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Bruce McCulloch's ''Carpoolers'' diary

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Bruce McCulloch’s ”Carpoolers” diary

Last summer I went to see the largest tree in the world. Not climb it or even photograph it, but merely look at it. Every summer my pals and I mutter, ”how many summers do we have left?” So we go on a man trip. A get-drunk-and-look-at-a-tree kind of trip. And we always talk about ”what we want to do next.” I had just finished writing a film for a studio and it was like, ”Congrats, they’re not going to do it, but they really like it.” And I was tired of getting paid for stuff that never happened. Or doing work I couldn’t explain to my chiropractor between cracks.

We were driving in the carpool lane, almost home. I had to slam on the brakes because the traffic just — stopped. And then I imagined an image: a man having an emotional breakdown in the carpool lane. His briefcase spewing as he ran screaming through traffic. And that was the start of Carpoolers. Also, we had been listening to Dr. Laura on the radio (a guilty pleasure — that we were listening to ironically) and there was a guy going on about having an emotional mistress. An emotional mistress? Great idea — none of the sex and all the guilt. I was thinking about how men do try to communicate but aren’t good at it. Really. But we are better at it than it seems on TV. Aren’t we? But men are different from women. I have never turned to a man and said, ”Okay, tell me everything and don’t leave out any details.” It’s more like, ”Are you still, you know, married? Oh, that new Snow Patrol record is really good.” Carpoolers was starting to make sense — men forced together and, therefore, all the stuff in their heads just leaks out. ”What would be funnier — if I killed my wife with a jar of pennies or a jar of pickles?”

At home, I turned to my wife and said, ”I’m going to do a TV show.” And I walked upstairs to my office and starting working. I’ve edited out the part about me going to sleep and taking several walks, having a sandwich, etc. And in my office I played around with this world. Busy men, happy, playful, tired, a little mean, funny. All the things I can be. See, I’m a firm believer in — it’s an idea’s job to entertain you, and if it collapses under its own weight, it’s the idea’s fault. Not yours. But not this time. Within two weeks I was ready to — I hate this word — pitch.

NEXT PAGE: ”The weird thing about showbiz is, you spend 45 minutes in a room with someone and are supposed to know if you want to spend two years with them. ‘What if they’re a freak? What if I’m not their type of freak?”’

Pitching — it makes you feel like Willy Loman, staring at your thumbs trying to sell something. And the weird thing about showbiz is, you spend 45 minutes in a room with someone and are supposed to know if you want to spend two years with them. ”What if they’re a freak? What if I’m not their type of freak?” So I explained — okay — pitched the idea. And here is where I back up for a second. Probably the hardest part for me and all the people I have worked with (like Kids in the Hall, say) is, we all got in this business to make stuff. Not explain it.

When I started, I would just think it was funny to do, say, a repetitive song about the Daves I know. Or whatever. So I tried it. I couldn’t explain what’s funny about it. How can you discuss the absurd? And it takes the fun out of it. That was the best thing about The Kids in the Hall — I would say, ”I want to do a thing with a drum machine where I dance and then stop. And then maybe, I don’t know, start up again.” And someone would say, ”We better get you a drum machine.”

But I did pitch my idea and three networks wanted to do it. I looked back on that sentence I just wrote and it felt like bragging. So I’m sorry, but it was part of the hard process of figuring out where to go with the show I was beginning to love.

The next few months were the madness that is pilot season: Flying in actors to ”test” and not having the time to actually meet them. Yet somehow I found all these actors, who I just wanted to be around. People who just wanted to make something cool and couldn’t believe we all got to do it. (And that hasn’t always been the case with things I’ve done. When someone seems like a freak….) I remember sitting in the lobby of ABC where another show was testing and seeing children signing contracts while their parents watched. And I thought to myself, The next few months are going to be fun. And they were. And they weren’t. But they were a lot more fun than writing a film you will never see about people we will never know…. Or trying to explain to that big tree what I had been doing with my time….

Carpoolers premieres on Tues., Oct. 2, at 8:30 p.m. ET, on ABC.

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