Hello from New York. Is there anything better than Labor Day weekend in Gotham? Here are this week’s Friday Questions and answers.
DyHrdMET gets us started:
I was watching a rerun of CHEERS on TV the other day and it was an episode with what I guess you'd call a "recurring character" - not a series regular, but someone with many appearances over the 11 year run of the show (it was Ma Clavin returning to Boston for a visit and Cliff not letting her stay with him).
How do you write and produce those episodes with regards to the actor/actress guest starring? Do the writers pitch the idea and write it and hope the producers can get the necessary guest star(s) that week to tape the show? Or does it get written and put in the drawer until the guest star has an opening in their schedule? Or does the guest star come knocking on the door of the show's offices looking for work and the writers room has to create a storyline on the spot?
Usually someone in the writers room will spark to a story idea that involves that character. We’ll have the casting director immediately call that actor’s agent and check on his availability. Assuming he’s still interested in playing that character we’ll get an idea of when he’s free. Sometimes there may be a small window if say he’s committed to a play in New York or on location filming a movie. If we know he’s available for three weeks in October we’ll try to plan accordingly. If his schedule is open we tell the agent to keep in touch. You’d be surprised how fast open schedules close up.
Another option is re-casting if you have your heart set on doing a show with that character but the actor is not available. This doesn’t happen often but I can give one example of it. From CHEERS. For the part of Gary, Sam's bar rival, Joel Polis played him originally. But when we needed a Bar Wars episode that was locked into a specific date and Joel wasn’t available, Robert Desiderio was hired. From there we bounced back and forth between the two depending on availability.
On YES, DEAR the first aired episode was written by Greg Garcia and Alan Kirschenbaum, the show's creators, so it seemed pretty obvious it was the pilot, but its production code was 109, the second episode had the 101 production code and it was written by two other writers.
How do production codes get assigned and how does that work?
Quite often pilots have different production numbers. It’s grouped with other pilots that studio is producing that season. Once it goes to series and has its own license fee it gets assigned a different sequence of numbers. You may the only person in the world who made note of YES DEAR production code discrepancies.
From another Chris -- Chris G:
What was at the top of the stairs that led into Cheers? Did the stairs ever present any issues in terms of blocking, timing, actors spraining ankles, etc.?
You mean the stairs that led up to Melville’s? Nothing. A wooden platform and another staircase that dropped you off backstage. To my knowledge there were no mishaps. We did have an episode where the Coach falls down the stairs but we used a stunt person to do the tumble.
Jim S asks:
How did Grant Tinker pick shows? It seems that he took NBC from last to first in about 10 minutes, supporting shows that were excellent, but no popular right off the bat, shows such as Hill Street Blues, Cheers, and picked winners that changed the course of TV. Sitcoms were considered dead when Cosby hit the air.
Was it he had faith in his judgment? Or did he know how test better?
And the big key is that Grant left you alone. He created a nurturing atmosphere where people could do their best. The result? The work was more inspired and the best people wanted to bring their projects to NBC because of the environment.
It’s a formula that worked for him at MTM and worked again at NBC. And remember, when he took over NBC it was a mess. Within a few years it was back to being number one along with cleaning up at the Emmys.
I know what you’re saying: Then why don’t network presidents follow that formula today?
What’s your Friday question (besides the one above – for which there is no good answer)?