#TBT: #Screenwriting: What Classic Shows Mean For Me As a Writer



I am sort of a classic television show junkie. I know quite a bit about shows from the 50s – 90s, but mostly, the 70s and 80s is where my heart is.

I am currently participating in a military exercise at a base near Indianapolis, which led me to post the picture above. If you’re a fan of the show, then you’d know exactly why.

One Day a Time is one of my all-time favorite shows. It ran on CBS from 1975-1984. And I LOVE that theme song. If you did not know or forgot about this, the show takes place in Indianapolis.

Few shows can take me back to a particular time in my life as One Day at a Time did. As I was born in 1979, I wasn’t introduced to the show until it had concluded.

Sadly, only two of the lovely folks from the picture are still with us today; Mackenzie Phillips (top left) and Valerie Bertinelli (standing next to her). My heart was absolutely broken to hear of Bonnie Franklin’s passing in 2013 and we just lost Pat Harrington in January of this year.

I am listening to music as I’m writing this. Ironically, the song I’m listening to now is Minnie Riperton’s “Back Down Memory Lane.” You all know that first line, which applies to me as I look at this picture:

“I stumbled on this photograph. It kinda made me laugh. It took me way back…

…back down memory lane.”

This song always gets me, especially since the beautiful Riperton was taken from us at the age of 31 on July 12, 1979, three days after I was born. Considering where she was in her life at the time this song was recorded (terminal cancer), coupled with the portions of the song in which she cries, “I don’t want to go,” “save me,” “now I’m slippin’ fast,” “thought it was over; here I go again,” and “travelin’ down, faster than the speed of sound” (though she was speaking about a past relationship), you can see why.

My goodness. Don’t cry, Robert…

Anyway, before this post gets completely off track or I damage this laptop with my damn tears, let me get to my reason for writing this. As I sometimes watch classic shows like One Day at a Time on Youtube, I look at the comments. Very often I see, to the effect:

“They don’t make shows like this anymore.”

“I miss shows like this.”

“I wish television shows were like this today.”

“This is better than the garbage on TV today.”

You get the idea. As a screenwriter, I find comments like these very interesting.

Ever since I realized that I wanted to be a screenwriter, I look at movies and television shows a lot differently than I used to. Speaking now of TV, I try my best to look at programs from the view of a writer.

One reason I love the classic shows is that a lot of what happened was often among the first times we’ve seen it. For One Day at a Time, a single mother was not commonly seen on television. A lot of shows were ground-breaking in this aspect. After many years have gone by and many shows, to go back to shows like this and see how much we’ve evolved, it’s wonderful to see, in many cases, “where it all started,” so to speak.

It is believed that as writers, there isn’t much really “original” that we can come up with. Television shows and movies over the years prove that, but it’s not so much about originality as it is that we can execute existing ideas in different ways that could still be successful.

As for me, I don’t worry so much about trying to create that “multi-million dollar idea.” I love writing too much be doing much other than writing from the heart and not spend a ton of time trying to “figure it out.” The great thing about writing as an art form is that there are MANY ways to do it and aside from structure and the other technical aspects, there isn’t really a “wrong” way to do so. Of course, it is objective, so everyone won’t be impressed or understand every single one of my writing pieces. I’ve mentioned some of what I’ve done and it is very often questioned. But my love for writing is why it’s hard to stop that train once it gets going.

This isn’t to say that I’m looking to totally emulate a classic television show. But I wonder, for those who mention how much they “miss” these shows and wish that television was “like it was back then…”

…what if it really was?

I honestly believe that we are at a time where shows like that, especially since they won’t be the first of their kinds, would not be as successful today as they were back then. Not to mention, as much as we would love to return television programming to the way it once was, another reason I feel it wouldn’t be successful today is because we would be constantly comparing the two. There would exist that feeling that shows today are “trying to be like” the older shows, and that would put a sour taste in some of our mouths.

So we want for there to be shows like One Day at a Time to exist today, yet, if it did, we wouldn’t be satisfied, because they are not One Day at a Time? Is that about accurate?

So what does this mean for me as a writer?

I think about where things were back then. A lot of the topics on shows like these were very taboo. Sure, nowadays it would be silly to see a half-hour show be extended for to an hour just to talk about teen pregnancy or drugs, but back then, that was what they did. I’m sure that Mr. Norman Lear (who developed One Day at a Time along with shows like The Jeffersons, All In The Family, Good Times and Maude) was frowned upon at first when he approached the powers that be about these topics reaching the air. Yet, they did, and he produced arguably, some the best shows of all time.

This is not to say that I’m going to write all these crazy and outrageous ideas figuring I will have the same success as Mr. Lear. Absolutely not.

My point is that as a writer who is not yet professionally experienced and have seen no success from it so far, I think my best bet is to keep soaking all this in and continue to write from the heart. Let shows like this motivate me, learn from the experts and never close my mind to all the different ways this can be done, because my way is most certainly NOT the ONLY way. Watch the old stuff. Watch the new stuff. Write what I feel. LEARN as I’m doing it.

Or better yet, I should just take things…

…wait for it…



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