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The Full Treatment 

Is TV ready for the Web?

Wednesday, Jan 7 1998
When we first heard of a TV series called South Park, we laughed. We wept. And we cringed. Because the only South Park we'd heard of was an oval-shaped enclave of grass, trees, and '80s-vintage playground equipment between Second and Third streets in SOMA.

That's right: We actually thought, for one brief -- and in retrospect, stupid -- moment that Multimedia Gulch had hit the big time. Or at least the prime time.

It wasn't to be. South Park, of course, turned out to be a
cartoon about foulmouthed kids in Colorado, a breakout hit for basic cable's Comedy Central network.

But while we laughed at Cartman's obscene antics, we couldn't shake our first thought. Maybe the time had come. After all, the mainstream media had long since stopped calling the Web the "Information Superhighway."

So we took action. We started doing our homework. We watched M*A*S*H, The Simpsons, and -- for tips on depicting San Francisco on the small screen -- Dharma and Greg. We took long lunches at Caffe Centro. In the end, we cooked up a plan: a pitch, a treatment, even a pilot.

January 7, 1998

Robert Wright, President,
National Broadcasting Company
30 Rockefeller Plaza, 25th Floor
New York, NY 10112

Dear Mr. Wright:

Your network, despite all its successes, has missed one important -- and potentially humorous -- element of the Zeitgeist: the World Wide Web. So I'm writing today to pitch you a sitcom about a segment of society I think your viewers might find interesting, and most importantly, funny: those crazy folks working on the Internet.

Now, I know you're probably wary. You're thinking, "The Internet? A bunch of dorks with pocket protectors hunched over machines all day? What's so funny about that?" Well, let me tell you:

In brief, Geeks! (South Park is already taken, and let's face it, Townsend Place just isn't funny) would be about six zany twentysomethings struggling to survive in a hard, but hilarious -- and hip -- world.

Let's meet Bryce (the cute one, a Chris O'Donnell-type), Mitch (the slob), Neal (the nerd), Taylor (the funny one), Karen (the shy one), and Sky (the really cute one -- could I suggest, if possible, casting Cameron Diaz?). Of course, most real S.F. geeks live in dingy crash pads in the Mission District. But your viewers don't want to see that. So let's put the boys in a downtown loft and the girls in a fashionable Haight Street Victorian.

As for work, Bryce is in PR at an ultracool game company. Neal writes code for a software firm named Muchomedia, where he gets Mitch (an old college buddy from Berkeley) a job in the mail room. Taylor is a temp making $6 an hour at CWEB, and Sky is the Webmaster for an online fashion store called Ready to Ware. Karen, the shy enigma, is an unpaid intern working 50 hours a week at Connected magazine. Karen and Sky also co-write their own zine.

In the pilot's opening scene, Taylor regales his co-workers with a series of Bill Gates jokes, most of them involving some variation on the punch line, "Why don't you just reboot?" The laugh track goes wild, but Taylor's boss cuts the yuks short by telling everyone their project has been canceled. Taylor responds, "Damn it! Third time this month!" Cut to the intro. (At this time, might I suggest a peppy theme song by S.F.'s own Third Eye Blind?)

Upon our return, we find Neal and Mitch at work, where Mitch -- a former frat boy and Neal's nemesis in university until Neal helped him pass physics -- is distracting Neal from his latest important project, a program that will let users convert their computers into karaoke machines. Mitch jokingly calls it "Rumbaware." Neal doesn't laugh. The audience, however, does.

Bryce, meanwhile, has overslept and arrives at work frazzled and 15 minutes late. His boss, a redheaded vixen (and the object of each of the boys' silent, drooling stares) berates him: "Can't you even be here by noon?" Bryce, a wounded expression on his handsome face, replies, "But Ms. Jenkins, I've been up all night consulting." "Consulting with whom?" Ms. Jenkins says. More laughter ensues.

At the same time, Sky and Karen have called in sick and are spending the day drinking smoothies in Golden Gate Park. Karen tells Sky that she's developed yet another futile crush on a co-worker. Sky reminds her that Karen's last crush, a 35-year-old programmer from Palo Alto, flaked out and moved to Wyoming to become a ranch hand. "This one's different," Karen replies. "He's responsible. He's been working as a bike messenger for five years."

As you can see, the comic fodder is endless.

In general, the show will offer viewers a potent mix of romantic and situational humor a la Caroline in the City, along with a smattering of insider jokes for a realistic edge. Because we don't want to be too esoteric, however, we'd replace typical geek jokes about obscure UNIX commands, Apple business strategies, raunchy animated GIFs, and Javascript with riffs on classic Star Trek episodes, Pamela Anderson Lee, AOL, and, of course, how cold the winters were back home in (insert large Midwestern city here).

Scenic backdrop opportunities are abundant (the Golden Gate Bridge, trendy cafes, hip workplaces decorated with posters of superstar CEOs), as are the recurring comic themes: Taylor can't keep a job, Mitch never changes out of his coffee-stained Nintendo T-shirt, Karen constantly misplaces her horn-rimmed glasses.

In the long run, a bittersweet, unconsummated romantic attraction might develop between Bryce and Sky. Meanwhile, Karen could secretly lust after Bryce, while the other boys drool over Sky -- or for that matter, any woman who'll pay attention to them. Recurring minor characters would add color: Charles, the flamboyantly gay waiter, and Kinshasa, who dreams of starting his own company called Afronline!

Special episodes could have the boys stranded at a software convention in West L.A., or find the girls visiting a snooty designer clothing showroom in New York. And looking ahead to cross-promotional opportunities, Neal might guest-star on an episode of Suddenly Susan as Brooke Shields' blind date.

To sum up, the show will be a hilarious but tender look at a slice of the population many of your viewers find simultaneously unfamiliar and, paradoxically, easy to identify with. After all, don't we all dream of being young, sleeping late, spending the majority of our working days cracking jokes, and living in trendy apartments? Don't most of us dream of surfing the Web for money, or being paid to create computer games about Nazi aliens? In short, doesn't everyone secretly desire to be a geek?

And would you really rather Fox get first crack?


Steve Boland

About The Author

Steve Boland


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