This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
Bob Newhart tells a story about an episode of the great, legendary Bob Newhart Show in which Bob and Emily hire a business manager.
You know, someone to pay the bills, and keep them on a budget, that kind of thing. Bob was concerned that people -- regular people, real people, people who don't live somewhere between, say, Laurel Canyon to the east and Trancas Canyon to the west, may not, you know, get it. May not relate to the problems Bob and Emily have with their business manager. The writers, apparently, assured him that people pretty much everywhere have business managers, and that this kind of thing was really relatable. In the episode, Bob and Emily essentially give up control of their finances and hand it all over to a business manager, who in turn pays the bills, makes the savings, and gives them an allowance. You know, like they were kids. Bob kept asking, "Are people going to get this?" And the writers kept saying, "Sure, Bob, yeah, c'mon. It's Everyman stuff."
So America tuned in that night to a rather baffling episode, involving an odd problem that most of them hadn't encountered before, as most people, even most rich people, manage to pay their own bills every months at a desk somewhere with stamps and envelopes and a checkbook and a pen. Like grownups.
But if you live here long enough, I guess, you just naturally stop doing things for yourself. I see people at the gym paying other people at the gym to stand next to them counting reps. And then helping them stretch.
Once, years ago, we were giving out an episode assignment to a young, very green, very new writer. After the story session one of us asked her when we could see the outline.
"Yeah, um, I'll have to talk to my assistant first? But I think next week?"
She had an assistant. She was a free-lance writer with an assistant. Most free-lance writers are assistants. And the weird thing is, it didn't occur to us until later to wonder about that -- we were so used to everyone, all over town, having some kind of special help doing things that aren't really that... complicated, somebody to arrange your furniture and stretch your feet and pay your Amex bill...
So, naturally, the problem here is that it's hard to come up with stories about characters who live a normal life -- moms, dad, kids, etc. -- if you spend most of your time outsourcing the very things that make life irritating and therefore funny, which is why a few years ago, for some reason, a lot of sitcoms had episodes where the characters went to spas and had spa treatments -- you know, because if there's one thing we know about around here, it's spa treatments. I mean, we need to relax from all of that stress from...being helped to do things.
"I got a guy who'll come to your house and totally set up your computer," a friend of mine told me last week. "Just set it up and get it all loaded and just set it up."
"How much does he charge?" I ask.
"Only six hundred dollars. The whole thing is totally set up with software and everything."
"Don't they come with software already loaded?"
"Yeah, but he sets it up."
"Yeah, I thought for a moment that maybe there's a show in that, you know, a computer guy who sets stuff up for people? But I'm not sure it's relatable, you know? So now I'm working on a show about a family of yoga instructors."
"And their agent."
I look forward to seeing that show. I certainly hope my TiVo records it for me.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll make fun of fat people. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.