Austin Film Festival head honcho Barbara Morgan chatted with “Dream On,” “Friends” and “Grace and Frankie” creator Marta Kauffman Friday afternoon at AFF. Here are eight things that we learned:
Norman Lear passed on “Dream On.” “When she and creative partner David Crane worked developing projects for Norman Lear, they pitched “Dream On” to Lear’s people. He was not a fan. “He comes over to me takes my hand and says ‘Shallow.'” Kauffman said. “He grabs David Crane by the shoulders and says ‘It’s superficial.’ Boy, did I steal my stapler. “Dream On” became HBO’s first comedy.
“Friends” came out of Kauffman’s experience with a group of six…friends. “The show is about that time in your life when your friends are your family,” Kauffman said. “After you have your own family, everything changes.” Kauffman was also inspired by seeing a restaurant called the Insomnia Cafe, which birthed Central Perk: “The pilot wrote itself in three days.”
NBC wanted an older character on “Friends” from whom they could get advice. “We called him ‘Pat the Cop’ and we said absolutely not.” Nor was the Joey character written as a doofus. “We had had no idea how funny Matt LeBlanc at playing dumb,” Kauffman said. “You set out to do things, and then actors come in and they breathe life into it, and it’s not quite what you imagined it was going to be”
The accidental birth of “Grace and Frankie.” Kaufman misheard a message that Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda were interested in TV and thought they wanted to do TV together and made inquires asking if Tomlin and Fonda wanted to do a show together. “Twenty minutes, I get a call: ‘They do now,'” Kauffman said.
The Netflix model can be scary. Instead of writing a script and getting approval and shooting a pilot and waiting for response on the pilot from the network, if Netflix approves the first script, a producer gets an automatic order for 13 episodes. “You don’t have a pilot to make mistakes,” Kauffman said. “I don’t think we hit our stride until the fourth or fifth episode”
The four leads on “Grace and Frankie” have very different processes and are all lovely people. “Martin (Sheen) can be laughing and telling story and then crying on camera the next second,” Kauffman said. ” Jane works form the inside out, Lilly loves props and wig, Sam (Waterston) comes in with a (finished) performance. They are all pros: They come in with their lines memorized and kind and work hard and are gracious to everyone.”
She would never make something like a 9-11 episode. Shooting immediately after 9-11. Kauffman said they had to make two changes to an episode: they tossed a joke where Chandler makes a bomb joke in line in an airport and they had to change the Etch-A-Sketch on Joey’s door that had King Kong swiping at the Empire State Building.
“I don’t know if I would ever do (something like a 9-11) episode in a comedy,” Kauffman said. “I don’t think it’s my place.”
Would Kauffman ever pull an “Arrested Development” or “Gilmore Girls” and do another run of Friends on Net– “NO.”
“They’d all be older, and it wouldn’t be the same,” she said, adding that such a thing would only be done for other people, fans wouldn’t like it and “I would feel bad about myself.”