Friday, April 22, 2011

Why do stars take producing credits? Because they can.

Ready for some Good Friday questions?

Chris asks:

I've seen a lot of canceled (some good actually) shows that have their main star listed as an executive producer since the first season. Is there a connection?

Some stars are in a position to ask for and receive a producing credit. For show writer/creators this is sometimes the deal you have to make with the devil. A producing credit gives the actor more creative say. And depending on the actor, that can be a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve had good experiences with Alan Alda and Ray Romano. Both had terrific attitudes and contributed greatly to the development of their shows. There are many others. I hear Keifer Sutherland on 24 for one.

Some shows are better because of the star’s creative vision but they themselves are horrible people. Roseanne springs to mind. I don’t think her show would have been half as good without her input, but her writers are still having Viet Nam flashbacks.


From Cedric Hohnstadt:

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube video showing dozens of movie phone calls ending without the characters ever saying good-bye. They just hang up the phone.



There must be a valid reason writers continually script phone calls to end this way. Not being a writer myself I would think that saying good-bye would make a scene feel more real, but maybe that innocent little phrase somehow breaks the tension or flow of a scene? I'd love to know the explanation. Thanks.

Cedric, you’ve hit upon a personal pet peeve of mine. It never makes sense to me that characters don’t say goodbye. How much longer would it take to add one or two words?  Even in a crisis, Jack Bauer has time to say to Chloe, "See ya... unless you don't get me the coordinates and this dirty bomb blows up and we're all dead." 

I have the same pet peeve with “thank you”. So often characters will place a lunch order, or deal with a teller, or get a lift home and they never say “thank you”. Writers grumble when actors question the script but when they say “He just poured me a drink. Wouldn’t I thank him?” I side with the thesp.

In my scripts characters always say goodbye and thank you. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never won an Oscar.


VP81955 wonders:

Just saw a "Frasier" ep where Niles is wearing a pirate outfit...including a certain white shirt. Was this "Frasier's" riposte to the famed "Seinfeld" "puffy shirt" episode? In a larger sense, have you done many sitcom vs. sitcom in-jokes?

I can’t speak to the FRASIER episode because I didn’t write that one. But it is fun to occasionally slip in odes to other shows. On ALMOST PERFECT, anytime anyone was watching TV you heard the CHEERS theme.

This is maybe the most inside example of all. David and I created three series – MARY, BIG WAVE DAVE’S, and (with Robin Schiff) ALMOST PERFECT. None of them had a “last episode”. In all three cases we were hoping to make more. But had we been able to plan a final episode of ALMOST PERFECT, we were going to bring the characters from our other two shows and wrap up all three series at once. Eight people in America might have gotten it but that’s a small price to pay for closure.


And finally, from John, a question that will probably get me in trouble.

Good shows can have their occasional bad episode that for whatever reason, just doesn't gel right. Do you have any examples of the other way around -- a show that's generally bad or just blah that somehow comes up with a really good episode (and then drops back into badness/blahness again).

I know I'm spitting on the cross but that’s the way I feel about CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. For the most part I find it uneven and sometimes tiresome. But every so often an episode will just knock me on my ass. And that seems to happen enough that I keep watching. Brilliance is hard to come by and it’s worth sitting through weeks of Larry acting like a jerk because there’s no sandwich named after him.

What’s your question?

41 comments:

ihatebreastcancer said...

Your mention of Elizabeth Montgomery's birthday reminded me of this article.
Brian's Song used some of Bewitched sets. Who knew??? Can you think of a contemporary TV movie that had all around talent (music, writing, acting etc?)
Here is the article:
Brian’s Song was watched by one in three American households when it premiered on Nov. 30, 1971. It remains universally beloved to this day. Gayle Sayers and Joy Piccolo look back
(scroll down) http://www.spiritmag.com/features/article/love_football/

Ivan said...

Regarding the no "thank you"s or "goodbye"s what used to really drive me bonkers is when someone in a film or show goes to a bar and simply orders "Beer." Because of product placement overload, this isn't happening as much, but I still growl at the TV when I see an older show doing it. At least come up with a fake name, like "Gimme a pint of Blah-Blah Beer."
Thanks!

Jon J said...

'I have the same pet peeve with “thank you”.'

Mine is the substitution of "no problem" for the simple thank you.

Say thank you to any waiter/waitress and you'll probably hear "no problem" back (if anything at all).

Hearing "no problem" makes me want to respond with "no tip".

Tom said...

Re: "Thank you," "goodbye," etc. I know it's been mentioned by lots of people in lots of places but my pet peeve is drivers in movies and TV shows who are talking to their passengers and take their eyes off the road for what seems like 10 seconds at a time, or more. Why do they do that? Who in real life does that (and lives to tell about it)? It takes me right out of the scene as a viewer, as I'm thinking "Eyes on the road, moron!" which I'm guessing is not the response the writers/actors/director intended....

John said...

Somewhere in the back of Chuck Lorre's mind there's got to be a great dark sitcom pilot about an abused showrunner dealing with a cast that includes a Rosanne type fighting with a Brett Butler type, with a Charlie Sheen type as the male lead. And they all have producer credits.

It would be kind of like The Three Stooges meets Dabney Coleman's character and producer from "Buffalo Bill". The only problem being I doubt Chuck could get through the pilot without killing off all three characters before the final scene.

MBunge said...

Isn't CURB mostly improv'd? I've long observed that the only people who appreciate how hard improv is to do are the folks who actually do it, but that tends to blind them to whether or not the improv is actually funny.

Mike

Heywood Hale go-Bruins said...

Wow, it was nice to see Thelma Ritter again! Terrific article on Brians Song, very informative & interesting. Too bad they couldn't get James Caan to comment on it. That's one of those rare flicks that will 'live' forever.

Is the timing right for the Dodgers to move back to Brooklyn?

Thanks & good-bye!

The Kid In The Front Row said...

Haha - yes, I can imagine you'd upset a lot of curb fans! I love curb, personally, but each to their own!

The phone thing is interesting. I guess that, y'know, there's no need to tell the audience things they already know -- there's a kind of redundancy to the word goodbye. Instead of saying it, putting the phone down has the same effect.

VP81955 said...

Somewhere in the back of Chuck Lorre's mind there's got to be a great dark sitcom pilot about an abused showrunner dealing with a cast that includes a Rosanne type fighting with a Brett Butler type, with a Charlie Sheen type as the male lead. And they all have producer credits.

It would be kind of like The Three Stooges meets Dabney Coleman's character and producer from "Buffalo Bill". The only problem being I doubt Chuck could get through the pilot without killing off all three characters before the final scene.


If he still gets along with Jenna Elfman, he could have her play hero and save the day. (Imagining Jenna in a superheroine outfit.)

bevo said...

"Eight people in America might have gotten it but that’s a small price to pay for closure."

I would have watched, enjoyed the attempt, but probably missed the humor.

wv: squarden - a garden that is designed and maintained in a square.

Tim W. said...

THANK YOU! (Pun intended)

I understand the reasoning behind no thank yous or goodbye, but I completely agree with you. Does it really take that much extra time, and, quite frankly, it always takes me out of the moment for a second while I start thinking about how much of an ass the character is.

I don't know, maybe it's because I'm Canadian, but I think there's always a place for courtesy, even if it makes a show or movie a couple of seconds longer.

Goodbye.

peyton said...

You have provided good stuff into your post. I have read your post and really wonderful sharing. Thanks a lot.

Naz said...

How difficult is it to work product placement in a show?

Carlos M Hernandez said...

Agreed on the "thank you" and "good bye" never being said in a television show or movie.

Every time my boss calls me and hangs up without saying good bye, I ask myself if I'm in a movie.

Life does feel that way at times.

Chris said...

Why do episodes sometime air in a different order than the one they were shot in? (Wikipedia lists production codes and I'm assuming 101 is a pilot, 102 is the next one, etc).

Chris said...

What's your stand on the "no hugging, no learning" rule they had on Seinfeld? Are you for or against sad "ooooh" moments in a sitcom?

Steve B said...

Hey Ken, when taking all factors into consideration (parking, commissary, atmosphere), what are your favorite and least favorite studio lots to work at? Do you prefer newer offices, or find that and older building is better for comedy? Or do you like working completely off-lot?

Mac said...

I feel the same about "Curb." Sometimes it's a bit like panning for gold; you have to sift through a lot of gravel before the nuggets appear. But you know they will and they're always worth waiting for.

Max Clarke said...

Ken, nothing broke the "reality" of a tv show like that fake phone number, 555 and something else.

For example, Cheers remains my favorite all-time comedy, but in the episode "One Hugs, The Other Doesn't," it ended with a doll singing the recorded phone number of Nanny G. Fine, a cute way for her to let Frasier know how to contact her, but the number was fake. Norm and some other guys even sang that fake number several times.

Did the writers and producers understand that having a character give an obviously fake phone number ruined the mood?

tales from the pole said...

*laughs* unfortunately, this is the way my father hangsup the phone.no "goodbye," no "ok. i'll talk to you later" no "sayonara--since it must be so." nope; nutin'! he just grunts and puts the phone down. he really, really hates the phone. if people ever called his business to inquire about a job he would make a note not to hire that person b/c they hadn't come in in person to check on it. maddening. that being said, he, too, has never won an oscar or an emmy. so console yourself w/ that and cling to your good manners! tee hee. i would. good manners go a long way. IMHO. ha ha ha. i guess i had never noticed this happening so much in film--i suppose b/c w/ dad it was de riguere--but now that you've pointed it out YES i have seen this a lot more onscreen than in real life and indeed, it 'tis ridiculous. i'll end this comment with a thoughtful "au revoir"--until we see one another again...and not merely a CLICK! ZAP! or crass & hasty folding up the laptop. au revoir, mes amis! fade out. ;-)

media_lush said...

Qu: what are the rules about syndication, I hear that a show has to have a certain amount of episodes before it can be "syndicated" [100 episodes?] - does the payment structure to stars, writers, producers etc differ once a show go into syndication..... if a certain amount of episodes are needed do you know if efforts have been made to reach or deliberately not reach the target ?

Mike Schryver said...

Ivan, if you hate it when someone simply orders a beer, you must have had a hard time getting through Cheers.

Regarding the fake phone number, there's a good scene in Newsradio where a girl gives someone her number (Jimmy, I think) and leaves. He starts reading it aloud ,"555-", and then yells in her direction, "Hey, this is one of those fake phone numbers!"

Cosme McMoon said...

I remember reading/hearing that on Sex and the City they would actually buy real phone numbers to use in the show in order to avoid having to use the fakey-seeming "555" numbers.

Eric Lyden said...

My reality breaking pet peeve- the way presents are wrapped on TV shows. It's just a gift wrapped box where they just take off the lid. I sort of understand why they do it, but if it's just one gift would if really be that much of a hassle to have an intern rewrap it between takes?

Tallulah Morehead said...

"In my scripts characters always say goodbye and thank you. Perhaps that’s why I’ve never won an Oscar."

Okay, that made me laugh out loud. Thank you.

Goodbye.

Deuce Bagelow said...

My peeve is "recorded before a live audience" sitcoms that dead stop for an extended round of applause and whoops whenever the cult character (Fonzie, Kramer, etc.) makes his or her first entrance.

YEKIMI said...

Did the writers and producers understand that having a character give an obviously fake phone number ruined the mood?

The reason given that the use a fake number is: What if they did give out a REAL number and it just happened to be YOURS? Would you want to answer the phone 600,000 times a day from morons wanting to see if it's a real working number? I remember when I was a DJ and the old Tommy Tutone hit "867-5309/Jenny" was a big hit I got a call at the station from some old geezer who had the same phone number as the song. He was absolutely livid because he was getting hundreds of calls a day from people asking for "Jenny". He demanded we stop playing the song and threatened to sue the station and went on and on and on. I just ended up dumping him in the Station manager's lap and let him deal with the guy.
Here's a Wikipedia entry that can explain it all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/555_(telephone_number)

gottacook said...

Ken, do you have favorites among those sitcoms that didn't really take off and remain almost totally obscure today?

I vividly recall several of them from 1967 or so (I was 10 or 11), even including parts of their theme songs: The Pruitts of Southampton (with Phyllis Diller), The Smothers Brothers Show (the sitcom, not the variety show), The Mothers-in-Law, Good Morning World (with Goldie Hawn, pre-Laugh-In), and the quasi-competing superhero comedies Captain Nice (with William Daniels) and Mr. Terrific.

te said...

my pet peeve is drivers in movies and TV shows who are talking to their passengers and take their eyes off the road for what seems like 10 seconds at a time, or more. Why do they do that?

They need to, because none of the cars have rear-view mirrors!


Mine is whenever somebody says "come here and look at the TV". even by the time everybody eventually has assembled by the TV set, whatever they're watching is complete enough to hold all the necessary exposition. In real life, you'd have to rewind at least a little bit.

Johnny Walker said...

You talk about the "new horror stories" that you and other writers feast on... I have a feeling we'd may all have the same taste. Care to share any? :)

If that question doesn't tickle your fancy, how about: Given everything you've seen in all your years working in the industry, would you still recommend wannabe writers try to get "in"? Everyone I know who's worked in it for the past 30 years seems to envy people with "normal" jobs.

rhl said...

One of my pet peeves: whenever anyone eats Chinese food on TV they ALWAYS use chopsticks, and usually eat from the little white cartons. Why? Does it make it more exotic, reinforce the fact that it's Chinese? The chopstick thing really bugs me because most people in this country don't use them.

unkystan said...

The "555" number wasn't as annoying when shows used the phone exchange "KLondike 5...." It's a phoney but sounded real enough.
Also annoying is listening to a one sided phone call where the listener repeats everything for the viewer. "What do you mean Joe is coming over right now with the money in exchange for the goods purchased on Thursday?" Who does that???

jbryant said...

My least favorite form of exposition is the "Lemme guess..." line.

A: I'm worried.
B: Lemme guess... you found out that Bob knows that thing you did and blah blah blah...

Michael Rafferty said...

Some of my pet peeves...a character drinking out of an obviously empty cup, a warehouse full of stacked empty boxes, the line, "You just don't get it, do you?", two characters coming into a room talking about something that happened in a previous scene as if they didn't talk about it on the way home, a character ordering a drink at a bar and then not drinking it or, in some cases,leaving without paying for it, the line, "What tha..?"....

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

First time I've read a negative opinion about Curb your Enthusiasm.

Personally, I'm okay with that. I like it, but rarely watch it. My cousin, on the other hand, is the biggest Larry David fan there is. If he'd read this, he'd be the Soup Nazi right about now saying "No more soup for you, for a full year! NEXT!"

TC said...

Ken- When a movie or television show is remade/"reimagined", I notice that the original writer gets a screen credit- sometimes it is "Story by", sometimes a co-credit, sometimes "Based on characters created by", etc. I'm thinking of examples like the Brand/Mirren version of Arthur, or the Ronald Moore version of Battlestar Galactica. For something like that, how much money does the original writer actually receive if they've had no other creative input in the new incarnation?

Chris said...

Based on what TC just said above, sometimes on a sitcom the credits go to someone for story and to someone else for the actual teleplay, how does that happen and what do you actually do when you write the "story" for the episode?

Splenda said...

Now that Cheers is on Netflix, I am re-discovering why I loved it so much and am reminded how funny Coach was. What is your favorite Nick Colasanto episode?

Johnny Walker said...

I suddenly remembered a question for your "Friday Questions" posts that I've wanted to know since I was eight! I'm actually very excited that I might finally get to hear an answer.

When I watched Cheers as I kid, I was always transfixed by the opening sequence (and wonderful song), and I often wondered about the pictures that appeared behind each actor's name. Did the actors have any input into what image went behind their name? Was there any stories behind the images that were chosen?

For example, as a kid, I always wondered if Rhea Pearlman's background (the lower-half of a woman standing at a bar) was an show in-joke about her diminutive stature.

I also wondered if there was a story behind George Wendt's picture (a slightly larger gentleman, followed quickly by a man holding up a newspaper with the headline, "We Win!"). As a kid I wondered if there had been a disagreement about Wendt's picture, with the actor wanting one picture, and everyone else wanting another.

I imagined a scenario where the powers that be went for the picture they wanted, and then followed it quickly with a playful, "We Win!" message to George.

As an adult this strikes me as less than likely, but I would still love to know if there were any stories regarding actor credits and the images behind them.

Thanks a lot!

sophomorecritic said...

Two unrelated sets of questions
1. Do you draw any inspiration from classic comedy (30s-50s) and are you fans of guys like Billy Wilder, Preston Struges, Howard Hawks and Ernst Lubitsch?

2. I was reading about Jurassic Park and noticed that many of the actresses who were considered for the part Laura Dern eventually won are primarily known as TV actresses today: Julianne Margollis, Marg Helgenberger, Dana Delaney, Kyra Sedgewick and Kristin Davis (although she does the occasional family film). I looked around and many of these actresses were considered for other roles in the mid-90s as well.

Is this common that a lot of TV actors dabble around in film before settling in TV and never look back (with a few exceptions like Tea Leoni and Helen Hunt)?

Tomas said...

If you're the same guy who did some Mariners' broadcasts in the past, I'm exceedingly pleased to have you back. Now let's get rid of "Fairly Obvious" and "Nasally Blowers". Everyone else is great.
Tomas in Fall City, WA