Job Switching

I have to admit, last year, when there was talk of the Two and a Half Men writers trading places with the staff of CSI, I didn’t think they’d actually do it. But they dood it, starting on tonight’s Two and a Half Men and continuing on this Thursday’s CSI.

Actually, if you read further in the interview, they didn’t really swap writing staffs: the regular writing staffs wrote the scripts from outlines supplied by the other team, and they all got together to punch up each other’s scripts. Still, the idea is to have each show take on the characteristics of the other one. So Two and a Half Men is doing a CSI-style murder story, while CSI is working from the revenge story Chuck Lorre pitched last year when this idea first came up. His revenge, I mean; Lorre is famous for being fired by three insane sitcom stars in succession — Roseanne, Brett Butler, Cybill Shepherd — so this is the episode where he gets to create a surrogate for them and kill her off in a gruesome way.

By the way, Lorre’s co-creator on Two and a Half Men, Lee Aronsohn (who also worked with Lorre on Cybill and Grace Under Fire, also worked on Murphy Brown, and therefore probably takes equal glee in that CSI episode) used to post on rec.arts.tv, and some of his older posts on Google Groups give some interesting insights into writing for TV comedy in the ’90s, the age when comedy was huge. Here’s a post he wrote about why sitcoms about happy families with kids are hard to do, which gives some insight, I think, into why nearly all today’s successful sitcoms are about single people:

Here's the problem: There just isn't that much you can write about a
happily married couple -- there has to be conflict to make a story
interesting. There are plenty of happily married, monogamous people with
kids on ABC's TGIF shows -- but do you want to watch them? Even Mad About
You has had to resort to a near breakup and a pregnancy .

But once the baby comes, watch out. I was on Murphy Brown the year she had
her baby. I was really excited about what this could mean for the
character, and I wrote an episode about the conflict she feels between
pursuing her career and caring for her child ("Midnight Plane to Paris").
However, at the end of that season, network testing discovered that people
were not interested in seeing Murphy as a mother -- they wanted to see
Murphy being Murphy -- so the kid was shoved into the background.