Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sleep deprivation is easy. Comedy is hard.

Today's column was inspired by a field trip I made in the middle of press tour to check out an event run by the one and only Ken Levine:

The thing about believing in dreams is that you have to learn to ignore all the people who keep telling you to wake up.

Last month, 20 dreamers arrived at the L.A. airport Hilton to attend The Sitcom Room, a two-day "sitcom writing fantasy camp" set up by Ken Levine, an Emmy-winning 30-year TV veteran who's worked on some of the best comedies ever ("M*A*S*H," "Cheers," "The Simpsons").

Richard Porter, 39, came from Phoenix, where he long ago lost any affection for his software engineering career. Isabel Gaddis, 46, came from Seattle, having recently decided it was time to do something she enjoyed, and why not sitcoms? Lizbeth Finn-Arnold, 39, came from Morganville, where she's been writing scripts while raising two kids. Jesse Allis, all of 16, didn't have to travel far; he was a child actor looking to become an adult writer.

All were fans of Levine's writing, both for sitcoms and on his blog (, where he shares old war stories and composes spoofs like the hilarious "Studio 60" takedown "If Aaron Sorkin wrote a show about baseball."

After some preliminary remarks and Q&A, Levine divided his 20 students into teams of five. He gave them a mediocre scene he had penned for a fictional sitcom and told them to rewrite it -- while factoring in "notes" from non-existent network and studio executives and other assorted mishaps straight out of Levine's own career. The teams worked furiously, and the next morning got to see their versions of the scene performed by a trio of actors. They critiqued each other and by all accounts, everyone learned a lot and had a great time.

Then came Sam Simon.

To read the full thing, click here.


spb said...

Great column, as usual. And many thanks for turning me on to Ken Levine's blog, which is on my daily must-click list

But I have a question which exposes my ignorance. I've been hearing for a while references to "single-camera" shows (always sans laughtrack) and "old-fashioned" multi-camera shows. In viewing, the difference between, say, 30 Rock and Coach is obvious, possibly due to the former being shot on film (which, I presume, is another characteristic of single-camera shows).

But why are they called single-camera? Are they really shot with one camera? (I envision a guy desperately swinging his camera to catch a reaction shot in time.) Is it that multi-camera shows shoot it straight through, with the show being performed in one continuous "take" like a play? And single-camera shows are shot more like movies, actors starting and stopping to get a few seconds worth of footage at a time, repeating scenes for reaction shots, etc.?

School me, Alan, school me.



Anonymous said...


That is exactgly right. single camera is shot like a film in takes and cross angles, while multi camera (usually 3 cameras) is typically shot in longer takes on a three-walled set. Think the apartment or coffee shop from Friends.


How much does a seminar like that cost? I'd love to get a chance to do something like that. Is there an organization that these things are arranged through?

Anonymous said...

"How much does a seminar like that cost? Is there an organization that these things are arranged through?"

(I am the Sitcom Room's co-producer, along with Ken Levine.)

The cost is $995 per person. It might increase in the future, but we're trying to keep it within range of highly motivated potential comedy writers.

We are hoping to hold the second Sitcom Room in late October or early November, but at the moment nothing has been scheduled.

(We have time to do only two or three per year. It always will be in Los Angeles.)

For complete info and to get on our "Sitcom Room Alert List," please go to

Dan O'Day

R.A. Porter said...

Dan's underselling a little bit. Your $995 not only gets you a great experience and valuable time with Ken, but it includes some of the finest food from restaurants the health department hasn't yet gotten around to closing.

And just so you're all aware, that A-Team joke would kill in the Catskills!