Today is the anniversary of Addison and Steele's The Spectator and so we are to read The Spectator Club (from Vol. 27 -- English Essays: Sidney to Macaulay). I vaguely recall having to read this early eighteenth-century prose in -- junior high, maybe? I dunno, but, of course, why would it register at all?
But now, having written my share of failed TV pilots, and read many more, I understand this essay much better. It's the character description page. In a lot of pilots there'll be a page (or more) of description of your characters before the script starts -- which makes sense, because what the characters are what the network's really buying.
And what I have painfully learned is that you cannot sell these characters too hard. I still remember reading the "Will & Grace" pilot and chuckling at the description of Grace being "scary-smart" -- asserted, I remember thinking, but not proven. But it sold the show. Another example: I was reading a pilot where the female character was introduced with, among other things, the description "think Laura Linney." I mean, Laura Linney would never have even watched this show, much less been in it, but I'll be damned if it didn't make the lines seem funnier.
Well, that's what today's reading is -- one of the first known instances of the "Character Description" page. All men, of course, because the discovery that women could be funny would have to be left for a later age. But it's a motley crew. You have:
• Sir Roger de Coverly, the bluff Tory
• The "bachelor" lawyer who really prefers the theater (hint, hint)
• Sir Andrew Freeport, a merchant, who has "made his fortune himself; and says that England may be richer than other kingdoms by as plain methods as he himself is richer than other men." He's our conservative so we can have some political throwdowns.
• Captain Sentry, who's shy
• Will Honeycomb, smooth-talking ladies man. How much of a ladies man? This much: "He knows the history of every mode, and can inform you from which of the French king’s wenches our wives and daughters had this manner of curling their hair, that way of placing their hoods; whose frailty was covered by such a sort of a petticoat, and whose vanity to show her foot made that part of the dress so short in such a year."
Ladies men sure have changed.
• Oh, and an occastional clergyman. Ordinarily the wacky neighbor, except he has "earnestness to have him fall on some divine topic, which he always treats with much authority, as one who has no interest in this world, as one who is hastening to the object of all his wishes, and conceives hope from his decays and infirmities." I suppose it's wacky in the right hands -- Ben Stein or something.
I actually look forward to the Spectator show, and one of the small curses of doing the readings like this is that this pilot won't be picked up; it's on to something else tomorrow. That's showbiz, I guess.