Mike Reiss Takes You Behind the Scenes

Lisa vs Malibu Stacy7

“Welcome to Enchantment Lane, where all the parts come together and Malibu Stacy is born.  Some folks say there’s a little touch of fairy dust in the air.” – Tour Lady
“Aw, crap, there’s a clog in the torso chute!  Leroy, get your ass in gear!” – Assembly Line Worker
“Shut your hole.” – Leroy

On Monday this week, Mike Reiss gave a speech at Virginia Tech.  This comes from an interview conducted by the student paper in advance of that:

CT: What is your involvement with the show?

I’m currently a consultant. I go in every Wednesday, I fly in there – there’s nothing special about Wednesday, it runs like a factory and its always in production. Every Wednesday I just come in and sort of step onto the assembly line and help out. The show is written by 8-10 people sitting in a room just throwing out ideas and jokes. Every Wedneday I’m just one more guy who goes in to help it.

CT: Are you considered something of an elder statesmen around there because you were since the show’s inception?

Reiss: Sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes I feel like they’ll put in one of my jokes just because I’m an old man and not because its particularly funny. I’ll get embarrassed sometimes, like I’ll throw in a joke where I know its not that good and they’ll put it in. People are very nice to me, it’s just a nice job. I think people – it’s the rare show on tv where the average tenure there is about 10 or 12 years. People like it, we all get along on, we all respect each other.

I don’t have any direct experience with what does or does not make for a truly great television writing room, but that kind of polite comity doesn’t exactly scream “high standards”.  The only other piece of interesting not-quite-news was about a possible movie sequel:

CT: If you do make another one do you think you’ll wait until the show has finished its run on TV?

Reiss: I think that’s the general plan, I think the day the show finally goes off the air, like a year later we’ll all going to miss it and I think then we’ll be a little more interested to do the movie.

I’d be fine with that.  The first movie wasn’t very good, but FOX is going to do something with these characters after the show goes off the air, and another movie done without the background pressure of the ongoing series would be about the best we can hope for. 

There’s more at the link.  He talks about how it was easier back in Season 3 and 4 because, “we had all the tricks and all the architecture in place but the show was new, it wasn’t like we’d done 10,000 ideas like we have now where it’s hard to find things to write about”.  But it was the part about the assembly line nature of the place letting in embarrassingly weak jokes that caught my attention. 

11 Responses to “Mike Reiss Takes You Behind the Scenes”

  1. 1 Josh
    29 March 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Right on. “They put it in even if it’s not very funny” is a line that no comedy writer should speak.

  2. 2 Chris
    30 March 2012 at 12:52 am

    Some of these quotes are fantastic in terms of the show’s current standing. “I’ll get embarrassed sometimes, like I’ll throw in a joke where I know its not that good and they’ll put it in.” I’d be willing to bet this is because they simply have no other ideas. A bad idea is better than nothing.

    “I think people – it’s the rare show on tv where the average tenure there is about 10 or 12 years.” Oakley and Weinstein felt that the show runner duty should be like the presidency; two terms (or seasons) and you’re out. There was a good reason they felt this way; things get stale if people stay in place forever. Having the same people around for 10-12 years (!) is horrible. This interview basically affirms everything I believe about the show; it’s lazily put together, and the people involved don’t care about quality as much as they do simply getting along with each other.

  3. 30 March 2012 at 2:18 am

    Great post. I definitely kinda want another movie, do a straight-to-DVD thing… don’t make it so “big” (aka “market-friendly”… eh, “lowest-common-denominator-friendly”). Don’t spend like a billion dollars on it and then make it dumber than ever because they HAVE TO make most of that money back (and hopefully, in their minds, a huge profit). Get some writers from the show’s early years — hell, get Groening involved, even (!) — and, who knows, maybe they could do something that’d be around the quality of season 10-ish. That’s about the best we could hope for, imo.

    • 4 safetydancer
      30 March 2012 at 8:48 am

      Get Groening involved? He was very involved with the movie, he even came up with the basic story, which he then expended with a bunch of writers from the early years

      • 3 April 2012 at 2:37 am

        Yeah, but he’s even admitted on a commentary there’s plenty of recent episodes he hasn’t seen. Maybe he was involved with the movie, but he hasn’t been “involved” in the decline of the overall show… seemingly.

  4. 6 Chris (a different one from the one above!)
    30 March 2012 at 5:13 am

    I still love you, Mike Reiss. Despite everything.

  5. 7 safetydancer
    30 March 2012 at 8:47 am

    You have to take in account that Mike Reiss is incredibly modest. When he speaks of his work in the classic years, he always says he brought nothing to the table and just came up with bad stuff. Which obviously isn’t true.

    There was an interview with Dana Gould earlier this year, where he tells the writing room is actually really brutal when you make a bad joke. Like no pity laughs, but rather a loud “YAWN!”, would go you way if you dared to pitch something weak

    • 8 baconkong
      30 March 2012 at 11:51 am

      I’d hate to hear what they consider bad jokes these days.

    • 9 Thrillho
      30 March 2012 at 2:09 pm

      So we can conlude that nobody was in the writing room when somebody pitched “Moe has a talking bar rag.” At least that’s what I’m choosing to believe.

  6. 10 swarmingwithmagicrobots
    30 March 2012 at 10:10 pm

    The first time I read this, I swear to god I thought it said “The show is written by 8-10 year olds sitting in a room just throwing out ideas and jokes.”

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