This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
Last week, for a whole bunch of peculiar reasons too complicated to get into on public radio, I was in Azerbaijan.
I don't mean metaphorically. That's not a euphemism. I mean I was actually in the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, an oil rich but everything-else-poor nation on the western banks of the Caspian Sea -- that's the one with the caviar and the Iranian nukes.
I love to travel -- I had already been to Azerbaijan -- this was my second trip -- which I recognize starts edging out of fun, eccentric territory and into weird, creepy, what's-with-the-oddball-tourism territory, but, well, I've been to a lot stranger places.
And it's always a good idea –- and if you live in Los Angeles and work in the entertainment industry, it should be compulsory -– to get out of the bubble and see something way different, meet people with whom you have almost nothing in common.
Which gets harder and harder to do, in our iPhone world. It's great, I guess, that we're all getting connected, but that makes it harder and harder to take a week and really turn yourself all around.
Recently, I've heard from two old colleagues -- and by old I mean former, and by former I mean over-40 -- who are busy writing and producing and show-running two of the most successful comedies currently on the air. In other countries.
Countries in Europe and South America are flying to LAX and scooping up Hollywood talent -- the writers and producers who made the 1980's and 1990's such a magical TV wonderland -- and importing them, in a kind of perverse, reverse outsourcing, to create and run -- and in some cases simply explain -- the hit TV shows of the recent American past. So you can, I'm told, see a pretty letter-perfect Bizzarro episode of The Jeffersons on Turkish television. Somewhere there's a Malay Friends.
(So the next time you're in a foreign city and jet-lagged, lying on your hotel room bed, flipping through the channels, don't freak out: that probably is the Golden Girls you're watching. Just the Egyptian version.)
The plum jobs, I'm told, are in Russia, where the cascade of new, vaguely gangsterish wealth has created a whole new class of robber baron. Instead of importing European opera companies or buying up whole museums, as the American robber barons did in the 19th century, it's popular in Russia to spend huge sums hiring the top sit-com writing talent of the 1990's to come to Moscow and train the local writers in such tradecraft as managing a writing staff, organizing and running a rewrite session, story structure, the "scene button," the "act break," and also more arcane but still important techniques like the "expensive lunch order," the "veiled network executive insult," and the very crucial "reusing old material."
And because they're not really making the great, old fashioned multiple-camera comedies anymore in this country, it's a pretty sweet third act twist in your career to spend some time overseas, lionized like a sit-com Yoda -- "Tell me please," a Russian writer asked a friend of mine, "We would like to know how to do this wonderful thing, this Caroline in the City.
Plus, you get paid in Euros.
So while I was in Baku, Azerbaijan, I did drop some not-so-subtle hints. I told them I thought what their television really needed was a good wacky neighbor. Maybe a too-smart-for-his-own-good teen. A smart wife with a dumb husband. Young people living the single life in Baku, in one of those fantastic Baku apartments that they couldn't really afford in real life. I sold myself pretty hard. Now, I'm just waiting for the iPhone to ring…
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll try to get to work. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.