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Over-Medicated

Hollywood is a really pompous place. We have these nicknames for ourselves: -The Business- and -The Industry.- Both names are almost entirely ironic. Calling it -The Business- --- which connotes, at the very least, business-like behavior -- must make the shareholders of the Sony, Vivendi, and the late AOL/Time Warner Corporations get that sick, queasy feeling you get a few days after you do something really embarrassing: it-s over, but it still kind of hurts. And the nickname -The Industry- - with its connotation of industriousness - is equally silly when one considers that the most prevalent activity on any soundstage or location shoot is the reading of magazines and the eating of pastry.

But people in this business love their souped-up vocabulary: we -green-light- things, and dump things in -turnaround- and -negative pick-up- and -pitch- and make -pre-emptive strikes.- And we love our creative talk too. We like lots of -character journeys- and -story integrity- and -deeply humanistic values.- Our slang is so vivid and energetic that-s it-s hard to remember that these phrases are used mostly when people are alone in their cars. Although it comes up a lot in meetings, too. I remember a network executive telling me once that while she liked our script, she wanted to see if we could -platform our heroes sooner in the piece, so the audience could begin to celebrate with them earlier in their journey.- Okay. Sure. Not a problem. Just platform the-thing-.with the-.journey and the-stuff.

The -martini shot,- for instance, is the last shot of the day. If you-re filming a movie, it-s the last set-up. If you-re on a sit-com, it-s the final scene of the night. In the old days, I guess, it really meant that someone was mixing up a martini, and that a frosty glass was waiting for the director to call -cut.- These days, of course, it would probably be more accurate to call it the -Jamba shot- or the -Evian shot,- but -martini shot- sticks because it-s so, well, so atmospheric. And atmosphere counts for a lot in this business.

That-s what Martini Shot is going to evoke: the drive home after a long day, the icy cocktail at the end of the shoot. People in Hollywood love to tell war stories, to complain about executives and script notes, to hash out rumors and top each other with anecdotes, which is what Martini Shot is all about: a time to reflect, gossip, share some stories, and maybe even tell the truth.

But not the whole truth. I mean, I have to work in this town.

Although working in this town is getting a little more difficult. The New York Times reported a week or so ago that the sit-com is dead. For a guy like me, who makes his money writing television comedy, the headline The Sitcom is Dead is, well, mean. Have you ever been to one of those amusement parks, where they-ll print up a fake newspaper headline for you? Something like: -Wanted Dead or Alive- and then your name, or they-ll print your name right above -Elected to Presidency,- or something. That-s sort of the way it felt to wake up one morning, open the newspaper and read, essentially: -Hey, Rob, you-re going to lose your house!- I mean, I appreciate the information, but I do need a little more-cuddling, I guess.

And I also want to know if the sitcom is dead, who killed it. Again, I-m not complaining. I-m grateful for the long career and the many opportunities. I-m just using my time here to work through some of my issues, if that-s okay - but it seems to me that I know who killed it.

You-ve got three choices for your network television time: comedy, drama, or reality. To sell a reality show, you just go into a room and pitch it. There-s nothing to tinker with, nothing to test, you haven-t shot it yet. The whole point of a reality TV show is that it-s unscripted - you don-t know what-s going to happen. You can-t platform the heroes on their journey because-there are no heroes yet. Network executives can-t really interfere with a reality TV show.

And with dramas, well, the production schedule is so tight, that there-s really no time for endless network interference, and notes, and journeys that celebrate the-thing.

But comedies - man, they-re all over you. They have notes on the stories, on the first drafts, on the production drafts, on everything. And since you have a whole week to rehearse and rewrite and ultimately film a show, they have a whole week to get their fingers into it. And then, when you-re shooting it, you-ve got the network and the studio right there, right beside you, saying things like, -can she smile more?- -Can he not look angry?- -Can we do one more take where everybody looks at each other warmly?-

So reality television has the least amount of network interference and it-s the most successful. Dramas have the second most, and they-re the second most popular with viewers. Comedy has the most and-well, soon I-m going to be wearing a paper hat and telling you to pick up your food at the second window.

I have a friend who-s a terrifically funny writer. A funny guy, too. A few months ago, for some reason, he went on an anti-depressant. I don-t know which one. But I worked with him recently. Not funny anymore. He sleeps fine, feels better about himself, I guess. But not funny. And that-s sort of what-s happened to network television comedy. It-s over medicated. So I-ll give it some time to get off the meds, clean itself up a bit, and then I-ll be right back in the fray, trying to get a comedy on the air, trying to platform my heroes journey to celebrate the audience and the-whatever.

That-s Martini Shot for this week. Next week, we-ll talk about simmering personal feuds. See you then-

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