In between schmoozing with kids for his acclaimed Fairfax High documentary "Senior Year" in 1998, filmmaker David Zeiger hung out with the funny old guys who did lunch with his dad on Tuesdays at the Mulholland Tennis Club.
The result is his new doc, "Funny Old Guys," which captures the lively interaction of a dozen Jewish octogenarian TV writers who kibitz and kvetch over Cobb salad and chicken soup.
The Algonquin Round Table it isn't. Instead, the guys reminisce about working for shows from "Bonanza" to "The Brady Bunch," tell off-color jokes and argue about subjects such as the early days of TV to the state of their prostates. The film takes a serious turn when one of the guys gets cancer.
David Shaw, a veteran of 1950s TV dramas, and Frank Tarloff ("The Dick Van Dyke Show") describe how they met at age 12 while living on the same street in Brooklyn. They became writers when Shaw came out to Los Angeles to visit his brother, novelist Irwin Shaw, met Irwin's writer friends and then told Tarloff, "We're funnier than they are."
But the youths didn't have artsy ambitions. "Like all the guys, they grew up poor, the sons of immigrants," Zeiger told The Journal. "There wasn't money for medical school, so they became writers to make a good living."
Zeiger's dad, Irv, a businessman, the only non-writer at the weekly meetings, met the guys at the tennis club in the 1960s. "But I didn't pay any attention to them, because I kind of saw them as 'old farts,'" says Zeiger, 52, who was more interested in counterculture politics.
When he rediscovered the "Guys" in 1998, he says he "had an epiphany that these were the guys who had created the TV shows I grew up with. I also wanted to learn how they were facing life's biggest challenge: The End."
Zeiger and "Guys" will appear at a Museum of Television and Radio screening on Sept. 4. For more information, call (310) 786-1000.