Friday, February 09, 2007

Get Over Yourself, Andy

You know that post I wrote defending The Facts of Life? Well, part of what inspired that was reading the first essay in a book called Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized, and Dismissed, where people (most of whom are now wealthy and successful) recall the first time they got fired. The opening essay is by Andy Borowitz, and it's about his one unhappy season writing for The Facts of Life.

You can read Borowitz's essay here. It's a pretty funny piece, but when I read it, I found that it came off very differently than the author presumably intended. He obviously thinks he's writing a story about how depressing it is to be a funny guy working on a show you despise, and how pathetic the showrunners were for taking this crummy show so seriously and trying to pump it full of moral lessons.

Instead, to me, Borowitz comes off as kind of a jerk (in the story, the way he tells it, I mean; I have no judgment on what he's like in actual life). The way he tells the story, he takes a job on a show and then doesn't bother to learn how to write it, how to differentiate among the characters. While the two middle-aged women running the show (their names were Linda Marsh and Margie Peters, by the way) come off as sympathetic because they clearly care about the show and have a vision for what they want to accomplish, and are dealing with this young writer who doesn't care about fitting his work to the showrunner's vision (even though that's exactly what a TV writer is expected to do).

I'm not saying The Facts of Life was great or that the morals weren't heavy-handed. But it did have a certain integrity and the people running it obviously cared about it. And so, in reading about it, I side with the heavy-handed moralists running the show rather than the snarky young wise-ass who thinks he's above it all.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

After reading that essay, I totally agree with you - he does sound like a complete jerk, even if we all do recognize The Facts of Life wasn't a good show. At the same time though, Fresh Prince of Bel Air was immeasurably better, so maybe he does have some standing to speak against the older show...

the spectre said...

I'm a big fan of your "sitcom" blog entries, and I noticed that that Borowitz's claim that he would "write funny things for the girls to say", without, it seems, any thought as to *which* girl would be saying them, sounds a lot like what you said about the later seasons of The Simpsons, where the characters appear to "make interchangeable one-line jokes that could have come from anybody". I guess that's the sign of a bad sitcom writer - he or she thinks of the characters as mouthpieces to display the writers' wit rather than actual characters.

Rob Bates said...

Let's not forget the Facts of Life was aimed at teenage girls, not writer-hipsters. The "Shoplifting" excerpt currently on youtube demonstrates the show was pretty good at taking a mundane plot (shoplifting is bad) and still finding twists to surprise the audience.

I do find it funny/creepy that "The Facts of Life" called their moral lessons "facts" -- and they felt the need to have one EVERY SINGLE SHOW. (Even one as mundane as "be yourself," probably the lesson for a good percentage of the audience.)

Rob Bates said...

Sorry, meant "good percentage of the episodes."

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Just for the record, I don't think Borowitz is a bad writer (I liked Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which he created). I just think it's odd that he thinks he's the good guy in this story.

Slowjack said...

Yeah, he really does come across as a jerk here. His argument seems to be that since he didn't care for the show himself, he shouldn't have to bother with finding out what makes the show work for people who like it. He also seems to think that because he didn't find the characters distinct enough, he was free to ignore character altogether.

I don't think "The Fresh Prince" was any better, really, than the "The Facts of Life." Both are essentially silly shows which are sometimes redeemed by careful writing. It's sad that Borowitz doesn't see that--Fresh Prince episodes can be complete dreck when they just try to milk the basic premise, and the best episodes (that I saw, never watched this much) were when the writers managed to show some truths about the characters. Same with the Facts of Life.