"It really has been a collaboration with ABC from the start," he said, explaining that the network's president of entertainment, Stephen McPherson, approached him and Holly with the idea for the show after seeing an example of their improvisational approach. "They asked us to do it. That's why they've been so great. People don't believe me when I say how great they've been. They just think I'm kissing their butt. But they really have, because they wanted to try something new."
"They never thought this would change the face of television, it's just a different way to make a show"
What's innovative, though not entirely unique, about the show is its use of improvisation to create naturalistic dialogue. "I wanted to do a show where we used improvisation more like an Altman approach, where we use improvisation as our creative process, but we don't necessarily need you to know that it's improvised," Goss said.
ABC made sure viewers did know, however, by beginning the show with a verbal and written message that the dialogue was partially improvised – a "warning" Goss wasn't fond of. "It either looks like an apology or bragging," he laughed.
So what does it mean to be a writer on an improvised show? "Instead of just being this raw improv from the actors, its more like we're all writing it on the fly, both in front of the camera and behind it," Goss said.
"There are no jokes in the script. There's no dialogue in the script. What we'll do is we'll write the basic story first, so everything makes sense and we know what the drive is. Then we go through and we start to analyze what can you possibly do to get comedy out of this," he explained. "Then we'll do another pass where we go through and say 'let's work in a couple of good physical bits.'"
The actors are presented with a thorough description of what each scene is supposed to achieve. "How they go about it and the words they use to do it are up to them, for the most part," Goss said. "We'll get halfway through shooting and we'll let the actors do their thing at first. And then if we're not quite there yet, we'll start to mould it from behind the camera and say 'why don't you try saying this' or literally 'I need you to say this' because that's going to be the line that takes us to the next scene."
The process results in a lot of footage – between 12 and 14 hours for each 22-minute show. "It becomes like a puzzle, where the pieces change depending on who's putting them together, because there's no one way to put an episode together," he said. "There are multiple ways to do it. There's a lot of bad ways and there's a few good ways."