Time for Friday questions.
The first one comes from Kaan in Germany.
My whole life I have this crazy passion for American television, especially comedy shows. Comedy is really my passion and so many people say I really have a talent for that.
But every German TV Show suck! They are just not funny.
There are some writing programs/schools in Germany. But I'm afraid if I go to these programs/schools they will screw up my writing. Because these are the same programs/schools that produce these terrible writers who write the terrible German TV Shows.
Should I go to these schools to learn at least something, which is most probably wrong or should I wait until I'm in the US, which will take two years at least?
I find it hard to imagine a German comedy school. I don’t know any personally so I can’t vouch for them good or not. You don’t usually think of the Rhineland as the Mecca of comedy.
But the best way to learn how to write American sitcoms (besides reading this blog of course) is to watch and study American sitcoms intensely. This is easier to do now with DVD’s and ON DEMAND and websites like HULU.
Take a full season of a show you admire. Outline every episode. Then begin comparing. Look for patterns in how they break down the stories. What kind of jokes do they tell? Are they set-up/punch line? Or more observational? Or snarky?
It’s all there for you. You just have to deconstruct it.
There are also some good books you could read on the subject by Alex Epstein and William Rabkin & Lee Goldberg.
It's common to hear about network interference, but do you have any examples where network suggestions or notes actually improved a series or particular episode?
Yes. I’ve mentioned this before but Tim Flack, when he was at CBS was amazing. Every project we did for him benefited greatly from his input. Sadly, Tim passed away. Were he still here I’d be running my pilot ideas and stories by him to this day.
There have been a few others but Tim was a star.
From Eduardo Jencarelli:
What's the criteria for hiring freelance directors on any show?
This is tricky. Imagine you have an office full of workers. And you hire someone to come in for a week and be their boss. That’s the roll of the freelance director. He has to come onto the set as an outsider and somehow garner everyone’s trust, fit in with whatever rehearsal schedule has already been established, and deliver not only a good show but one consistent in tone and style with all the other episodes.
Another key factor is whether he's hands-on or hands-off. Some casts really like to be directed. Others don't.
We look for experience, personality, sensibility, style, and talent. We like our sets to be low-key and relaxed so we hire directors accordingly. No screamers. No highly intense guys. Other producers may want just the opposite.
On the other hand, as a frequent guest director myself, I always felt like a substitute teacher coming into an unruly classroom.
Brian Phillips has another directing question:
While watching episodes of "Becker" and "Frasier", I noticed a few scripts credited solely to David Isaacs. Have you ever directed one of his scripts? If so, did you find it any easier or harder directing your writing partner's scripts?
I’ve never directed a script written solely by David but have directed episodes that we’ve written together. And those were easy because in writing it we had talked through practically every moment.
I assume it would also be easy directing one of his scripts because we’ve developed such a shorthand between us over the years. David could convey to me something I was missing with relative ease.
However, I will say this – I threw him off the stage once. It was after a runthrough. I said to him I always wanted to throw someone off the stage but I couldn’t afford to dispatch anyone from the cast and crew. I needed them all. So David got the heave-ho instead.
I did direct an episode of BECKER that I wrote on my own. The writer-me and the director-me fought all week. It was ugly. I can't tell you how many times I wanted to throw myself off the set.
And finally, Andrew Wickliffe wonders:
When you have a supporting cast member who never talks in the background--I'm thinking of the woman who works for Roy on WINGS--does she never speak because then her pay would be different?
Bingo. Once they speak a line their pay scale shoots up dramatically and they come under SAG’s jurisdiction (Screen Actors Guild) vs. SEG’s (Screen Extras Guild).
Still, every so often it was worth it to give an extra a line. We did that one time on CHEERS. There was some bar run and the payoff was “Sinatra”. Rumpled barfly Al Rosen was assigned the line. It got a huge laugh. Al was then given more lines here and there over the subsequent years. And this is how he was always referred to in scripts: “Man Who Said Sinatra”.
What’s your question?