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Unfinished Business

Kathy Griffin on her circuitous comedy road to nowhere - The comic explains how her NBC pilot disappeared into the black hole of sitcom development

They passed.'' That's the phone message Kathy Griffin got Feb. 4. It was a jarringly succinct end to a yearlong process: Last spring NBC gave her a holding deal for The D-List, a sitcom about an actress who gets no respect, based on Griffin's immensely popular stand-up act. But somewhere between execs gushing ''You're so funny!'' and the big fat buh-bye, NBC lost interest. ''I called my agent and said, 'Come on. They must have said more,' and my agent said, 'They don't give reasons.''' (Indeed, a rep for NBC had no comment for EW, either.) The day after she got the bad news, Griffin vented about her journey through development hell. -- as told to Jessica Shaw

Jeff Zucker [NBC's President of Entertainment] came to see me at the Laugh Factory during last year's pilot season. [After the show] he said to me, ''I want you to write the script.'' I said I'm not really a writer and I have a lot of respect for good TV writers, so we went to Cheryl Holliday, who was on an NBC show, Father of the Pride.

It took me a long time to close my deal. There were a lot of fine points like how much I would get per episode, what my press obligations would be, how much [I'd get] to write the outline of the pilot. Those details cost me a fortune -- I had to fire my lawyer because his bills were $25,000 just to work out the finer points -- [and] that deal took two months. Cheryl's deal took two more months. While all that was happening, Zucker was spending more time in New York, and Kevin Reilly [NBC's president of primetime development] came into play. We were raring to go, but [NBC] said, ''Kevin's not looking at things until the end of September.'' We handed in our outline, and NBC Studios and DreamWorks Television [the production companies behind D-List] really liked it.

I don't think NBC was ever that invested. I know [DreamWorks'] Jeffrey Katzenberg never even saw it. (DreamWorks had no comment.) I never even met him. Kevin Reilly never came to see me live. I kept going, ''You think you know me from Suddenly Susan, but you don't. You've got to give me an hour of your time,'' but that never happened. It's not like Zucker went to the mat. There was no mat for The D-List. Just a bare stone cold floor that I could crack my head on. It's amazing to me that a month ago I was in Jeff Zucker's office and he was going ''You're such a find.'' And now I'm on the folding chairs [at open auditions] and telling actresses, ''One time I met Jeff Zucker. He's not all that.'' The drop is profound and immediate.

Of all the formulas that sitcoms copy, it's amazing they don't copy the formula of good writers around good people. Instead of copying Seinfeld, how about finding another Larry David? Instead of doing The Office in America, find your own Ricky Gervais. If Gervais walked into [a network] they'd say, ''Get your teeth fixed. You're going to be the grandfather on the Dawson's Creek reunion.''

Next development season I'm going to sell them something they can't refuse. It's an ensemble called Calabasas. I'm obsessed with really upscale gated communities and how all the women go to Pilates and ''Mommy & Me'' classes. Me, Cheri Oteri, and Jennifer Coolidge. How can somebody turn that down? If that doesn't work, same idea: me, black chick, Asian chick, hot 20-year-old. Or me and whoever's complaining the most in the minority community. Eskimo, Nation of Islam person, PETA rep. It'll be called As Salaam Alaikum with a big question mark afterward. I don't know who the other three [characters] are and I don't care. Because neither does the network. You get a black chick and an Asian chick, and you're home free. Guess where we go? UPN. Don't even bother with the Big Three. Next thing you know [the characters] are all black and I'm out doing craft services.

Originally posted Apr 02, 2004 Published in issue #758 Apr 02, 2004 Order article reprints
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