Thursday, December 18, 2008

Laughing matters

Here's my "inner nerd" thought for the week...

I'm reading a fun little book, "Laughing Matters" by Larry Gelbart. Just in case you don't know the name, Gelbart is a longtime TV, film and radio comedy writer.

If nothing else, he can forever boast that he developed "M*A*S*H" for television, that classic and peerless sitcom/drama, far superior to the amusing but rather base Robert Altman film. He also wrote the screenplay for the George Burns movie "Oh, God!" as well as the hilarious "Tootsie," to name a few.

His trademark is witty wordplay. And Gelbert's book is fully of it. I find myself laughing out loud while reading, the perfect thing to do at 1 a.m., when you can't sleep.

One of these nights I will devote an entire blog to "M*A*S*H," to its brilliance, to the incredible series of circumstances that brought Alan Alda out to Hollywood in 1972 to become Hawkeye Pierce, to my memories of watching the two-and-one-half-hour finale with my dad back in 1983.

I would have liked to have been a radio writer. Words mattered more then and audiences were patient. Jokes didn't have to be told in a nanosecond.

Course, I wanted to a screenwriter, too. Had the story picked out then realized that "Same Time, Next Year", "The Bridges of Madison County" and "Lost in Translation" had already told my tale.

My story was a weird mix of the three, offering some humor amid a dramatic look at what happens when two people find the right relationship at the wrong time. My catch is that it wouldn't turn maudlin or sentimental and wouldn't be given the traditional Hollywood ending. I could still write it as a novel, I guess.

Anyway, these are mere dreams; Gelbart's been to the top of the mountain. "M*A*S*H" was an 11-year example that television doesn't have to be a cultural wasteland.

I keep waiting to see something that substantive come along on TV again. Why do I think I'll continue to wait?

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