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?