TV writing hasn't adapted for the Web

Veterans aren't changing scripts for online clip content

NEW YORK -- The Internet is a great promotional tool for TV comedy and TV comedy hopefuls, but writers and producers from top shows say they haven't adjusted their writing style to fit Web sensibilities.

During a Friday evening panel on "Television Writing in the Internet Age," which was part of the New York Comedy Festival, TV veterans were asked whether they have started to change their writing with an eye toward producing clippable content that plays well on YouTube and other sites.

"It's not a factor in any of our heads right now," said Rory Albanese, executive producer of The Daily Show.

"You just want to make a show that's good and that works on the level of the show first," agreed Al Jean, executive producer of "The Simpsons."

If parts of a show play well online, it can be an added benefit to potentially reach people not familiar with the show, panelists argued.

Moderator Virginia Heffernan, Internet culture columnist at The New York Times Magazine, asked if the panelists may simply not be aware of the Web's influence on them and cited theater writers in the early age of television who continued to see themselves as theater writers for a while.

By Jim Downey, a veteran writer on Saturday Night Live, said: "I don't think it's possible" to write TV comedy with a YouTube clip pick-up in mind.

He also admitted to some laughter that he doesn't own a computer. "I have a friend who has a computer," he quipped and later added: "I may go to RadioShack" to buy one.

Asked if TV writers were techno-phobes, Peter Tolan, co-creator and executive producer of "Rescue Me," replied: "F@#+ the Internet. It's too god-damn democratic ... Everybody thinks they are a writer. It's so democratic it makes us look good."

The question of whether writers can get feedback in online forums also came up.

Tolan recounted how during the second or third season of his show, he tried to get into an online discussion with viewers that simply blew up into a wild argument.

Albanese also said there was "too much anonymous criticizing" by people with nameslike Purplepants. "It's such a one-way negative street," he said.

"The Internet -- other than the porn -- is not a positive place."

The panel kept the audience in stitches as Tolan added: "I've noticed porn is getting very negative, too."

Tolan and Albanese also highlighted the advantages of the Web though.

The latter called it "a great way to catch up on shows. That aspect of the business is actually very exciting. The Internet in general will be more of a positive."

And Tolan said he suggests to young writers find actor friends and shoot scenes from their scripts, so they can show them off on YouTube or their own sites. That's how "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" ended up making its way to TV, panelists pointed out.

Albanese also referenced -- in passing -- the litigation between Google's YouTube and Viacom, parent of "Daily Show" home Comedy Central. Lawyers for the network and Viacom will take clips down, he said, but "noone who works on the show would care if (material) got out there" onto YouTube.
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