Thursday, May 01, 2008

Your Q's, my A's

I'm off to Chicago for the night. My daughter Annie is the head sketch writer for the big annual Nortwestern student produced revue (the Waa-Mu Show). All of Evanston is buzzing about it.

In the meantime...

Got an email from Jamie Frevele, a new friend I met after she wrote a piece on the HuffingtonPost ripping my AMERICAN IDOL recap from last week. In her email she asked some great questions that I thought would make a nifty post. If you have questions send ‘em in. Happy to answer whether I know what the hell I’m talking about or not.


Do sitcom writers ever look at writing episodes as if they're one-act plays, just with the same characters? And do any of them have theater backgrounds?


I can’t speak for all sitcom writers but for myself, depending on the show, I will think of a multi-camera show as a one-act play. FRASIER for example. To me that show was as good as anything on Broadway. And when I was writing it I would imagine the live performance night, not the edited version ultimately shown on TV.

CHEERS was a little different. I always thought of CHEERS as a radio play. Director James Burrows used to say you didn’t have to watch CHEERS to enjoy it. You could derive a lot just by listening to it.

Many television writers – comedy and drama – come from a theatre background. From Aaron Sorkin to Joe Keenan. There’s no greater training ground. Which is great because in most cases there’s also no money.

Who was your favorite character to write?

I loved Hawkeye but if I had to choose one I’d say Frasier Crane. Especially when he was angry. It was like writing an intellectual Daffy Duck.

What show do you wish you could still write for?

I always loved writing CHEERS. David and I wrote 40 episodes over the years and I never tired of writing it. The characters still could surprise me. I loved writing MASH but in my heart of hearts I knew that on my best, most inspired day, I could still never write the show as well as Larry Gelbart. Even today after many more years of experience under my belt.

Which show would you want to write for now (whether you feel it's amazing and you want a piece of it or because you think it's godawful and needs help)?

I would never want to write a show I didn’t like. If it’s too hard to even watch it, I sure don’t want to subject myself to writing it. There are series I WISH I had written for. TAXI, SEINFELD, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. But among current shows, at this point, I would want to stretch myself and try something new. Maybe one of the hour dramas. I don’t want to say which ones because I don’t want it to seem like I’m trolling for an assignment.

Same for directing, although I’d want it to be a show where I feel I personally could really make a contribution. Oh who am I kidding? I’d love to do THE L-WORD.

And what is your feeling on hour-long "dramas" that incorporate as much comedy as a sitcom (like Bones, Ugly Betty, Ally McBeal being one of the first)?

Fine if they’re genuinely funny. Some of the biggest laughs I’ve had this year have come from HOUSE. When patients aren’t coughing up their livers or bleeding from their eyes it’s really quite amusing.

21 comments :

Anonymous said...

what's your favorite line that you've ever written?

What's your favorite line that you've ever heard?

jbryant said...

Seems like every time I see "House" I say to myself, "Funniest show on TV."

I envy your entire resume, Ken, but especially "Frasier." I wrote a spec for it once and had a blast; felt like I was really in the zone. So much so that it didn't sting too much to realize it would never be anything but words on a page. In fact, I can see "my episode" so clearly in my head, it makes me feel like I was actually part of the show in some small, pathetically deluded way.

Anonymous said...

Gawd, you wrote Frasier Crane?! I stand in awe. Brilliant!

EC Sheedy

Annie said...

It's late. You and the other writers are stuck on a beat that needs a rewrite. Nothing seems to work. Everyone's out of pitches and chinese food. Things are getting ugly. I am not answering my phone. What do you do?

Christina said...

There are two old sitcoms I wish I could have written for - The Bob Newhart Show (where he's a psychologist) and The Jeffersons.

rita said...

of all the shows you have written for, which episode/character/scene was the hardest to write; which one was the easiest?

DrBear said...

Totally agree on House. Turn my head during the heavy med stuff, but when House is in a room with somebody, it's always worth paying attention. (Now there's a DVD I'd buy: "House Without All the Gory Med Stuff.")

Anonymous said...

What do you think of Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey's new marriage?

What if Paula Abdul was a Cheers character?

Jim Lynn said...

I love House. One of the best exchanges came quite early in the show's run:

"Is that a rhetorical question?"

"No, it only seems like one because you don't know the answer."

benson said...

Follow up question to the last anonymous:

If Paula Abdul were a rock, which rock would...

Wait, I just realized I'm remembering a Cheers episode where they do Cliff Clavin questions/jokes.

alan said...

Thank you for showing us your As.

My favorite 1 act play in the history of television is the Frasier episode "My Coffee with Niles." No site gags, no ridiculous scenarios, no exotic locations. Just good solid writing. You had to, you were trapped in the coffee shop the entire episode.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I, too, wish you had written for The Jeffersons, Christina. Maybe then there would have been an episode worth watching.

emily said...

Q: Who was a comedienne in the 1968 Waa-Mu Show?

A: Shelley Long

Max Clarke said...

Glad to hear the Burrows view on Cheers. I have a few dozen episodes of Cheers on my iPod, but just the audio. Listening to the episodes is like baseball on the radio. You know where the regulars sit, you know Sam's office, what the pool room looks like. The mind fills in the details as the audio paints the picture.

Anonymous said...

You could direct the episode where Cybill Shepherd's character dies.

Sebastian said...

Annie's comment made me snicker ^^;

Make sure you get video of the performance so we can all enjoy the fruits of your work later :-)

Eric L said...

How much attention do you pay to continuity on a long running show or character? For example, I believe that once on CHEERS Frasier's mother appeared being played by the woman who played Tony Soprano's mother and I think she threatened to kill Diane. In some cases continuity errors between CHEERS and FRASIER were kind of smoothed over, but was this a priority or just something done to shut up nit picky fans?

Wayne said...

I thought of "Married With Children" as radio.
Like the Bickersons.

Sam Kim said...

Hi Ken,
In writing a sitcom pilot, is it helpful to use names of well-known characters (e.g., Sam, Diane, Jim, Pam) as placeholders if you want to convey how you envision the character should be played?

Sam Kim said...

Ken,
It would be great to get your perspective on Fox's sitcom contest. Is it a waste of time/worth it? Any tips? Are any professionals participating, or is it beneath them?
Thanks.

sephim said...

Is there anything that still gets rotation where you've had a heavy hand in its getting from script to screen that you're ashamed of or at least embarrassed by?