Thursday, December 04, 2008

Is there life after Secret Squirrel?

Some more Friday questions to chew on:

From Kirk Jusko:

I assume that writers, at least when they're starting out, go wherever the work is, and sometimes end up writing for shows that, through no fault of their own, go down in history as silly, cheesy, hokey, etc. I wonder how that hurts a writer's reputation. For instance, would someone who had written for GILLIGAN'S ISLAND or THE BRADY BUNCH have had a difficult time getting work on MASH or ALL IN THE FAMILY?

You’re right. When you’re starting out you take any job. No one faults you for that. Shakespeare would be writing THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK & CODY if he broke in today. But to make the jump from a cheesy show to a quality show usually requires a spec script even though you’re already working on staff.

Peter Casey & David Lee produced THE JEFFERSONS for several seasons. But they still had to write a CHEERS spec to be considered for an assignment. Their script was terrific and the rest is history. Among early the early credits of SOPRANOS writers are THE NEW FLIPPER, 2 STUPID DOGS, SISTER SISTER, and THE SECRET SQUIRREL SHOW.

Simon H. wonders:

Do you ever watch old episodes of shows you wrote, and then have that moment where you go "I could have done that better if I changed that or did so and so"?

Only ALL the time. With the exception of maybe ten episodes, I’d like all of them back. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to watch old shows of mine.

Every so often I’ll be channel surfing and one of my episodes will be on. If it’s one I haven’t seen in awhile I’ll stay with it. A few times I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I watched VOLUNTEERS recently for the first time in probably ten years and actually liked it better now than when it first came out. Fortunately, I never have to worry about coming across AfterMASH reruns.

And finally, Terry asks:

If you have a spec script that you like, but you wrote it before a story arch happened, should you go back and fix it to include the new dynamics of the series?

If you can, sure. The more up-to-date your script is, the better. But if you can’t, and the show hasn’t gone off in such a different direction that your spec is obsolete then stick with it. Ultimately, it’s the writing that will sell. How well have you captured the characters? How funny is the script? How clever is the storytelling?

That said, I think you’re asking for trouble writing a spec for a serialized show. You have no idea what LOST will be up to by the time your script is finished. Or 24 or MAD MEN. If you’re writing a drama, pick a self-contained show, or at least semi-self-contained like HOUSE or BOSTON LEGAL. And as always, good luck. Someone has to break through. Might as well be you.

What’s your question?

10 comments :

D. McEwan said...

"Do you ever watch old episodes of shows you wrote, and then have that moment where you go 'I could have done that better if I changed that or did so and so'?"

John Lahr, in his GREAT biography of his father, NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION, recounts how it was not just no fun, but literally impossible to watch THE WIZARD OF OZ on TV with Bert in the room, as he would sourly grouse about every single shot he was in: "I coulda done that better." "I Shoulda done that this way." "I shouldn't have done that." He was so filled with "shouldas" that it poisoned his abiility to enjoy any of his film work. It's among the reasons most of his work was onstage. Stage work he didn't have to watch, forever frozen.

RAB said...

I liked 2 Stupid Dogs. A lot.

Ryan said...

Will AfterMASH ever be released on DVD? How much say do you have in that decision?

Paul Duca said...

Have you seen the current issue of TV GUIDE? The back page Top 10 lists the best and worse sequels (5 of each). Ken can be proud that he has a hand in the toppers of both--FRASIER and AfterMASH.

"Come back, Shane"--he is my word verification

Gridlock said...

"Will AfterMASH ever be released on DVD? How much say do you have in that decision?"

Heh, the old "able to show my face in public" vs "royalties" inner conflict...

rob! said...

jeez, i didn't think AfterMASH was that bad.

ok, Ken, i have a question: when working on a show like Cheers or MASH, when the show is a monstrous, rolling success, critically and financially, how much network interference was there?

did NBC and CBS think they still could give copious "notes" on each episode, or did they leave the shows alone?

Anonymous said...

Follow up to the "Suite Life..." reputation question:

What if the opposite happens? Say you've already written for a network sitcom, and then Nick or Disney Channel offers you a chance to write the next "Cory In The House," is it seen as a step backward that will hurt your reputation or prospects of continuing to work in the network/cable sitcom worlds?

sephim said...

I think the best way to come back from being involved in crap is to just keep working like fuck, in the case of Trey Parker, first he made Cannibal!: The Musical, then it was downhill with Orgazmo, then up again with South Park, only to go down again with BASEketball, then up in a big way with the South Park movie, then took a swan dive into a giant pit of shit with That's My Bush and almost drowning in the same pit with Team America: World Police, but his continual work with South Park during and since has pretty much levelled out his career. I can't wait to find out what he'll do next to fuck up his current streak.

ed said...

Here's my Friday question:

If a TV show is written in a writer's room, why not simply credit all the writers who worked on that episode? For example, I think Tina Fey is as brilliant as everyone says she is, but I wouldn't mind a complete list of the writers who work on my favorite sitcom.

You've told us before that everyone else is credited with being a "producer." Why can't those who worked on the script be credited as writers?

the-nic said...

2 Stupid Dogs was a really choice cartoon at times. The 'Ain't that cute... but it's wrong' catch phrase inspires me to come up with something equally remedial but brain grabbing every time I try to write a sketch. Well, not every time, that would be an exaggeration. I was using hyperbole, Jesus. Calm down people.