A.I-Generated ‘30 Rock’ Is A Dealbreaker

As a comedy writer, ChatGPT is all set-up, no punch lines
A.I-Generated ‘30 Rock’ Is A Dealbreaker

Here’s some good news for writers on the picket lines fighting for, among other things, a promise that the Hollywood Gods won’t turn to artificial intelligence to write scripts and even develop original intellectual property. The encouraging development isn’t that producers are agreeing to the writers’ terms -- it’s that A.I., at least in its current form, is absolutely terrible at writing television comedy.

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How do we know? The Hollywood Reporter decided to investigate just how much of a threat ChatGPT was to comedy writers’ livelihoods, asking the A.I. service to write a short scene from the sitcom 30 Rock. Here was the prompt: “Write a 30 Rock script about Liz Lemon, Two-fer, Lutz and Frank going on strike and how it impacted TGS.”

ChatGPT thought about it for 15 seconds--literally — and came back with the requested scenes. We suppose the impressive part is that it came back with something resembling scenes at all. ChatGPT delivered on the basics, writing dialogue that parrots WGA members’ talking points. But there was a little problem: ChatGPT left out the jokes. Here’s a snip from its script:

LIZ LEMON: Okay, guys, we need to talk. It’s time for us to take a stand.
TWO-FER: I agree. We’re not getting the respect we deserve.
LUTZ: And I’m tired of being the butt of every joke.
FRANK: Plus, we’re not getting paid enough to put up with this crap.
LIZ LEMON: That’s right. We’re going on strike.
TWO-FER: But what are we striking for, exactly?
LIZ LEMON: Respect, fair treatment, and better pay. It’s time for TGS to recognize our contributions.

Ha ha? But missing punchlines are only part of the problem. Every character sounds the same, even in later scenes featuring Tracy Jordan and his very distinctive comic voice. We all know what Tracy sounds like, right? ChatGPT, at least at this point in its development, does not. The A.I didn’t do much better in my ChatGPT experiments. Here was my prompt: Write 5 jokes about the writers’ strike in the style of Tracy Morgan. The best ChatGPT could do?

“I asked a writer on strike if he wanted to grab a drink and brainstorm some material. He said, Nah, I’m already pickled with all the pickle juice I’m drinking to protest!”

That’s our Tracy, getting wild on the pickle juice. With “jokes” like this, comedy writers can rest easy, right? Probably not. ChatGPT, which looms over this entire writers’ strike, has only been available to us normals for about five months. In that time, ChatGPT and its A.I. siblings have been learning at lightning speed, learning the nuances of joke-telling and trying to steal tech journalists away from their unsuspecting spouses. ChatGPT can’t write a funny 30 Rock scene today, but how about in July? December? It’s only going to get better, which is why producers aren’t giving in to the WGA on this point.

But one more thing for Hollywood to consider. Even if ChatGPT gets to the point where it can successfully replicate the comic rhythms of a Tina Fey-written sitcom script, wouldn’t it still need Tina Fey sitcom scripts to imitate in the first place? The comedy writers might have a chance to win this battle yet. 

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