with the conflict! Put conflict in every scene! We get it: conflict is important—paramount! But not all conflict was created equal, and without direction, this generalized rule can lead our plots towards shallow obstacles. So I’ve stopped asking, “How can I add conflict?” and started asking, “How can I give characters choices? And how can I give those choices consequences?”

This is the result:

Frodo races for the ferry—there’s no way he’ll make it! But his legs have found a momentary strength he never knew they had, and they catapult him safely onto the ferry.

He can relax.

But a funny feeling overtakes him—a lightness he didn’t have a moment ago. He checks his neck. The ring is gone…fallen off during his jump, and as he looks back towards the dock, he sees it sitting at the Wraith’s feet. He could almost puke as he watches the hooded figure pluck it up and disappear with it into the night.

Their escape comes at a price. The stakes have been raised. And now our heroes are forced to take action. But wait—there’s more!

Frodo is so distraught, he hardly notices the gasping, sputtering Sam beside him. Looking over, he notices Sam has been badly wounded in the escape—a sword straight through the belly. If they don’t get him to a doctor immediately, he’s surely dead.

We’ve exited  the scene, but we’re neck-deep in plot. Does Frodo go after the ring, or does he save his best friend? He can choose either (and his choice will reveal who he is as a character), but here’s the really important part: whichever path he takes, more consequences should follow.

You don’t have to focus so exclusively on choice and consequence, but it’s a method I’m comfortable relying on to turn gratuitous action into purposeful plot points—because conflict that doesn’t forward your plot or test your characters really isn’t drama at all. Compare the following scenes—both from Spielberg flicks:

1. Dashing archaeologist is afraid of snakes, so—naturally—he falls into a pit of snakes. He hesitates. Then he navigates past the snakes and on to the next lurking danger.

2. A man’s children have been captured by his pirate nemesis. To save them, he need only climb one-hundred feet of ratlines—but he has an immobilizing fear of heights. Try as he might, he chickens out. His children are subsequently brainwashed by his sworn enemy.

Which one involves choice? Which one has consequences? Which one compels you to dive headfirst into the story? Only the second. To which you scoff. “Raiders of the Lost Ark is beloved! Iconic! And far more successful than Hook ever was.” Well, yes. But was it more dramatic? It’s here that I think you’ve got to concede that movies are a collaborative art—from the set design to the stunt department. A desperate escape from a giant boulder is just as visually stunning and fun to watch as a Ring Wraith chasing a hobbit through a forest—particularly with a fantastic score and state-of-the-art VFX. But do you want to be the writer that relies on other departments to compensate for your sloppy beats? Or do you want to write the most tightly woven, compelling script you can? If it’s the latter, drama is your number one concern. Well, it’s my number one concern, anyway. And I’m of the belief that a conflict that can be safely removed without affecting the story is really just a waste of time, and a missed opportunity to test your characters. Yes—that includes giant boulders.

And I think you’ll agree. In today’s market, in which the writing is the best it’s ever been, does Raiders’ stunt-filled opening still compete? Are you more compelled to watch Indy narrowly outrun a boulder, only to narrowly escape a closing tomb, only to narrowly flee a jungle ambush…or to watch Walter White choose to let Jane die? For me, the choice is clear—though I fear Lawrence Kasdan will take vengeance upon me for saying so.

Then again, he may just write me a narrow escape out the window.


David Perlis is a screenwriter and former People’s Pilot Finalist doing his best to break into the even Bigger Time. This post first appeared on his very helpful blog.

11 TV Writing DON’Ts!

This means you, bulb – erm, bub!

by Gloria Kopp

It takes an incredible amount of blood, sweat and tears to put together a script or screenplay that you can hold up proudly as your own creation. It takes an equal amount of nerve to present that screenplay to the world, opening it up to opinions and criticism. Present what you’ve written with the highest level of confidence, by avoiding these common mistakes that many tv writers make.

Spelling

These are just careless errors that could easily be fixed before sending out your scripts. What they tell the reader is that you didn’t put enough effort forward to proofread your work and ensure it was error-free before it went out. Resources at State of Writing can be a great help in locating and eliminating spelling errors. You’ll also be able to get a brief but clear explanation of different common spelling and grammar errors at Via Writing so you can avoid them yourself.

Formatting

Bad formatting sets a bad impression from the start. No matter how many scripts you’ve already written, bad formatting will make you look like an inexperienced amateur, and will instantly impact your credibility negatively. Cole & Haag formatting is still the preferred option for early drafts of television scripts, unless there is another one specified by the company in question. If you’re in need of formatting help, an experienced professional at Big Assignments can help you with editing your script so it’s formatted properly.

Music

It’s always a bad idea to add music to your script before you’ve got the rights to it. Most of the time, it’s not the writer’s decision anyway as to what music ends up being included. Leave the specifics of songs out, and keep things more general when you’re mentioning the type of music that’s playing throughout your script. Let a professional proofreader from UK Writings or Boomessays look through your work for instances of possible infringement that you need to change.

Leaving character’s names out

If a character speaks and is important enough to have lines in your script, he or she should have a name. It adds another level of dimension to the character and shows that you have an attention to these details.

Concealing information from the reader

Rather than trying to conceal details from the reader, you’re only obstructing the flow of the story and making things more confusing for them. Instead, you can include the details for the reader – such as the name of a character who is not yet known to others – that way, there is some clarity for the reader. A character should maintain their name throughout the script for the reader’s understanding, even if they are not known to the audience. If you need to add outside resources for clarity to the reader, Cite It In will help you write proper citations.

Trying to be a copy instead of an original

As much success as some screenwriters and directors have found, no one is looking for a carbon copy of them. What’s sought after are original thoughts, visions and voices. So, rather than trying to be the next Tarantino, find your own voice and inject it into your scripts. And, no matter what voice ends up being presented, make sure you’re sending your work out with perfect grammar, by using Academized or Elite Assignment Help to check your work.

Lackluster engagement

A strong writer is able to grab ahold of the reader’s attention and keep it throughout the entirety of the script. Though it may have valleys, it should keep hitting peaks. Learn the ins and outs of better writing at AcademAdvisor.

Playing the role of director

Even if you do plan on directing your script, there should be no mention of camera notes in your first draft of the script. This is a definite sign of an amateur writer, as the director is the one who will ultimately decide these creative choices. Camera notes don’t start to appear until the shooting script is written.

Acting as an editor

Just like the above mistake, you must avoid trying to play a role you’re not. You should definitely have an understanding of how editing works, but the job of editing should be left to a professional video editor.

Imbalance in Your Script

There needs to be a balance struck between dialogue and description. Huge expanses of either will set the script off balance. While these things may be perfectly suitable for a novel or stage play, they don’t exactly work in a screenplay. Keep your descriptions and dialogue under control by using Easy Word Count to track your work usage.

Skipping the proofreading

Once you finish your script, you’ll likely be excited to get it out into the world. But hold on, take your time and ensure you’re proofreading everything to catch those tricky mistakes. The extra time you take will be well worth it for avoiding embarrassing mistakes. When you want a real person to help you with the editing to find mistakes you’ve made, EssayRoo or Paper Fellows is the place to turn to.
Each of these on their own may not seem terribly consequential. But putting forward the best version of your work can do a lot to move things forward in a positive direction.


Gloria Kopp is a creative writer and an editor at Australian Help. She enjoy sharing her writing advice in her posts at HuffingtonPost and Ox Essays blog. Gloria also contributes reviews for students and educators at Best Australian Writers.

The Gay Couple Who Made Your Favorite TV Shows

Now hold on just a darn minute there, before you start screaming about the headline on this piece. TVWriter™ is as color/sex/ethnicity/etc blind as can be (go back and read all our posts and see!), and normally we would be talking about David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik in terms of their writing only.

But this article originally appeared in The Advocate, with the title “Meet the Gay Couple Who Made Your Favorite TV Shows,” and our thought is that if its subjects’ sexual preferences are important to one of the most important gay publications in the U.S., then we’d damn well better honor it.

Now, about Crane and Klarik and their sensational writing:

by Daniel Reynolds

In the final season of Episodes, viewers will see the last chapter in the tale of Sean (Stephen Mangan) and Beverly Lincoln (Tamsin Greig) — a British couple who moved to the United States in order to create a television show starring Matt LeBlanc. Throughout its five-season run, the Showtime series has received acclaim for its insider’s observations (and evisceration) of the entertainment industry. It also garnered 10 Emmy nominations throughout its run — four for LeBlanc in his meta portrayal of a narcissistic actor.

What viewers may not know is that Episodes was created by and is inspired by the lives of an American gay couple: David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik.

“The two principals, Sean and Beverly? We are absolutely writing ourselves,” Crane confirmed in a recent interview with The Advocate.

“They work together, they live together, and basically, their points of view toward the world and show business reflects ours. Jeffrey is very much Beverly — more cynical, more willing to step up to a fight. I’m more Sean — needing everyone to get along and hating conflict,” Crane said.

In fact, Klarik and Crane have been partners in life and business for over 30 years. (The pair were set up at a dinner arranged by mutual friends, and they’ve been together ever since. “My trap was set,” joked Klarik, who had set the wheels in motion.)

Like Sean and Beverly, the writers have a relationship that extends to their work, which has included two of the biggest hits in modern network television. Crane cocreated NBC’s Friendsalongside Marta Kauffman. Klarik was a coproducer and executive story editor on NBC’s Mad About You. And as in every venture in their careers, they helped each other in writing these productions.

“I was the unofficial writer on Friends,” said Klarik, about how the pair would ghostwrite for one another’s shows. “I had overall deals with different studios so there was a conflict of interest. So I would just do what I had to do in the shadows.”

Thus, unbeknownst to America, a gay couple worked together to craft jokes and storylines for its favorite shows. The impact of this was subtle. Unlike their contemporary Will & Grace,neither Friends nor Mad About You had LGBT primary characters. And the couple is hesitant to say the shows had a “gay sensibility” or agenda. However, the gay writers did bring a perspective that is unique from the mainstream.

“I don’t know if it’s a gay sensibility or if it’s a female sensibility,” Klarik clarified about this understanding. “On Mad About You, I knew how Helen [Hunt] with [her character] Jamie would feel. I don’t know why. But I just understand how women think and feel. And I emphathize with them. And so it’s very easy for me to get into that, to kind of channel female characters.”

“I don’t think there was ever a conscious [intention] to approach anything with a gay sensibility,” Crane said. “I think I’ve always written things that make me laugh or make Jeffrey laugh. I have my own personal sensibility, which also happens to be gay, and I guess it informs the writing that we do.”

Their identity also gave them an understanding of the importance of the inclusion of gay characters. “We felt as though if you have a big ensemble cast, they should be in the mix,” Crane said. This has led to some major moments in television history….

Read it all at Advocate

40 or over & starting a Hollywood career? Here’s what you need to know.

What’s that? You’ve heard about H’wood’s, erm, “ageism problem?” So although at 40+ you’re feeling at the top of your intellectual writing game, you’re worried that you might not stand a chance. Here’s some genuinely helpful advice:

Yes, this is a plug for Carole Kirschner’s new book, Hollywood Game Plan. But we’re thinking it’s worth reading. And maybe even buying too – even if you’re younger. Honest!

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