Thanks for all your Friday questions. I’ll try to answer as many as I can. Keep ‘em coming.
MikeN gets us started.
How much influence do the networks have on your plots?
A lot more now than they used to. Networks now insist you clear all story ideas with them. Then you have to clear the story outlines with them.
It used to be you’d meet with the network the beginning of the season, run down the direction you were going in and that was pretty much it.
On MASH we were only required to write up loglines (a sentence or two). Often we would fall seven or eight shows behind. John Rappaport, one of the MASH producers, pulled a classic stunt on CBS. The series TRAPPER JOHN M.D. was about to premiere that fall on CBS. Among the loglines John submitted was “Hawkeye is devastated to learn that his buddy Trapper John has died back in the states.”
John gets a frantic call from the network. “You can’t do that!” they pleaded. “We have a show starring Trapper John.” Rapppaport shrugged and said, “That’s not our problem.”
The network insisted they drop the story. John said, “It’s too late. We already filmed it.” The network rep was absolutely apoplectic until John told him it was a goof.
But the short answer to your question is that networks now pretty much control the stories… unless you’re a proven hit showrunner.
Dave Creek asks:
I haven't seen you mention Lucille Ball much here. How much of an influence were her sitcoms an influence on you?
Well, first of all, the only Lucy sitcom I bother with at all is I LOVE LUCY. All the later ones I thought were awful and forced.
There are some classic I LOVE LUCY episodes I could watch a thousand times and still laugh. Actually, there probably are a few episodes I HAVE seen a thousand times. She was an amazing physical comedienne. No one since has even come close.
But for the most part I was never as enamored with I LOVE LUCY as I was with BILKO, THE HONEYMOONERS, and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. I thought the writing and characters were sharper and funnier on those three shows.
So I guess you could say, “I LIKE Lucy”.
From Ron Rettig, one of the finest officers I had to pleasure of serving with while in the Reserves:
Why no BluRay reissue of remastered "Volunteers" with making of and writer & director interviews, etc.?
Yeah! I agree! The movie was made for Tri-Star Pictures (which no longer exists) and HBO Films (which in that form is gone). So I don’t even know who to complain to. But I would love to see that released. Personally, I think the jokes would play sooo much better in Blu-Ray. We wrote them specifically for Blu-Ray.
I would also LOVE it if the series DVDs of ALMOST PERFECT finally came out. They’re owned now by CBS-Paramount. We made 34 episodes and at the time had quite a following. A lot more people would buy and rent it than BA BA BLACKSHEEP which is out, and the friggin’ DORIS DAY SHOW.
And finally, from Mike Barer:
Who are the top unseen characters? I think of Maris on Frasier, Carlton the Doorman on Rhoda, etc. What is the thinking behind it?
Offscreen characters just broaden the world of the show. And invite the audience to use their imagination.
Besides Maris, and Carlton, there’s also Norm’s wife Vera on CHEERS, the neighbor on HOME IMPROVEMENT, “Thing” on the ADDAMS FAMILY, and way way back in the 50’s Pete’s wife Gladys on DECEMBER BRIDE. CBS later did a spinoff, PETE & GLADYS where she was shown. Harry Morgan played Pete on both series. Cara Williams eventually played Gladys. I’m sure there are other examples. Feel free to help me out.