A Sitcom Pitch

At the start of the week I wrote a piece on the Obamas signing a deal with Netflix, and in that “article” I made an off-hand joke about making a sitcom about a dysfunctional group of actors who play a wholesome family in an 80s-style sitcom. Then the Arrested Development cast had their controversial interview with the NY Times and I thought, okay, maybe this idea has legs.

My university education was largely spent screenwriting, but these days I’m attempting to write and sell novels. This takes up the majority of my time and is my core goal at the moment. So, over the course of a couple of evenings I mapped out and planned a pilot for this sitcom about a sitcom. I think a couple of the character ideas are decent, but not so much that I want to keep it close to my chest.

So I thought I’d pitch it here. It’s Sunday morning and I’m not thinking about anything else, so why not. I want everyone reading this to play the role of an LA executive. So light up that cigar and look at me with condescension. Then, at the end, drop a quick comment and let me know if you’d commission the show or kick me out the door.

“Good luck kid, you’ll need it.”

busy older businessman with laptop and telephone
This was the best stock photo of an executive I could find. His laptop has a HDMI port but he’s using a 90s phone?!

Title: Medium House

Format: Single-camera sitcom, with studio setup when filming the fictional show

Run-time: 22mins

Premise: A group of dysfunctional actors must play a wholesome, nuclear family in a modern version of a 50s/80s throwback sitcom. The show follows the crew, as they battle against the producer to make the show they want; And the cast, as they battle against each other.

Think: The character meanness of Arrested Development meets the self-awareness of Community as it mocks the nature of a traditional studio sitcom and chronicles the struggle of the production process.

Pilot Episode: “The Pilot”

Act 1

Six actors of varying ages come together for the first table reading of new network TV sitcom pilot, Tiny House. 

The young, idealistic writer (Sonya Perry, 29) is already present as the actors arrive. We hear her vision for Tiny House; a modern take on the family sitcom, that’s as progressive as it is traditional. She wants a real insight into the modern American family, but is shocked when a very nuclear cast of characters arrive at the table:

Andy Hawke, 51 – A washed up, aggressive alcoholic playing the role of Peter Tiny, the father-knows-best, wholesome, sweater-wearing patriarch of the Tiny family.

Sally St Helen, 47 – A talented, better-than-this movie star whose career has gone south since turning forty. She plays Allison Tiny, the nagging family matriarch, a non-cartoonish version of Marge Simpson.

Tristan Inglis, 19 – A shy yet bright young star who is coming to terms with his pansexuality. He plays the role of eldest brother Corey Tiny, class president, captain of the football team and ladies man.

Hannah Sachet, 17 – A sarcastic teen actress with famous actor parents, feels as though she’s above sitcoms. She plays middle-child Hannah Tiny, whose mannerisms and lines are identical to the real Hannah.

Eric Nibbs, 10 – A psychotic child-actor who was pushed into the industry by his parents. Damaged, think a kid-version of Ben Chang. He plays the book-smart, child prodigy of the Tiny family, Pete Jr.

Sonya, who was not at all involved in the casting process, quizzes the actors on who they’ll be playing. This conversation serves as an introduction to all of the characters, as well as a look into Tiny House not being what Sonya had intended.

An argument erupts, establishing extreme dysfunction in the workplace, but silence falls as veteran producer – Barry Handler, 71 – (Picture Henry Winkler) enters the room. He’s incredibly excited about the project and hands out copies of the “new script”. All of Sonya’s immediate protests are killed by Barry, with both kindness and subtle threats, as the new format for the show is revealed.

It’s no longer called Tiny House, the show is now called Bigg House and all of the characters’ surnames are changed to ‘Bigg’. Barry says that “America likes big and America likes classic, vintage, the past!” He says that filming starts on Monday and that he’ll see them all on set.

They begin to read some lines and it’s the most contrived family sitcom drivel imaginable.

Sonya goes to a nearby bar and further examines the new script, which is filled with cheesy older sitcom lines. Everything she’s worked towards for these past five years has gone. Sally (who followed her) joins her at the bar and agrees that it’s a terrible premise, but lobbies for more lines/character changes anyway. Sally is an awful, self-centred person, but we pity her journey as a struggling middle-aged actress.

Meanwhile, the younger actors are sent to an office to sign insurance papers with their parents. They were all fairly quiet, compared to the adults, in the initial reading. So here we get a chance to see who they really are.

Tristan’s parents insist on being there, even though he’s 19, they’re proud of him for being involved in such a wholesome sounding project. Hannah’s parents are trying to discourage her from working on something so low quality, she rebels and signs but parrots their opinions when they’re not around. Eric’s parents do everything for him, while Eric runs around the office causing havoc, like a wild animal.

Back at the bar, we see that Andy has been there the whole time. He drunkenly explains that the show won’t make it past the pilot. They’ll shoot it, collect their pay-checks and move on to the next thing. Sonya agrees that this would be for the best, although is secretly worried because of Barry Handler’s success rate with sitcoms.

Andy and Sally get into a fight over how easy vs how hard it is for them to find work. They look like a divorced couple arguing in public.

End of Act 1

Example of exterior shot of the Bigg family house

Act 2

It’s Monday morning and filming of the pilot is underway. Ambrose DeQuint, 38 – the director – is arguing with Barry over the three camera set-up. He wants something more experimental. Barry kindly threatens him, as he threatened Sonya, and he falls back in line.

Everyone else is having minor tiffs/arguments.

Ambrose calls action and a scene is underway. Andy and Sally immediately go from being at each-others throats to hitting their marks. Andy was clearly drunk, but the second the red light goes on he becomes the sober patriarch, Peter Bigg.

This scene of Bigg House revolves around a disagreement over the dinner table. Hannah wants to go to a party but the rest of the family gangs up on her, convincing her it’s a bad idea. Lots of “parties are bad, you should only spend time with family” messages. Terrible jokes peppered with after-school special life-lessons. This is also the first time we hear Eric say anything resembling a word, as he plays the intelligent Pete Jr.

They call cut and Andy starts drinking, Sally storms off, Tristan slinks away into a corner, Hannah starts arguing with Ambrose about her role, Eric starts screaming as he destroys props on the set and Sonya puts her head in her hands.

Over lunch the cast and crew are in the same area and have differing opinions on how well it’s going/if it even matters. Even more arguing ensues, with the cast all sat at the same catering table (in the same seating positions), and the scene visually mirrors the one they just filmed for Bigg House. Everyone, once again, falls silent when Barry enters.

Sonya takes Barry to one side and attempts to have a serious discussion about the direction of her sitcom. Without ever breaking a smile, Barry explains one final time that he knows sitcoms, that he’s been doing this for 40 years and if she doesn’t fall in line, she’s gone from the writing staff.

Back on set, they film the final scene of the pilot. Some sickly sweet resolution to a contrived story. They call cut and Sonya and Ambrose talk about how maybe things won’t be as bad for them as it seems. They’ve got the pilot under their belts and they can take that experience to another LA project. One that they care about creatively.

More comments from Andy saying that it won’t be picked up, Sally is glad because she won’t have to work with him.

Barry comes running in, congratulates everyone and says that they skipped the middle-man by hosting focus groups with the live studio audience. They loved it! It’s a hit! Twenty-two episodes that start airing this fall! Barry Handler knows how to pick ’em!

The cast immediately get at each-other’s throats, Sonya and Ambrose are in shock. Barry is beaming as he exits.

End of Act 2

Post-credits: The post-credits sequence will always be a thirty-second unseen scene from the episode of Bigg House that they have filmed in the episode of Medium House. They get increasingly ridiculous as the series goes on. And the running joke is “where does that clip even fit into the narrative of Bigg House?”

Some plot hooks for the first season:

  • Sonya and Ambrose trying to rebel and make the show they want as they become more confident around Barry
  • Turns out Barry is desperate to make this wholesome family sitcom because his much younger wife just left him and took the kids. He’s living vicariously through his latest show. SO IT MUST BE PERFECT
  • Andy and Sally despise each other but he’s just charming enough, and she’s just lonely enough, that on-again-off-again sex happens. Resulting in even more on-set fighting and tension.
  • Tristan and Hannah must break away from their parents’ ideologies and learn to accept who they are. Their stories are the genuine and wholesome family journeys that Bigg House wishes it had.
  • Eric is the ‘Creed’ of the show. No real storylines beyond his pushy parents refusing to diagnose him with anything, but is always there for comic relief.

Further Characters:

  • A writers room filled with malleable interns and staff writers. Barry can control Sonya, but Sonya controls them (until Barry gets involved) They’re one-liner caricatures of people, but that’s all they need to be.
  • An actor who had a starring role in a sitcom that’s at least 30 years old. Seriously, if we can get David Hyde Pierce of something, that would be so cool. This actor would play himself, playing the role of the Bigg’s next-door neighbour. The catch is that we never see this actor whenever they’re not rolling. He just inexplicably shows up whenever it’s his scene and then seemingly disappears. We NEVER see him at any other point in the show, and it becomes this recurring joke where whenever a character enters a scene they say, “Has anyone seen David, never mind…” and then continue on with something else.
david hyde pierce
Does anyone have David’s email?

And there you have it, coming to TV screens probably never. I reckon I’ll get around to writing the pilot episode over the summer, for the fun of it. Now, back to editing some novels.

Oh and, just in case, this entire idea is the intellectual property of Matthew Watson, written in the godless year of 2018.

Today is Sunday, May 27th and I wish I could clone myself to work on several projects at once.

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