It's rare that I read a blog that makes me want to go back and read years and years of posts, but I've found one. I've spent hours of my time off reading the blog of a man named Earl Pomerantz.
Who is Earl Pomerantz? He's an old TV writer whose credits include Taxi, Cheers, The Cosby Show, and a million others. If you're interested in TV writing, there's nothing better than this blog. In particular, he does a "Story of a Writer" series, that details every step of his career in chronological order. I could not stop reading it, it starts here.
That's just the first installment, but when he gets into the Taxi and Cheers years it really takes off.
One story in particular really resonated with me. I'll tell the half baked version here, but you should really go read the real thing.
So Earl gets hired to be the showrunner for The Cosby Show in its first season, which is pretty incredible. Before the first taping, they do a bunch of read throughs, and everything is going great. Cosby is reading the lines, it's hilarious, and finally it's show day.
They had 2 tapings of the show with 2 different audiences, and then they're going to edit together the best stuff into one show. So the first taping begins, and Cosby suddenly isn't reading the lines as written anymore. He's ad libbing, he's saying his own stuff, he's all over the place. Some of it is working, a lot of it isn't. Even worse, it kinda fucks with the story if you don't say certain lines the way they're written.
In between shows, Earl and the director and some executives get together with Cosby in his dressing room to "give notes". Now, I've been in the situation many times - meeting with a stand up comedian on show night to give notes - and it is rough (though of course I've never done it at this level - Bill fucking Cosby!). There's something about show night that turns up the intensity and you're never sure how anyone is going to react.
You'd think comedians, who get up on stage every night of their lives, would be pretty comfortable with show night. But they're not. They're scared. They've got nerves. They do not respond well to last minute changes or notes of any kind. And you can tell, so it's hard to tell them what they need to hear for fear that they will jump out of the window or worse, throw you out of the window.
Anyway, they're in there with him and Cosby goes "any notes", and the director and execs are like "not really, that was fantastic!", just all kinds of kiss ass stuff.
Then Cosby turns to Earl, and goes "I want to hear what THIS GUY has to say".
Earl looks at him, and says, "I really wish you'd learn your lines".
The balls on this guy. Amazing. I wish I could do that.