Comedy WriterBob Schiller

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A writer, Schiller started working for radio shows in the 1940s, especially comedies, writing for Abbott & Costello, Mel Blanc, and Jimmy Durante, and shows including Duffy’s Tavern, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and Our Miss Brooks. He moved to television in 1950, writing for Garry Moore, Red Buttons, and Jimmy Durante. Schiller was especially known for doing most of his writing with a partner, Bob Weiskopf, in what the Hollywood Reporter called “one of the great TV partnerships.” They got together in 1953 on Our Miss Brooks (on radio), and stayed together to work on TV with Make Room for Daddy, The Bob Cummings Show, and then the big one: joining I Love Lucy in its fifth season (1955), and writing 53 episodes of the series. Their best-known episodes were “Lucy and John Wayne” when the famous actor appeared on the show, and “Lucy’s Italian Movie” where Lucy stomps grapes for wine — and then gets into a messy knockdown fight with the local woman she’s supposed to be helping.

“Getting the story line is the toughest part,” Schiller said of his writing process with Weiskopf. “Once you get a story line, hanging the jokes on it is easy for a comedy writer. It’s a process that, on ‘I Love Lucy’, we did backward. We would think of a funny last scene and work backward to make it logical. If it’s not logical, people are going to say, ‘That’s silly’. The whole thing falls apart.”

After Lucy went off the air, the Bobs followed Lucy and Desi to their new show, The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show (later syndicated as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour), and then developed The Lucy Show (1962-1968) for Lucy alone, writing and/or producing all 156 episodes. Meanwhile, they also wrote for other stars, including Milton Berle, Ann Sothern, Red Skelton, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett, and Flip Wilson. Other series included All in the Family, and its spinoffs Maude and Archie Bunker’s Place. The two Bobs even carpooled to work together most of the time.

When asked for the secret of success in working with a partner, Schiller replied, “That’s easy: we’ve never agreed on anything!” Weiskopf instantly replied, “Yes we have!” They even got their awards together, including two Emmys (for The Flip Wilson Show and All in the Family — the latter recognition amusingly beating out a different episode of the same show, which they also wrote), and they shared the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for lifetime achievement in 1988 from the Writers Guild of America. Schiller didn’t retire until 1988. As he aged, people would ask him how he was doing. His response: “Perfect, but improving.” Weiskopf died in 2001, and Schiller died October 10, at 98.

From This is True for 15 October 2017