On March 2, the University of New Mexico’s sitcom boot camp class held a live table reading of the pilot episode of their original sitcom “Jackpot!” at the Colloquium auditorium.
“Jackpot!” is about slick swindler Cesar who forms an unlikely partnership with a childish tech genius Hershel as they delve into the world of cryptocurrency in an effort to get rich quickly. It was received with hearty laughter from those in attendance.
The distinct contrast between the two main characters is integral to creating enough conflict for a successful sitcom, according to writer Alice Marshall. This was epitomized in the rough, crime-laden life of Cesar contrasted by Hershel, a character who earnestly compared his life to cream of wheat, or something Hershel referred to as “bland, white and tasteless.”
This table reading was the final project of the six-week course, according to Brian Levant, guest lecturer at the University with extensive production and directing credits. He said in the class, a small group of students “create, develop, write, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite and rewrite” an original half-hour sitcom episode.
“I’d always come back, every year since 1978, to speak, to work with students, watch their movies and stuff, and five years ago they said to me, ‘Would you ever be interested in teaching a class?’ and I Iaughed, like (that’s) the last thing in the world I would ever think of. And to tell you the truth, it’s become a very important part of my life,” Levant said.
Over the 42 total hours of writing time the group spent together, the group was able to really connect in the spirit of collaboration, making the process of writing the show in such a crunch course fairly smooth, according to Marshall.
“It’s very, very intense but it’s also a collaborative experience because you get to know all of these people in such close contact over that six weeks,” writer Sarah Turnmire said. “We’ve all gotten comfortable enough with each other to kind of form a community. It’s a real, official writers’ room at this point.”
Marshall is taking this class for the second time and said that the jokes flowed incredibly well in the writer’s room this year.
“Once we started writing together, I think that’s when we developed a little bit more and connected on a personal level, and we all got each other’s humor right away, which I think was really important,” writer Alysha White said.
Levant said every week he brought in writers and producers from professional productions, such as “Dumb and Dumber,” “Family Ties,” “Family Matters” and “Family Guy.” He said all of the professionals noted that they were highly impressed with the work of the class.
“It’s kind of a Herculean effort, and we’ve always been very successful,” Levant said.
Levant said the show was unique from previous boot camp works in that the main focus of the show goes beyond student life. He also noted the great chemistry among the writers as part of their success.
“It’s a tremendous challenge, and tonight I want(ed) the class to see the fruits of their labor, to hear the laughter, to see how it comes to life,” Levant said.
Zara Roy is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @zarazzledazzle