Saturday, September 29, 2012

Confessions of a Sitcom Killer

For the past thirteen years, I have been leading a double life: by day, a mild-mannered researcher/editor/business writer; by night (and the occasional weekend), a cold-blooded killer—

a killer of sitcom characters.

It began in 1999. For the past couple of years, I had been performing in mystery dinner theater productions with a group of friends in Simi Valley, California. At the time, we had two scripts in our repertory, both of which followed the same simple formula: a couple of murders (with as many gunshots as possible), a liberal dose of comedy sprinkled with a few clues, a little audience participation, and a prize to the audience member who came closest to solving the mystery.

"I bet I could write one of these," I thought.

So I did.

My first mystery script began with a simple idea: what if none of the characters on Gilligan's Island were what they appeared to be? I threw in elements of The Love Boat, Speed, and Titanic, and set it on the Skipper's brand new (and much larger) ship, the Millennium Minnow.

The Last Cruise of the S.S. Minnow premiered in the spring of 2000. I was afraid some of the younger audience members wouldn't get the references. However, thanks to cable channels like Nickelodeon and TV Land, the sitcom characters of my childhood had become immortal—at least until I murdered them. In The Last Cruise of the S.S. Minnow, I killed off nearly half of the castaways.

And yet my thirst for the blood of innocent victims remained unslaked.

In the years to come, I would go on to gleefully slaughter beloved characters from The Addams Family, The Golden Girls, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, and The Beverly Hillbillies. Why? Because it was fun, and because I could. Want to know why I could? Two words—


That's right, the law couldn't touch me—or so I thought.

Friends helped me market my scripts, and soon theatrical troupes around the country were performing them. I began to make money from the royalties—not enough to even think about giving up my day job, but at least I could say, "I'm a professional writer." I, along with several of my fellow sitcom killers, was even mentioned in an article in the Wall Street Journal. People began to sit up and take notice.

Unfortunately, some of the people who began to sit up and take notice were people who held copyrights to the characters I was killing.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make it clear that the copyright holders I'm referring to were not the people who created these characters. I could understand the creator of one of my victims being upset over the demise of a favorite character. However, the creators of these particular characters were, themselves, quite dead. (And before you jump to conclusions, I had nothing to do with their deaths; ironically, they died of natural causes.)

So these particular copyright holders had no particular sentimental attachment to my victims. What they did have was lots of money, which meant that they could afford lots of lawyers. How many lawyers could I afford? Exactly none.

So I gave up killing sitcom characters. Oh, I still write the occasional murder mystery script, but I make sure all of my victims are either my own creations or safely in the public domain. Somehow, it doesn't compare with the satisfaction of murdering an innocent sitcom character—for instance, a character like Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory.

Now, there's a guy who's just begging to be a victim.

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