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10/31/2006: There's More Than One Way to Bait a Schmuck
Some terms that writers use aren't used with great consistency. "Schmuck bait" is one of these terms. Most rooms use it, but they sometimes use it to refer to different things. The general sense, as the etymology would suggest, is to refer to something that the writer is doing to try to trick the audience... or to trick the more gullible segment of the audience anyway. To "bait" the "schmuck," if you will.
Sometimes, tricking the audience is a good and effective trick, and in some rooms the term is used to refer to this. If you create a creepy and menacing atmosphere and you want your audience to expect a vampire attack, when instead you've got the vampires attacking somewhere else entirely, that might be called schmuck bait without any sense that the writer has done something inelegant... in fact, they've done something very effective.
Most writers, and most writers' rooms, however, use the term to refer to an attempt to fool the audience into thinking something is going to happen which any intelligent viewer KNOWS won't happen. If Alan Shore were on the verge of death in an episode, and you hadn't read anything in Entertainment Weekly about Mr. Spader getting fired, then you probably shouldn't be too worried about his survival. This kind of schmuck-baiting, you don't want to do. (By they way, I have many friends at Boston Legal, and I assure you, they wouldn't do such a thing. Unless they thought it was funny.)
As you write your specs, be careful about that second kind. It can be tempting to want to do a big story for a spec, but don't try to build a lot of suspense around whether or not Dunder-Mifflin will suddenly close the Scranton office, or expect a reader to get worked up over whether or not House will take an offer from a hospital in San Francisco. 'Taint gonna happen. (And don't try to fix the problem by writing a spec in which... surprise... it really does happen! Now we're back to the previously described problem of writing an atypical episode.)
Lunch: one of those Japanese rice snacks in the shape of a triangle. They're cleverly packaged so the seaweed wrapper is kept separate until you want to use it.