Sunday, October 14, 2007

You're on the air. Now what?

Got a good sitcom question from reader, Scott:

I think it was the 4th episode (of BACK TO YOU). If you caught the episode then perhaps you can explain some things... The guy who plays the investigative reporter wasn't in the show at all. The character is the one that cracks all the smart ass one liners (he's the maury amsterdam, murray slaughter, chandler bing). But the actor playing him was out sick/got another job/fired/quit.

There's another character, the weather reporter (Ayda Field, pictured: right) , who is a silly often oblivious, bimbo type.
However, in this particular episode she kept saying witty smart ass one-liners. And it was sooo out of character. Should we as the audience just presume that the writers of the show didn't want to depart with their great lines and therefore handed them to another character, even if the lines didn't fit?

didn't you ever run into this situation personally?

I haven’t seen the episode but have it Tivoed so I will soon. I still have to get to PUSHING DAISIES (a lot of you really like it), the replay of game two of the American League Championship Series (don't tell me who won), and fast forwarding through four TELL ME YOU LOVE ME’s to watch the sex scenes. But your question speaks to a larger issue. New series need time to find their way. The good showrunners are the ones who understand and embrace this. They don’t pre-write ten episodes and just film them as is.

Instead, they really listen to the audience reaction, they continually analyze what’s working, what’s not, what’s missing, are the stories being told the best way, is the tone right? In general, how could they do this better? And as a result characters may begin to shift a little. I don’t know the thinking behind any of the BACK TO YOU midcourse corrections but the fact that the show is evolving already is a good thing. Watch your favorite comedy series. Usually the better episodes come late in the first season or even the second.

The Fonz was originally supposed to be a minor character in HAPPY DAYS. Frasier first appeared on CHEERS in season three. WILL & GRACE really became “Jack & Karen”.

If you watch the first five or six episodes of CHEERS you’ll see we were all over the map. We didn’t know whether the show should center on its central cast or a series of colorful characters that entered the bar (a la BARNEY MILLER). So there are episodes that went in both of those directions. The one thing that became clear early on was that Sam & Diane needed to be at the heart of every episode. Their relationship was the key. And eventually the series settled in. (And the nutty characters coming into the bar was ixnayed.)

Also on CHEERS when Rebecca was introduced her character was meant to be a stern, together martinet. But it just wasn’t clicking. We found though that when Rebecca got a little rattled Kirstie Alley was really funny. And so we not-so-slowly moved her in that direction to where her character became a mess. And suddenly we had something.

Part of the fun of watching new series is seeing how the writing staff experiments and shapes it. BACK TO YOU has top people at the helm. My guess is they’re only going to make the show better. And if they give the hot weather girl a lot more to do I won’t need to fast forward through TELL ME YOU LOVE ME.

24 comments:

Great Big Radio Guy said...

WAY far away from the meat of the topic...but don't you think this is a better picture of Ayda Field?

Thanks for the indulgence. Now back to the thread.

a. buck short said...

Great Big Radio Guy said...
WAY far away from the meat of the topic...but don't you think this is a better picture of Ayda Field?


Yes and yes.

Geoduck said...

Poor girl's gonna catch cold..

Anonymous said...

Having seen all the Back To You so far, I guess the character was one too many. The main set is already broad, 4 is a better number, like a band, rather than what they had: The program manager (heavyset young kid) is very good, the two stars are good but still finding their non-Frasier and non-Raymond reason for being. And it was odd to introduce a child and then she is no more important to the dialog in this episode. Fred Willard is great, but as always, playing the same character...

The "Weathergirl" is...meh, just for playing jokes against, not really a character. IF they were thinking of newsrooms, they should have come up with a revolving character, the "always-replaced weathergirl character", that gives more options. Rather than now getting fixed to a bimbo who has to become "serious" eventually, just to attrack the male viewers. Funnier would have been more along he lines of a "Louanne" or "Georgette" from MaryTMoore days. Not a T&A bimbo caricature solely.

Finally, what I think really has to go is trying to make already signature shots, like each ending with the stupid "I learned something" motif, followed by everyone stands and watches the monitors in the newsroom together of some funny scene, or does something together like in episode 4, saying goodbye in the "funny voice".

The strenght of the series is in the middle segments, when the running gag for a plot is going, and ex-Frasier and ex-Raymondswife have the chance to go back and forth with each other. The endings are always hammy.

Having said all that, the episode 3 with the fishbowl was really strong in that way of running gag, and episode 4 with trying to steal the top news event, only to have it shifted, was another hit. As soon as you leave those two characters, it drops down fast (like trying to make a few minutes out of the Bill Macy old man intern joke, who ends up smoking pot..hahaha...real skill there)

Wayne from Maine said...

I wish the weather girls round here looked like that!!!!!

I said...

Thanks for the picture of Ayda Field. I shall be forever grateful.

Didn't she have a hispanic accent in the pilot? Maybe I imagined that -- or it went away.

Craig said...

This is really away from the meat of the post, but I hate the fact that someone who looks like Ayda Field is considered hot. Other than big tits, what else is there? She has NO muscle anywhere. There is nothing more disgusting than a "soft" girl, and she looks mushy. Hell, I bet you'd leave a finger mark if you poked her shin. It's really stomach turning..

Diogo said...

I had a couple of questions regarding mid course corrections on a series, but I think I can ask them here. I always wondered how the fan response was like, back when the dinossaurs ruled the earth, regarding a tv show, specially when they got into character departures. nowadays we get on the web and complain, but how was it like back when? Is it true they filmed "false season finales" when Shelley Long decided to leave Cheers?

another related question is: as much as I loved the characters on cheers, when they entered the Frasier universe several years later, they seemed SO out of place. I know the writers tried to make the episodes funny, but it mostly it felt like a thankless job (exceptions to Lillith and Diane, because they were part of Frasier's life before, so it felt organic), but when it came to Sam, I think the plot line had something to do with him getting married with Tea Leoni, and I think when it came to Woody, the story actually was, Frasier realising the 2 of them had nothing in common. how hard is it to bring characters from a former show into a new show, where the main character already changed quite a bit?

and yes, I'm still getting over the departure of Sara Wayne Callies from Prison break, but than again I could listen to her read the phone book. not really, but I'd listen to the audio book if they had one.

Scott said...

I think characters do grow in shows. Often the writers make them dumber (and just play for laughs).
And certainly 2nd fiddle minor characters do become bigger.
The Fonz is a great example.
Cheers had Cliff.
MASH had Klinger.

Family Matters had Urekel!

But this montana character is horrible. And poor Fred Willord has a thankless job. We will see this week if the investigative reporter is back.

Very rarely does a show go through its entire life (pilot to series finale) without having to add/subtract major characters.

Friends, the Golden Girls and Frasier are probably the best of the bunch.

Roger Green said...

hope you TiVoed long - extra innings!

tb said...

Also a bit off topic, but Ken, you once talked about some of the stupid things writers have to deal with, one being actors saying "but my character would never say that". And you rolled your eyes like they have no say. And I'm just wondering 'huh?" I mean, if an actor has played the same character for years don't they have a feel for this?

Diogo said...

I don't know if you guys have been following this but there were some comments being made posted by a writter of a FOX show, about the validaty of a character's demise. and, well to put it mildly he expressed himself in very rude terms towards the fan community saying things like "if you think a writer can't write whatever he wants you are wrong. if it excites me I will torture the hell out of "them (characters), I will injure the hell out of them,and I'll kill the hell out of them" and I thought "Wow talk about a high horse". I mean technically that's sort of true, but given the circunstances I thought he would understand that fans invest in character and story, and it's not that strange to get invested in the story, that after all he helped create. I just hope for the time when he will have a new project to promote, or the next time he uses the web to promote his book, so I can express myself in the same terms. sometimes it hurts a little bit that people on the internet are still considered to be "the viewing public's stupid cousin".

estiv said...

Given the circumstances I thought he would understand that fans invest in character and story, and it's not that strange to get invested in the story, that after all he helped create.

Yeah but...I think creators of shows sometimes forget that after they've worked so hard to create believable and sympathetic characters and situations, that we non-professionals actually fall for it. After all, Ken knows that David Hyde Pierce is not Niles Crane--he's probably had dinner with Pierce. But while I know intellectually that that's the case, when I see Pierce's face I think "man who loved Daphne," not "actor." And there are writers who just don't get that. As well as actors, of course.

One of the recurring motifs in Shakespeare is the idea of believability, particularly as it applies to actors. He seems to be fascinated with how a phony world can seem real. A good show is a world like our world, except...it's fake. But it better not be too clearly fake.

Hey Ken, how about a post on times that character changes worked, and when they did not? I nominate as one example Rhoda's husband, whose character was completely altered in order to justify a divorce. Nobody I knew bought it. It was too much. Of course, now I'll probably find out that you were the writer responsible for it...

Anonymous said...

The character development of Rebecca on Cheers has always been interesting to me. She started off upright, efficient, and humorless, but then gradually it was revealed that she was a neurotic mess underneath. That's when she became funny--but she was funny because of the contradiction between how she presented herself and who she really was.

In her post-Cheers show Veronica's Closet, Kirstie Alley's character started out as a neurotic mess from the get-go, and it wasn't funny at all. (Of course, the writing wasn't nearly as good as it was on Cheers either... and I'm not just sucking up by saying that.)

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I can't stand Kirstie Alley, and the biggest challenge for CHEERS was to try to make me believe anyone would find her attractive. They failed. I found all of those episodes with her in them so unbelieveable I stopped watching.

jbryant said...

craig said: "This is really away from the meat of the post, but I hate the fact that someone who looks like Ayda Field is considered hot. Other than big tits, what else is there? She has NO muscle anywhere. There is nothing more disgusting than a "soft" girl, and she looks mushy. Hell, I bet you'd leave a finger mark if you poked her shin. It's really stomach turning.."

Yikes, dude. You're well within your rights to have a "type," but this borders on "too much information." I guess you should just be glad you're not stuck in the '50s, when the (by your standards) morbidly obese Marilyn Monroe was an icon of the feminine form. And don't watch "Mad Men" -- you may retch on your remote at all those "soft girls" running around.

Luckily, Ayda Field stars in a comedy, where her talent and timing can detract from her "digusting" looks. Or do you find that impossible? Would Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Jean Stapleton, Bea Arthur, Sarah Silverman, America Ferrara, you name it, be any funnier if they were muscle-bound gym rats? Or is it okay as long as they're not being passed off as "hot?"

My tone is snarky, but my questions are serious.

Sebastian said...

Nice thread...

You know people you can be attracted to a woman not only because she looks hot but "maybe" also because she has personality, is you type etc. etc.

But I guess guys need boobs. And "muscles". Maybe I am the only one who looks for something more here because wouldn't be able to date a beautiful bimbo...

jbryant said...

sebastian's post makes me think that mine may not have been quite snarky enough to get my point across (I thought the quotation marks and parentheticals would do it). I was taking craig to task, not supporting him. Maybe I should've just said "craig, why should we care about your taste in women, and why should you care if someone finds Ayda Field attractive?" and let it go at that.

Dwacon said...

I'm not on the air...

I'm on the floor!

Dhppy said...

That picture of Ayda Field looks like she was found in someone's sex dungeon after having gone missing for a year. Sad, hungry, dejected. Not good.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Getting back on the subject at hand... I hope you will follow this series more closely, Ken. Unless you want tosomeday write for it, I would love to know your comments on it's development.

Personally, I hope the reporter guy will stay in the show because a. he gives the show a sort of connection to the outside world and b. I really like the actor in this (much much more than in his previous role in Out Of Practice). I read somewhere (it might have been here) that most of te characters in Out Of Practice weren't funny enough and I wonder how this paradigm fits in with this series. Are the characters funny enough? Should they be funnier? Or should they be more real?

At least he was not yet removed from the title sequence, such as the bitchy lady from The Class was, when she was forcebly removed. And he is named for at elast three more episodes on IMDB.

Craig said...

"Luckily, Ayda Field stars in a comedy, where her talent and timing can detract from her "digusting" looks."

well, if you think she was chosen because of her comic timing, then I cannot help you!! LOL!!

And not "musclebound." Just not mushy. I bet America Ferrara is significantly more substantial. That entire look being foisted on us by Hollywood makes me shudder. Skinny, but devoid of ANY body type but fake boobs. And we wonder why all our daughters have no self esteem...

jbryant said...

craig: I thought snarkiness relieved me of any responsibility to be factual. :) Actually, I suspect Field won her role over many far less "mushy" girls on the strength of her comedy experience. As for "our daughters" and their lack of self esteem, I agree Hollywood's "ideal" is damaging. But your comment, "There is nothing more disgusting than a 'soft' girl..." sounds exactly like the Hollywood attitude to me, and certainly wouldn't help the self-esteem of the average girl. We can, however, agree about fake boobs.

Scott said...

Ken,

Here's ANOTHER QUESTION FOR YOU though...
Which character on ANY of the shows that you wrote for (including your own series) did you find the easiest to write for? And which one(s) was the hardest as you just couldn't capture the voice of the character?

Thanks...

BTW,
On "Back to You" the smartass character was back. So it must've been the flu.
But the Ayda Field character...ugh. She's viewable but mutable.
Besides I've always had a thing for Pat Heaton so she's enough for me.