Six of the funniest women on television gathered recently to share their insights on comedy, creative control and conflict.
Wanda Sykes (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”), Jane Lynch (“Glee”) and Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family”) disclosed that they rarely watch their shows.Patricia Heaton (“The Middle”) no longer savors lengthy speeches, Courteney Cox (“Cougar Town”) may have been responsible for the mysterious disappearance of an irksome writer, and Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) is still trying to figure out what comedy is.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST FRUSTRATIONS OF YOUR JOB?
Courteney Cox: It just happens so fast. You give three different versions just to give it a range and you don’t really have time to go in and change (things). “Why did you pick that one? That’s actually not good.”
Heaton: You’re producing, right?
Cox: Yes, it’s great because I’m really hands on and this is the first time a show has been tailored to me. On “Friends,” I was part of an amazing experience and cast but I didn’t have a say in anything. Now I do and it’s my baby and I want to be a part of everything.
HOW ASSERTIVE ARE YOU?
Cox: Pretty assertive. (Showrunner) Bill Lawrence is amazing about sharing. I didn’t think he was going to be; he didn’t want to have to share. But now that he’s decided to go into business with me, he’s been great.
Heaton: Are you in the writers’ room when they’re breaking stories?
Cox: No. We meet beforehand, we talk about directions and stuff.
Heaton: And then are you in the editing room?
Cox: Yes. The editing room is like 10 yards from my room, so I just pop in or give notes. Bill’s really smart, so you can say, “In that scene, I think there’s a better take.”
Heaton: I don’t know what’s going on the other side of the camera. Sometimes they use a weird lens, like a fish-eye, and you’re acting up a storm but you don’t know how it’s going to look. There was a scene (on “The Middle”) where we’d forgotten our daughter’s birthday and she’s sitting at the table by herself with this balloon and we walk in and are so mortified — and I’m doing all this feeling and recollection of all the crap I did to my kids that made me feel terrible. And when I watched it, I was way over on the other side of the room. And I thought, I would have loved them to pick something a little bit closer. If I had known it was going to be that — maybe I should ask more questions — I would have done something more than just standing there. But they may have decided to use the long shot because it was funnier. I’m not a producer so I have no say in that whatsoever.
Cox: But even if you are, when I read the script for “Cougar Town,” I thought it was really funny. But when I went to watch the first cuts, I was shocked at how frenetic it was. It was just boom-boom; there was no time for moments; it was nothing like I thought it was going to be. And since then, the show has developed into something a little more calm. It’s still fast and has whip-pans, but it’s a completely different show now. (At first) I was completely taken aback, because that was not what I read at all, so that was kind of scary.
WHEN YOU GUYS HAVE DISAGREEMENTS WITH WRITERS OR PRODUCERS,WHAT ARE THEY USUALLY ABOUT?
Vergara: Well, I just had one: I was supposed to shoot a wedding scene. Gloria, my character, is marrying Jay (Ed O’Neill) and so they do the (Colombian) wedding thing, and I arrive (on set) and there’s people dressed like Mexican people! “This is a traditional Mexican outfit! Do a little bit of research! This is so annoying!” So now they ask me.
Heaton: Did they change it?
Vergara: No, it was too late. It was so painful. (Laughs.) Americans think every Latin person is the same. So at the beginning, I used to have a lot of fights — not fights, but I was always complaining.
Cox: I get frustrated when I think something’s really not funny and the writer-producer thinks it’s hysterical. But you just don’t want to battle, so you do it anyway. And then you watch it and you know you should have battled, because it wasn’t funny.
DO YOU EVER GO BACK TO THEM AND SAY “I TOLD YOU SO”?
Cox: I say, “That’s still not funny.” (And they reply) “No, no, it’s really funny.” It’s so subjective. That’s when I really like to hear the words, “Well, I think it’s funny.” When someone says, “No, it’s funny,” it makes me crazy!
ON THE OTHER SIDE, DO YOU FIGHT TO KEEP TAKES THAT YOU PREFER?
Cox: Yes. When I see a (take) that’s been cut out, I’ll say, “Please put that back in, it was really funny.” And (they’re) great with that.
Read the full interview here