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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

I only know one way to pitch a show, and that's to pitch the story of the pilot. That, of course, is how the audience is going to experience it -- and they, ultimately, are going to decide whether to stick around or see if there's a CSI on somewhere, and there is, there always is -- so when it comes time to pitch a show, we usually go in, sit down, and tell a story.

A funny story, we hope. A story that gives the listener some sense of what the show's about, what the episodes are going to look like, what the basic theme of the show is.

But mostly, we hope to make them laugh. Because -- and I apologize to those of you out there who already know this -- but a comedy show is supposed to be funny.

The trouble is, funny is hard to pin down. Funny is elusive. Funny is a matter of taste. And worse, for those terrified underlings tasked with the idea of finding, developing, and choosing funny things to put on television, funny is really an involuntary response. I mean, you either find something funny or you don't. We've all had the experience of going to see a movie, or finally watching a TV show, after weeks of hearing from our friends that it's totally hilarious. You are going to die laughing. And then you see it and it's, you know, it's okay. It's kind of funny. But, what's all the shouting about?

I call it the Napoleon Dynamite effect. Some might call it the Dane Cook effect. Actually, I'd call it that, too. But if you're a friend who's recommended a movie to another friend who didn't find it all that funny, or, worse, you went to -- just pulling a title out of my hat, say, Napoleon Dynamite and you know, I get it I get it he's weird -- you know, you argue a bit, maybe, get a little miffed, whatever. But nobody gets fired. I mean, you don't fire your friend because he liked the Dane Cook special and you thought it was just Billy Crystal without the edge. Andy Rooney without the zetz.

But if you're a terrified underling tasked with the idea of finding, developing, and choosing funny things to put on television, you might possibly get fired for thinking something's funny when it's not.

So what do you do? What do they all do? They take funny out of the equation. Funny is an afterthought. Sure, it's funny, they say. But what's the arena? What's the big idea behind the show? Does it say anything about the way we live today?

Because while you're pitching, they're taking notes. Writing things down what you're saying. Not jokes. Not funny stuff. But ideas. Distilling the show and the story into arena, question mark; theme, question mark; live today, question mark. So that later, when they talk about the show you pitched, in meetings with scary bosses and treacherous colleagues and ambitious assistants, they can refer to it logline style -- young person coming to grips with adulthood; siblings living together; married friends vs. single life -- without having to make a decision based on, and I'm just pulling something out of my hat here, whether or not it's funny.

As if audiences say to each other, what's that show I like? The one with the interesting arena that speaks to my current concerns? What's that one? The one that isn't really very funny but does touch some chord in my workplace experience? What's that one again? Is that still on? The one that doesn't make me laugh but does represent contemporary themes I find worth exploring in the abstract? Is that CSI on right now? Leave it there. I like it when the zoom up into the wound.

Zoom up into the wound. That's the trouble, really, with TV comedy. Not enough zooming up into the wound.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll change careers. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.


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