By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By William Breathes
By Jonathan Shikes
By Michael Roberts
"Colorado Studios announces the launch of the first sitcom to be produced in Colorado and is kicking off a search for the pilot script...Anyone, anywhere, is invited to submit a script...Any kind of sitcom will be considered -- there are no limits...There are no specified target audience demographics."
-- actual announcement from Colorado Studios received recently at the Westwordoffice.
Scene One A couple of shopworn Writers, not the "chained-to-the-desk" type, currently between stories.
Female Writer: "I don't see why we should have to make something up. Cinema verité, you know? Can't we just go out...into Denver...and write down something snappy?"
Male Writer: "I like C*O*P*S."
F.W.: "Right, but how about we use firemen instead? Firefighters...in big suspenders...who -- I know! Can dance! Dancing firemen!"
M.W.: "Or some kind of underappreciated, crusading government worker."
On the hunt for sitcom ideas, writers stand slack-jawed in front of Annex One, a Stalinesque government edifice that flanks Denver's City and County Building.
Interior, the Tax Assessor's Office. A Member of the Taxpaying Public is saying: "I live at BLEEP [address deleted]. According to you guys, it doesn't exist. But I assure you..."
Five minutes later. Writers have been granted an audience with the Chief Appraiser himself, one Ben White.
Ben (politely): "A sitcom? Uh, I don't know. A lot of times what goes on around here is negative. Conflict."
M.W.: "Which, as you know from watching TV, can be very funny."
Ben: "Not when you're in the middle of it." He reconsiders. "Necessarily. Well. There is this woman who wants a lower assessment because, she tells me, she had all these radio beams and alien visitations out at her house. Jamming her telephone wires, and that sort of thing."
F.W.: "You would think that would make her property pretty attractive to some people."
Ben (laughing politely): "Ha ha ha...Oh, and there's this other lady -- we've gotten to be good friends. She built a shed, and then her land was subdivided and the property line went right through the shed, so now she basically owns half a shed. She's usually furious. At one point, she wanted me to come get this other guy's stuff out of her shed, which is not traditionally what the chief appraiser does."
M.W.: "Who would you want to play you in a TV show called, say, The Taxman?"
Ben: "Aw, come on..."
F.W.: "No, really."
Ben: "Well, I like Bruce Willis. He's got a great presence and a terrific laugh."
F.W.: "And lately, he's buff."
Ben (brightening): "And I'm planning to be buff one of these days!"
Interior: A hallway near the assessor's office. Camera zooms in on sign reading: DENVER CITY SHERIFF'S DEPT. POLYGRAPHS. M.W. and F.W. exchange are-you-thinking-what-I'm-thinking glance.
Interior: A female polygraph officer stares evenly at writers. The black polygraph chair, with its large, imposing arms, is somehow reminiscent of "Old Sparky," Colorado's infamous electric chair.
F.W. (somewhat desperately): "How about a game show? Like, uh, we could call it Don't You Be Lyin' to Me!"
F.W. (pressing on): "But wouldn't you say you're better than most people at guessing who's lying and who's not?"
M.W.: "And wouldn't that make good TV?"
Officer: "I wouldn't wanna use the word 'guess.' It's more like instinct. And you know...a game show couldbe funny...There are deceptive mannerisms. Like when I'm really bugging a subject, he may start wiping at something, some imaginary lint. Women do a lot of blinking. Or they say no, no, while their head nods yes, yes. Both sexes might put their hand to their mouth when being untruthful..."
M.W.: "As if to keep the truth from flooding out?"
Officer: "Exactly. You know, I had a guy just recently in for a pre-employment screening. His record says he's been arrested for more than $15,000 worth of felony theft. I say, have you ever been arrested, had trouble with the law, et cetera, et cetera? He says no. I show him the record and say, how do you explain this? He says, oh, did that show up? I gotta tell ya, sometimes you feel like you should be wearing a little white collar and saying, 'Go, my child, and sin no more.'"
M.W.: "That'd be a good episode. Are you a good poker player?"
Officer: "I am an excellent poker player."
Brief montage during which Officer explains that she would want to play herself in the sitcom and actually has done quite a bit of acting and screenplay-writing. Makes a note to herself to call her agent about local commercial film work. Perhaps sensing that writers have little chance of winning the sitcom contest, she advises them to take a cue from Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee and "those two Good Will Huntingkids" and try, if possible, to produce their own pilot, thus maintaining creative control.
Officer: "Let me know what happens with the game show. I'd be glad to review any neat ideas you have involving the criminal element."
Writers walking down Sixteenth Street in a crush of humanity, eating enormous cookies.
F.W.: "How about featuring a bunch of women in Christmas sweaters who do nothing but needlepoint? We could call it The Crafters."
M.W.: "Cheap to produce. Only one set."
F.W.: "Or the continuing story of a feisty lieutenant governor who just can't seem to get along with his 'better half.'"
M.W.: "Mr. Rogers's Neighborhood!"
Not yet finished with the cookies, writers stop to purchase large barbecued-chicken skewers. Eating intensifies.
F.W.: "Peoplemagazine says the only TV stars who make it anymore are painfully thin. Let's find some emaciated teenagers."
M.W. (chewing): "For the teenage show. Shouldn't be hard..."
Pastiche of slightly padded humanity, young and old, passes by, most of them on the nosh.
F.W: "Radiant, emaciated teens..."
Wide shot, Skyline Park: Five or six unquestionably homeless youth are perched on a cement block. Main characters: A chubby, rosy-cheeked boy holding a stuffed iguana (Poindexter). A lanky boy holding a skateboard, wearing an expensive Gore-Tex jacket (Al Gore). A chisel-cheekboned boy, eighteen, in a beret, high-tech head-phones protruding (FranÇois).
Poindexter (as if giving a press conference): "Okay. Yeah. You're doing a show about street life. It's about survival, dude. This is our day home and our night home, this street. We're kids that barely manage to stave off hunger."
F.W.: "Do you have any good stories?"
Al Gore: "This guy I know? Another homeless guy came up behind him and smashed him in the skull with a brick."
M.W. (impatiently): "Yeah, but what's funny about that? We're making a sitcom here."
Poindexter (stunned): "What's FUNNY about it? Homelessness isn't FUNNY, dude! Lemme ask you something about this -- is this just greed and capitalism, and you're profiting off our ideas, and we won't see one fucking dime? Huh?"
F.W.: "Well, I'd have to say it's medium capitalism, and there's certainly greed involved."
Poindexter: "It's NOT funny!"
FranÇois: "Yeah, it is. Sometimes it is."
Al Gore: "Right, like when the old bums get drunk and dance around and fall down?"
FranÇois: "And the mall drivers close us in the doors of the bus?"
F.W. (prompting): "And then you exact funny revenge on them?"
FranÇois (honestly): "Well, usually we just flip them off, but the thing to do, the right thing, would be to go down to the RTD board of directors and file a complaint."
M.W. (nodding): "Yes, I like that, go on..."
Poindexter: "Let me ask you something, dude. If you think this is so funny, have you ever fallen asleep outside and woke up with two feet of snow on your head?"
M.W.: "Yeah, and I called it camping."
Al Gore (laughing and poking M.W. in the ribs): "Dude!"
FranÇois: "How about if you made this show like South Park?"
Al Gore: "Or, like, if Drew Carey saw it and liked it? And we could play ourselves?"
Poindexter: "Oh, right. How about if Drew Carey were to die of hypothermia and his friends were all high on smack and shot themselves? And the audience?"
M.W.: "Go on! Go on!"
Poindexter: "And they don't even recognize sarcasm..."
The grounds of the former Stapleton International Airport. Crumbling runways give way to expansive views of modern office buildings, an imposing drive and a sign for Colorado Studios.
M.W. (in excited, Judy Garland, let's-put-on-a-show tones): "Could this be IT?"
F.W. (à la Mickey Rooney): "Could be!"
Interior shot. Elegant receptionist observes the writers warily.
Receptionist: "I'll let you talk to Mr. Garvin."
Enter Philip Garvin, in sleek corduroys and mock turtleneck sweater, late forties, fit, well-groomed, confident.
Mr. Garvin: "Hello, hello. Nice to meet you."
Hands shake, pleasantries and introductions.
Mr. Garvin: "Was I, uh, expecting you?"
Mr. Garvin: "Oh, well. I have twenty minutes. Would you like something to eat?" Camera follows him into a lunchroom, pans sensually over steam table full of hearty Southern fare. "We seem to have pork chops today..."
Writers stammer, literally struck dumb by this manifestation of the Free Lunch.
Mr. Garvin (kindly): "It's not unusual for a TV studio to have a commissary on site..."
Interior shot: Mr. Garvin faces the writers at a table, his assistant, Brenda, at his side.
F.W. (getting out a notebook and snapping the top off her pen with a brisk, professional air): "So, who are you, anyway?"
Mr. Garvin: "I'm the president of the company."
Writers exchange startled look -- can this be happening? -- that slowly changes to one of dawning greed. Perhaps Mr. Garvin can be "pitched"?
The rest of the scene is shot in jerky, hand-held, black-and-white documentary style as writers actually learn a few facts. Among other things, that there is no specific deadline for the contest; although Mr. Garvin will wait however long it takes to find the right property. He would like to start work in January 2000. That a sitcom pilot could be produced for 30 percent less in Colorado than in a more established TV town. That more than five "full-blown City Slickers-style scripts" have been received so far, and that's enough. That given the choice, Mr. Garvin would prefer thought-provoking-yet-hilarious content as opposed to simplistic yuks, but who knows what will develop?
There is one situation that intrigues him, Mr. Garvin confesses. For a fleeting moment, he seems to be offering it to the writers! He even uses the key word: "...some ideas we could explore..."
Mr. Garvin: "What I'm getting at is that there is this huge chasm between Gen X and -- what am I called, Brenda?"
Brenda: "A baby boomer."
Mr. Garvin: "Right. The gulf between the two is very strong in business areas. Where Internet in business is controlled by the Gen-Xers who are almost arrogant in that they're so on top of it. The traditional captains of industry are at the mercy of 22-year-old kids who don't actually care -- not so much about money, but about the traditional -- "
F.W.: "Right, right, and you wouldn't believe how often that comes up in our sitcom about homeless teens!"
Mr. Garvin: "We're doing a sitcom about homeless teens?"
M.W.: "No, but we were just researching it earlier today, and it seemed dark, kind of like South Park -- and these kids were actually -- "
Mr. Garvin: "You know, a situation, a location, if you will, is actually just a setup for the characters. In some cases, when the situation is too strong, it can completely overwhelm and color the story. Homelessness, for instance."
Mr. Garvin: "Uh, let me just say one thing: We need to think a little outside the box. We need to free ourselves from the typical sitcom. Within this contest, I hope there would be scriptwriters who would take a new approach. I mean, comedy's been around for several hundred years. Well, forever. It could be a great vehicle for exploration."
Writers driving along I-70 in small economy car with hail damage. Heavy foreshadowing. The sun sets blood-red in the West (where else?). Splashes of sun (blood) cross the windshield.
M.W. (bitterly): "Outside the box, he says! Outside the box! What could be more outside the box than funny homeless teenagers?"
F.W. (sadly): "I didn't even know how to bring up The Taxmanor Don't You Be Lyin' to Me..."
M.W.: "Oh, my God! Watch out!"
A massive truck loaded with semi-automatic weapons bears down on our duo, probably sent by Interpol, and the scene ends in a fiery inferno -- music up, Wagnerian, swelling.
No, wait. The truck is loaded with...Beanie Babies! They're in an accident, but a zany accident! And guess what the insurance company takes in lieu of a cash settlement! Everyone's gonna be rich! You gotta love it!
Cue a loud, brassy laugh track. Let it run as long as necessary.