Dream On

Oct 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Marta Kauffman: We were encouraged to do what you couldn’t do on network TV. It wasn’t so much about language and sex as much as the way you could tell a story. For instance, we could do a story where a joint is found and the son catches the father smoking it. You couldn’t do that on network TV without people getting very, very worried.
David Crane: Our mandate was this: With every episode, we would ask ourselves, “What is different about this from something that you could do on the network?” If the answer was, `Oh, we’re going to see her breasts in this scene,’ that was never satisfying for us. We were always working for something deeper in the relationships or in the way we were telling the story. If the answer was, `Oh, they cursed in the second scene,’ and that was the only thing that separated you from network TV, we thought that was sad.
[For example] we did an episode about AIDS. The premise was that Martin’s cynical twisted editor asks him to write a book about death. `Let’s cash in on this AIDS thing. Find someone who’s dying of AIDS and have him chronicle his experiences and it will be a hot book.’ Although he hates the idea, Martin tracks down a guy, befriends him and overcomes his own homophobia. Then about two-thirds of the way into the story, when the guy has really gotten into writing the book, the editor says, `We’ve found somebody else. He’s a sports figure, so we’re going to drop your guy and use my guy because my guy is a famous dying guy.’ Martin goes out of his way to sell the book elsewhere. Ultimately, the guy dies and there is a sweet scene between Martin and the guy’s mother, [played by] Gwen Verdon, who was nominated for an Emmy for it. What is great about the episode is that it is darker than anything that you would see in a half-hour comedy on the networks. It takes an incredibly cynical point of view and ultimately goes deeper than you could do on network TV.
Ms. Kauffman: And was way fun to write. It is some of the most satisfying writing we have done. You don’t’ get to write about homophobia very often, and it was fun to explore it in a weird way.
Mr. Crane: [We became involved in “Dream On” when] we were living in New York. We would come out here [to Los Angeles] every few weeks and try to get work. We were at that point struggling musical theater writers trying to break into television. We came out here for a meeting on a completely different project. We got a call from our agent. “There is this thing for HBO for John Landis-why don’t you take a meeting?” So we did. They showed us about three minutes of black-and-white footage-old ’50s television-and asked, “What would you do with this?”
Apparently, we were the bottom of the barrel. They had met with everybody and asked them the same question. People were pitching game shows and people were pitching “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” When they asked us, “What would you do?” We said, “We don’t know.” On the flight back, on the plane, we said, “You know, if you’re going to do this-try to make it a series-something that has legs that you watch every week-you need to make it a story where you care about something.” We decided then that the clips would be the icing on the cake-that we would tell really great stories that people would care about. And that’s when we came up with the idea of a guy who grew up on ’50s television and that was just his reference point. So we got home, pitched the idea and they said, “Oh, that’s good.” So we got back on the plane the same day and flew back and met with John Landis and ultimately the folks at HBO, pitched it and they liked it. Then we watched 50 hours of black-and-white TV and out of that wrote the pilot.
Ms. Kauffman: It’s where we met Kevin Bright. We were in this weird studio in way North Hollywood-Sun Valley. It was a warehouse that had been converted into a stage. It had bars on windows and gangs outside. What was great was that we were so far out of the way that people didn’t bother us. The best thing about HBO is that they checked in once or twice a year. They let us do the show we wanted to do. Once they believe in you, they let you do the work.
Mr. Crane: It was our first TV show, and that’s saying a lot. It led to us being established in TV [and later creating “Friends”]. And it was the perfect first TV show to work on. The mandate was to be different. I think a lot of times you get a gig on a show and you find yourself turning out the same show that people have done for years and years. But here we were handed this mandate to be different, and it was a wonderful, wonderful learning experience.