A SHEPHERD SITCOM
“What we respond to isn’t merely the foolishness of their personal limitations [of sitcom characters]. It is also, and most essentially, the fact that we can identify with the way they are trapped by their limitations and have to struggle against those limitations to find a measure of wholeness and happiness in their lives. However much we may be fascinated by their craziness, what really makes them interesting is that they want to lead a good life and, like all of us some of the time, and some of us much of the time, they are constantly straying away from their goal even when they believe they are moving toward it.” From an essay on sitcoms by Ken Sanes– http://www.transparencynow.com/sitcom.htm
Remember the popular, late 1970s television sitcom, “WKRP in Cincinnati,” about a radio program’s odd assortment of employees. “Excelsior” will be somewhat like that. It will be loosely based on the life and early New York career of Jean Shepherd. Although most episodes involve some problem of the main character—in his attempts to gain additional intellectual and popular celebrity status–other characters will sometimes intrude their own issues/problems into the mix.
The program will be
comical humorous, as well as address serious issues.
Picture a mix of “Seinfeld,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “All in the Family,”and “M*A*S*H.”
Network executives hope that the show will hold its own
against reruns of “Gilligan’s Island.”
The opening and closing theme music will be Edward Strauss’ “Bahn Frei,” just as it is Shepherd’s. Other Shepherd favorites will sometimes intrude into the program, such as “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” “I’m the Shiek of Araby,” “Banjoreno,” “Hindustan,” “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.” Sometimes on the air and sometimes, just around the office to annoy his co-workers, he plays the kazoo and the jew’s harp and even the nose flute—he sometimes makes yucky comments about the messy result of playing the nose flute when he has a cold with a drippy nose.
Even though advised not to, he frequently makes liberal or conservative comments about current events (unlike the real Shepherd). He also sometimes makes lewd comments or says things in bad taste and is cut off with the use of the seven-second-delay-button (which the real Shep did not have to contend with.)
(Some character names will be changed to protect the guilty.)
JEAN SHEPHERD A multi-talented radio monologist/humorist. He aspires to stand-up comedy fame, literary fame, success with women. He is beginning to write short stories for a Playboy-like magazine and go to the Playboy Club. He lives somewhere in the Village but nobody knows where.
In earlier days, he was on very late at night and was an intellectual hero of the world of the hip, jazzmen, artists of various kinds, but recently, he’s now on earlier in the evenings and has become, to his dismay, a mentor of high school and college students. He likes the acclaim and increased audience numbers, but is annoyed by the extent that they fawn over him. He hates rock and roll but is being pressured to play some on his show to retain and increase his young audience.
LOIS NETTLETON Shepherd’s fiancé and then wife (They marry after a couple of seasons), an aspiring actress just beginning to make her way up in theater, television, and movies. Frank Sinatra is trying to date her.
LEIGH BROWN Shepherd’s gofer and aspiring writer, producer, etc. She is enamored of Shepherd’s mind. The suspected affair with Leigh sometimes intrudes but Lois doesn’t really believe it.
GENERAL MANAGER He appreciates Shepherd’s talent but has to defend him, put up with his ego and hostilities toward the ad-salesmen, engineers, and advertising executives who financially support the program.
ENGINEERS Except for one of them (who is Herb Squire-like), are lazy, antagonistic, and don’t understand Shepherd’s style. They feel that “style” is in itself, an abomination. Sometimes “Herb” tries to explain Shepherd’s art to the other engineers, but they still don’t get it.
HIS FRIENDS Some stand-up comedians beginning to have success—making Shepherd jealous; an all-around talented wild man (Shel Silverstein-like)
OTHER BROADCASTERS Like Barry Farber, John Gambling, Dorothy & Dick, all of whom have much bigger audiences but who’s style of programming Shepherd dislikes and sometimes disparages on the air.
ALL THE WEEKLY REGULARS
The regular gang in the “Radio studio,” as they consider
themselves to be chums and rather witty,
have come to call themselves
“The Knees-Loose Irregulars.”
ASSORTED FANS Mostly high school kids who, avoiding security guards, manage to gain access to the studios and who unknowingly do things that annoy Shepherd. They keep popping up almost every episode, and Leigh has to make sure that Shepherd doesn’t alienate too many of them. Maybe a faux-Bobby Fischer makes appearances.
ASSORTED IGNORAMUSES These klutzes of all kinds, from messenger boys to advertisers tend to think that they are about to encounter Jean Shepard, country/western singer–Shep is not amused. Nor does he appreciate it when, as they have not yet met him, they expect, because of the spelling of his first name, that he is of the female persuasion.
PILOT AND OTHER INCIDENTALS
The pilot will give some sense of the themes to come in the series, but, of course, many subtleties will not be possible to include in the opening program. The series is projected to extend for up to four-and-a-half hours, beginning weeknights at one A. M. There will be no commercial breaks. Neither will the network advertise or in any other way promote or acknowledge the program’s existence.
There will be no script for “Excelsior,” but only a few scrawled notes on the edges of yesterday’s New York Times and on coffee-stained Schrafft’s napkins.
All lead characters will be expected to “wing it.” Secondary characters such as office boys, will be carefully rehearsed so that they properly say “Yes sir, Mr. Shepherd,” and “Is it break time yet?” The script writers will spend a lot of time sitting around complaining about Shepherd’s style, and grumbling in general.
The originator of the series expects that it
–in its first season–
will win at least a coupla Emmys.
The radio depicted above is: “Radio SNR excelsior 52 of 1952.”
Happy Valentine’s Day, Fatheads.
SOME COMMENTS OF INTEREST. I place some comments into the main post because I think some may not check the comments section, and at least one comes from facebook, not from the blog comments:
|Kerr Lockhart in facebook group dedicated to Shep||
10:15am Feb 14
My Shep sitcom would show what actually happened in his life, and then have him recount the story and demonstrate how he “improved” the story.
eb comments: Kerr, that’s a really good idea to have Shepherd’s narrative voice describing his take on events in the sitcom episodes. It does bring up issues that would have to be addressed. We know extremely little that’s verifiable about Shepherd’s life. Thus, the sitcom would be based on the kind of person he was, the sorts of things that happened in his personal and professional life—not very much on easily discernable incidents of his real life. For example, we know that he enjoyed the adulation of his young fans and we know that he sometimes found them a bit too much for his comfort, but specific incidents portrayed in the sitcom would be inspired fiction.
No matter the format, there would have to have to be a disclaimer at the beginning of every episode, something like:
NOTICE: THE INCIDENTS THAT OCCUR IN THE EPISODES OF “EXCELSIOR” ARE INSPIRED BY THE LIFE AND WORKS OF JEAN SHEPHERD, AND ARE ROUGHLY BASED ON “FAINT CLUES AND INDIRECTIONS.” BUT THE EPISODES THEMSELVES ARE NOT TRUE TO THE DETAILS OF SHEPHERD’S LIFE. THEY ARE THE PRODUCTS OF THE HOT AND HEAVY FICTIONAL INVENTIONS–THE CREATIVITY–OF THE SCREENWRITERS. PARDON US, SHEP—OUR BAD! EQUALLY, THE NARRATIVE VOICE SEEMING TO BE THE REAL SHEPHERD CORRECTING AND EXPANDING UPON THE EPISODES, APPARENTLY GIVING US THE TRUE GEN, IS PRETTY MUCH ALSO A FICTIONAL CONSTRUCT BROUGHT FORTH BY US SCRIPTWRITERS—AFTER ALL, FROM WHAT WE KNOW OF SHEPHERD, HE WOULD BE INVENTING IT ALL TOO.
–SCREENWRITERS OF “EXCELSIOR.”
Comment from Jack on blog page:
Holy cow, I’d certainly watch that show! What a terrific synopsis! Now we need a producer with plenty of scratch for you to pitch it to. Oh man, this smells like a winner to me.
(Thanks Eugene. Your posts are so entertaining and true to Shep’s legacy.)
eb responds: Jack, thank you very much for the encouragement. I’ve been thinking this idea over for a number of years and it only recently occurred to me to post it on the blog. As one might imagine, my posting it has at least 2 causes: 1. I thought people would find it amusing and worthwhile; 2. it’s a way of hoping to bring forth some enthusiastic producer with scratch and imagination. [eb comment on blog 2/14/2014.]
Joel says: I love this idea. The actor who plays Shep is critical to its success. I can see the WOR offices as the locale, but flashbacks take us to places in Shep’s past that reflect the characters and stories he told. This could be so good.
Jim Clavin writes: The WKRP idea passed my mind once when I was watching reruns on TV. I thought of WOR with Shep and the engineers and a Leigh Brown character. The first part of the show could be all the silly little plot lines and then the last few minutes (right after the ped-egg commercials) would be a monolog by Shep relating to the events of the first part of the show – wrapping it all up.
Nick Mantis suggestion for actor to play Shep:
eb: I like the idea but Leonardo would have to agree to have a deep dimple a la Shep’s sculpted into his chin.