Sunday, December 18, 2011

The "Friends" Mafia?

So if I understand this Huffington Post article correctly -- the problem with network television comedy is that there is a "mafia" of former "Friends" writers who, despite their credits, are actually a sad collection of untalented shlubs who have been given a free pass and millions of dollars by easily swayed network executives while developing one dud show after another. Here's a germane quote from the HuffPo piece:

The setup is stale, the jokes are groan-inducing, there's not a major star anywhere near it, and yet one of America's major broadcast networks has spent millions to bring "Work It" to the air. How did this happen? The answer may lie not in what's on the screen, but in what's off it -- the writers who created "Work It," Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen, also happen to be veterans of a little show called "Friends," long the staple of NBC's once-dominant Thursday-night block of comedies. The last episode of "Friends" aired on May 6, 2004, and since then the members of its famous writers room have brought one new show after another to the market. And one after another, those new shows have fizzled, failing to recapture even a trace of the original comedy's hip, youthful, era-defining essence.

But still the members of the "Friends" Mafia return. "That show gave them a get-out-of-development-hell-free card," says one TV writer, who, like most of the people HuffPost spoke to for this article, declined to be identified for fear of retribution.

Jeepers. So some disgruntled people in the TV business (impossible!) give anonymous quotes bitching about the success of others (unheard of!) and suddenly the reason television comedy blows is because this evidently monolithic group of "Friends" vets got lucky back in the day. But wait. Even the writer of the article acknowledges the negative commentary may not be coming from the most altruistic of places:

In fairness to the members of the "Friends" Mafia, it should be noted that blame for the failure of any given show is notoriously difficult to assign. What with all of the meddling network executives, high-maintenance stars and competing creative visions, it's a wonder anyone ever manages to get the chemistry right. And the vast majority of writers working in the sitcom world have experienced far more failures than successes in the past decades, as network comedies have gone down like cannon fodder. It's also true that Schadenfreude, the official religion of the entertainment industry, accounts for at least some measure of the sniping that writers direct against the "Friends" diaspora. (Hollywood being a place where none dare risk offending, not one of the detractors wished to be quoted for attribution here.)

Isn't that nice?

Look, if you want to be right 95% of the time, predict every new show will fail, because that's just the way things break. Sometimes it's because the show is terrible. Sometimes the show can't find an audience. Sometimes it's the time slot, or the cast, or the gestalt of the times. But to go out of your way to lay all the blame on the specific successful writers from a specific show, like they're all cloned from identical DNA predestined to produce flops, is a little strained. And to do it using anonymous quotes from people I can virtually guarantee have an interest in getting these guys out of the way so they can sell their own almost-certain-to-flop sitcom (not because they're untalented, either, but because that's just how it goes) is unfortunate...

The entire article is available at:


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