Friday questions comin' at ya. For new readers, every Friday I answer your questions. Just leave 'em in the comments section.
UPDATE: A lot of you have asked me about last night's live 30 ROCK. I'll talk about it tomorrow. Preview: I liked it.
Michael has two:
1) Any writing jobs do you regret not accepting?
We were offered the job to write the COSBY pilot but had to turn it down because AfterMASH had gotten picked up for a second season and we were still locked in. That was good for ten years therapy. I still can't see a multi-colored sweater without bursting into tears.
Otherwise, there were some new shows that offered us a guarantee of 13 episodes and were canceled after 3, meaning they had to just pay us off for the remaining ten. We missed some golden opportunities there.
And then of course, walking away from comedy goddess Traci Lords.
2) When you wrote for The Simpsons, did you approach it like a live-action show or did you try to include things that only could be done in animation?
We did treat it as live-action because the characters had to have real emotions. The animation part allowed us tremendous freedom and we tried to take advantage of that – doing scenes you couldn’t do (or afford) otherwise, but in our heads we were writing live-action.
If you overheard any of our internal discussions about the characters you would think we were talking about real people -- damaged real people but real just the same.
But that’s just us. I can’t speak for any other SIMPSONS writers (who are all welcome to chime in).
How do you ensure writers aren't slacking off on weeks where they're not writing the episode? What specifically are they doing on weeks when the show isn't written by them?
We put ankle bracelets on them and monitor their whereabouts at all times. Those bitches work for us!
Seriously, when you’re on staff of a show your day is spent in the writers room with everybody else – coming up with notions, breaking stories, rewriting this week’s show, re-writing next week’s. Depending on the show and team of the season, sometime if you’ve got a script assignment they let you skip your room responsibilities and just go off and write the draft. But more often than not you have to write the script on your own time. So the 80 hour week becomes a 100 hour week. And that's fine if the show goes into syndication and you get residuals forever. If you killed yourself to write that HANK episode I'm sorry.
Here’s one 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
They get paid LATE most of the time. That’s the real answer. If you’re on staff you’re generally paid so much per episode. That’s totaled and rationed out every two weeks. But I’m sure different studios have different pay schedules.
The only thing they all do is pay you late. Or not at all.
In going back through contracts my agent recently discovered that David and I were still owed money from a pilot we sold four years ago. “Oops”, the studio said.
And finally, from Anonymous: (please leave a name when asking a question. It won’t go on your police record.)
What I'm curious about now is whether you have had to wade through eccentricity more often than not. In interacting with the actors and directors and producers - and hey maybe writers too - would you say that there are more eccentrics working in the biz or that they are the exception?
Eccentricities are certainly tolerated more in this industry than others. The creative process is nebulous at best. But for the most part everyone is just normally neurotic and crazy.
As for eccentricities: There was a writer who could only work in the valley. He couldn’t go into Los Angeles. So he could never work at 20th or Sony or Paramount or pitch HBO or SHOWTIME or FOX. Needless to say, his agent was thrilled.
I know actors who don’t like to make eye contact with anyone. Others who have to be the last one to enter the stage before a runthrough (but that’s just diva shit).
My favorite was a certain TV director. She directed multi-camera shows. Directors have a podium to set down their scripts. The podium is always on wheels so you can roll it from scene to scene.
This director had her own. She had a hobby horse built with a music stand for the script. All day long she sat on this hobby horse and rolled around the set. It's like Annie Oakley rides in to save your show.
What’s your question?