More Friday Questions? You keep askin’ ‘em/I keep answerin’ ‘em.
I was watching MASH the other day and opening credits said the story was by McLean Stevenson (but written by the writers). My question is how often did the actors suggest story lines? If it was a really awful idea, did you shoot them down gently or just said the heck with it and go with what they suggested? And if they suggested the story and it was made, did they get a little extra in their paycheck?
It doesn’t happen often (thankfully) because it’s almost always an awkward situation. Most of the time their story suggestions are not great and you do have to gently let them down easy. Knowing Larry Gelbart & Gene Reynolds, if they did a story suggested by McLean it had to be a damn good story. They would never do a story just to appease anyone – an actor, the studio, the gardener who offered to trim their trees for free.
Alan Alda was very serious as a writer. It wasn’t just a fun moonlighting thing. When he started (during Gelbart’s years) his first couple of scripts were heavily rewritten. Again, Larry wasn’t going to shoot something he didn’t feel was up to snuff. But over time, more and more of Alan’s drafts were making it into the shooting script.
In thinking about it, it had to be weird for Larry to rewrite Hawkeye lines and tell Hawkeye he wouldn’t say something that Hawkeye himself had written.
I accidentally deleted the questioner’s name. But it’s a good question. So you get an answer and an apology.
As a writer do you think it would help/hinder to go to meetings in a suit and tie? I'm pretty much suit and tie but find myself usually dressed much smarter than my fellow writers who generally turn up looking like hobos.
What does a writer dress like?
A tie is a little much. Go "Business Casual" (whatever the hell that is). I’d say wear a nice collared shirt, sports jacket, or a sweater. I don’t wear sneakers. I don’t wear jeans. I don’t wear shorts. I generally bathe.
A writer I knew pitched a pilot to the president of CBS once wearing workout sweats. He did not sell the pitch, nor was asked back. (Note: apart from CBS, that particular writer should never wear workout sweats.)
How appropriate for the season. Here’s a question from Holly:
Do you think that laugh tracks should continue to be used in new sitcoms? Or, has television comedy evolved beyond the need to tell audiences when to laugh?
I’m not a fan of laugh tracks, especially on single-camera shows. They’re intrusive and artificial.
One other note about laugh tracks. Many of them were recorded sixty years ago. And they’re still being used. So essentially, dead people are laughing at your show.
Happily, networks are finally letting producers back off or eliminate laugh tracks. Literally, may they rest in peace.
DyHrdMET wraps it up.
From what I understand, and please correct me if I'm wrong, TV sitcoms usually air on television a couple of weeks after being "filmed in front of a live studio audience" (what is it, 3 or 4 weeks later?). How do they handle explaining important plot points to the studio audience from episodes sequentially before the one being filmed that haven't yet aired?
Before the filming the audience is either shown the pilot (if it’s a new show) or a package of scenes from unaired episodes that they’ll need to fully appreciate the show they’re about to see filmed.
But it tends to be harder for shows to get laughs when the audience is unfamiliar with it, despite having seen the pilot. Case in point: on CHEERS when we would do Norm entrances in the first six or seven episodes they would just die in front of the audience. They didn’t know this was a running bit. By the end, the set-ups were getting big laughs.
What’s your question? I’ll try not to delete your name. Mahalo (I'm still in Hawaii).