Old Habits Die, uh, Hard
(please don't sue me)
How did I know within the first minute of this week’s episode of Will & Grace that it was written by ex-Friends scribe Greg Malins, even before his "Written By" credit appeared on screen? Because of this gag:
GRACE: Well, I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Especially because if you cover up this part with your fingers (covers up part of museum brochure), you can make it say “fart.”Of course, I knew of Malins’ fondness for fun with letters because of this:
Greg Malins would take a copy of the “Friends” script cover and blacken out letters to make it say penis. When he would blacken out the letters to say penis, Malins would say, this is the most important thing you’ll learn on “Friends”.Ah, it’s good to see his sense of humor survived the transition to Will & Grace intact, if not in tact.
Oh, and while I was at Smoking Gun, I uncovered this report from the focus group screening of the Friends pilot back in 1994. I wish they had similar reports from other series to compare it to, but even on its own, it doesn’t look to good… for the focus group process. Friends wasn’t a show like Cheers or Seinfeld that took a while to find an audience… it gained popularity pretty much out of the gate (with only a modest boost from its timeslot). And its pilot actually holds up pretty well compared to a lot of shows’. Sure, the characters aren’t a hundred percent fully formed, but they’re relatively close to what they became (at least what they became in the first couple seasons). The stories aren’t as finely crafted as they would be and there are a lot more non sequiturs (as there were for much of the first season), but all in all, it’s a solid display of (most of) what would make the show so successful. So if the focus group couldn’t pick up on that, really, how much value should be placed on this method of evaluating pilots?
I particularly enjoy the Recommendations.
I’d heard before that the network wanted the producers to inject some older characters, which of course sounds ridiculous now. Though not as ridiculous as the suggestion to “Use Chandler’s dreams as a running bit on the show.” I’m not sure if they ever fixed the coffee house’s establishing shot, though I don’t recall ever being confused by it, and as for defunkifying Central Perk – that too goes in the bad idea column.
However, there were a few good recommendations, some of which were integral to the show’s success. Improving “the relationships and warmth among the characters” in particular helped endear these characters to millions each week, though I suspect the writers would have done this even without the feedback. But they could’ve used the reminder to “try to incorporate [Phoebe] more in the stories,” especially in the later years.
Finally there’s the suggestion not to “overdo sexual situations.” This one’s a draw. On the one hand, the sexual humor provided some of the biggest and most memorable laughs for Friends. On the other hand, it led to this.