Jim Nelson, managing editor of GQ, remembers his days in Hollywood as assistant to a team of comedy writers…
Across the hall, through the glass door of the reception room, I can see my bosses laughing hysterically in their office. They sit facing each other at two massive wooden desks, howling and hooting and idle to all the world, like senators-elect without a mandate. Their desktops are covered with toys—wind-up fruit, plastic swami snakes, a clattering set of dentures. They sit with their feet up, shoes off, reading Variety or leisurely gazing out the window at Gower Street, occasionally winding a toy. And they laugh. They crack each other up. This is what they are each paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to do. This is called comedy development.
And it is comic. This is the era of extravagant development deals. Columbia, home to Married…with Children and Who’s the Boss?, is signing up writers left and right—playwrights, performance artists, mildly successful sitcom staffers—to sit around all day and dream up premises for TV series. When the writers come up with what they think is a brilliant concept, they pitch the Columbia development executives, and if the execs like it, the studio pitches the idea to the networks. If the networks bite, the writers become producers of the series, and everyone gets rich.
What, you might ask, have my bosses done to deserve their deal? They worked on a show called The New Leave It to Beaver. Oh, you don’t remember that one? It was a groundbreaking series—for Jerry Mathers. Born on the Disney Channel in 1985 as Still the Beaver. Died on TBS the Year of Our Lord, nineteen hundred and eighty-nine. My bosses act as if the Beaver reboot were the modern comedy equivalent of Monty Python, as if everyone in Hollywood were hyper-aware of the brilliant Eddie Haskell subplots they wrote. The way they move through the hallways at Columbia, the way they verily strut into pitch meetings, you can tell they’re still drinking in the mediocre success of The New Leave It to Beaver.