By Greg Garcia, Creator and Executive Producer of My Name Is Earl.
I hate writing. I hate it. Sitting down to write a script is torture. In fact, the only good thing that’s come out of this strike is that it’s given me an actual legitimate excuse not to write. Usually I have to spend most of my mornings trying to come up with reasons to be lazy. But these days, I simply wake up and my guild has decided that I am not permitted to put pen to paper. Not permitted to sit and stare at a blank page and feel like a failure for hours on end. Not permitted to type scene after scene only to read it at the end of the day, hate it, and throw it out. And for that, I’m grateful to the AMPTP and the WGA. However, I’m bored out of my mind. Because as much as I hate writing TV, I love watching it. Writing TV is hard, but watching it… Watching it is a breeze. All you need are eyes and an ass. When I sit down to watch an episode of one of my favorite shows it’s like Christmas morning. I get excited. What have they come up with for me this week? I can’t wait. And when it’s over I quickly shut off the TV before I can see the promo for next week’s episode because I don’t want to ruin a single second of it. I don’t have to watch the promo. I’ll be there. I’m hooked.
The first few days of the strike were great for catching up on my shows. My TIVO was bubbling over with new episodes of Dexter, Family Guy, Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, and a whole bunch of other shows I’m not going to admit to watching. One by one they were watched and deleted. And now my TIVO is empty. I fear that as the strike goes on my TIVO may try to eat itself to stay alive. Nothing is more depressing than going through the guide for the next few weeks and seeing shows like American Gladiators, Clash of the Choirs, Duel, and Celebrity Apprentice. I’m not gonna watch that foolishness. And I’ll watch almost anything. I always have. While other kids were out playing tag, tossing around the ball, and getting laid, I was glued to the TV. I liked it all, but sitcoms were my main drug. At least until I discovered actual drugs and then sitcoms and drugs were my drugs. I watched everything from Father Knows Best to WKRP in Cincinnati. The only time I would stop watching was when my mother would make me come upstairs for dinner. And then, so I wouldn’t miss a word, I would prop up my audiocassette player against the TV and hit record. After dinner I would race down, lie on the couch, close my eyes, and listen to what I had missed. Only having the audio, I would be forced to block the scenes, design the swing sets, choose the camera angles, and edit the show in my head.
Years later when I was going to college at the very prestigious Frostburg State University I was excited to learn that they had an actual sitcom writing class. Not only did they offer the class, but if the script you wrote was good enough, it would be sent to Warner Brothers and if they liked it, they would fly you out to Hollywood to hang out with the writers on one of their sitcoms for a week. Eleven o’clock the night before my script was due, I hadn’t written a word. I popped a few caffeine pills and sat in front of my roommate’s computer staring at that goddamn blank screen. But then, just like I did when I was a kid in my parents’ basement, I closed my eyes and pictured the set of Cheers. I pictured the characters, imagined what they might say and I watched as they began talking to each other. I quickly started typing.
The next day we had a table read of my script in class. I remember being tired and nervous as they started to read the first scene. Soon we got to the first joke. People laughed. We got to the second joke and they laughed again. Now, as I’m sure you know, there’s no way of describing the feeling you get from people enjoying something you created. It’s quite a high. I was hooked.
After getting a C minus on my Cheers script for refusing to take my professor’s notes, I was one of two people in the country selected by Warner Brothers to go to Hollywood for a week. This is when I first learned to never take notes you don’t agree with. If I had taken my professor’s notes I’d probably be digging ditches right now instead of having my dream job of walking around in a circle holding a sign on a stick. When I got to Hollywood I watched the writers of the show Room For Two as they sat around a table laughing, fighting, and creating television. And later in the week I pitched a joke that included the words “grouper fingers” and they actually put it in the script. Once again I was hooked.
A few months later I returned to Los Angeles determined to become a television writer. And a year later I was. I was a staff writer on a show called On Our Own. I vividly remember watching the first episode I wrote as it aired on TV. I was sitting on the couch, just like I did in my parents’ basement, only this time the people inside the magic box in front of me were doing what I told them to do. They were saying words that I came up with. Something that started in my head was being beamed out to millions of people all over the country. And I like to think those people watching were laughing. Once again I was hooked.
Since then I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of the writing of over 300 episodes of television. I’ve written on other people’s shows, my own shows, family shows, office shows, black shows, white shows, four camera shows, animated shows, single camera shows, shows that get slammed by the critics and shows that win Emmys. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing almost everything you can experience in the world of sitcoms. The thing I had worshiped as a child has become my life. But don’t get me wrong, I still hate writing. I hate it because it’s hard. But if I don’t write it, no one is going to say it. No one is going to block it or light it or film it or edit it. No one is going to watch it. And most importantly, no one is going to laugh at it. And as much as I hate the writing part, I love the laughing part. I need the laughing part. I’m addicted to it.
And that’s why I write.
Installment #1 of WHY WE WRITE is a series of short essays by prominent television and film writers and conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John. (Contact them at [email protected]). I have asked the AMPTP to give me original content expressing its side of the current strike, but the group has declined to date.