Friday, May 20, 2011

CHEERS with Danny DeVito?

Thanks so much to all of you who wrote in yesterday. To paraphrase Jackie Gleason, “Global audiences are the greatest in the world!!”

Can’t think of a better way to kick off the weekend than with Friday questions.What's yours?

First up is John Trumbull:

I'm doing a caricature of Danny Devito tonight and it got me to wondering: Was there ever any discussion of having Danny guest star on Cheers? Considering that he's Rhea Perlman's husband in real life, it seems kind of strange that he never even did a cameo in all the years that the show was on.

There was some talk about it the first season but nothing really serious. At one point we thought of including Danny in the Superbowl scene as a lark but ultimately it was decided the objective of the scene was to promote CHEERS and it would just confuse people with TAXI. Were they watching Louie & Zena?

But if you listen carefully, you can hear Danny laughing offstage. He was there when we filmed it.

The first season of CHEERS proved to be the final season of TAXI, and Danny went off to have a hugely successful feature career. I once said to him, “Now that you’re a big star, I hope you won’t forget us little people.”

Joe Pontillo asks:

Here's a different Netflix question - When I click to stream an episode you wrote, does any money filter your way? If not, is that because of the age of the show, or because the writer's strike didn't quite accomplish its goal?

We’re supposed to see some tiny fraction of money. And I’m sure we will because the studios are dedicated to making sure that writers are never screwed.

From Pat Quinn:

When someone pitches a show to a network, and one or all of them pass on it ... is that show/idea for a show dead forever? That is, can that same person come back next year, with tweaks and changes but the same basic idea to pitch to the same networks?

You can but you already have two strikes against you. But sometimes network agendas change. One year they’re looking for urban buddy comedies and you pitch a rural family comedy. They pass but the next year they’re looking for rural family comedies. So you run back in only to learn they bought the exact same idea from someone else three days before.

There are instances where a network will pass on your idea and then during the course of the season decide they really want to be in business with you. So they invite you in and ask what you’ve got. You say all you have is the idea you pitched last year. Suddenly they love it and buy it.

I also find if you wait long enough (two years) you can sometimes re-pitch an idea because the entire development department has turned over. Note: this isn’t true at CBS. Wendi and Julie and that group has been there quite some time now. And to their extreme credit, if they decide months after passing on your idea that now it makes sense for them they will call you back in.

We once wrote a pilot for FOX that was ultimately passed on because they said it felt too much like an NBC project. A couple of years later, one of the development people at FOX during that time moved over to NBC and remembered the project. It was a better fit for NBC and she bought the project. That’s really the perfect scenario.  The late great Jerry Belson wrote the movie SMILE and it was later turned into a Broadway musical.  In his Playbill bio he wrote, "SMILE fulfills a lifelong dream for Mr. Belson -- to be paid twice for the same script". 

Johnny now asks:

Do writing teams get paid half as much as solo writers? (I.e. A normal writing salary halved?) And could having a partner work against you if you're both going to cost more than a single writer?

In terms of scripts, yes. You split the fee. Unless you rise to a position where you can negotiate a fee beyond that. Same with producing. But in those cases you usually do negotiate the terms. Showrunners rarely work for scale. 

Splitting money is certainly a downside to partnerships. However, I always felt that half of something was worth more than a lot of nothing. I don’t think my career would have been as successful if I weren’t partnered with David Isaacs. So it’s a trade off. But that’s my situation. Yours may be different.

One good thing about splitting money – in today’s marketplace teams are more coveted because shows can get two writers for the price of roughly one. So you might make less but at least you get the job.

There are many instances of partnerships breaking up after they’ve reached a certain level of success and can each carve out a good career on their own.

I think the key to maintaining a good partnership is that there is enough flexibility in the relationship that each member is free to take projects on their own as well as together. For instance, I branched out into directing and sportscasting. David is now a tenured professor at USC. Hey, it just occurred to me, his side profession is way more prestigious than mine. That bastard!

Drive carefully this weekend, especially between Los Angeles and San Diego.  That's where I'm headed so hands-free cell conversations people!  Thanks.


Miserable Dreamer said...

Another great column but... Did I miss somethin'? Isn't Memorial Weekend NEXT weekend? If you don't say otherwise, I'm skipping work Monday and blaming this blog.

LouOCNY said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LouOCNY said...

Memorial IS next weekend - in fact, it actually happens to fall just one day short of the the day it SHOULD be - the 30th...

Ken was just testing to see if anyone was awake out there, right Ken? Right?

15-Seconds said...

Ah, but this weekend is only ten after after Confederate Memorial least the version celebrated in North and South Carolina.

RockGolf said...

It's Victoria Day weekend in Canada. Yeah, that's right Queen Victoria, who died a hundred years ago.

It's a holiday - ya gonna turn it down?

Nat G said...

I think the prime argument that no pitch should ever be considered dead (or at least unrevivable) is that in recent years, we've had at least two series on the air that got placement despite the fact that their shows had previously been produced and flopped badly. One, Rob Thomas's Cupid, went on to flop again (although I really wish someone would release the original short run on video - c'mon folks, it's Jeremy Piven!) The other, the idea of turning the movie Parenthood into a TV series, which gave us a dozen episodes in 1990, just got picked up for its third season.

olucy said...

Nat, if you have the patience for story interruptus, the original Cupid is on YouTube.

50 is the new 35 said...

Maybe Ken was referring to the hoardes of folks who are *driving* to the "Rapture" ... a car might come in handy in heaven! (Those of us left on earth will wave to you as you fly on by!)

Ryan Paige said...

We (WGA writers) are supposed to get residuals from online rentals (which Netflix streaming would fall under) based on a deal we got in the contract negotiation a few years before the strike (the first time John Wells was Guild president), rather than from the negotiation that ended the strike.

YEKIMI said...

You wanna freak people out, get a bunch of blow-up dolls and inflate them with helium. Then Saturday find a megachurch and hide behind the bushes. At 6 pm, let them all loose. Let the fun begin!

Cap'n Bob said...

"...hoardes of folks...?" You mean "hordes, Mr 50."

DBA said...

Thanks to that glorious invention Interleague Play, the Mariners are playing the Padres this weekend because of their...uh.."natural rivalry", yeah, thanks Bud... Ken will be in SD because of the Mariners.

50 is the new 35 said...

Dang ... so I did, Cap'n Bob. Good catch! Yep: I should, of course, have typed "hordes". (Unless the hordes are also hoarding, which is entirely possible - what with all of that flying up to Heaven and all.)

That will teach me to try to quickly craft witty blog comments while doing too many other things simultaneously - focus and correct use of homonyms are both very gopd things!

(BTW, I'm an "xx" not an "xy" - but you definitely score points for being so polite! :-)

50 is the new 35 said...

*sigh* and of course that should have read "GOOD things".

It's been a loooong week! Happy Weekend all!

[backing slowly away from my keyboard for the evening ...]

Retro Blog said...

I have a Friday question. What ever happened to "Flash Forward"?
I think I saw it on ABC it was only one for a few episodes and disappeared. I liked the theme, everyone in the world blacks out for 41 seconds or so, planes crash, cars crash, buildings crash, and people wake up having lived past the blackout sometime March the coming year. I thought it had promise. Thanks, Royce

Brian K. said...

A Friday question:
I've noticed on at least one Cheers episode that a pregnant Carla is drinking beer. Didn't anyone know about fetal alcohol syndrome in the 80's?

sophomorecritic said...

Stephen Spielberg is producing a new TV show which makes me wonder, how much of a time commitment is it for directors like (I'm sure I'm missing some names here, going off the top of my head) Spielberg (previously did Animaniacs) Brett Rattner (Prison Breaks), and Ed Zwick (Once and Again) to produce a TV show. These seem like guys with busy directoral careers that require them to often be on a set.

Do they just attach their name to the project, put up some money, and occasionally attend a producers meeting or two?

Sebastian said...

So here's a question. What do you think is the most powerful female character in the us-sitcom-history. Whose attitude was groundbraking, who is the most powerful? And did it all start with Mary Richards? What about Ellen Morgan?

Johnny Walker said...

Once again, thanks for answering my question! I had wondered about that for a while now. It sounds like, if anything, only people who were really dedicated to writing as a team would do that... which is awesome. If you've met someone who's willing to halve their salary in order to work alongside you, they must really respect, trust and admire you. Truly putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

Johnny Walker said...

Another Friday Question for you, Mr Levine: You probably won't want to answer this one, though. I thought I'd ask anyway, for all those who have wondered.

Here goes: What happened with Terry Farrell on Becker?

One story I've heard is that the powers that be reneged on their contract with the supporting cast, refusing to give them a pay raise at the end of Season 3, like they had originally agreed. Farrell rallied the other cast (not including Ted Danson) to fight for their agreed pay rise by not showing up for work.

The powers that be agreed to honour their contract with the cast, but were so turned off by the way she handled things that they decided not to renew her contract after Season 4.

If this is true, then it makes you wonder where the truth lies: Was she completely unreasonable, to the point where her behaviour essentially ended up black-balling herself? Or is Hollywood a greedy place that expects people to not complain when they're screwed over?

(I'd lean towards the first one, but even folk like Peter Jackson have had to fight for what was contractually theirs, so I just don't know.)

Thanks, Ken!