Inside the Room

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

In olden times, when half-hour comedies were on TV a lot, we wrote them mostly as a group, in something we called "The Room," which usually meant a large conference room with a table and chairs and a big sofa and a white-board and a lot of empty take-out containers. It's almost always a big room -- it has to be, to hold all of those writers and their anger, but it also has to be big enough so that a young writer has someplace to look while his eyes fill up with tears and his lower lip trembles, just slightly, like custard.

Because there's a lot of -- good-natured, of course -- hazing that goes on in those rooms.

One thing we used to like to do to the youngest writer on staff is wait for him or her to make a useful suggestion during a rewrite session -- something like, "Maybe we could end D scene in the elevator?" -- and then one of us (usually me) would turn to him and say something like, "That's the stupidest thing I've every heard. Dear Lord that's a bad idea. You really need to work on your pitches."

And then the young writer will inevitably turn away slightly with a mortified half-smile on his face, tears will form heavy half-moons on his lower eyelids, he'll face the white-board, his lower lip will do a custardy shiver, and then I'd say, brightly to the group, "I've got a great idea. How about we end the D scene in the elevator?"

And the rest of the staff would all nod vigorously to agree with me, clapping me on the back, saying "Great idea!" and "Brilliant!" and "You saved the show!" and we'd watch the young writer's face go from confusion to shock to anger to a kind of queasy joy -- I'm not stupid; I didn't make a bad pitch; they're just...making fun of me. It's really the only kind of compliment a writer will give another writer -- one that's wrapped in a bitter rebuke that makes you cry. And that's pretty much what being in the Room is like. It's like the old Dick Van Dyke Show, but with the ever present possibility that things might erupt into serious violence.

But don't take my word for it. See for yourself. My old friend and colleague, Ken Levine -- one of the most talented writers and directors around, as a matter of fact, and a dedicated blogger as well -- has started something he calls The Sitcom Room.

Essentially what this entails is you, a bunch of other aspiring writers, Ken and some of his writer friends, in a windowless room at the airport Hilton, spending two days in writing teams, going through what amounts to a professional boot camp: you write and rewrite a script, it gets performed by actual, well-known actors, and then you rewrite it and rewrite it until it gets better, which is where the Sitcom Room program experience differed from the Sitcom Room reality. In reality, it doesn't always get better, it just gets different.

And there's another difference: when you're in the real room, you're getting paid. In the sitcom room experience, you shell out. On the other hand, it's pretty reasonable and a lot cheaper than film school, and you get something you don't get from any of those other scriptwriting weekend seminars: you get real experience, a working understanding of what it takes, a chance to meet and learn from Ken, and the distinct possibility that you'll be singled out and hazed. Which as I've noted, is not always a bad thing.

So if you've ever wanted to know what it was really really like to be stuck in a room with a bunch of other funny people, all of whom are suffering from barely concealed personality disorders, go to Ken's blog -- that's -- and that's Levine, l-e-v-i-n-e, and don't say leveen, or there will be hell to pay in the room.

That's it for this week. Next week, we'll melt down on Wall Street. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long