the writers’ room

I emerged from my three week course of antibiotics and went to help a friend with a multi-camera comedy pilot he’s making for a basic cable channel. It made me realize that I’ve written more about sitcom scenes I hate to write than I have about how much I hate to write them. I’d like to remedy that right now.

I’d forgotten about the crazy high spirits at pilot table reads, the banter so quick between executives dancing up to each other that the words themselves become the beat. They were literally dancing. People at pilots are as manic and raw and optimistic as in a scene from “All That Jazz” I vaguely seem to remember where a new show is being read aloud.

After the read, there’s hours of talking, executives and non-writing executive producers going head to head, even though they’re all saying the same thing.

Meanwhile the writers gather in “the room.”

The writers’ room was a romantic place to me when I was first starting out. The remarkable minds pulling jokes out of the air, the funny personal stories, and the food, the wonderful food from the finest midrange restaurants in town, food and coffee that just kept coming, riding into the room on a never-ending wave of bags and foil and cute young production assistants who also had funny stories.

Over time, I realized the jokes weren’t coming from the air but from the jizz-stained files of passive aggressive hacks whose funny stories were mainly justifications for things they were still angry about. The production assistants also grew angry over time, at a business that promised riches but dried up before their turn at the trough and whose funny stories were more and more about jobs they were promised and didn’t get.

Then the food began to smell. When you could get it. Some writers will never choose a restaurant but veto anyone else’s choice. Certain showrunners pretend not to notice when the food has arrived and make everyone join in the charade. And lots of writers throw away their disgusting half-eaten dinners in the very room where you can spend up to seven days a week, sixteen hours a day.

So no I don’t like writers’ rooms very much. I get claustrophobic. I’m anxious until I’ve located a bathroom not too near but not too far. I watch the clock. I’ve made some great friends working for television. But I got into writing to get away from people, not to be locked in a room with them.

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