Week Three Without TV
All right, I confess. I watched TV last week, but only because I wanted to see Michelle Obama on The View. Accounts of Obama's appearance got it mostly right. She was smart and elegant, playing well with the panelists (with a particularly amiable connection with the show's archconservative and youngest panelist, Elisabeth Hasselbeck). Once I saw her, I happily returned to my computer to wade through my e-mails for any leads on other content to watch away from the TV screen. And thank goodness. Lost in the thick of my e-mails was an invitation to watch a small gem of a Web series titled The Writers Room, the first made-for-the-Internet series that hits a high mark in my (admittedly short) experience of watching this sort of content.
The six-minute webisodes are produced by L.A.-based Stun Creative and feature writers from some of the best (traditional) TV comedies, starring as writers working on a fictional talk show hosted by actor Kevin Pollak (who, press materials assure us, plays an "egomaniacal version of himself").
Ever since The Dick Van Dyke Show, I've been fascinated with what happens in the TV writers' room. Van Dyke played Rob Petrie, the head writer of a three-person staff behind fictional variety show The Alan Brady Show. Rob enjoyed a spacious office – featuring a comfortable couch, a piano, a constantly fresh pot of coffee, and a window overlooking the Manhattan skyline – which he shared with co-writers Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie). They always came to work in tweedy suits and ties. Sally wore a smart dress with pumps and a small, girlish flower (inspiration for Carrie Bradshaw?) in her hair. Rob, Buddy, and Sally's breezy repartee made living and working in New York look oh so elegant and fun. The talk of the writers' room didn't consist so much about the show but rather what was going on in their lives and their constant battle with The Alan Brady Show's show runner, Mel Cooley (Richard Deacon), the flak-catcher for the show's demanding star, Alan Brady (Carl Reiner). Now replace that vintage writer's fantasy with a small, windowless office somewhere in Los Angeles, overwhelmed by a conference table surrounded by seven neurotic writers policed by a buffoonish show runner, and you have The Writers Room.
Essentially a workplace comedy, The Writers Room packs a lot into each webisode (so far, there have been 10). You don't really get to know anyone too well, but you do get a truer picture of what it's like to live and work as a writer – which is frightening at the same time it's hilarious. My favorite episode so far is where one of the writers decides to stop wearing deodorant, and his co-workers use deceptive measures to change his mind. A running gag in the series is the appearance of Pollak via speakerphone, making demands of the writers as he tools around L.A. with Christopher Walken – who Pollak often turns the phone over to to spout off-the-wall remarks and otherwise befuddle the writers.
The Writers Room cast includes top-tier writing talent like Bruce Kirschbaum (Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, The Ben Stiller Show), Ed Crasnick (The Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Whose Line Is It Anyway?), Evan Mann (The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, Gilmore Girls, How I Met Your Mother), Gareth Reynolds (The Real Wedding Crashers), Jeff Kahn (The Ben Stiller Show, The Larry Sanders Show, Curb Your Enthusiasm), Frank Conniff (Mystery Science Theater 3000), and Rose Abdoo (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Gilmore Girls, Strangers With Candy, Malcolm in the Middle).
Remembering George Carlin
HBO pays tribute this week to George Carlin, the 71-year-old comedian who died last week of heart failure. Over the years, Carlin did 14 comedy specials for HBO. A two-night marathon of those specials continues tonight (Thursday, June 26), featuring the following:
What Am I Doing in New Jersey (1988) at 7pm. Doin' It Again (1990) at 8pm. Jammin' in New York (1992) at 9pm. Back in Town (1996) at 10pm. You Are All Diseased (1999) at 11pm. It's Bad for Ya (2008) at 12mid.
Carlin is the next recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, awarded by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The black-tie event and televised special, which had just started production when Carlin died, will continue as planned and will air on PBS later this year.
As always, stay tuned.