live audience, as the show is
performed straight through.
The audience's reaction, some-
times "sweetened" by prere-
corded merriment, takes the
place of a laugh track. "Molly
Dodd" and "'Slap' Maxwell,"
however, are filmed much like
a motion picture, in separate
takes. "When I think of our
show, I don't think of it as
episodic television," says Roz
Doyle, a producer on both
Tarses shows. "I think of them
as small films." Producing
a show this way is more cost-
ly and time-consuming-five
days to shoot a half-hour show
instead of one day-but it gives
the program a more natural
look. That's why all of this sea-
son's dramatic comedies are
produced in this way.
Jay Tarses sits alone in his
office. On his desktop are a va-
riety of gewgaws-a Ted Wil-
liams baseball card, a dart
gun, a translucent green bar of
soap that comes from Blair
Brown's dressing-room shower.
He writes evenly on a legal pad
with a felt-tip pen, pausing ev-
ery so often to revise. This is the
first draft of a "Molly" script.
Next to the pad is a word-pro-
cessed excerpt from another
script; the top two-thirds have
been crossed out in pink ink and the
bottom third has been rewritten in light
When Tarses and Brush talk about the
writing they do for "Molly" and "'Slap',"
they use the term "mystical." Tarses says
he doesn't know why "Molly". works.
Brush says he "doesn't feel responsible"
for some of the things his characters do.
Both writers identify with the characters
so strongly that they believe the charac-
ters take over the writing. Undoubtedly,
this is why the two Tarses shows have
such an idiosyncratic tang. And it helps to
explain why nearly everything on the
shows is written by Tarses and Brush.
With few exceptions, even shows that
credit other writers are heavily rewritten
by one or the other.
Tarses is a man with strong convictions,
and this has sometimes caused hard feel-
ings. "Jay has always been a guy who has
his own particular vision and doesn't let
anything get in the way of it," says Allan
Burns, the cocreator of "The Mary Tyler
Moore Show" and an old friend. "He comes
on real tough, real stern with network
guys," says Bernie Brillstein, "because he
cares about what he's doing." Tarses comes
into a network meeting, says Brandon Tar-
tikoff, "the way other people go to the den-
tist-preparing to deal with a lot of pain."
Both Tarses and Brush speak of being on "a
mission." Tarses grins when he says,
"We're messianic, but we're friendly."
Despite having two shows in production,
Tarses is cautious about his chances for
long-term success. He is not about to give
up on TV, though, even after receiving
movie offers. "Television gets done. You do
a show and you finish it and it goes on the
air," he says. "I just don't think I could ever
get what I would need creatively in the
movie business. I can get it in television."
At the moment he's happy. He and his wife
of 25 years, Rachel, live in a nice L.A. sub-
urb, Woodland Hills. His daughter Jamie,
23, works with current NBC comedy series.
Another daughter, Mallory, 21, is a junior
at Brown. And a son, Matt, 19, is a sopho-
more at Williams. Tarses likes to collect
baseball cards and bric-a-brac, and he plays
slow-pitch softball on Sundays. But, most-
ly, he works. "You know," he confesses,
"this is pretty much all I do."
Exactly 10 minutes away from the ugly
gray building is a forgettable red-brick
building. Also in North Hollywood. Soon
they'll shoot "MollyDodd"here because the
gray buildingcanonly handleoneshow. The
red-brick building sits between a manufac-
turerofwhirlpool baths anda warehouse for
film-editing equipment. "Deeper," Jay
Tarses says, "in the bowels of hell."
On the set: Beth Hillshafer (left) directs
NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS 11
PHOTOS BY ART STREIBER
Putting it together: Tarses and editor Paul Anderson