We need more doctors.

In a recent Riedel (aka #37article, Neil Simon was referred to as the “Doc” of Broadway, having punched up and polished a whole bunch of Broadway scripts in his heyday. Apparently he even wrote a couple of zingers for Pulitzer Prize-winning, A Chorus Line, including the line, “I thought about killing myself, but then I realized to commit suicide in Buffalo is redundant.”

That one line has probably been worth thousands of laughs over the years, wouldn’t you think?

And if A Chorus Line benefited from a last-look by another writer, couldn’t others as well?

Hollywood doctors and polishes its scripts all the time.  Did you know that Schindler’s List got a once-over before it went in front of the cameras?  (This kind of work is more prevalent in H-town, because the scripts are not owned by the writers, but by the studios.)

This kind of work doesn’t happen on Broadway as much anymore . . . when it does happen, it’s usually when a show is in trouble.  But what about making a very good script great with a fresh pen?  Doesn’t Jay Leno hire other writers to make his monologue the funniest it can be?  Doesn’t Barack Obama hire several speech writers to make sure his arguments are that much more convincing?

If you’re a Producer, think about whether or not your script could be just a bit better with some spit and polish.

And if you’re a writer, welcome the chance for someone to make your work look even better.

Comments
  • Brad says:

    My guess is, the hard part would be convincing the writer that their work needs some polishing and to let another writer take a look at it. And how would this affect copyright, subsidiary rights, etc? Is there a theatrical “polishing” contract with the WGA or do you simply negotiate an independent contract with them?

  • Michael DiGaetano says:

    I did script doctor work in Hollywood.. even a few with Mr. Spielberg. The key is doctoring a script because you think it’s good but could use a little polish or punch up…not doing it for the $$$. As a writer who had been both respected and disrespected by the Hollywood system, I prefer someone who likes my work to help me improve it. After all, if five more jokes are added to a script, the audience doesn’t know the original writer didn’t write them.

  • Frank says:

    I want to know if there’s a business there? My parter and I seem to have a knack for isolating those kinds of problems and working them out. I can’t believe that people are willing to sink millions into a show that may not work. Does all the pressure cloud judgement? Are people coerced into making changes that muddy the waters? This is a time when we need all the wonderful, thought-provoking, joyous, sad, touching and bizarre pieces of theatre to be presented in the best possible light so this business, this art-form can continue and thrive!
    Am I alone here?

  • Harold says:

    Ken, This is what I have been saying to people for a while now. In today’s commercial theater I think there is a place to have a Broadway consulting firm that acts as a third eye for directors, choreographers, designers and producers. If Hollywood studio’s can do it, why can’t Broadway do it to!? A consulting firm could help save so many shows from disaster.

  • Frank says:

    I’m in! Who do I need to call?

  • Dan Mason says:

    I was amazed to read that Shrek is opening in London and has gone through siognificnat rewrites since it’s Broadway run. Really? Why would someone wait until a show loses millions before they address problems with a script? Wouldn’t someone at Dreamworks, who already has a knowledge of “Script doctors” from their movie division, have the foresight to have done that before the New York run? Granted, they did a lot of tweaks to that show between it’s Seattle engagement and Broadway run… but with millions of dollars at stake, why not do everytrhing to perfect it beforehand?
    Ken’s point is well taken about Broadway waiting until it’s too late to correct mistakes. I just saw “Addams Family” last week. Despite some very funny moments, the script seemed like a patched together vision of 6 different people, and it really hurt a show that should have been a home run.

  • Frank says:

    I agree totally. I’ve been talking about this very thing for weeks. Maybe the movie “big cheeses” think that they know better or maybe they trust the broadway “big cheeses” too much. However you slice it, we should all want shows to succeed. And I don’t think there is ONE formula that will work for everything. Someone needs to understand the piece and figure out why we NEED to see it… Why see Addams Family on Broadway for $100+ when I can see the films on Netflix? I need to be entirely drawn into the world of each piece. Not sitting there wishing it was as good as I’d hoped.

  • Dan Mason says:

    Random question— would these “script doctors” be covered under the Obama health care plan?

  • Lauren says:

    I think a look at the show in early stages by some critics would be helpful. Can’t tell you how many shows would have received better reviews and possibly been saved if they only had listened to us BEFORE opening night.

  • Lauren says:

    Oh, and just to clarify, I don’t mean critics would consult on productions they eventually would review as that would be a conflict of interest.

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