Ready for some Friday Questions?
Mr. Ace has two to start us off:
1. How do the show creators come up with the names for their shows?
They get real liquored up and play Pictionary. Seriously, I don't know. I'm sure each creator has his own method for coming up with titles the way he has his own way of writing scripts.
I’ve found that either you can come up with a title in ten seconds or it takes forever and often you still never find a great one. Ideally, there’s something in the subject matter that leads to a clever or descriptive title. For my money, the shorter the title the better.
Quite often titles will change between the initial pilot and the final show. The series, UNFORGETTABLE had maybe the worst title ever originally. THE REMEMBERER. Can you believe that? “I’m the lead detective on this case. For this investigation I’ve enlisted the help of a forensic expert and the Rememberer.”
2. I have read that guys like Sidney Sheldon wrote most if not all of the episdoes of his shows. I was wondering how common is that nowadays?
Rarely, but it happens. Aaron Sorkin writes practically all of his shows. So does David Kelley (even when he has two or three on the air at the same time). Larry Gelbart wrote most of MASH for the first four seasons. Carl Reiner scripted most of the DICK VAN DYKE SHOWS the first three seasons (and they did 39 episodes a year). And of course, Matthew Weiner of MAD MEN (yes, that's only 13 at a time but wow-- those 13 episodes).
My partner and I wrote most of the 7th season of MASH. If we didn’t write the drafts ourselves we rewrote all the others. I look back and wonder: how the hell did we do that?
I’m in awe of writers like Sorkin and Kelley who can be that prolific and that GOOD week after week, season after season. One year of it and I was ready for the drooling academy.
Do you have an opinion on backdoor pilots? I remember Golden Girls did one in 1987 to set up Empty Nest, and just a few years ago Grey's Anatomy gave up two episodes of its season to setting up its spin-off Private Practice; but do you think these are cheap cheats at getting a mass audience to sample the new show or is simply a smart business tactic?
Smart business for several reasons. You save a big chunk of money on a pilot and, as you suggested, you have a built-in audience. This practice goes way back. In the early ‘60s THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW was a backdoor pilot from THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW. What’s interesting about that is that THE DANNY THOMAS SHOW was about a nightclub performer in Manhattan and Andy Taylor couldn’t have been less show bizzy or New York if he tried. Still, that character was cleverly introduced and made the necessary impressive impression.
In the ‘70s, Norman Lear used ALL IN THE FAMILY episodes to spin off both MAUDE and THE JEFFERSONS. I'm sure there are dozens of other examples.
And finally, from Andy Cook:
How is it handled when one character has to say something personal and derogatory about the appearance of another – e.g. they’re fat or ugly i.e. some nasty description that actually applies to the actor.
Do writers shy away from it? Does it make the rehearsal process awkward? How do you call for actors for the fat/ugly part and what’s the audition like?
That’s a great question, Andy. Yes, writers do have to be sensitive to actors’ feelings when it comes to slamming their physical shortcomings in front of twenty million people. It’s best to diplomatically ask the actor in question if he’s okay with it. And if he’s not, respect that. On MIKE & MOLLY the series is pretty much built around fat jokes. The actors knew that when they signed on. But on CHEERS we tended to shy away from Norm fat jokes. And we didn’t feel we were losing that much in terms of comic opportunities. There were enough other avenues for laughs that we didn’t need to resort to fat jokes at George’s expense.
On THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW a staple of comedy was Morey Amsterdam making fun of Richard Deacon’s baldness. But Deacon was a great sport.
And it’s important that whoever the target character is, that character gets to give it right back.
What’s your question?