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Elephant Bucks: An Inside Guide to Writing for TV Sitcoms Paperback – May 1, 2007
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The book's stated mission is to guide you through the process of specing an existing TV show, and it's arranged roughly as follows: selecting a show to spec (first ~20% of the book); the brass tacks of actually composing a quality script (~60%); and, finally, how to unload that script on the right person, and what your life is going to look like if said transaction goes smoothly (the last ~20%).
Keep in mind that the meat of the book applies to more than just specing, though. It helped me finish a Seinfeld script I was working on for fun at the time, yes, but this is also an invaluable resource for someone trying to write an original pilot (I hear those are all the rage at the moment).
Why is this such a good resource? Because it’s the most logical, digestible, non-mystical breakdown of good television writing out of everything I’ve read, watched, or listened-to on the subject. And I’m saying that with a Kindle and bookshelf stocked with similar works, some of them bearing names like Mckee and Goldman down the spine. As far as what that digestible, logical, non-magical stuff is…I’ll be brief, but basically Sheldon breaks down the way a sitcom’s Premise combines with the traits of its Main Character(s) to create a Formula that generates stories week after week. Furthermore, he gives us Seven Story Points on which to hang those wretched, underdeveloped story ideas of ours. This all may sound simplistic or anti-art or whatever, but as Sheldon points out toward the end, a good deal of our most celebrated sitcoms – both in a critical and commercial sense – adhere to these principles much more often than they stray.
I don't really know why I'm telling you this, by the way. You, the prospective consumer, will probably be my competition as we both lay siege to the world of sitcom writing in the near future. But hey – this book delivered pretty hard, and I felt obligated to do this as a means of facilitating sales. So have a nice day. Or night. Friday night, more specifically, according to my calendar as I finish typing this. Which means I’m going to put on a collared shirt and drink 3-7 Heinekens.
I wish I'd had this book before I entered the ABC/Disney and WB fellowships.
Bull offers specific guidance on how to structure a sitcom. He explains what belongs where. As important, he shows the reader logically and engagingly how to go about putting the elements in place. He uses specific (and very entertaining) examples that made me go, "Ohhhhh! That totally makes sense!" Having "Elephant Bucks" is like having a great and experienced teacher right there with you.
Sheldon Bull has credibility: He has done this stuff. Check him out on IMDb and you'll see his slew of credits, from "Newhart" to "M*A*S*H" to "Coach" to "Sabrina the Teenage Witch." So it's pretty clear the guy knows about writing for television. In "Elephant Bucks," he ably transitions from television writer to teacher. We aspiring writers are lucky he did!
I'm happy to have read this book, as it's helped me get started in writing spec scripts.