RIP David Lloyd, One of the Greatest of All TV Writers

Ken Levine has a tribute post to David Lloyd, the sitcom writer who died this morning “after a long illness.”

Lloyd’s best-known credit is the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of Mary Tyler Moore, but he wrote so many great episodes of so many shows that it’s impossible to list them all. He started as a writer for talk shows: Dick Cavett, Johnny Carson. He joined the staff of Mary Tyler Moore after producer Ed. Weinberger, himself a former Carson writer, brought him in; one of the reasons Mary Tyler Moore changed sitcoms is that it made use of several writers who didn’t have a lot of sitcom experience, and therefore re-invented the rules of the form. Lloyd started writing for the show in the fourth season and immediately became one of the most prolific scriptwriters in the history of television. He wrote 31 episodes of the show even though he didn’t start until halfway through its run. He was the go-to guy for almost any important episode: the one where Murray admits he’s in love with Mary, Ted’s wedding, the birth of Ted’s baby (in Mary’s apartment, of course; babies are never born in hospitals), the “Lou Dates Mary” episode that finally resolved the question of whether Lou and Mary belonged together, and, of course, “Chuckles Bites the Dust.”


Mary Tyler Moore was one of the few shows in history that actually got better in the second half of its run, and Lloyd was probably the biggest reason why; his scripts were famous for their excellence and how little revision some of them needed. (Ken Estin recalls in the oral history of The Simpsons that when he was running Taxi, he was told that Lloyd’s scripts should just go directly to the table-read stage because they didn’t need much rewriting. That didn’t work out so well in the case of that particular script — whatever it was — but the point is that Lloyd’s reputation preceded him: he’d been writing brilliant scripts that could barely be improved on.)

As an MTM staff writer, Lloyd also contributed to their other shows, writing for Rhoda, Phyllis, Bob Newhart and Lou Grant. In 1979 he joined the mass exodus of MTM people to Paramount and joined James L. Brooks and Ed. Weinberger at Taxi, where he wrote classic episodes like “Elaine’s Strange Triangle” (Elaine’s new boyfriend is bisexual and becomes interested in Tony) and “Louie Bumps Into an Old Lady”:

Lloyd didn’t have the same success as a creator or showrunner as he did working on other people’s shows. But he did co-create one successful show, “Brothers,” the cable sitcom about three brothers, one of whom is gay. The show, which the broadcast networks turned down, helped to put the Showtime network on the map, and was one of the first shows to portray a gay character in a non-sensationalized way. Lloyd also created some less-successful shows like “Mr. Smith” (about a chimpanzee — look, it was 1983 and the sitcom was dead; this is what was getting on the air) and spent a year or two running Weinberger’s creation Amen.

But for the most part, Lloyd was a scriptwriter first. His title was usually “creative consultant,” and what that meant in practice was that his main job was writing scripts, in all styles, from romantic comedy to serious-issue comedy to wild farce. On Cheers and Frasier he wrote crazy farces like “Ham Radio” on Frasier (the one about the old-school radio play where Niles has to do most of the voices), but also more pain-filled (yet still farcical) episodes like the one where Niles finalizes his breakup with Maris. And, again, as Levine points out, these scripts were often his scripts in a way that most TV scripts aren’t: he created scripts that could stand on their own without the producer and writing staff doing much to them.

On Wings and Frasier Lloyd worked for his son Christopher, who became a very successful writer himself (running Frasier and creating Modern Family).

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