I'm not a big fan of CHIPS at the moment. Before I answer your Friday questions would you answer one for me? What's a good on-line Traffic School that's certified in California and doesn't take forever to complete? Thanks. Now yours.
Dene 1971 asks:
Do you consider sitcom to be less artistically valid, for one of a better term, than a 1-hour drama? I recall reading an interview with a (brilliant) English TV/radio comedy writer, responsible for a first class sitcom which had come to an end: he intimated that he wanted to 'move on' from the 30m sitcom form to the 1hr comedy-drama.
Obviously it depends on the show. I would consider THE WIRE more artistically valid than ACCORDING TO JIM. But there are quite a few comedies far richer than one hour dramas. And in many ways it’s much harder to do a quality comedy. To explore emotions, create characters and situations that are real, relatable, compelling, AND funny is much harder to accomplish than straight drama. Plus, in comedy you don’t have the luxury of the Nora Ephron cheat – just play a song under a scene that expresses the emotion you’re trying to convey.
But artistically speaking, I don’t think there are many hour dramas that come close to MASH. Maybe CHIPS.
Someone who wouldn’t leave his name wondered:
Ken, when writers do a script that includes unflattering jokes about a character's appearance, do you ever worry about how the actor or actress will personally react?
I recall episodes of MASH where Hawkeye insulted Hot Lip's weight, and an episode of All In The Family where Gloria came right out and said she was fat. More recently on Will & Grace, there were many jokes about how flat-chested Grace was.
Do actors just accept this as part of the game, or are there ever situations where the actor is too touchy about something and it's off-limits for the writers? And how can you know this until you've already ticked them off?
It really depends on the actor and how good a sport he is. No, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of the phone call I’d get from Loretta Swit if we did Hot Lips fat jokes. On the other hand, Danny DeVito was fine with short jokes. And the great Jackie Gleason had no problem with fat jokes at his expense.
It’s best to diplomatically ask the actor how sensitive he might be to jokes about his appearance before he reads the script aloud in a room full of people.
The irony on CHEERS was that every character took shots at Lilith for how cold and severe she was, and off camera and out of costume Bebe Neuwirth was the hottest woman on that set.
And finally, Jrge sent in this question from Spain (where they love this blog).
I've just started to watch the second season of Frasier on DVD (I know i'm late, but I was four when it went on TV).
That’s still no excuse!
I've realized that you appear as "creative consultant". Could you explain what was exactly you function?
Generally that title is assigned to a writer who comes in once a week, usually for rewrite night. Other names are “punch up guys”, “script doctors”, and “clients of agents who make sweet deals”.
They come to the runthrough then help the staff rewrite that night. Sometimes it’s very helpful to have a fresh set of eyes. A writing staff can get too close to a story and it’s great to get an objective opinion from someone you trust…AND can help actually solve the problems he identifies. That last part is the biggie. Anyone can say “this doesn’t work, go fix it”.
Ideally, the best creative consultants can also help you with jokes.
A good creative consultant is like the cavalry riding in to the rescue. A bad one is someone you’re paying a lot of money to eat your food.
I’ve worked with some great ones, notably David Lloyd and Jerry Belson. But bar none the best creative consultant that has ever been is Bob Ellison. I’m going to do an entire post on him soon. At one time he was working on four different shows a week. And not coincidentally, they were the four funniest shows on television.
What’s your question?