Get Cancer or how Mark Brazill really came up with the idea of That ’80s Show


From an exchange of emails in fall 2001 between Judd Apatow, the creator of the sitcoms Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared and a successful writer of Hollywood screenplays, and Mark Brazill, the creator of That ’70s Show. Topher Grace is one of the stars of That ’70s Show.

(c) Originally from Harper’s Magazine, March 2002:

Mark,

I am writing you because I left a message but did not hear back. I understand that you were upset about me not calling you to ask if Topher could do our show. Since Fox executives were talking to Topher about it, I thought it was cool with you. Also, since I hadn’t written it yet, I wasn’t at the point of asking if it was possible to have him do it. I would have called your show then. I didn’t realize it would create a problem. I never wished to offend you. If there is some protocol for people on Fox doing guest shots on other Fox shows, I didn’t know what it was. Regardless, I’m sorry that this resulted in such a mess. If you are mad at me about this or something else from our past, please tell me. I only remember us having fun in the early nineties and it troubles me that it seems like you have a beef with me.

Best regards,

Judd Apatow

* * *

Judd,

Yeah, we were friends in the early nineties. And if you don’t recall what happened, I’ll remind you. I had a pilot at MTV called “Yard Dogs” about a rock band living in Hollywood. I told you about it and you proceeded to completely rip it off, storyline and all, for the Ben Stiller show. You called it “Grungies.” MTV and UTA [United Talent Agency] were working on an overall deal (MTV’s idea) with me, based on that pilot. When it turned up on your show everything went away overnight. I had just had my son Jack and I had no job, no money, nothing. There’s a saying, “I forgive but I don’t forget. And I don’t forgive.” So, now you know. Although I kind of think that you already did.

Mark

* * *

Mark,

I truly don’t remember anything you are talking about. Jeff Kahn wrote “The Grungies” sketch, a parody where we did Seattle bands as The Monkees. I don’t remember you ever calling me after that saying you were mad. Ben and I would get fifty sketches a week from the writers and then we’d pick the ones that we thought were funny. I never connected the two. Even now they don’t seem similar. Ours was a goofy over-the-top parody, not a situation comedy about musicians in L.A. Nobody watched our show so I don’t see how that could be the reason your pilot died. I am sorry you are upset. I am not a thief of ideas. I’m sorry you believe differently.

Judd Apatow

* * *

Judd,

The show I wrote was also over-the-top and it let down the fourth wall. Since it’s registered at the WGA [Writers Guild of America], you could compare the two. And as an Exec Producer, we both know you have input into every sketch. As for no one seeing the show, everyone knows everything in Hollywood. There are no secrets. Personally, I feel you’ve made a career out of being a sycophant to Carrey or Shandling or Roseanne, and when you weren’t kissing ass you were stealing from lesser-known comics or leeching off other people’s ideas (“Celtic Pride,” “Cable Guy”). I noticed how outraged you were to not get a writing credit on “Cable Guy” until it came out and was panned. You dropped that cause like the showbiz weasel you are. You may not think you’re a thief, but most comics know otherwise. And again, you know that too. Have you ever read “What Makes Sammy Run”? I think you’d like it. Get cancer.

Love,

Mark

* * *

Mark,

Come on, we all wrote for comics at the beginning of our careers. I wrote for Roseanne, you wrote for Dennis Miller. If that makes me a sycophant, then I guess I am. And so are the writers for “Caesar’s Hour.” I dropped my “Cable Guy” lawsuit not because the film got bad reviews but because I spent eighty grand on it and my lawyer told me I was going to lose. You would be upset if you rewrote the vast majority of a script and received no credit. I wish you had called me about this years ago. I’m sure we could have worked it out. Try not to be so angry. Not everyone is as bad as you think. You should call Jeff Kahn and ask him how that sketch originated. If it turned out that I didn’t steal your idea would you still want me to get cancer? I swear to God that I didn’t know you were mad about this. Until six weeks ago I was still referring to you as an old friend. Maybe one day I’ll be able to say that again.

Judd Apatow

* * *

Mark,

It’s come to my attention that you are upset with Judd Apatow about the sketch “The Grungies.” I completely understand why you would have been pissed off about seeing something similar to what you were working on at the time. However, the idea for “The Grungies” and all the initial writing and rewriting came from me. I also cast it, acted in it, and edited it. I was and still am influenced by pop music, and I thought it would be funny to satirize the seriousness of the Seattle grunge music scene with the ridiculous superficiality of “The Monkees” 1960s show. I hope that this clears up any misunderstanding. By the way, I am a huge fan of “That ’70s Show.” Congratulations on its well-deserved success. I also think it’s cool you set it in Wisconsin. I went to the University of Wisconsin at Madison and loved it. If you have any other questions don’t hesitate to email me.

Jeff Kahn

* * *

Mark,

I have no interest in talking with you on the phone anymore. I know you are very successful and think that gives you the right to judge people and berate them regardless of the facts, but I have had enough of you for one day. I know it’s hard to believe that your rock band TV idea, which every writer in this town has thought of at one point, was not on my mind half a year after you told it to me. Yes, you thought of breaking the fourth wall. Groucho and George Burns stole it from you. Why don’t you sue the guys who have that new show “How to Be a Rock Star” on the WB? I must have told them your idea. Nobody has ever goofed on rock bands, not “Spinal Tap” or The Rutles or 800 “Saturday Night Live” sketches. I should have told everyone on the show, no rock band sketches, that’s Brazill’s area. So hold on to your hate and rage, even though it makes no sense. I’ll go back to my life of thievery and leeching. As for the cancer, I’ll wait till you get it and then steal it from you. By the way, that joke was one of my writers’, Rodney Rothman (see, I credited him). See, I have no original thoughts. Sorry I bothered to figure this out.

Judd

* * *

Judd,

How appropriate that you had to use someone else’s joke to take a swipe at me. I told you my idea. You did it two weeks later, VERBATIM. Spew revisionist shit all you want. Everyone knows you’re a hack. Also, everyone knows how you fucked over Paul Feig on the new show. All your press mentions “your” brilliant “Freaks and Geeks,” as if Feig didn’t even do the series. It must have killed you when the true genius behind it got nominated for an Emmy. Is your wife still livid about someone in the neighborhood building a house just like hers? Tell her I know how she feels. The reason I called was to tell you to piss off. We’ll never be “friends,” regardless of the pussy whining from your last email. I respect you zero. See ya at the upfronts, bitch! Well . . . unless you get canceled before that. Until then, die in a fiery accident and taste your own blood. (Is that too angry?)

Love,

Brazill

* * *

Mark,

I hope your anger is a joke, because if it isn’t . . . wow. Here’s a line by line reply. I have starred (*) the replies if you are confused by my format.

>How appropriate that you had to use someone else’s joke to take a swipe at me.

***That was the joke. How interesting that you couldn’t understand that. You would think someone with the lineage of “Yard Dogs” would have the intellectual acumen to pick up on that. I feel for the writers that have to pitch to you. Never doubt how much they hate you.

>I told you my idea. You did it two weeks later, VERBATIM. Spew revisionist shit all you want.

***How could I hear your idea, steal it, and then have it air two weeks later? It was a filmed sketch show. Sketches were written months before they aired. They were filmed six weeks before they aired. I thought you were a producer. Shouldn’t you understand how these shows are made? Do you start writing episodes two weeks before they air? Maybe you stole “Yard Dogs” from me.

>Everyone knows you’re a hack.

***That’s why I kiss the ass. Let me know who thinks I am a hack so I can kiss their ass as well. I also suck dick lately. That’s how I got my Dreamworks deal.

>It must have killed you when the true genius behind it got nominated for an Emmy.

***I’m sure it’s hard for you to believe, but I do not control the national media. That is only true in your paranoid mind. If I create a show they often mention the last show. When they write about “That ’80s Show” I am sure they won’t ever mention “That ’70s Show.” I wrote an entire article in the “L.A. Times,” a cover story in the calendar, that credited Paul for his work. He went from a struggling actor to an established writer/producer over the course of a year. He is still my friend and I am very happy that he was nominated for two Emmys. He deserved it. I wasn’t upset about his Emmy nominations, I already have enough. The certificates are so big you can only hang so many before it starts looking tacky.

>Is your wife still livid about someone in the neighborhood building a house just like hers?

***Yes.

>Tell her I know how she feels.

***I’m on it.

>The reason I called was to tell you to piss off. We’ll never be “friends,” regardless of the pussy whining from your last email.

***The funniest part of these emails is how bad your sense of humor is. You neither get nor can tell a joke. After you said “get cancer” did you really think I was looking to heal our relationship? Usually the cancer insult is a closer. I’m sure everyone who has suffered with that appreciates your sharp wit.

>I respect you zero.

***Oh no.

>See ya at the upfronts, bitch! Well . . . unless you get canceled before that.

***If you think cancellation hurts me at this point, you haven’t been following my career as closely as I thought. I guess you are too busy tracking my real estate problems.

>Until then, die in a fiery accident and taste your own blood.

***That’s a Sam Kinison line, you stupid fuck!!!! Hypocrite!!!! J’accuse!!!!

>(Is that too angry?)

>Love, Brazill

***Mark, I have enjoyed this. It’s good to see the tragedies of the past few months haven’t watered down your passion. I guess if Mark Brazill doesn’t go insane over stuff that makes no sense, the terrorists win. Good luck with “That ’80s Show.” And I look forward to “That ’90s Show.”

Judd Apatow

::Followup::
Recent SuicideGirls Interview:

DRE: Did you and Mark Brazill ever make up?

JA: Yes everyone’s all made up.

DRE: Are you serious?

JA: Everything is nice in the world. There’s bigger problems on earth than that.

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