TGIFQD – Thank God it’s Friday Question Day.
How much thought goes into a character's name? (Some feel that in 'The Odd Couple' Neil Simon already had his Act 3 joke in mind when he came up with the name 'Felix Unger'.) Sometimes a show can be on for years before a joke, or episode, about a character's name is used-was the joke always there?
Selecting names is always a bitch. We go out of our way not to make them jokey. We don’t want to take the audience out of the show by giving a character a silly name. The only exception is when in BIG WAVE DAVE’S we named a character Jack Lord. But that was clearly someone taking the name and we even had an explanation as to why he chose that pseudonym.
Many times we’ll use names of friends or people we know. Several of my former girlfriends have seen their names appear on shows my partner and I wrote.
We never use a name expecting to do jokes off of it but sometimes it happens. We named Charles Winchester’s sister Honoria. I went out with a girl named Honoria in college. I asked if she went by a nickname like Honey or something and she was very offended. I was to refer to her as “Honoria”. So when we were searching for a name for Charles’ sister and wanted something a little haughty Honoria fit the bill. After a few episodes Hawkeye referred to her as “hano-rreaha.” But the point was to needle Charles not just make a gratuitous name joke. We did not have the joke in mind when we named her.
On MASH it seemed there were always new patients and soldiers on every show. To make it easier on ourselves for season seven we just used the roster of the Los Angeles Dodgers. You’ll find Hooten, Rhoden, Lopes, Garvey and even Vic Davalillo. On the X FILES one of the lead characters was named Scully (as in Vin) and Mulder’s replacement was Doggett (as in Jerry, Vin’s longtime broadcast partner).
If you’re going to pick names at random, high school annuals are a good place to start.
We look for names that are somewhat distinctive but not bizarre and not difficult to say. Usually we try to avoid alliteration but not always. Tom Tuttle from Tacoma is one of our most remembered names.
In a pilot with lots of characters to introduce we give them first names starting with different letters to avoid any confusion. If you have a Bob, Bill, Ben, and Brett the reader is going to get hopelessly lost. I also avoid giving girls guy’s names. No Sam, no Alex, no Max. As a rule, you don’t want the reader’s head to explode.
Woody Allen said in an interview that he tries to assign characters short names like Jen or Al or Tom because it’s less to type when writing the screenplay. Uh, has he ever heard of marcros?
One warning of caution if you use names of real people – don’t make those character unflattering. Have some sensitivity to the fact that they may receive some un-asked-for notoriety and it’s a real misuse of your power to set them up as a target for embarrassment.
Even when we used Honoria, we never used a last name. She could be modeled after any one of the thousands or Honoria’s out there. Or six.
From friend of the blog Mary Stella:
During the Phillies playoff games on TBS, TNT is heavily promoting the upcoming new series "Men of a Certain Age". It stars Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher.
When original series like this show up on TNT, does it mean that they ABC, NBC, CBS and FOX all passed, or is TNT aggressively shopping for original programming and backing it up with big bucks?
Sometimes both. Sometimes a writer will pitch a project, usually to a major network first because there’s generally more money, and if they pass they’ll pitch it to cable networks. But other projects are much more suited to cable and writers are inclined to pitch there first. A pilot David and I wrote on spec we sold to FX and didn’t even bother with the majors. We knew that the subject matter was way too edgy for mainstream networks.
Today cable networks like TNT, TBS, FX, USA, and Disney have strong development departments. They each have their own identity and look for shows that fit their brand. Which is not to say that major networks don’t at times think they have brands to uphold as well.
Once, years ago, we were pitching a family pilot to NBC to an executive who later got promoted to a position of great power. At the time SANFORD & SON and CHICO & THE MAN were on their schedule. He passed on our family show saying, “People think of NBC as the network for two character/multi camera/tape comedies.” Oh really?? That’s what people think? “Y’know Marsha, I’m in the mood tonight for a good two character/multi camera/tape comedy. Let’s turn on NBC. Hey, there’s a three character/multi camera/film comedy! What the fuck! Turn that off! Have they gone nuts over there?!”
What’s your question?
Thursday, October 22, 2009
TGIFQD – Thank God it’s Friday Question Day.