There is no name for it. It happens every year. It’s one of the few really classy, unselfish traditions left in Hollywood. Television writers put in hours of work on their friend’s comedy pilots for NO MONEY. JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE FRIENDS.
When a person sells a pilot, he doesn’t get a writing staff to work with him on it. He’s on his own. Just him, the director, the cast and the executives from his production company, his studio and his network. Okay, that may sound like a lot of help. But none of them are writers. None of them can fix a joke that needs to be fixed. None of them can figure out what to do about that second act that just doesn’t work. None of them can add that heartfelt moment to the last scene that lifts the whole show to another level.
According to Douglas McEwan: Actually, the tradition dates back to Hal Roach Studios in the 1920s. Stan Laurel’s idea of a relaxing day off was to go into the studio and contribute gags to other comics’ movies, just for fun. Babe Hardy golfed. Stan invented gags. Creating comedy was his second favorite thing to do.
So should we call it Doing a Stanley? My friend Mark Legan calls it The Scribe Tribe.
Of course, television comedy writers aren’t the only writers to do this. Despite their reputation as loners, it’s in the writer’s DNA to help each other out. Cartoonists do this too, to meet the ferocious deadlines.
But why do it at all? Why put in a twelve-hour day on a project that isn’t yours?
A number of reasons. There’s the free lunch. And possibly dinner. And possibly breakfast.
There’s the camaraderie that comes with hanging out with other writers.
There they fact that they’ll do it for you, if or when you get a pilot picked up.
There’s the less altruistic motive that, if their pilot gets picked up, maybe the friend will hire you on staff. Think of it as an audition.
Then there are the less concrete reason. You get to see your friend dealing with all the problems of production — the mind-numbing notes from the network and studio; dealing with the insane and insecure cast members – and you get to think; “At least that’s not me in the hot seat.”
That’s a glorious feeling.