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The Men Behind the Screens

These TV Executives Show that Not All Cigar-Smoking media Moguls Are in Film
Susan Karlin
From the Print Edition:
Chuck Norris, Jul/Aug 98

(continued from page 5)

"For our first program, 'Pig Sty,' on UPN, we worked with a guy who hated our cigar smoking," says Staley. "When we lit up, he would sit there and cough ostentatiously. So that's his cough."

"In his defense, he has rather serious asthma," says Long.

Staley takes offense. "So do I."

The trio developed a taste for expensive smokes while working as writers and producers on NBC's "Cheers," which lavished its Emmy Award parties and final episode with Cuban cigars.

"The show's creators, Glen and Les Charles, smoked Romeo y Julieta Churchills," says Long. "They asked us if we minded cigar smoke. We said, 'No. In fact, we like cigars.' They'd say, 'Oh,' and keep smoking. They never offered us any."

The three also developed a taste for good comedy, a more difficult achievement in today's sitcom market. "There are 59 half-hour shows on the air," says Long. "You can't have that many shows and have them all be good. I think it's more competitive to get a show on the air and keep it. 'Cheers' was number 74 for the first year. The network stuck with it, it built slowly and it took off. 'Seinfeld' was a fluke. NBC gave it the lowest episode order and tried to bury it."

"The stakes are higher now," adds Staley. "Networks don't have that kind of time."

"I also think the writing staffs on some of these shows are too large," says Anderson. "I don't know what all those people do. It's easy to find a handful of quality writers. It's not easy to find a big staff of quality writers."

"George & Leo" came about in a manner that's rare today in television comedy. The script was written first, which CBS then used to draw Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsch to the cast. Contrast that to most shows, which are essentially deal memos. The networks make separate agreements with talent and writers, then pit them together, often with little regard to complementary creative sensibilities.

"Most shows are deals in place before the creative part of the show is even talked about and that's why they suffer," says Staley. "Our philosophy is to do a show that's good and hope it will fit into someone's schedule."

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