On Malcolm in the Middle, Cybill, Grace Under Fire, The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, Flash Point, Full House and Murphy Brown. The final post of what I learned at the Toronto Screenwriting Conference!
Turn your pain into comedy
- Malcolm in the Middle, created by Linwood Boomer, was born from his unhappy childhood characterized by dismissive parents and loneliness
- While Linwood thought it could be a boring drama, coworkers felt comedy was there
- The device of the child speaking direct to the camera was critical since it allowed him to no longer be alone (made it light and purposeful)
- Shot in a warm visual style to contrast the frosty family dynamics; if the TV was on mute it should look like a fuzzy family sitcom, Full House styles
Choose your lead actors wisely so they don’t self destruct with your show
- Cybil Shephard grew jealous of her co-star Christine Baranski, who earned attention and acclaim, and ordered the writers to stop writing strong material for Christine.
- Brett Butler (Grace) had paranoia issues which paralyzed Grace Under Fire.
The Sliding doors of Hollywood
- The Big Bang Theory was shot with two different pilots featuring two different “Penny’s”
- Kaylee Cuoco provided a softer character and therefore a foil to the harsh Sheldon
- The only difference between Leonard and Sheldon’s characters at the pilot stage was that unlike Sheldon, Leonard would be interested in girls
- The actors and their strengths were used to build the show’s characters (Kaylee made Penny smarter, Sheldon was great at memorizing and delivering many lines)
- When Charlie Sheen left Two and a Half Men, Hugh Grant was originally in talks to replace him. He didn’t want to take the risk of maintaining the show’s success.
- Ashton Kutcher stepped in and the character was based on his real life personality (tech and social media savvy)
The many secrets of Flashpoint
- The concept was inspired by a news story about a hostage in Toronto’s Union Station, the premise being “what is the human cost of heroism?”
- The creators initially pitched their drama as a movie of the week and were asked to turn it into a pilot in 10 short days
- They created a new procedural drama format by opening with the key action scene, moving backwards to the lead up and then bringing the story forward at the end
- A procedural is a term to characterize a law, medical or police/fbi drama with a similar beginning/middle and end, but a unique stand alone key story each week
A wholesome show can have a filthy writing room
- Apparently the writing room for Full House was very competitive (instead of collaborative) and crude about the show characters
Sexual Tension unfulfilled is a great writing device
- The idea is to drag the tension out as long as humanly possible because it fuels better story lines. Once the relationship is satiated, as was the case with Murphy Brown, you get some courtship, some conflict, a marriage and a baby and it can be challenging to continue
What are your favourite TV shows – past or present?