Written by Dylan Callaghan
In relation to Hollywood's latest, trendy self-help book The Secret, The New Adventures of New Christine creator Kari Lizer would describe herself as the “anti-Secret.” Not due to any dislike of the book's “know-what-you-want-and-the-universe-will-provide-it” message, but based on the reality of how her life and career have played out.
The San Diego-born Lizer never wanted the universe to make her a writer. Since she was a grade-schooler, she had dreamed only of being an actress. She arrived in L.A. in the early '80s at the age of 17 to pursue that singular dream. “I earned a living as an actress for quite a while probably until I turned 30, and then suddenly there was nothing to be had,” she recalls. “I loved acting. It was my only identity. If that didn't work out for me, I was going to be in big trouble. I hadn't set anything else up for myself.”
Lizer penned a play to showcase her own thespian prowess, but explains of her maiden efforts as a scribe: “The only reason I ever wrote was to get people out to see me act.” When all she got offered were writing gigs, she went with it.
Lizer has been working steadily as a television writer since the early '90s -- including a run on the hit show Will & Grace and now as the creator and executive producer on the CBS sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine, starring Seinfeld alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Despite the fact that her show has danced frustratingly on the bubble for the better part of three years, it was also among the most decisive and united in its response to the Writers Guild strike. And though Louis-Dreyfus was rightfully lauded for her vocal public support of the writers, even more impressive was Lizer, who, with her first created show dangling atop a chasm, spent every day of the strike on the sidewalk holding signs. The show even refused network pressure to finish taping a nearly complete episode on the Sunday before the strike began.
Photo: © 2008 Warner Bros.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Hamish Linklater on The New Adventures of Old Christine.
During a conversation with the Writers Guild of America, West Web site she spoke about her time on the lines, what effect the strike had on her craft and whyher show's precarious position with the network in some ways made it easier to be so decisive in support of the Guild's work stoppage.
As showrunner on Old Christine, tell me about the team decision to walk out on day one of the strike.
As a writers' room we talked about it. We were all nervous, but very early on, it seemed very clear that if we had to go on strike, the only way it was going to be a short strike was if it was decisive, committed and cooperative. It felt like if we went out in drips and drabs that it wasn't going to work. That was just common sense.
How did the fact that the show was on the bubble at the time play into it?
We've been on the bubble for three years, so whether we behave well or act like assholes it doesn't seem to affect our bubble status, so we figured we might as well do the right thing. Honestly, trying to play the game hasn't served us very well either. And Julia is a committed union member herself -- her husband is a member of the Writers Guild, so it just felt bigger than us. It didn't feel like a good time to be self-serving.
What effect did that long break have on the plotting and approach to the writing of the show?
We certainly never appreciated work more than when we came back. We really felt how lucky we were to have our jobs. Creatively we were still on track, but when we came back, we got the phone call that they were cutting our order. We already knew what we were going to do -- we had an end-of-season arc and a lot of plans. That really pulled us up short. We came back and were excited about having a bunch of work to do, and then they said, “We're only going to need two from you.” So the season was an initially disappointing 13 episodes to a devastating 10 -- that's what it was.
On the more human side of things, it was our whole crew, not just the writers, who'd been out of work for months, thinking there were five more episodes to do and then learning that there were only two.
I know you were involved in picketing and the whole strike effort, but how did you spend that time as a writer? Did you put down the keyboard and take the reprieve, or did you use that time to tinker with other stuff to keep sharp?
I would have loved to have taken the time to tinker around with other stuff to keep sharp, but, I have to say, it was the most unproductive time I've ever had in my life. I really thought, “So I'll figure out that play that I've been wanting to write, or that movie,” but I did none of that. I picketed my four hours a day, and when that was over, I was done. It sounds silly, but it's true.
It was like my brain was on strike too. I don't know what happened. Looking back on it, it seems like such a perfect opportunity to do something, to figure out all next season, and I don't know why I couldn't do it. I'm usually not so stuck, but my entire thing was stuck on that strike. I got nothing done.
It does make sense.
I had that conversation with a lot of people who, despite wanting to, didn't write a word on strike -- not on principle, but just because they couldn't. It was a strange, exhausting thing.
So what you're saying is that writers strikes are not conducive to writing?
Right, exactly. It all was left out on the pavement in front of Warner Bros.