Sunday, November 07, 2010

What is a Creative Consultant?

A reader wanted to know just what it meant to be a “Creative Consultant” on FRASIER. First of all, these titles are arbitrary and completely made-up. They can mean anything and nothing. For my responsibilities on FRASIER I could just as easily have been called “Teleplay Consultant”, “Script Captain”, “Producer for a Day”, “Supervising Shecky”, or “Power Forward”. In the theatre the job was called “Play Doctor”.

Essentially you come in one night a week and help to rewrite the script currently in production. You attend the runthrough and go back to the room and help fix the show. Primarily it’s punching-up the jokes but it can also be story help too. Often times the staff can get too close to a story and it helps to have a pair of virgin eyes. Even mine.

In this day and age of tightening budgets, “creative consultants” are a luxury most shows can no longer afford. It’s too bad. A good consultant can not only contribute to the script but also provide a welcome boost to the rest of the weary staff. Another screen credit could be "Part-time Buddy Sorrell".

I’ve done that job on many series including CHEERS, FRASIER, BECKER, WINGS, SIBS, MAMA’S BOY, IT’S ALL RELATIVE, LATELINE, and countless pilots. It can be great fun but also long hours. And when you’re working on two or three shows a week, and each rewrite goes until 3 AM your life become the Night of the Living Dead by Thanksgiving. The late Jerry Belson, one of the funniest punch-up guys EVER, worked on two shows a week at one time. LOVE SIDNEY on Monday and CHEERS on Wednesday. Except LOVE SIDNEY was in New York. Jerry would commute back and forth every week.

I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the finest “Creative Consultants”. In addition to Jerry Belson, there’s David Lloyd (unfortunately he too has passed on) and the all-time king of this field – Bob Ellison (pictured).

I marvel at Bob Ellison. The man is just a machine. He can come up with more jokes and BETTER jokes faster and more plentiful than anyone I’ve ever met. Most writers look for any excuse to get out of the room for a short break. They’ll call their agent, use the bathroom, make some coffee, agree to a root canal if it’ll buy them an extra four minutes. Not Bob. He’ll sit down at 4:00 and not move until 2:00 AM. And during that time he’ll pitch great joke after joke. Bob can come up with more quality material in one night than most accomplished comedy writers can deliver in a year. And for twenty years Bob worked on as many as four shows a week. How he does this and remains so sharp and funny and consistent – night after night after night -- I will never know.

An example of Bob (and there are literally millions): There's a writer who always wore black. Bob crossed paths with him while walking across the Paramount lot and noticed he was wearing a white shirt that day. Without missing a beat Bob asked, "Who died?"

Like I said Bob Ellison is the King. Maybe that’s the screen credit he should be given. “King of Comedy” or even “Executive King of Comedy” if they want to spruce it up.


John Leader said...

I don't need my glasses! I can see the print! IT'S A MIRACLE!!

David Schwartz said...

Reading your comments about Bob Ellison reminded me of one of the funniest people I ever met. I met Greg Fields working on the TV show Solid Gold in the early 1980's. He was absolutely Buddy Sorrell in terms of his ability to come up with joke after joke, each one funnier than the last. During his career Greg worked on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, was a writer/producer for "In Living Color" and was one of the writers on Rodney Dangerfield's movie "Back to School" among many other credits. Sadly he passed away at the way too young age of 46a number of years ago. I could never be around Greg without laughing loudly and often. And your thoughts about Mr. Ellison reminded me of him. Thanks for stirring up some old, very pleasant memories.

LinGin said...

I appreciate posts such as this, Ken. Bob Ellison is a name I've seen on so many quality sitcoms and it is rewarding to learn about the person behind the name.

"Part-time Buddy Sorrell" - genius! Should be the official title in honor of a great character and the guy who brought him to life.

WV - "hopto"? OK. Guess I'd better get out of here.

Max Clarke said...

I like the new format, since the Macbook renders text smaller than a desktop does.

Which is the real name, Buddy Sorrell or Morey Amsterdam? Sally Rogers or Rose Marie? Great names and great show, such a positive attitude as well. The show where the writers sing a choral tribute to Alan Brady and start adding their names...hilarious.

Bob Gassel said...

Did Gene Reynolds contribute much as 'Creative Consultant' when he left MASH?

Wayne said...

Bob Ellison is a TV legend. He goes back so far, he worked with Betty White when she was middle-aged.

YEKIMI said...

My poor,tired,legally blind eyes thank you for the larger print!

Mac said...

Now that's a font you can take out for a few beers.

Jessica said...

Ow! the type is so large it's distracting and hurts! But I just made it smaller when I read it...still love the blog!

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

I guess that explains something I've wondered about The Simpsons over the past 10 years. David Mirkin, Mike Reiss, Tom Gammill and Max Pross are all credited as producers, but none of them have their names on an individual script.

I know John Swartzwelder was credited as consultant for nearly 10 years, and wrote scripts from his home rather than The Simpsons offices.

You also see that job title being used in TV dramas. I remember Richard Donner used that title as a way to include the late Tom Mankiewicz on the Superman films as a writer. It was the only way to dodge a little known WGA rule that states that only up to 4 writers could be credited on a script.

So I figure executive consultant is only a fancier name used for the same role. The creators of 24 had that title after they left the show during season 7.

Mike said...

How badass would it be to actually have the credit Part-time Buddy Sorrell" -- I mean, it'd be pretty cool if you were good enough to think you could ask for it, but if somebody just gave it to you... my dreams are odd, my definition of "badass" different, but still.

Johnny Walker said...

Well here's the answer to a question I was going to ask!

It's surprising to hear that Creative Consultants are considered such a luxury these days when the first season of Frasier had no less than six!