J. Michael Straczynski has some wise words on failure and how to keep your writing output up.
At the height of his popularity on Saturday Night Live, Eddie Murphy was becoming weary of the reaction to one of his most beloved characters, Buckwheat. So, he approached Dick Ebersol, then the Executive Producer of the show and said “I want to kill Buckwheat.”
It was one of the hottest characters in late-night television at that time. But he said ‘I can’t stand it anymore. Everywhere I go, people say, ‘Do Buckwheat, do this, do that.’ I want to kill him.
DICK EBERSOL, Live From New York
Along with writers Barry Blaustein and David Sheffield, Murphy sat down and wrote the two part sketch that was broadcast:
Two movies I loved when I was growing up, and still enjoy very much to this day, could have turned out incredibly different indeed. The role of Emmet Fitz-Hume in Spies Like Us, as played by Chevy Chase, was originally written for John Belushi. And the role of Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters was too. I find it hard to imagine anyone else in either role.
Here’s Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi talking about their recent release Neighbors, and mentioning their new project about two spies working for the DOD.
And here’s Bill Murray talking about SNL, working with Ivan Reitman, Ghostbusters, and Belushi (answering a question about Wired by the sounds of it):
And here’s an article about a script written for Belushi that was never made, called Noble Rot.
Ever Decreasing Circles is thirty years old today. Many happy returns Martin.
Developing strong sitcom characters is just as important as developing strong dramatic characters, and you should approach them in similar ways. Character is not the same as characteristics – just compare the different versions of Blackadder across the centuries and you will see he has different characteristics, but always the same character.
To me, character is borne out of want a person wants, and what they are prepared to do to achieve it. Each incarnation of Blackadder wants one thing – to climb the social ladder. And that’s why he’s always surrounded by people who represent what he wants, or what he is, or what he fears he could be.
So here are five tips on developing strong (sitcom) characters:
Be Sure Of What Your Characters Want
The starting point of your characters should be defining what it is she wants. Think “this time next year we’ll be millionaires” and you should know what that means.
Opposites Breed Conflict, Conflict Breeds Story
From there, it should be easy to define some opposites. If your main character wants to be successful, give her someone who doesn’t want success, and add failure – think George Costanza, Cosmo Kramer, and Jerry Seinfeld.
Once you’ve got a handful of characters each with complimentary and opposing goals, you should have a rich vein of comedy to explore.
But be wary that opposites and conflict don’t mean just arguing. The Leadbetters and the Goods get along very well, but the comedy comes from their different approaches to life. That’s why this scene is so brilliant.
Your Hero Is Only As Good As Your Villian
This one speaks for itself. Blackadder is a vile man, but his antagonists are even worse. Rob Reiner’s Micheal in All In The Family provides a perfect foil for Archie Bunker, while Basil’s ire is complimented by Sybil.
Ignore Their Gender
Don’t even think about what gender your characters are until you’ve developed your characters properly.
Don’t Make Them Bland And Likeable
There’s nothing I like less than likeable characters, especially in sitcoms. Your characters should be flawed, selfish, damaged people who do things out of spite, or revenge, or hate. And the less you like them, the funnier they will be.