Take eight of the funniest Park students, add a seasoned comedy writer, stick them in a conference room together for a weekend, and keep the coffee and take-out flowing. The result: possibly a hit sitcom.
At least that’s what Rick Shaw ’77 hopes for. Shaw, who wrote for sitcoms like “The Nanny” and “The Love Boat,” returned to his alma mater last weekend to teach an intensive mini-course on comedy- sitcom writing.
Along with learning to develop a sitcom and write the script, the goal of the course was to create a pilot episode that will potentially be pitched to television executives.
“There are a lot of Ithaca graduates in Los Angeles and Hollywood, and maybe they’ll eat it up,” Shaw said. “The younger you are, the better chance you have of selling something these days.”
The students, with Shaw’s guidance, spent the weekend developing an original sitcom idea, creating the characters and detailing the pilot.
Their end product: a series about a group of friends in their 20s who live together in the Finger Lakes area and work in the media.
Freshman Joe Pera said the premise of the show developed and changed throughout the weekend.
“We started talking about dropouts, and that was the original premise, but we kind of moved away from that,” Pera said. “It’s more about their stage in life and figuring out what to do.”
The end of this past weekend didn’t mean the end of the project. Shaw will return to Ithaca periodically to help the students write the script, choose actors and film the pilot.
Sophomore Grady Goldberg said the group hopes the project will be produced.
“We’ve talked about specific actors for the characters so we can all kind of see what it might look like,” Goldberg said.
Though three days isn’t a realistic time frame to develop a sitcom, the course is designed to give students the real-life experience of writing for a television show, Shaw said.
“This is not how they come up with pilot ideas, but this is how a staff, a regular staff on a show, works,” Shaw said. “Basically you sit around and writers complain, and they bellyache and they curse and they say inappropriate things, and they just try to be loose and easy and come up with funny stuff.”
In addition to the potential commercial success of the project, the weekend course was a positive experience for both Shaw and the students.
“I’m here to have a wonderful experience with this,” Shaw said. “I have very, very fond memories of Ithaca and to come back and teach a class here is fun for me. And if it’s fun for them, then great.”