Put the greatest comic improvisers in the world into a studio with cameras turning, and what kind of end product do you get?
If it’s a scripted comedy show, you get the words as written by the writers, with just a few adjustments. Because “scripted” still means “saying what we wrote” for some very good reasons indeed (not necessarily having all that much to do with the, you know, writing, either):
by Christy Grosz
Comedy might have the reputation for being loose and spontaneous, but when it comes to garnering laughs for TV series, writing and refining is often the key to the humor. While some shows leave room for improvisation, both HBO’s “Veep” and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (pictured) achieve their style from a heavily scripted process.
For “Kimmy Schmidt” writers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, there isn’t time for tweaks on set. They generally make changes after the first table read, but once shooting commences, the script is usually locked.
“We’ll make little adjustments (on set),” Carlock says. “But when you’re doing a single-camera show and shooting for 13 hours a day, you need to be using those hours to shoot and light. It’s hard to give too much rein to finding things on that day.”
Fey adds that they’ll occasionally come to the set with alternate jokes, but for the first season that was often out of necessity. “At the time, we were still shooting for broadcast and a joke would be flagged as a potential standards issue,” Fey says.
“Sometimes it was (because) we liked two or three of these jokes in the (writers’) room. And if it’s just (two characters) sitting in one place and it’s a one-line scene, it’s easy to pick up a couple different versions of a joke.”