Ian Gurvitz [Interview]

 

Hello Folks! Welcome to Day 1 of our “Week of Becker” here at Trainwreck’d Society. As we mentioned yesterday in our Sunday Matinee showcase, we are, basically as we have always been, all about one of the finest television programs (my personal favorite of all time) that is Becker. Today we are kicking things off with some wonderful words from a legendary writer and producer who was there throughout the series run, and has also worked on some other incredible shows that you all know and love. It’s Ian Gurvitz!

Ian’s credits on the series go all the way to the beginning of the series, and make their way all the way to the very end. Much like everybody we are sharing words from this week: Becker would not have been the incredible show that it was without him. And beyond the world of Becker, Ian also worked extensively on the hit television series Wings, which is another love of mine that I hope to get into someday. He has also worked on shows that have been mentioned before here at Trainwreck’d Society, such as Get A Life (featuring our dear friend Robin Riker), The Wonder Years (alongside another old friend, David M. Stern), and just damn much more. We are so honored to have Mr. Gurvitz join our little TWS family, and to kick off this incredible week.

Beyond the world of television, Ian is also an absolutely brilliant author, especially in the world of politics. He has some incredible books available now, which he will discuss below at great length. I highly encourage everyone to check them out. Let’s just say, in brief, that Mr Gurvitz is going to be known for being on the correct side of history.

So Folks, please enjoy Day 1 of our “Week of Becker”, and just the all around greatness that is the man himself, Ian Gurvitz. Enjoy!

 

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When did you first realize that you wanted to work in the world of entertainment as a means of making a living? Was it something you were always pretty passionate about? Or did you just happen to find yourself in this world one day?

After living in Japan for a year, and deciding I wasn’t cut out to be an ex-pat,

I returned to New York and began working a series of crap jobs to stay alive. Through my one connection in L.A., I got a few freelance assignments writing jokes for comics as well as some un-credited sketches for a variety show. At that point I began writing spec pilots and features, and realized I wanted to do this for a living. 

Then, after about 7 years of spec work, along with occasional trips to L.A. for meetings, I eventually got an agent and optioned a movie to the producers of Jaws. It was set up at Columbia. We landed a director and worked on rewrites for a summer, and it was headed into production. Then the studio changed hands and it went into turnaround; i.e., it died. But in the meantime I pitched a movie rewrite at another studio, got the assignment, which lead to an overall deal, and that was my ticket out to L.A. I’ve been working ever since in half-hour TV comedy, while continuing to work on passion projects, which included writing four books, and producing and directing an indie feature.  

What was the very first project you remember seeing your name appear in the credits for? Do you remember how you felt when you saw it? And do you remember what exactly you were doing at the time?

My first real on-screen Written By was on a show called A Fine Romance. A one-hour romantic comedy shot in Europe, which the network, showing great faith in the show, put on opposite The Cosby Show at the height of its popularity. It got cancelled quickly, but I got my name on screen. It was a rush. 

I have stated on this site several times, especially with some of the writers and performers (including one of our very first interview subjects, Hattie Winston!) that my favorite sitcom of all time will always be Becker. The show was on throughout my teenage years, and I would not miss a week, and watched every re-run possible. And you are one of the fine folks that made this brilliant show possible. So I am very curious to know what it was like to bring this particular show to life. Was there anything that set working on this show apart from your previous work, or anything that you have done since? And did you enjoy your time overall?

Becker was the best time I ever had on a show. I was on it from before the beginning. A friend I’d met on Wings, Dave Hackel, created the show and staged a test reading for Ted Danson to see if he wanted to play the character. It was a big departure from Sam Malone. We did the reading and he was intrigued enough to commit to it. I stayed with the show for the entire run, wrote many episodes, and even directed one. I would have been happy to do another five years on it. I don’t think we would’ve run out of stories. I always thought it would break out more, as we touched on subjects most half-hour comedies didn’t. Still, we stayed on for over 100 episodes.

 

 

If you were to do a follow up/reunion time episode of some kind surrounding Dr. John Becker, now over 15 years since the show went off the air…what do you believe John would be up to now? What kind of life is living today?

He’d probably still be living in the same crummy apartment in the Bronx. I’d like to think he’d be in a long-term loving relationship but he’d probably still be living on his own with a stray cat for company. Who knows, maybe a talking bird. He’d probably still be raging though, after all this time, he might have crossed the fault-line from acerbic social critic to cranky old fart. 

Scrolling through IMDb, I noticed you are credited as a writer for an episode on another series that I truly loved, but didn’t learn about until many years after it was off the air. And that show would be the Chris Elliott fronted Get A Life, which featured another past guest of ours, Robin Riker. This seemed like a very unique project to be involved with, although it sadly didn’t last as long as it should have. So with that in mind, how did you become involved with Get A Life, and how did you enjoy your time working on this program?

I had an overall deal with the production company that was behind Get A Life so they tossed me in to write an episode. I pitched the story, worked it out in the room with Chris and the writers, and wrote the script, which was eventually re-written to the point that I think there was an “and” left. It’s possible the “and” was inserted during the rewrite and not even mine. That’s the nature of most freelance episodes. You write it as well as you can, then take the money and run. Years later, I worked with Chris Elliott on another show. He was a guest-star. Very funny, genuine guy with impeccable comedy genes. 

You have been writing and producing in the world of telvision for quite some time, and have put out some amazing work. I am curious to know what your thoughts are on the immense amount of changes that have been occuring in the world of television, especially with the technological advances that have been occuring since the prominence of the Internet and streaming services became available. Are things better now with or opportunities to work? Or do you believe the business is becoming oversatured and hard to keep up with?

For the most part movies have degenerated into super hero-based merchandising platforms. I get that they’re popular and that studios release relatively few films so each one has to gross billions, but the unfortunate result is that it’s contributed to the dumbing down of the culture. Once upon a time movies were grounded in the human condition. Now, they’re grounded in comic books. Frankly, every time I hear an adult rave about the most recent cinema incarnation of some super hero fantasy, my heart sinks. I don’t think it’s coincidental that shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops have become the new formal wear. It’s the outfit for men mired in terminal adolescence. Then again, it’s entirely possible that this could be a generational thing. Culture changes. The business that feeds the culture changes. You either get on board or find other interests. I just read that Avengers: Endgame opened to $1.2 billion worldwide. So, tell them they’re doing it wrong. 

Yet, in contrast to movies, there is a creative renaissance in television. Mostly cable and streaming. Since, their business model is to get new subscribers, it’s in their interest to take chances and give show creators more control. Cable and streaming platforms represent a creative paradise for writer/producers, while network TV, with some exceptions, is still stuck in the same tired categories. 

Culturally, our viewing habits have changed. TV is an a la carte experience. People cherry-pick their culture. What’s lost, however, is our shared experience, other than with major hits like Game of Thrones. This is a great time to work in TV, if you can get in. Also, given the tools available to anyone with a script and the single-minded determination to make it, it’s also a great time to do it yourself and promote it any way you can. 

 

 

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

After decades working in TV, I’m still compelled to write. I have an idea for another book and around 100 pages of notes. I just need the energy to write it. I recently consulted on a Disney show, and have been teaching writing at Chapman University, while continuing to work on my own stuff. 

As for plugs — sure, I’m shameless. These are links to my books:

Welcome to Dumbfuckistan: The Dumbed-Down, Disinformed, Dysfunctional Disunited States of America.

Freak-Out. The 2016 Election and the Dawn of the American Democalypse.

I also wrote a book on TV Development: Hello, Lied The Agent. 

And a book on religion: Deconstructing God. A Heretic’s Case for Religion.

There’s also a book of drawings I did, just for fun, called Talking Heads. 

 

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Good question. I’ve been accused of not smiling enough. I think I do, but maybe not on the outside. I laughed a shit-ton in writers’ rooms over the years. I remember rolling over in tears over Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And Fawlty Towers. If Trump’s hemorrhoids imploded on live TV and shot out his eyeballs, I think I would smile at that. 

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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