Friday, October 01, 2010

What was the problem with Sara Gilbert?

What better way to begin October than with Friday questions?

WilliamJansen starts us off.

You have written about how Frasier, Lilith and Bulldog all started out as minor characters with a finite time-span on the series, but advanced to full cast-membership because they were so successful.

Did you ever have a minor character, that you wanted to advance to full membership of the cast, but it didn't work out? If so; which characters and why didn't it work out?

It seems they do that on BIG BANG THEORY. They’ll introduce a character like Sara Gilbert, have her in four or five episodes and decide it’s not happening and she’s gone.

Sometimes a guest actor will create a character that goes through the roof but is such a strong presence that producers wisely sense a little goes a long way. So instead of making him a regular they’ll bring him back once a season. That’s what we did with Edward Winter’s hilarious Colonel Flagg on MASH. And on FRASIER they sparingly used Harriet Harris as agent “Bebe Glazer” but whenever they did she absolutely stole the show. 

Actually I don’t know what was wrong with Sara Gilbert on BIG BANG THEORY. I thought she was funny.

Kirk Jusko has a question:

Have you ever written for, or have been asked to write for, or have tried to write for, Mad magazine?

No, but as a kid I LOVED Mad magazine. I wanted to be both a writer and artist for Mad. I always thought that would be the greatest working environment EVER. Imagine being surrounded by people even funnier and more mentally disturbed than me! Now that’s heaven!

I never applied (never knew how to apply) but would have loved it.  One of my great thrills as a writer is that when Mad did its parody of MASH they used one of our episodes to lampoon.  So if I couldn't work for Mad at least I was insulted by them. 

From Carson Clark:

Ken, I'd love to see you plot out the time frame of a television season. When does the writing start? When do the actors show up? Do you get a kid in school sized Christmas break?

In very general terms, the writing staff will usually converge right after Memorial Day.  They'll spend the early summer breaking stories and preparing scripts.  Production begins late July or the beginning of August.  There are built in hiatuse weeks for the actors that vary from show to show.   On multi-camera series they generally come after every third or fourth episode.  On MASH we  had week long hiatuses after seven or eight episodes.

I stress that these are production hiatuses.  Actors are off but not writers.  We take those weeks to desperately try to catch up.  Dave Hackel, the showrunner of BECKER used to fine any actor who says to a writer "So where did you go during the hiatus?"   The answer:  While the actor was in Hawaii the writer was in the fucking office for sixteen hours a day!!

If you're a first-year show you hold your breath that you'll get picked up for the back nine.  That comes around the beginning of November.  

Thanksgiving is really the first break for the writing staff.  And then a week or two the end of the year for Christmas when the show shuts down for the holidays. 

Then the big crunch.  From the first of the year until the end of March or beginning of April you churn out shows with little or no breaks.  By the last month you're generally on fumes.

Once the show wraps for the year the showrunner still has a few weeks of supervising post production on the last few episodes.  And generally he's done by the end of April.   A week in St. Johns Hospital and then he's ready to go to Hawaii.

If his show is a big hit he can relax for two months.  But if his show is on the bubble then in early May he has to go to New York to lobby for his show's pick up for the next season.   Then it's home, another week at St. Johns and maybe a nice long weekend in Santa Barbara before the cycle begins again. 

And finally, from Jose:

Do tv writers typically get paid weekly, bi-weekly, or?
this is for a small beat in my 30 Rock spec.
i didn't know how to look this up. thanks

Usually staff writers get paid by the show (and it's all shows PRODUCED not ordered).  The pay schedule varies but usually it's every couple of weeks.  That said, I'm probably still owed money from THE JEFFERSONS.

What's your question?


Anthony Strand said...

I agree about Sara Gilbert on The Big Bang Theory, and also Melissa Rauch. Either of them would make a fine addition to the cast, I think.

Chip said...

I think the problem with Sara Gilbert on Big Bang Theory is that she is so recognizable as Johnny Galecki's girlfriend (or more appropriately, Johnny Galecki as HER boyfriend) on Roseanne back in the day.

Personally, I also think she plays all of her characters almost the exact same way, in the same way that I feel Denzel Washington is the same personality in all his films (this makes me very unpopular, particularly with my wife).

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken. Is this where you ask a question? Here it goes:

I'm in my early 40s and if things continue as they are, I'll be lucky enough to take an early retirement by 45. I've been thinking about what to do next and taking a shot at writing for TV and movies seems about as enjoyable as anything I can think of. I toyed around with it back in college and showed some potential. I'm even willing to move my family to LA.

But I've heard a lot about it being impossible for anyone to break in who is not in their 20s. What's your take on that? Is it possible, if you have talent, to break into the business in your 40s? Or should I try novels instead?

Anonymous said...

Hey, anon - I know you're waiting for Ken's response, but I'll tell you from personal experience that there's a HUGE gap between "shows some potential" and being ready for the big show. And, yeah, being 45 won't help you at all, unless your potential has magically turned into "gifted writer" in the intervening years. I have a friend who is 40 and has been a working writer in Hollywood for about 20 years. This person is extremely talented and works on one of the most popular shows on network television. And he's not *just* a writer's assistant or something, we're talking credit in front. Still, he's "struggling" to make it. I'm never one to dash someone's dream or to discourage them from pursuing their passions, but picking up your entire family to move to LA on what sounds like a whim is probably something that won't go so well as you hope. Stay where you are. Enjoy your retirement. Write novels, or maybe even feature length screenplays if you're truly infected with "the bug". Best of luck!!

Anonymous said...

Given the schedule you outlined above, when do writers get to take summer break with their school age kids?

- ConcernedWife

YEKIMI said...

@ concerned wife.

Probably when Hell freezes over.

BigTed said...

In an episode of "The Simpsons," Bart looked in on the Mad magazine offices -- and it was just as wild and wacky a scene (and as far from what magazines are actually like) as any kid could imagine.

Michael said...

I wonder whether Sara Gilbert was just doing an "arc," or perhaps all she wanted was to do a few shows, or her schedule couldn't be worked out. I thought she was tremendous on Roseanne--and so was Johnny Galecki.

Ken, your line about the show-runners reminds me of Hall of Fame umpire (I'm so glad to write that) Doug Harvey working the plate when a player came up and said, "Man, I'm so glad the road trip is almost over. Ten days away from home." Harvey hadn't been home most of the season and nearly threw the guy out of the game.

DBA said...

Michael, they made Sara Gilbert a regular for the second season but then shortly thereafter renegged on that. Don't know the deets on why exactly, but the official reason I heard was something along the lines of "the character turned out to be better in smaller doses".

D. McEwan said...

I submitted some material to MAD Magazine back in 1974. It was rejected, but the rejection letter was something else. It was NOT a form letter, nor was it full of standard rejection phrases.

Instead, it was a full page, some 7 or 8 dense paragraphs long, from Al Feldstein, then the editor, that was, all of it totally specific to my submission, telling me, in detail, exactly why the material was not right for their publication (mostly because it was all verbal, and they rely on drawings and visual humor, with captions secondary. No prose pieces at all), and how to write more for what they use.

It was the nicest, most informative, helpful, and respectful rejection letter I have ever received, before or since. It showed that he had read all the material, and had considered it seriously, and had shown me the respect of instructing me how to hit their mark more accurately. And this from a man whom I am sure was quite busy.

I never resubmitted, as I realized that the sort of material I wrote would never be right for them, but I did write back and thanked Al for his consideration. They had class at MAD, and I was never mad at MAD.

Plus now I had Al Feldstein's autograph!

Michael said...

DBA, thanks. I have to admit, I don't watch the show and hadn't seen her on there. But I suppose that happens. Ken referred to Col. Flagg. On a weekly basis, he would have been too much. Essentially, that's ultimately what happened with Frank Burns.

Kevin said...

I liked Sara Gilbert's character as well and wish they would have her on more. What I liked was that the character was just as smart as the guys and wasn't shy about pursuing her goals (so to speak).

xjill said...

I always wondered about the tv production schedule - thanks to the poster who asked and thanks to you for answering!

Gareth said...

"Outsourced" is getting a critical drubbing, but do you think the basic concept would ever work on a network sitcom? Wouldn't it always be either offensive or boring?

Pat Reeder said...

I can only say "ditto" to Doug McEwan's post because I had the exact same experience with submitting to MAD, only around 1984. I never thought it was possible to treasure a rejection letter so much.

Pat Reeder said...

BTW, on the subject of Sara Gilbert being dropped from "Big Bang Theory," I can see why. While she was good on the show, her domineering, acerbic character was so reminiscent of Darlene from "Roseanne" that I felt like I was watching a TV Land rerun instead of a new show. They had good comic chemistry as Darlene and David, but it felt as if they were reverting to those old familiar roles. It really took me out of the "BBT" universe. And Johnny Galecki's character on "Roseanne" was such a doormat that I don't think he would have been tolerable as a lead in his own series. Keeping her on there might have reduced him to such a weak character that it would have undermined the dynamics of the new show.

WorstWriterEver said...

TBBT dumped Sara Gilbert because the producers didn't know how to write her storylines. That's the simple (and official) truth about the matter.

For what it's worth, if I were a producer on The Big Bang Theory, I'd be very embarrassed of myself. Especially considering how bad the show has become lately.

Paul Duca said...

Ken...I was in the checkout at Walmart, and on the video loop they play there was a thing from TV Land telling an interesting story. It said that Larry Gelbart based the character of Corporal Klinger on Lenny Bruce. Seems that Lenny tried to get out of the Navy using the cross-dressing Section 8 dodge--and had no more luck than Max.

What do you have to say about this?

LouOCNY said...

MAD is still so underrated as a major cultural force of our time. I would love to go through their subscriber list from like the mid 60's and see how many future comedians/comedy writers would be on it.

Our local library actually had a MAD editor speak there (Joe Riaola?), and it was very interesting talking to him afterwards. He was very impressed that I pointed out to him how the quality of their movie/tv satires was in direct opposition to the quality of the piece being satirized..and I used the two MASH pieces they did as an example - the first they did being rather mediocre, but the second one being EXTREMELY funny and biting, commenting on the 'taming'of the show. (oops - sorry Ken!)

Tom Wolper said...

re: Lenny Bruce: The Smoking Gun recently got his service record from the National Archives. Bruce wanted to leave the Navy so he told his commanding officer that he had homosexual desires and he was having trouble containing them. He was able to negotiate an honorable discharge based on that.

Kirk Jusko said...

Thanks for answering my question, Ken!

Edem said...

Question re: the production schedule - what happens if an actor either leaves (Melinda Kanakaredes, CSI: NY) or is sacked (A.J. Cook, Criminal Minds) during the summer, before the new season starts? Is it more of a headache for writers, or par for the course?

gottacook said...

I was deeply into Mad magazine in the late 1960s, so much so that I bought the large-format hardcover The Ridiculously Expensive MAD (which I think was $8.95, maybe less, in 1969). I still have it, as well as all my old issues. One great thing about Mad in those days was that under the right circumstances, it could address serious issues seriously: The example that sticks with me was the last panel in a whole list of switcheroo comparisons, "Where winners are losers..." (photo of Bobby Kennedy) "...and losers are winners" (photo of president-elect Nixon).

Sophmorecritic said...

I just wanted to respond to your negative reviews of the new season's comedies and defend the comedies that have come out this fall which I argue are as good as last season's crop.

I referenced your negative points among other critics.

Check it out

Melvin Cowznofski said...

MAD's definitely become marginalized within the popular culture, but they're still out there chugging away, producing some strong work, and tackling serious issues.

The issue that's about to rotate off sale has a great BP oil spill cover, a Sergio Aragones spread on racial profiling, and "The Wizard of O," a musical mocking both Obama's sliding popularity and the fecklessness of the 24-hour cable news media. Good stuff!

A Non-Emus said...

I just saw a commercial for Sara Gilbert's new daytime talk show which she apparently created and executive produces so maybe she's busy doing that.

Baylink said...

I happened to flip through the latest MAD the other day, and I'll now go back and grab it, assuming it ain't got away...

I got nearly everything I knew about Watergate from MAD (I was 9), and loved it.

I was a bit surprised to see how "rough" it's gotten in the last 30 years, but maybe that just means I, too, am getting old...

Anonymous said...

I really hate the new MAD series (IN CARTOONETWORK). IN MY OPINION. They ruined everything!! But the old mad shows was really good.