What’s the best and worst part about writing for TV?
The best part is, when it’s working, when all the characters come alive in a story and there is plenty of discovery and a few surprises along the way and you stand there on the stage and 300 people are laughing hard at something you wrote in your bathrobe at 2AM, you get the satisfaction few writers get. You get to make a play once a week. The worst part? You have to come right back and do it again next week. And the week after that, and the week after that. The odds are quite against artistic success 22 shows a year but you try, and sometimes it works.
What makes it not work isn’t always the writing or the acting or the directing but the toxic power components that steer good shows right into the rocks. When Cosby and I first met, he asked me how we would manage to work together. I told him that as long as we both were there to serve the play and not our egos, we’d be fine. He beamed and shook my hand and it was ever thus. Can’t say the same about other experiences, but that’s life.
OK, so now at some point you went from writing for TV to writing this novel. How did that evolution occur?
The drive to write a novel never left me and it was a constant nag. Maybe it was heightened because TV seems somehow disposable. Shot, aired, and then on to the next. Lather, rinse, and repeat. I like writing TV and have had some luck at it, but I craved that longer form, with opportunities to go deeper and paint more interiors with words. I think committee work is also hard on a writer, even if you’re committee chair. When Cosby ended, I took the leap to self-employment and dove into The Trigger Episode on spec, feeling that I never wanted to look back and say “if only I had…”
Are you still doing any work for television?
Sure. In fact, Tom Werner put up the Batman signal again a while back and asked me to come in on Whoopi when it was having some troubles. That project and a pilot I sold took me out of my book for a while, but the interruption actually helped me. I came back to my novel with enough distance and perspective to crack some big story problems. Recently, I have been commuting to LA to write for The Late Late Show on CBS. I still take a swing at pilots, too. The pendulum has tilted against the sitcom so I am developing some dramas. We’ll see. In TV, it’s all good until it isn’t.