Today’s piece is written by Judd Pillot, Executive Producer of “According to Jim.”
When I was about eight my parents gave me an old TV. Very old. So old that if I grabbed it with both hands a jolt of electricity would zing up my arm, shoot through my chest, and, I presume, my heart, zang down the left arm and back into the TV. It is possible mom and dad were trying to kill me. It is also possible that, due to both faulty wiring and parenting, I was destined to become a writer when shows like Gilligan’s Island, Batman, and Leave It To Beaver were electro-plated directly onto my psyche.
With every episode I was convinced: “Oh my God, they’re actually going to get off the island.” “There’s no way Batman’s going to escape this time.” “Thank God Beaver’s gonna get away with his crazy scheme.” I bought it every time. I was a little slow. Maybe it’s because I was a kid, maybe it was the random, prolonged shock therapy, but I just thought television was heaven in a box.
When I got a little older, it was The Dick Van Dyke Show that really got to me. You could hang out with funny people and drink coffee and eat pastries for a living? You could marry a woman like Mary Tyler Moore? And she’d wear those pants? More heaven. Sign me up. I was lucky to know early on what I wanted to do. Writing was a dream that I had to go after. And not that great American novel crap. TV!
My first joke for television. 1986. Duet, a romantic comedy for the brand new FOX Network. The pilot script described a mystery writer who lived in a low-rent neighborhood. Narrator: “Outside his window a neon sign flashed ‘Completely Nude’.” Nervously, I pitched. I said I thought it would be funny to add: “It was so low-rent that the sign actually flashed, ‘Completely Nud’.” The showrunners laughed. And the cast laughed at the table read. Then the network laughed at the run-through. Finally, the night we shot, the line came up and the audience laughed. In life, there is no better high. Okay, the birth of your children. But the approval of two hundred tourists is right up there.
I’ve written a lot of television since. And believe me, tons of my jokes haven’t score as well as that first one (examples not germane to this essay). But there isn’t a day that I drive onto a lot, or walk onto a soundstage, or sit down in a writers’ room that I don’t get excited. Granted it’s a different kind of jolt than the one I’d get as a kid – but it still makes me tingle. And every day that I don’t drive onto a lot, or sit in that room, well…I’m a writer. Without the story crafting and the jokes, the speeches and the silences, the search for just the right word, it’s just strange. I might not feel completely nud, but something is definitely missing.
WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers. Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers during the strike, and perhaps beyond. If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.