1. Paul Kinsey’s Star Trek script, Mad Men
Breaking Bad’s typically grim, full-throttle mid-fifth-season première allows itself at least one reprieve, during which Heisenberg associate Brandon “Badger” Mayhew details his plot for a spec Star Trek script. Matt Jones isn’t alone among AMC stars who’ve dreamed up never-to-be-realized voyages of the starship Enterprise—he’s preceded in this respect by Mad Men’s copywriter-turned-Hare Krishna Paul Kinsey. In an office full of frustrated artists, Sterling Cooper’s resident fake beatnik is the most frustrated, a condition that’s compounded when account exec (not even a creative!) Ken Cosgrove begins his fruitful career in short fiction. Under the nom de plume Ben Hargrove, Ken would even find success in Kinsey’s chosen genre, science fiction. That’s probably not enough to drive Paul into the arms of the International Society For Krishna Consciousness, but ladle “The Punishment Of X-4” on top of being left in the dust in season three’s “Shut The Door. Have A Seat” and you have one shaken copywriter. As revealed in the fifth-season episode “Christmas Waltz,” however, Paul never stopped writing, channeling his energies into a script for 1966’s space opera du jour, Star Trek. When last we see Paul, he’s following Captain Kirk and company into the great unknown, moving to Los Angeles with his script and $500 from old friend Harry Crane. Of course, more disappointment and frustration await Paul on the opposite coast—the original Star Trek would be no more by the end of the decade.
2. Z Is For Zombie, New Girl
Like many wannabe creative types stuck in a thankless service-industry job, New Girl’s Nick Miller isn’t a bartender—he’s an author, forever laboring on an undead epic titled Z Is For Zombie. Well, “laboring” is a relative term: Up until the second-season episode “Eggs,” Nick hasn’t actually done much work on the novel, instead using the concept of Z Is For Zombie as a defense against his innate shiftlessness. Nick has good reason to be scared of the amount of work it’ll take to complete the novel, a trial made more daunting when it’s revealed he unknowingly lifted its premise, setting, and supporting cast of lycanthropes from the Twilight franchise. Another reason to procrastinate: The first draft of Z Is For Zombie—excerpted at the end of “Eggs”—is terrible, fraught with misspellings of the word “rhythm,” transparent shots at the author’s deadbeat father, and non-literary filler like a word search that contains no words.
3. Billy And The Cloneasaurus, The Simpsons
While many writerly efforts by Simpsons characters have real-world analogs (for instance, Marge’s seafaring bodice ripper, The Harpooned Heart), only Seymour Skinner’s brief foray into the realm of cautionary speculative fiction is such a blatant rip-off that it reduces a relatively reasonable fellow like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon to denounce it in no uncertain, extremely unkind terms. It’s not just because Skinner’s novel about “a futuristic amusement park where dinosaurs are brought to life through advance cloning techniques” so closely resembles a Michael Crichton bestseller and its Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation—it’s also because the title Billy And The Cloneasaurus carries none of the fleet, catchy mystique of Jurassic Park. The sequence of “Sweet Seymour Skinner’s Baadasssss Song” where an out-of-work Skinner pitches his novel in the Kwik-E-Mart is an expertly written bit of comedic bait-and-switch, but it also demonstrates how the hopelessly square, pop-culture-illiterate once-and-future administrator belongs in a principal’s chair. But what more can be expected from a man who stole another man’s identity out of pure spinelessness?
4. New Warden, Arrested Development
New Warden is a disturbingly plausible, probably confessional screenplay written by Warden Stefan Gentles about his experiences running the prison where George Bluth Sr. is incarcerated. Every random sample (“Listen, new fish, that bunk was open because the last guy wouldn’t do the things you’re going to do”) suggests the sinister side of its scribe, whose vision manifests most clearly in a running motif in which the titular new warden beats misbehaving inmates with a pillowcase full of batteries. Gentles’ sleaze even crops up in his quid pro quo with Hollywood exec Maeby Fünke, but he’s surprisingly collaborative. He wisely trades crabs for chlamydia at the suggestion of Lucille Bluth, and he stages the show as his granddaughter’s school play, delighting in the violence of his imagination in spite the children’s stilted delivery of lines like, “Nobody sells any coke in this pen without daddy getting a taste.”
5. They Called Me Mayday, Cheers
From the moment she steps into Sam Malone’s bar, Diane Chambers describes herself as a “poetess,” but she didn’t write much of anything until an attempt at prose in season two’s “They Called Me Mayday.” In one of Cheers’ rare celebrity cameos, Dick Cavett drops by the bar, and Diane naturally can’t resist hounding him with her poetry. To her horror, Cavett blows her off, only to turn around and suggest Sam may have a memoir in him, even offering to hook him up with a publisher. Sam manages to flatter Diane into ghostwriting for him, but to protect her academic reputation, she adopts the pen name Jessica Simpson-Bourget. After writing a few sample chapters of a ballplayer’s struggle with alcoholism, Cavett returns to reject the book, but suggests that sex sells, and with some of Sam’s womanizing thrown in, another publisher could go for the book. Diane insists she would never prostitute her talents, but Sam slyly asks, “Would Jessica Simpson-Bourget?” “That little smut-peddler? In a minute!” Soon they’re back to work on a steamier version of the memoir, leading to the terrific gag of Diane calmly asking Coach for a glass of water, then throwing it in her own face and declaring, “Boy, can I write!” Even though the book is never mentioned again, it’s nice to see that, stripped of her pretensions, Diane manages to get more written—and enjoy it more—than she ever did in the world of academia.
6. Take A Chance: A Jack Colquitt Adventure, The X-Files
The X-Files’ main antagonist is a cipher throughout the show’s run, but in season four’s “Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man,” the cruel, heartless conspirator is revealed to also be a frustrated writer. Under the name Raul Bloodworth, the CSM writes Take A Chance: A Jack Colquitt Adventure, a novel that’s strongly implied to be a thinly fictionalized account of his own experiences as a player in an international (and interplanetary?) conspiracy of vast proportions. Probably no surprise then that it’s rejected as sensationalized, implausible trash. Over the years, the CSM collects rejection slips, but sticks with his dream until he finally finds a publisher in Roman À Clef, a magazine that agrees to serialize his story. That milestone achieved, the CSM types up his resignation letter, ready to give up his place among the shadows of conspiracy to embrace a life of letters. Then he sees the magazine, and realizes not only is it sleazy trash, its editors also changed his ending and screwed up the whole story. Disappointed, he tears up his resignation and returns to a life of pulling strings from the shadows, abandoning his dreams of being a novelist.
7. Lou Grant’s World War II novel, The Mary Tyler Moore Show
The denizens of the TV newsroom offices on The Mary Tyler Moore Show seemed especially susceptible to sudden bursts of literary ambition. (Maybe it was all those typewriters, just sitting there.) Murray was always dying inside because he hadn’t gotten around to writing the Great American Novel; Mary submitted an article to Reader’s Digest and once took a creative-writing course, which Ted proceeded to crash. Their fearless leader, Lou Grant, fell into the “older but wiser” category and, when the others began daydreaming aloud, would remind them of his own unpublished World War II novel, Too Many Foxholes, Not Enough Love. It was rejected by multiple publishers, he would explain, all of whom complained that it had too many foxholes.
8. “Earth Vs. Soup,” Mystery Science Theater 3000
In space, no one can hear you scream. But if someone’s in space and screaming, chances are they were dragged into one of the writing workshop exercises staged by Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Crow T. Robot, whose only qualifications as a writer are a head filled with bad movies and way too much time on his hands. Hosting a reader of his sci-fi spec script “Earth Vs. Soup”—“capturing that Cold War flavor”—Crow insists on absolute fidelity to what’s on the page, even when Joel Robinson complains that he’s being asked to perform “six pages of ‘no’s!” Let he who has never been paid by the word cast the first stone.
9. Hurley’s Empire Strikes Back rewrite, Lost
Ever since H.G. Wells invented the time machine in 1895, the concept of time travel has fueled some of the great “What if?” scenarios in popular culture. If time could turn back, would you kill Hitler before his rise to power? Or prevent the Kennedy assassination? Or would you set aside such trivial matters in favor of dealing with the greatest evil of the past half-century: George Lucas? In the fifth-season Lost episode “Some Like It Hoth,” Hugo “Hurley” Reyes (Jorge Garcia) is stranded in the year 1977 (because that’s what the island wanted, for some reason), right around the time of the first Star Wars movie’s release. Knowing that Lucas will soon start working on the sequel, the ever-helpful Hurley decides to save everyone a little time by writing the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back (which he’s seen 200 times), “with a couple improvements.” Since one of those improvements involves Luke Skywalker putting aside his lightsaber and talking things out with Darth Vader, it’s probably a good thing Hurley never got to present his work to the Lucasfilm powers-that-be. His heart was in the right place, however: If Luke and his father worked things out in Empire, there would be no need for Return Of The Jedi, and thus no Ewoks. And as Hurley knows as well as anyone: “The Ewoks suck, dude.”
10. Martin Crane’s songs for Frank Sinatra, Frasier
Frasier rarely wasted a chance to work in a musical number, usually as a chance to give star Kelsey Grammer a chance to flex his booming baritone (see: the show’s theme, sung by its star). The third season’s “Martin Does It His Way” gives co-star John Mahoney a chance to croon, building a plot around Martin Crane’s secret hobby ghostwriting Frank Sinatra songs. While working as a cop, Martin apparently killed time on stakeouts writing big band numbers and squirreling them away in a shoebox. With a little help from his sons, Martin polishes off the song “Groovy Lady” and sends it off to Ol’ Blue Eyes. There’s no interest, but Martin’s able to flex his songwriting chops all the same. He also gets the opportunity to hear the song performed live, when Frasier mounts a performance at a funeral in lieu of a eulogy for his unlikable aunt.
11. Elaine’s Murphy Brown spec script, Seinfeld
To chart the everyday life of a Seinfeld character like Elaine Benes is to get a sense of the full range of cultural interests and ambitions of an average thirtysomething New Yorker in the ’90s: The possibilities include meeting the great Russian author Testikov, protesting the indecipherable cartoons in The New Yorker, dozing off during The English Patient, or dialing up whatever muse is in charge of sitcoms and trying to write a spec script for Murphy Brown. Elaine lets her creative insecurities show when she finds that Jerry and George have let themselves into her apartment and are studying her work—first she berates them for violating her privacy, then she softens when Jerry tells her it’s funny. But why Murphy Brown, of all things? “I don’t know,” she says. “Those writers make a lot of money.”
12. Ben Wyatt’s Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction, Parks And Recreation
Ben Wyatt’s areas of nerd expertise cover Game Of Thrones, Batman, and the alpha/omega of Star Wars and Star Trek. (But nerd culture is mainstream now, so to use the word derogatorily is to be outside of the zeitgeist.) In the fifth-season episode “How A Bill Becomes A Law,” Parks And Recreation took this passionate commitment to nerdiness to new heights. As Ben and April sit in his car, stuck in a parking garage traffic jam caused by a presidential motorcade, they have nothing to do but pass the time by reading Ben’s Star Trek: The Next Generation fan fiction aloud. April chides Ben about his writing in their office in D.C., but when he’s actually reading a Picard/Data story that verges on slash fiction (“Data had never felt this way before. Of course, Data had never felt anything before.”), she escalates to deadpan death threats. The existence of that particular story would be a lot less disconcerting if a cursory Google search didn’t yield some frightening Parks And Rec slash-fic as well.