Jury Duty

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

So, apparently, if you want to get out of jury duty, what you have to do is this. When they ask you what you do for a living, you say, "I write television comedy, your honor," and then you wait around a bit while the judge and the lawyers busy themselves with other prospective jurors, but you're eventually going to hear something like, "The court would like to excuse the television comedy writer with the expensive watch."

They don't actually say that -- they use your juror number -- but the effect is pretty much the same. You see, as citizens go, the average screenwriter is on the do-not-fly list. To the prosecution, you're probably some kind of guilt-ridden Hollywood do-gooder who thinks all cops are liars and racists; to the defense, you're just another pampered plutocrat, terrified and baffled by being in downtown Los Angeles, concerned about the lunch options, who wants to vote guilty and get back to Brentwood as soon as possible.

Both of them, sadly, have a point.

I was on jury duty last week, and when I say "duty" I mean that I sat in a courtroom for a couple of days, waiting for jury selection to be completed, waiting to say "I'm a television comedy writer, your honor," and be excused.

I wasn't trying to get out of it, really. I'm a citizen -- not a good citizen, really, but an okay citizen -- and I get it. Justice system, trial by jury blah blah blah -- basically a good thing, most of the time. But I knew, from previous jury service, that it was highly unlikely that anyone on either side of the case wanted me around, that they didn't feel like they wanted to truth-discerning, analytical services of a guy who writes television situation comedies.

(In this respect, they seem to echo the sentiments of the entertainment industry at large…)

Anyway, I was pretty sure this entire experience was an exercise in futility and they'd weed all the Hollywood types out. But this being Los Angeles, we first had to hear from a documentary filmmaker prospective juror (excused, of course) and a pilates instructor prospective juror (also excused) before we got to the television writer.

Or, for that matter, the other television writer.

I ran into an old colleague of mine, Phil, in the juror assembly room. Phil and I have worked together on a lot of shows, and so I was glad to see him. The odds of running into someone you know in the juror assembly room are only slightly worse than the odds on what happened next: we were both called to the same courtroom, as prospective jurors in the same trial.

Which changed the situation a lot. You see, June is when most writers have the time to complete their jury service -- in the summer they're either in development, or writing scripts. In the autumn, we're pitching. Winter and Spring are spent writing and producing pilots -- so when the envelope from the Los Angeles Superior Court arrives, most of us instinctively just postpone it all until June.

Which messes up the odds. Because while they might excuse one television writer during the selection process, and they certainly wouldn't allow two sit-com writers on the same jury, if you flood the June pool of prospective jurors with comedy writers, you know, they might actually let one on. And you can't have a justice system like that. We'd let criminals off just because they were "likable" or had "an interesting point of view." We'd punish the lawyers for being insufficiently ironic, or for tipping the joke during their opening argument. Witnesses would be dismissed for being too overweight, or not overweight enough for a wacky sidekick character. And the judge we'd ignore as just another network suit, giving notes.

In short, chaos.

So we all lucked out, halfway through the second day, when the prosecution and the defense reached a plea bargain. Phil and I went to lunch together, and did what writers do best -- what writers ought to do: we talked trash about other writers, other more successful writers, and we ate salad. We passed judgment on each other, not innocent (or guilty) civilians.

That's it for this week. Next week, we find out our Bollywood age. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.

Photo: Susan Schary/AFP/Getty Images



Rob Long