Notes From the Sitcom's Deathbed

Only DreamWorks did their homework. They knew the episodes I'd written. They quoted lines. Sometimes I'd say, ''Oh, that was actually Larry David's line'' and they'd laugh it off as adorable modesty. The first time I met Jeffrey Katzenberg, I sat on a patio chair when Jeffrey came rushing out. As we were about to shake hands, he bonked his forehead into a metal lamp and gushed blood. ''This is not good,'' I thought, ''not good at all.'' Jeffrey calmly excused himself, then returned holding a white towel to his head. As I watched the towel steadily redden, Jeffrey said, ''That Chinese Woman episode you wrote was brilliant. Donna Changstein changing her name to Chang to pass herself off as Chinese? Unbelievable! I'm going to the hospital now.'' Jeffrey got double-digit stitches, my agents bought him a football helmet, and we met again. He urged me to sign with DreamWorks, adding ''I bled for you.'' He didn't have to. He was so honest, so above the crap, I loved him.

After two more years at Seinfeld, I left and created It's like, you know . . . for ABC.Our first day was the morning after Seinfeld shot its finale in April 1998. I stayed on the Seinfeld set until 1:30 a.m. before telling Jerry and Larry I had my own show to do. Jerry said, ''Here's the baton, run with it.'' Larry said, ''God, I feel like I'm sending my kid off to college.'' Great moments that made producing a show after Seinfeld feel like dating again after your wife died.

I wasn't up on the dating rules. When ABC execs gave me their first note on the script — a small plot change — I pondered it and said, ''No, I think it's good the way it is. What else you got?'' The ABC brass looked at me as if I'd announced I was pro-pedophilia. My first experience with network interference. Seinfeld had no network interference because it was a show that fell through the cracks. In television, a great show that's canceled hasn't fallen through the cracks. A great show that thrives has fallen through the cracks.

It's like, you know . . . shot 26 episodes before ABC canceled it to clear more time slots for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. I mentioned that I wouldn't do another show for ABC if the future of Israel depended on it, and things got a little messy for me for a while, but everyone cooled down and I realized I should've been shocked the show lasted as long as it did. It got great reviews — a bad thing. One network head stated on the record that well-reviewed shows are ratings losers and vice versa. The press bought into that. Twice a year, TV critics from all over the country come to L.A. to meet with TV producers — a chance for the lowest form of journalism to hobnob with the lowest form of art. During ILYK... critics kept asking if I worried about the show being ''too smart.'' When the show was canceled, TV Guide asked me the same question in the past tense. I felt such rage . . .

Until I felt such relief. A dirty secret: When a show is canceled, the show runner is always partly relieved. The work is brutal and gets more brutal as the season wears on. You're on the set so much, you have no life to write about. And if an idea does pop into your leaden head, there's hardly time to execute it. Once, needing to write an entire ILYK... episode in a few hours, I heard a deejay say that Paul McCartney took 67 takes to record the song ''I Will.'' A beautiful ditty barely two minutes long, 67 takes. I got a few hours to muscle out 22 minutes of comedy.

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