'What Doesn't Kill Us Makes Us Bitter'
Chuck Lorre and Neil Gaiman discuss TV, books, and more
By Ashley Moreno, 5:01PM, Sun. Mar. 10
Yesterday Neil Gaiman (American Gods) sat down with sitcom writer/producer Chuck Lorre to discuss Lorre’s book What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Bitter, which Gaiman called a “slightly jaundiced, slightly bitter, always funny view of what it’s like to make television from the inside.”
What Doesn’t Kill Us, compiles together decades of vanity cards from Lorre’s work in television (Dharma & Greg, Grace Under Fire, Cybil, The Big Bang Theory, and Two and Half Men) alongside original artwork and graphical layouts. In addition to discussing the contents of this book, the two discussed how media is changing, and what that means for television, books, and other traditional media.
The vanity card – that is, the production logo or quick graphic that appears at the end of a television show (or at the beginning of a movie) to brand the series. Unlike most production logos, which are usually images with the name of the company in easy-to-read text, Lorre’s vanity cards are all text. They’re full of additional jokes and side content that supplement his shows. “We grew up with liner notes in albums,” said Lorre. “You would listen to the record and you would read and you’d be immersed in the story of the band and the making of the record, and it made the record better somehow. I thought maybe [vanity cards are] the liner notes at the end of a sitcom.”
Lorre started producing these text-style vanity cards, which now compose his book, back in 1997 with Dharma & Greg. “In the beginning, the only way to read them was if you had a very good VCR, and you could pause on that one-second frame,” said Lorre. But as both the cards and Internet grew in popularity, the cards began appearing online. Out of personal interest (and to legally protect the rights to his name) Lorre, created an online archive, where the cards are available for free.
The website will remain up and free, even though the content now appears in what Gaiman called “a coffee-table book in the true meaning of [the phrase], in that if you attached legs to it, it would be a fully functional coffee table.” But these large pages contain more than just the words of the cards. In an effort to make the book a valuable object in and of itself, Lorre included supplemental art. This decision epitomizes a larger publishing trend: “As it gets cheaper and easier to duplicate, people are actually keen on beautiful things that are not easy to duplicate,” said Gaiman. “A decade ago, it was really hard to sell a hardback book, and now beautiful hardbacks are a way to go. The Kindle generation loves beautiful hardbacks. They love limited edition books. They love things of great beauty and worth. I’m getting my publisher to do the kind of beautiful books that used to only be done by special publishers.”
The popularity of online publishing does not only affect books – it has a profound effect on Lorre’s primary medium, television, as well. “I wonder about the medium,” said Lorre. “I really do. But the more interesting thing for me is that regardless of the genre, or how many cameras you use, if it’s a single-camera comedy or if it’s a four-camera comedy, if it’s on Netflix or CBS – you’re telling a story. And if the story is any good, people might come and pay attention. The medium of distribution is irrelevant at the end of the day if you tell a good story.”
Lorre’s limited edition book What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Bitter is currently available in bookstores and online, and all proceeds go to the Dharma-Grace Foundation, which provides health care for people in need.