Friday, February 24, 2012

Bracing myself for comments from irate readers

Here are this week’s Friday questions – a light diversion as you obsess over who will win an Oscar this Sunday. As always, I’ll be reviewing them Monday morning. But for now…

Up first is Kaan:

Have you ever (or writers you know) had problems with actors because of different political believes?

Like maybe there was a scene that promoted liberal values and an actor didn't like it because he or she was a conservative? And vice versa, of course.

No problems personally. The cast on MASH was decidedly liberal (duh) and the point of view of the show reflected that. Alan Alda, in particular. But a few years ago on WEST WING he played a conservative Republican presidential candidate with such conviction that I’d probably vote for him.

Update: great comment from reader Tim Dunleavy --

When Alan Alda was doing "West Wing," he said that people repeatedly asked him "How could you, of all people, play a Republican?" His response: "You know, nobody asked me that question when I played a murderer."

Kelsey Grammer is a Conservative but Frasier never was.

I know there are people who resent Patricia Heaton for her views and although I don’t share them I loved working with her and am her biggest fan. I say this knowing I will now get fifty angry comments from people who hate Patty (and by association -- me). Bring ‘em on, I still would work with her again in a second.


You can call me Owl asks:

We talk about a show working or not working. Do you feel that when something works or doesn't work, one can always, by dissection, find the things that make it work or not work?

Or is there some intangible layer to "works" and "doesn't work" where even something that seems like it should work because every piece of it works, somehow, as a whole, doesn't work, for no reason that anyone can pinpoint?

That's a great question.  Unfortunately, there is no way to accurately dissect why something works or doesn't. Often you can but not always. Two examples:

The famous “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW. At the dress rehearsal it absolutely bombed. They didn’t get a single laugh from the crew – and they are usually excellent indicators of how audiences will respond. The brain trust here were James L. Brooks, Allan Burns, David Lloyd, Stan Daniels, Ed. Weinberger, and Bob Ellison. These were and are the titans of television comedy.

None of these heavyweights could figure out what was wrong. Jim Brooks addressed the cast, apologized, and said, “Just do the best you can. We’ll try to write new stuff later and see if we can salvage it, but for now we’re at a complete loss.” They did and you know the rest. "Chuckles" is maybe the single greatest episode of half-hour comedy. I was in the audience that night and I’ve got to say – I don’t know what the hell that crew was looking at. From the first minute that show was magic.

Example number two: the play ODD COUPLE. At the table reading and all the tryout performances the play worked like a charm… until the last fifteen minutes. And then suddenly the uproarious laughter just died. This time you had Neil Simon and director Mike Nichols trying to solve the problem. For weeks they wrestled with it. You figure if anyone can figure it out it’s one of them. Still. Nothing.

Finally, a Boston theater critic mentioned that he missed the Pigeon sisters. Simon & Nichols realized “that’s it!” They were written into the last scene and the play took off like a rocket.

But you just never know. You like to think you do but you don’t.


And finally, from Brooke McMaster:

I wanted to ask about series bibles. With every pitch, do you have to submit a fully completed bible or does this folder of notes start to grow once the show is picked up? Obviously, you would have basic notes on characters, settings etc but I am unsure if this is needed for a pitch.

In most cases, a show bible starts to grow only when the series goes into production. A writers assistant or story editor is assigned to keep it up. And depending on the show, they can be very detailed or not. On MASH we had a page-long description of each episode.

I say “most cases” because some of these dramas that have overall arcs probably need a bible before they start. I would assume ONCE UPON A TIME had a good sense of where they were taking the storyline long before they started shooting.

I imagine the bible for LOST is thicker than the Manhattan White Pages.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section in between all the irate Patty Heaton missives. Thank you.

Tomorrow:  Getting you ready for the Oscars -- what people in the audience at the Academy Awards are REALLY saying and thinking.  

68 comments:

Mister Charlie said...

I read Patty's book before I ever saw a Raymond, and I thought she came across fine, religious and conservative I suppose but then most of the book was about how she got where she was. I think you are right to enjoy working with someone regardless of their reputation or popular opinion. Good on yer.

RockGolf said...

"Alan Alda... played a conservative Republican presidential candidate with such conviction that I’d probably vote for him. "

I think that's Romney's strategy.

Ray Barrington said...

That is one of the problems with politics today - people tend to look at that and immediately hate somebody, say, who rescues small animals, gives to charity, loves this country, is concerned about the status of others, believes the good of the people comes first, and just differs about the details. Don't sweat the small stuff - and ALL of politics is small stuff.

That does not mean, however, you can't hate politicians. They are all jerks.

William Jansen said...

You recently answered a question about how to test an idea for a TV-series:

"The first question I ask is “what is this show ABOUT”? Unless there’s some theme, some basic value or issue then you just have a bunch of people trading jokes in various settings. ... During your pitch, if you’re can say in a sentence, “This show is about…” then you’re on your way."

Did you ever have such a sentence for Fraiser, Cheers, Becker etc.?

If so; what was the sentence, and how conscious were you of it, when writing episodes?

If no; in hindsight, what would that sentence be for the shows you were heavily involved in?

Great Big Radio Guy said...

Patricia Heaton has talent and is a true professional. So I disagree with her politically. She doesn't cram her beliefs down your throat and she throws herself into her work brilliantly.

But Ken, I double dog dare you to work with Victoria Jackson. Between her and Dennis Miller, I always wondered what was in the water at SNL those seasons.

LouOCNY said...

When writing a series pitch, the more concise you are, the better you are off correct Ken? I mean, THE classic series pitch was Roddenberry's "Wagon Train to the Stars". Even though it really WASN'T what Trek was about, it got the suits attention by tying it to a current show all the suits knew.

One could do worse by reading the book, INSIDE STAR TREK, which was written by Herb Solow, who was the exec at Desilu, whose job it was to revive a rather moribund studio's original series fortunes. His description of the pitch meetings for Trek with both CBS and NBC is classic.

Solow, by the way, should be recognized somewhere - he managed to sell both Trek AND MISSION IMPOSSIBLE as series at the same time.

Paul Duca said...

Lou...I read another book that suggests CBS picked up MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE in return for Desilu president Lucille Ball agreeing to commit to another season of her series.

Michael said...

I did the oral history of a prominent Nevada attorney and politician who is a liberal Democrat. For years, he commuted to work with a fellow lawyer and neighbor who was a conservative Republican. He was asked how they could get along and he said not everything in life is political. Simple, correct answer.

About fixing stuff, some deny the story, but I remember reading it from a fairly reliable source .... "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" wasn't working and finally the director, George Abbott, said the first song was a love song and what was needed was a number before it to show there would be a ... comedy tonight. Apparently, Stephen Sondheim figured that one out.

The one those present vouched for was the time Jack Benny's writers came up with a skit. He'd be walking home and a mugger would ask, "Your money or your life?" They couldn't think of the punch line. One of them, Milt Josefsberg, kept pacing around trying out lines. Nothing. His co-writer, John Tackaberry, was seemingly relaxing on the couch, almost napping. Finally, Josefsberg asked something like, "Are you just going to sit there and do nothing?" Tackaberry wanted to reassure him and said, "I'm thinking it over."

Tod Hunter said...

I have a theory about TV series.

When a series starts, the original writers have a proprietary interest in the characters. The characters are like their kids, they have grown and been nurtured under the show creators' loving care.

At about the five-year mark, the original show creators are no longer in the hands-on position(s) they were. They are now producers, story editors, or maybe they sold a show of their own and have left entirely. The new writers don't have the same parental interest in the characters that the original writers did, and the new writers start to torture the characters.

I've had this theory for a while, and was reminded of it last night when watching "The Big Bang Theory" (now in season six) and seeing Wolowitz going through a particularly hellish astronaut training.

Any thoughts on this?

Anonymous said...

My aversion to Patricia Heaton has nothing to do with her political leanings. I knew nothing of her beliefs until after Raymond was finished.

I just don't like her as a performer. After all these years, I can't quite put my finger on why. I just have a negative physical reaction, and I avoid anything she is in. I'm sure she is a perfectly fine person; I just can't stand to watch her.

Pam aka sisterzip

Brian Phillips said...

To Great Big Radio Guy: I agree with you about Victoria Jackson, although my issue is not with her political beliefs, my issue is with her is that from what I have read of her on Big Hollywood's site is that more times than not, her views were half-baked and rife with misinformation. More, I suppose, would have been forgiven if I liked much of her work, which I tend not to, although she did a good Roseanne imitation. Also, she does go on about how conservative Christians are denied work in Hollywood and I know of people that profess to be both that do work.

Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton are both talented and while I don't agree with their political views, I have and will watch shows featuring them.

MBunge said...

The best example I've ever seen of something that should work but doesn't is a scene from Stir of Echoes where the ghost is getting pissed off that Kevin Bacon's character isn't paying attention to it. So it starts getting all poltergeisty with Bacon, Kathryn Erbe and their pretend kid. It all builds up to the big moment when the audience can finally see the ghost just as Erbe takes off her robe and gets into the bathtub.

The theory behind it is perfectly sound. At the moment when a character is at her most vulnerable, that's when you hit the viewer with the scariest image you can. It didnt' work in practice, though, because the first time I watched that scene I didn't even notice the ghost. I mean, it was Kathryn Erbe getting naked, for pete's sake!

Mike

Tim Dunleavy said...

When Alan Alda was doing "West Wing," he said that people repeatedly asked him "How could you, of all people, play a Republican?" His response: "You know, nobody asked me that question when I played a murderer."

Brigadude said...

@ Michael: You are mostly right about "Forum." Sondheim himself writes about the experience in his excellent book "Finishing the Hat" (and others have written about it extensively). Only it wasn't Abbott who made the suggestion, but Jerry Robbins, who was called in when the musical was out of town. Among other things (clarity being one of them), the whole team wanted a song they could hum. "Love is in the Air" which was there when Robbins arrived, was definitely not the right song. "Comedy Tonight" was. And talk about getting along with people who did not agree with one another politically, Jack Gilford and Robbins had plenty to disagree about on that show.

Anonymous said...

So, arguably the best sitcom moment in history, the funeral service in "Chuckles the Clown," if produced today would NEVER make it to air, because today's network execs present at rehearsal would INSIST it was fixed before shooting...no doubt with something classy, like Mary farting.
-- I AM NOT A ROBOT

Michael said...

Friday question: Do TV writers retain any sense of ownership in characters they create? For example, are they automatically entitled to compensation if one of their characters is spun-off to a new series, even if they are not involved in the new series?

Mike Schryver said...

I always enjoyed Victoria Jackson's bits on SNL. One in particular, where she takes off her blonde wig and starts going on about how she can't play this dumb bimbo anymore. The bit has a nice payoff, I think.

Funny is funny. I disagree vehemently with Ms. Heaton's political views, but if she's funny, I'll watch her without hesitation.

Brian Phillips said...

Dear Anonymous:

"...today's network execs present at rehearsal would INSIST it [Chuckles the Clown] was fixed before shooting"

Network executives have been known historically to meddle, it is nothing new. Case in point: Rod Serling wanted to produce a script about the Emmett Til, African-American man that was beaten to death for calling a White woman "baby" in public. The network requested that the Til's character be changed to be Jewish and that his life should be spared.

gottacook said...

In cases of spinoffs, the creators of the original series would presumably be compensated, given the "based on characters created by" credit that they always seem to get; I can't imagine that such a credit is all they'd receive.

Kirk said...

I usually don't find out about a person's politics until long after I've become a fan of their work, and by that time it's too late, I'm hooked. I just now looked at an online list of conservtive entertainers, living and dead, and, jeez, every fourth or fifth name was someone whose work I'm a fan of.

I get the impression Patricia Heaton is a coservative on social issues, and on one social issue in particular, abortion. Does anyone know if she's also conservative on economic issues? Is she against the Occupy movement, Obamacare, etc.? Whatever type of conservative she is, I don't think it runs in the family. Her brother, Michael, writes a column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. While it's not political in nature, every so often there are hints of which way he leans. For instance, he once complained about the "corporate culture" we all live under, something a Rebublican is not likely to concern themselves with.

@Brigadude--"Talk about people who didn't get along politically, Jerome Robbins and Jack Gilford..."

I'm not sure that a good example. From what I understand, Jerome Robbins didn't name names (among them Gilford's) because of an ideological change of heart. No, he was afraid of being outed. Elia Kazan, who was straight, also named names because he wanted to keep making movies but remained a lifelong liberal. I'm sure afterwards it wasn't easy for either one to work with those who had once been blacklisted, but that's very different than people working together with opposite political beliefs.

cadavra said...

After going 15 rounds with McEwan on another thread on this topic, my position is known and I won't add further to it, so let me simply note that Solow's decision to go with STAR TREK and MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE might have been the smartest move in Paramount's history, as both continue to thrive over 40 years later as lucrative movie franchises! (Additional coincidence: Simon Pegg plays the comic sidekick in both!)

Tamara @31dates said...

What is a "series bible?"

Anonymous said...

I think they left out the last few pages when they were writing the bible for LOST.
I enjoy watching Damon Lindoff go ffo on twitter everytime the ending to LOST gets criticized on another show. That guy has to grow some thicker skin.

Raymond Bradley said...

As a red blooded male, is it wrong of me to like Patricia Heaton, regardless of her political leanings, simply because I find her so damn attractive and well, "doable"? I apologize in advance if it is.

RCP said...

Lucky you, Ken, to have been in the audience the night "Chuckles" was taped.

Funny how in general (I'm assuming), Conservative vs. Liberal does not hold the same degree of bile between family members. My aunt and uncle are uber conservatives, but of course I love them - we just dont' discuss politics or religion during visits. They also love me as their gay nephew - and made the shocking discovery that once you actually know someone who is gay, it suddenly becomes less, uh, offensive. Which brings me to Tim Dunleavy's comment referencing Alan Alda's response.

It seems that in Hollywood, there are actors who still fear for their careers if they ever played "gay" - but have no such reservations playing psychotic murderers. "Hey I torture and cut up women, but at least I'm attracted to them." Besides, it's called 'Acting!' Uh huh.

Looking forward to your take on the Oscars.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

@Brigadude--"Talk about people who didn't get along politically, Jerome Robbins and Jack Gilford..."

To say nothing of Zero Mostel. "Hiya, Loose Lips! What's new?"

Cap'n Bob said...

I have no problem with you liking Heaton, Ken. I do, too.

Paul Duca said...

Less a question than a comment...I realize that Me TV's episodes of M*A*S*H have different edits than the versions in syndication and other cable channels. Scenes I don't recognize pop up and others I know are missing. Just this evening, from your episode "The Merchant of Korea" when participants for the poker game to fleece Major Winchester are being solicited, Me TV keeps the scene where Hawkeye informs Margaret, cut from the shows I've been watching for decades.

D. McEwan said...

"When Alan Alda was doing 'West Wing,' he said that people repeatedly asked him 'How could you, of all people, play a Republican?' His response: 'You know, nobody asked me that question when I played a murderer.'"

His point is certainly valid, but he's missed that people asking why he'd play a Republican were asking him why he'd play a murderer. Bush killed how many thousands? Nixon's death toll was how high?

But he's right that it's an absurd question. A good role is a agood role. Who better to play a Republican than someone who sees through them, and isn't trying to pretty them up? He was wonderfully odious on West Wing.

D. McEwan said...

At a Star Trek convention in 1972, I saw a copy of the Star Trek show Bible for sale, and have always regretted not buying it, as I never saw one for sale again. I'd love to have the Lost Bible (And also, I made a point, years ago, of losing my Bible); I have the Lost Encyclopedia, which is as close as you can get, I suppose. 400 very large pages (10" by 12 1/2") and weighs about 3 pounds, but a lot of photos.

D. McEwan said...

"Great Big Radio Guy said...
But Ken, I double dog dare you to work with Victoria Jackson. Between her and Dennis Miller, I always wondered what was in the water at SNL those seasons."


I think Dennis Miller's conversion to The Dark Side of the Force came after his SNL days.

Yup, Pat Heaton is trying to limit women's rights over their own bodies like a Repubilcan white male, and actively campaigns against stem cell research (making her actively Evil rather than passively Evil) because she'd rather let grown, crippled people suffer than allow stem cells, which, to put it mildly, are not sentient, be used in research, but Victoria Jackson is balls-out insane.

"RockGolf said...
'Alan Alda... played a conservative Republican presidential candidate with such conviction that I’d probably vote for him.'

I think that's Romney's strategy."


Great line, RockGolf. Made me laugh.

"Ray Barrington said...
Don't sweat the small stuff - and ALL of politics is small stuff.


Was 9-11 "small stuff"? Is the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the finally-concluded war in Iraq "small stuff"? Is the collapse of our economy "small stuff"? Was the rape of our environment through deregulation madness "small stuff"?

Robert Heinlein, a man whose politics were diametrically opposed to mine, wrote of people who think politics unimportant or who ignore it that politcs is only barely less important to your life than your heartbeating. On this, Heinlein and I agree.

"Tod Hunter said...
I have a theory about TV series.
When a series starts, the original writers have a proprietary interest in the characters. The characters are like their kids, they have grown and been nurtured under the show creators' loving care.

At about the five-year mark, the original show creators are no longer in the hands-on position(s) they were. They are now producers, story editors, or maybe they sold a show of their own and have left entirely. The new writers don't have the same parental interest in the characters that the original writers did, and the new writers start to torture the characters."


I think you are right. One of the reasons, I think, that Lost went so well was that the originators, except for JJ Abrams, were in control from the pilot to the finale, so it presented a unified, cohesive vision. My greatest fear for that show in its early seasons was that Cruse & Lindeloff would leave before the show ended, and the new producers would "make it truely theirs."

"Michael said...
Friday question: Do TV writers retain any sense of ownership in characters they create? For example, are they automatically entitled to compensation if one of their characters is spun-off to a new series, even if they are not involved in the new series?"


I know that on the current Doctor Who, whenever they use monsters or aliens from classic Doctor Who, like the Daleks or the cybermen, etc., the original writers get a "Such-and-such created by so-and-so" credit in the closing credits. (Daleks created by Terry Nation, Cybermen by Kit Pedlar & Gerry Davis, the Nestene created by Robert Holmes, etc.,) and the writers' estates get a check. (Since most of the writers who created the stuff back in the 1960s are long dead.)

"RCP said...
Funny how in general (I'm assuming), Conservative vs. Liberal does not hold the same degree of bile between family members."


Boy, you have never eaten Thanksgiving dinner with my family.

Mike said...

Does LOST hold up on rewatching?

I got the impression they were winging it.

>Bush killed how many thousands? Nixon's death toll was how high?

How many people have died in Obama's drone attacks in Pakistan? How about Libya? Alda could probably be a good casting choice for Obama too.

D. McEwan said...

"Mike said...
Does LOST hold up on rewatching?

I got the impression they were winging it."


It does for me. and a close watching shows they were clearly NOT "winging it." There is stuff set up in the pilot that pays off in the finale, six years later. There is so much seeded throughout that pays off later. In fact, to really appreciate the complexity of it one has to watch it a second time, after you have learned what was going on.

Some scenes play very differently, as in the scene where Locke is given the last push to turn the donkey wheel by the ghost of Christian Shepherd, who then tells Locke he has to die. When you rewatch knowing that that isn't Shepherd at all, but the Smoke Monster/Man in Black in disguise, this monstrous, evil thing manipulating Locke for its own evil purposes, and it's suddenly so much creepier.

Come on, how closely do you have to watch to note that Sawyer and Kate are forced to build a runway in early season 3 that doesn't get used untli late in season 3, and is essential to the finale? Clearly it was mapped out and planned.

It's so complexly interwoven that a Ken is right, the show Bible must have been huge. It certainly wasn't "winged."

D. McEwan said...

"Come on, how closely do you have to watch to note that Sawyer and Kate are forced to build a runway in early season 3 that doesn't get used untli late in season 3, and is essential to the finale? Clearly it was mapped out and planned."

That should say: "Sawyer and Kate are forced to build a runway in early season 3 that doesn't get used until late in season 5."

Helena said...

Friday question: How excited were you when you for the first time heard your words spoken by an actor? Does that become less exciting over time?

Anonymous said...

Such-and-such created by so-and-so" credit in the closing credits. (Daleks created by Terry Nation,

Terry nation is meant to have made a huge amount of money from the Daleks.
I did read once that the comedian Tony Hancock actually claimed that they were his idea.

D. McEwan said...

"Anonymous said...
Terry nation is meant to have made a huge amount of money from the Daleks.
I did read once that the comedian Tony Hancock actually claimed that they were his idea."


Nation undoubtedly made a fortune from inventing The Daleks. They were a huge craze in 1964-1965 in England and his chunk of the merchandising alone made him rich. They also made two Dalek motion pictures during those two years with Peter Cushing, and both made him a lot of money. I saw a TV interview with him once shot at his home. Basically, it looked like he lived in Downton Abbey.

There is no doubt that Nation created the Daleks. But here is how Tony Hancock contributed. Nation initially turned down the offer to write for the then-brand-new, not-yet-on-the-air Doctor Who, because he was fully employed writing for Tony Hancock. But then Nation and Hancock had some sort of major disagreement and Nation either quit or was fired by Hancock, so he accepted the Doctor Who offer, and his first script for them was The Daleks. If Hancock was jokingly taking credit for them, his "contribution" was firing Nation or driving him away.

There IS, however, someone with a claim to creating the Daleks who got royally screwed: Ray Cusack, the man who desgned them. Cusack came up with the whole pepperpot-look for them, and he designed them, the same designes still used.

But he was a salaried employee of the BBC, so he just got his regular paycheck, and Zero royalties on all the millions of Dalek toys and merchandise all using his designs, and still using them today.

Johnny Walker said...

Someone leaked a copy of the LOST bible to the internet. It was just one page which simply read: "To do".

sophomorecritic said...

1. TV Tropes.com listed the Frazier Bar-Mitzvah episode as an example of "did not do the research." They noted that Marty takes a picture and cameras are never permitted in synagogue and that there usually isn't speech giving right after the haftorah is completed but at the end of the service. Weren't there Jewish writers on staff who would have known these things?

2. Did you or any of the show runners at MASH reach out to Rob Altman at any point to get his opinions on the direction of the TV show?

3. I first watched Frasier 6 or 7 seasons in and I saw little evidence that it was a show about a strained relationship between a psychiatrist and his estranged dad. I just saw it as a son and dad who had markedly different interests. Later, I saw the pilot episode and saw that, yes, there was a lot of tension.

Bill Lawrence (Cougartown) noted that sometimes you pitch a show in a certain gimmicky way to get it greenlit and then later abandon the premise because you're already on the air and you just want to make good stories. Was the case with the Frasier-Marty tension angle

4. In light of the Oscars coming up, if someone won an Emmy or a Golden Globe for a show you worked for and didn't thank you, would you be pissed? Do you have any interesting stories about being thanked by someone who won an Emmy or Golden Globe?

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Hi Ken,

Friday question:

When you create a series idea, is it safer to pick a common-experience setup like military service (MASH) or bar patronage (Cheers)versus a specialty-experience setup like Big Wave Dave's? What's the rationale behind your decision? In other words, what were you thinking? Very few folks have been to Hawaii...but nearly all of us have been in the military and bars...

...jus' askin'

DwWashburn said...

My dislike for Ms. Heaton has nothing to do with her politics. In her book, she constantly talked about poor pitiful me even though it appeared that every door was opened to her and she just fell into work. She barely talked about her Raymond family and when she did, she downplayed them stating that they could not compare to her real family, Then she spent an entire chapter calling her husband every name in the book. She came across as an egotisical spoiled Hollywood type. I don't care if you are a Democrat, Republican, or whatever Cheney was, this mix of ego looks bad on anyone.

Kirk said...

@DwWashburn--Heaton's father was a popular sports columnist here in Cleveland. That probably didn't open any doors for her in Hollywood, but it's not a bad away to start out in life.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

"Alan Alda... played a conservative Republican presidential candidate with such conviction that I’d probably vote for him."

As a liberal Democrat, I suspected he was playing a liberal Democrat's idea of an admirable conservative Republican, and actual conservatives wouldn't find him nearly as convincing. But I never remembered to ask any of my conservative friends.

Nick said...

Re: Alan Alda on West Wing - I always thought that the Alda v Jimmy Smits election on the West Wing was THE dream election - you'd be happy to have either candidate win. Of course in 2008 it looked for a few months like America might actually get a high brow election between two men with integrity and honour... then of course McCain went and ruined it all with his insane VP choice...

Now FRIDAY QUESTION time...

When writing a sitcom like MASH or CHEERS you obviously have to follow a very specific structure to include room for ad breaks. However, as sitcoms age or as they are sold overseas they often played on TV stations that either place ad breaks at different times OR have no ad breaks at all. As a writer, do you think it changes the quality of the show to have that specific structure altered in this way? Also - if you wrote for a BBC sitcom (with no commerical breaks) and your show is played on a station that has ads - does this adversely affect the way the show is played? Also - how difficult is it to learn to write to that specific structure - and is it frustrating to see that changed?

Mark Fearing said...

I was happy to read that the solutions to some problems aren't obvious, even to the most successful.
I also think that in my experience people try and solve the problem intellectually. But that a lot of the issues are actually more complicated. That sheer intellectual firepower is not always going to help. Even in my work sometimes I have to force myself to stop thinking so hard, and run with my imagination to find the right solution.

rockfish said...

Baseball question.

Chemistry in the booth seems to be pretty key to a great broadcast, would you agree? How big a role does the producer play in that, and how is it tested on the road? I seem to hear Rick and you among others make sure to mention the producer (ken crimmin?) a lot last year; i've always enjoyed the mariners broadcasts and last year was new but quite enjoyable, despite the team.

Ovichat Tinglopp said...

Sophomore Critic: I remember Robert Altman being asked about the M*A*S*H TV series when he was on Dick Cavett's PBS show. He said that his only connection with it was that his son received royalties for the theme music.

It should be noted that Mike Altman did not write the theme music--that was by Johnny Mandel. What young Altman wrote were the lyrics, which were used in the film but never in the TV version. Apparently, he had a good agent.

Ref said...

Did I miss something? I understand Patty Heaton is a Christian and a conservative (both things I am decidedly not) but is that any reason for outpourings of hate? I presume from your comments that she's easy to work with and does not behave in a pushy fashion about her politics or her religion. What's the problem? She's a fine comic actress and quite an attractive woman. It's not like she's Mel Gibson...

D. McEwan said...

"Ref said...
Did I miss something? I understand Patty Heaton is a Christian and a conservative (both things I am decidedly not) but is that any reason for outpourings of hate? I presume from your comments that she's easy to work with and does not behave in a pushy fashion about her politics or her religion."


For one, she actively campaigns against stem cell research. Apparently, she wanted to keep Christopher Reeve, and others like him, in their wheelchairs, rather than injure, or experiment on, or treat folks with non-sentient stem-cells. She is publically against abortion, so she's at least a woman trying to control other women's bodies, instead of men doing it. And she raises, and gives, money to evil Repulsivan candidates, to help them get elected to do evil. Yes, she's not "pushy" about her politics at work, and by all accounts is professional and pleasant to work with, but she certainly pushes it away from work.

Mike Doran said...

Some years back, the widows of Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford wrote a joint memoir of their husbands in which they dealt at length with Forum and Jerome Robbins. (Kate Mostel did most of the actual writing; slightly correcting myself from above, I believe Jack Gilford was still alive at the time of the book's publication.)

As the story goes, Zero Mostel was attached to the project from go. It was Stephen Sondheim who wanted Jerome Robbins brought in, and everyone feared that Mostel would hit the ceiling. But Zero went along, with this classic line: "We of the left do not blacklist."
Even at that, Jack Gilford nearly quit, but his wife Madeline Lee talked him out of that, reminding him that he wouldn't turn down a role at Warner Bros.(where his wife had an uncle in management) even though they had been major blacklist enforcers.

There's also a story of the time that the Gilfords were at an Oscar party, watching the red carpet show on a big-screen TV. John Wayne came on camera, on the largely leftist crowd booed him.
Madeline Gilford ran up to the screen and threw a drink into Duke's projected face.
Seconds later, Jack Gilford was at the screen himself, wiping it off and saying to "Duke": "Madeline didn't mean that ..."

I wish I remembered the book's title, but if you find yourself in a second-hand bookstore any time soon (and assuming that there are any such stores left), it might be worth your while to track it down.

Mike said...

>not winging it

In the 4th season of 24, the writers had The Mummy as a bit part and only made him the season's bad guy after filming his early episodes.

It's quite possible that the things you think are a big plan were introduced after the fact.

However, what I had in mind was whether they were winging it at the beginning. I don't doubt that there were individual season plans, and SOME sense of where the show was going, but whether they had the whole thing from the beginning. Yea, they said we told you so with the flashback to our own adam and eve, but do the others act in the way we would expect knowing what we know now? How about the smoke monster and other things? I'm OK with the polar bear.

As an aside, I never understood how people knew Jack's father was the invisible man in the shack.

chuckcd said...

In regards to "Chuckles", maybe the crew was just pissed off about something unrelated...you know like no more free bagels. And they just weren't in the mood for comedy. Or just didn't react on purpose.

Kirk said...

I think they explained the smoke monster ptretty thoroughly. As for the invisible man is the shack, apparently that was the smoke monster, too. He was never invisible, the camera just pulled away the first time he revealed himself to Locke, in the guise of Jack's father, though, never having met the man, Locke assumed it was Jacob. The shack itself, 30 years earlier, had been the residence of the Dharma Inititive's resident torturer. Why Ben thought Jacob should be there is a bit puzzling. At first, it seemed as though Ben was merely tricking Locke by telling him Jacob lived there (remember, Ben shoots Locke afterwards) but later moves the island on Locke's, and the monster/fake Jacob's, say so. Only Richard could talk to Jacob directly, and Ben knew that. However, Ben was in communication with the smoke monster, which he erroneously thought under his control. Ben may have thought the smoke monster itself was allied with Jacob. I don't have the DVD, so I'm going strictly by memory here.

Speaking of the DVD, it had an epilogue to the series (which I saw online before ABC had it yanked.) Perfect explanation for the polar bear--bears, plural, as Ben puts it--they were brought to the island by the Dharma Initiative. The epilogue also gives you some idea why the dharma Initiave ended up being gassed to death. The were kidnapping the Others and performing experiments on them. So it was an extreme case of self-defense.

In the epilogue, which

Kirk said...

"in the epilogue which"--I decided to rewrite a sentence, and assumed the whole thing had been erased.

Tony said...

@ Mike Doran:

The Kate Mostel/Madeline Gilford book is called "170 Years of Show Business". I've never read it, but it looks good. I might have to Interlibrary Loan it from my library.

D. McEwan said...

Kirk,

I do have the DVDs, and you're pretty much on the nose, though the Dharma Initiative's "resident torturer" lived in a tent. The shack was built by Horace Goodspeed as his vacation getaway home for his family.

Also, anyone could have talked to Jacob if they knew where to find him. Richard was the only one "allowed" by Jacob to talk to him, one of Jacob's biggest goofs. This allowed the Smoke Monster to appear to Ben and pretend to be Jacob.

Smokey had been deluding and manipulating Ben since Ben was 10 years old, when Smokey first appeared to Ben at his bedroom window, disguised as Ben's dead mother, who was played by Michael Emerson's real-life wife.

It was obvous that The Dharma Initiative had brought the polar bears for some experiments as soon as we saw the polar bear cages at Hydra Staton in season 3, and the dscovery by Charlotte of a polar bear skeleton with a Dharma collar in the Tunesian desert in season 4 told us they were used in time travel experiments in "The Orchid." But the epilogue's use of the bears showed that the "Incident" was what was responsible for the curse of barreness on the island, after-effects of the energy released.

One of the funniest (to me) moments in the epiloge was the revelation that The Dharma Initiative had been capturing "Others" and subjecting them "involuntnarily" to Clockwork Orange-like experiments. There went the last shred of their "Hippy-dippy groovy peacenik" pose. Yet it harkened back to "Orientation," the second-season epsiode in which we first heard the words "The Dharma Initiative," and were told that BF Skinner's work was some of what they were on the island to continue, hence the "behavioal" experimentation on "Other" captives.

And of course, the epilogue finished the "Walt" storyline.

Always love talking Lost, especially with folks who don't rag on the show for not providing answers, or the answers not being what they expected (Love the in-joke in the epilogue when a characater hollers: "We deserve ANSWERS!"), or who say: "That show sucked so bad, I stopped watching it in season 2!" After all, if they stopped watchng in season 2, they're not qualified to have an opinion on the show as a whole.

Mike said...

Well you totally ruined what I thought I figured out about the polar bears: That Walt created it in his imagination while reading the comic book. This power of kids is why the others were kidnapping them, and why they had to get rid of Walt. Is ANY of that true?

Kirk said...

@D. McEwen--I stand corrected about the shack. I just remembered that there was a non-Jacob Dharma-related explanation for its existence.



I like talking about Lost, too, and I wonder what your take is on this. In the first couple of seasons we're presented with this Science (Jack) vs Faith (Locke) metaphor. And if there's any doubt about that, Locke often STATES that's the metaphor. He may not know he's a character in a TV series, but he still sees himself in mythological terms. Jack may believe they're both playing out a grand theme, too, but never (to my foggy recollection) articulates it. Of course, by the series finale, Jack has come around to Locke's way of thinking. "He was right about everything!" Jack tells fake Locke. Except Locke WASN'T right about everything. Yes, he's right about the island being spiritual in nature (though still somewhat subject to scientific measurements), but his conviction that he HIMSELF is of spiritual origin (a mistake even Richard, of all people, makes) brings about his demise. Then there's Ben. As you said, his manipulation by the smoke monster begins in childhood, so he perhaps has better reason to abandon all critical thinking than Locke, but abandon it he does, to almost apocalyptic effect. Ben may have blood on his hands (he's hardly alone; I don't think I've ever seen a TV show with so many sympathetic killers), but he never sees himself as evil, and, in my opinion, he's not. Once he has all the facts, and is presented with the opportunity to do so, he chooses Good over Evil. I'm thinking of the scene where Ilana tells him, "I'll have you". And remember, Evil would seem to have the upperhand at that point. If selfishness was Ben's only motivation, he would choose Evil, whether Ilana would have him or not. So, yeah, Ben is good but good means little minus critical thinking. Which brings us to Jack, the skeptic, who comes to believe in the supernatural but never at the expense of his ability to think critically. And, of course, he ends up saving the world.


You know, it's odd. I was originally annoyed by the series finale. I felt due to the scene in the church with Christian Shepard opening up the doors to Heaven, the show's scales had tipped too much in favor of Faith at the expense of Science. But I've since reconsidered (and read other interpretations; the above paragraph is my own thoughts mixed in with others.) LOST may not be an argument for atheism, but it IS an argument for reason and logic and rationality and critical thinking.


But then, I'm an agnostic, so maybe I'm just reading what I want to in the show.

D. McEwan said...

"Mike said...
Well you totally ruined what I thought I figured out about the polar bears: That Walt created it in his imagination while reading the comic book. This power of kids is why the others were kidnapping them, and why they had to get rid of Walt. Is ANY of that true?"


I didn't ruin it. Blame Lindeloff & Cuse. No, none of your theory is right. It was clear that The Others were kidnappng kids for two reasons:

1. "To give them a better life," which they said repeatedly in those words, though what their idea of "a better life" is I have to wonder about. The Others were awfully violent.

2. Because the Island had rendered them all barren, kidnapping was the only way they had of acquiring new generations. It could be easily argued that Jacob "kidnapped" all the Oceanic survivors.

And they did not want to "get rid of Walt," quite the reverse. But as Ben said: "A deal is a deal." The very last thing in the epilogue, therefore the absolute final end of Lost, was Hurley and Ben taking Walt, voluntarily this time, back to the Island, where his powers were needed to help the "whisperers," that is, lost souls marooned there, like Walt's father, to find release and peace.

Yours was an intersting theiry though. I had several good theories on stuff that one-by-one got proved wrong.

Kirk,
I think the show ultimately placed science and faith as equal. In my life, I do not. I'm an Atheist, but whthin the story of Lost, Faith and Science go hand-in-hand. And Both were inadaquate to fully penetrate the Island's mysteries.

Poor Locke was a classic fool. His one-sided reliance on faith alone made him ripe for Smokey's pickings. But there were a lot of things he was right about. He knew before anyone else that they were all there for a reason, and hadn't survived that crash (a survival no one actually remembered.) by accident. He was right that he was destined to open the hatch and push the button, and then to not-push the button, which was needed to make Desmond able to reboot the Island at the end. Locke was just wrong that that was his ultimate destiny. It was just a step along his path.

When Jack was yelling at Smokey, he was angry at how the monster had used and destroyed Locke for its own selfish ends. Saying Locke was "right about everything" was an overstatement shouted in anger, but Locke's faith in the goodness of mankind was at root what Jack meant, as opposed to Smokey's contempt for humanity.

Ben is such a great, complex character. The show forgave him more easily than I do. The show did have many sympathetic murderers How many characters killed their own fathers? Kate, Ben, Locke, but he used Sawyer as his weapon. Smokey was a misfit with them because he killed Mommy,not Daddy. Jack drove his dad to drink himself to death when he killed his career, etc. No one killed Sun's father, Mr. Paik, though someone should have

But Ben committed genocide. Actually, in killing Jacob, it could be Argued that Ben killed his father twice.

However, Ben's killing of Widmore and Jacob were all part of the rage for revenge he was possesed by after Alex was killed. He'd been as big a fool as Locke, but his rage is understandable.

The show never said that what was beyond the church's doors was "Heaven," it was just "onward" to whatever is ahead. I always found the name "Christian Shepherd annoying. Sledgehammer symbolism.

Here's a question for you: We were told again and again that it was crucial to all humanity that Claire raise Aaron, yet Aaron isn't even in season 6. What was the importance of Aaron? I have my theory. Tell me yours and I'll tell you mine.

Mike said...

So reading the comic book with the polar bear was just a big red herring?

Why did they kidnap Jack and Kate and Sawyer to begin with?

D. McEwan said...

"Mike said...
So reading the comic book with the polar bear was just a big red herring?

Why did they kidnap Jack and Kate and Sawyer to begin with?"


It was just a comic book. Walt attracted animals, but there was nothing to indicate he created animals from thought. The Flash was in that comic also, but The Flash didn't materialize on the Island. IT's an interesting idea. that Walt had summoned up polar bears from thought after reading a comic certialy never occured to me, though I had plenty of theories that turned out to be worng as we went along. (I thought Adam & Eve would turn out to be Rose & Bernard, having died in the past. Wrong! I thought the Curse of Barraness was a curse in retaliation for the genocied of mothers and children in THe Dharma Purge, sent by Taweret - The Egyptian Goddeess charged with protecting "Mothers" who was the statue under which Jacob lived. Wrong!)

There was a deleted scene on the DVDs where, when The others were holding Walt captive, where they found a bunch of dead birds on the ground outside the building Walt was heing held in that had all flown into the buildng and smashed themselves. Walt attracted animals.

Why did they kidnap Jack & Kate? Really? That was plainly answered on the show. Jack was kidnapped to operate on the tumor on Ben's back. That was stated repeatedly, as well as self-evident from what occured. They kidnapped Kate and Sawyer so they could use the threat of harming them to force Jack operate on Ben. They needed two in case they had to kill one of them to make Jack see they were serious.

As long as they had them, they figured they might as well use Kate and Sawyer as slave labor building the runway Jacob had ordered built. This was only fair. The runway, after all, was what allowed Kate and Sawyer to finally escape from the Island forever in the finale, after the folks who made them do it were all dead.

The runway is a good refutation to any who claim "They were just making it up as they go along." (A fair description of ALL fiction.) They were seen building it in season 3, and it didn't become important until seasons 5 and 6, where it became essential, and further showed that Jacob had a certian level of knowledge of the future, though whether through precognition or from time-travel was never established.

In any event, the writers knew before writing season 3 that they needed a runway on Hydra Island by Season 5.

Kirk said...

@DMcEwen--OK having scoured Lostepedia, I've come to the conclusion "Claire must raise Aaron" means different things at different times to different people. The comment section won't let me post the whole thing, so I'm going to have to split it up.


The first person to say that Claire must raise Aaron (then unnamed) is the psychic. Not too long after, her boyfriend--the baby's father--splits. Claire decides to put him up for adoption anyway. Her pen breaks as she's about to sign the adoption papers. She takes that as a sign not to go through with the adoption The psychic later changes his mind and tells her there's an adopted couple in California and she has to get onto Flight 815 pronto. Emotionally fragile and confused at this point (as she will continue to be through much of this series run) she agrees. Later on, the psychic admits to being a fake. So why give one prediction only to change his mind later? In addition to fake soothsaying, he has a racket on the aside where he provides babies to rich Americans desperate to adopt. He tells Claire that she must raise Aaron as a stalling device. Getting everything ready, assuring a couple on the other side of the globe that he can be trusted to come through, possibly paying the boyfriend to split, takes time, and he doesn't want her giving the baby to an Australian couple in the meantime. What about the pen breaking? Did the psychic cause THAT? No, that was Jacob intervening. He has his own reasons for Claire being on flight 815 (my take on Jacob is that he doesn't manipulate everyone and everything all the time, but just intervenes here and there. For instance, Desmond, not Jacob, causes 815 to break up over the island. All Jacob does is make sure the "candidates" are all on that particular flight)

During his stay on the island, Aaron escapes death several times--when the top of the hatch blows up and Bernard pushes him and Claire out of the way before it can fall on them. The hut that would have exploded with Claire and Aaron (as well as Charlie) had Desmond not devised lightening rod. The attack on the compound by the mercenaries that Aaron survives. The ship that was supposed to rescue them (the one Michael came back on) explodes, yet he escapes. So, is the supernatural protecting Aaron so he could someday fulfil his destiny. Maybe, but I'm willing to bet the supernatural, i.e., Jacob, is actually protecting Claire, Hurley, and Kate. Aaron just happens to be in the possession of one of those character in each of those life-and-death situations.

Off the island, Hurley tells Jack that Charlies' ghost visited him a day earlier and made him write a not that reads, "You're not supposed to raise him" Two possibilities here. Aaron wants Jack and Kate back on the island, or, at least Jack since he may have by then written off Kate (her name's scratched off the wall), and him playing house with Kate is getting in the way of that. There's another possibility. The note reads "him" not "Aaron". Charlie is dead. Could the nether land the dead, at least some dead, be outside of time and cause-and effect? Charlie "lets go" in the sideways universe before Jack. So he's visited Hurley in the real world, while in the other one, Jack is still under the delusion he has a teenage son, the "him" the note refers, too. The first, more conservative, explanation may make more sense, but I can't help but be tantalized by the second.

To be continued

Kirk said...

Sometime after that Claire visits Kate in her sleep and tells her not to bring Aaron back to the island. I don't know that Kate was even considering that, but she may take the dream to mean SHE, too, shouldn't return to the island (Jack had been trying to convince her to, though not necessary with Aaron in tow). So under what circumstances is Claire visiting Kate? She's not dead like Charlie, but very much alive on the island. Furthermore, she believes AARON is still very much alive on the island. So, it's really not Claire. Jacob again? Possibly, but it could also just be a bad dream. It happens, even in science fiction.

While off the island, Ben Linus, through a lawyer, tries to separate Kate from Aaron, but there no reason to believe he thinks Aaron is special (other than as proof that women can now give birth on the island, but Ben has other priorities by now) Ben is trying to get Kate back to the island, and sees Aaron as an obstacle to that.

The stress of all this eventually causes Kate to hand over custody of Aaron to Claire's mother, but I don't think the fate of the world has really entered into her thinking.

On the island, Kate tells Claire she should raise Aaron. No surprise there. After all, she's the mother.

Oh, by the way, Jacob doesn't seem to care who raises Aaron. When Kate asks why her name was scratched off the wall, he simply replies, "You were a mother."

So, what's so special about Aaron? Absolutely nothing. He happens to have spent his youth around special people during some rather special circumstances.

Whew!

D. McEwan said...

My considerably simpler Aaron theory is that Aaron was just the carrot to get Kate to go back to The Island.

I think the psychic was doing Jacob's will, though whether because of communciation via his tarot deck, or whether he was one of the off-Island Others was never established. After all, he was also responsible for Mr. Eko ending up on the plane as well. The pen broke when Claire was trying to sign for the same reason the fuse Jack lit in The Black Rock went out; it was counter - to Jacob's need.

I believe the psychic put Claire on that plane for exactly the reason she said he did when she was on the Island, because he knew they would end up on the Island. There was no couple in LA.

Then the "Claire must raise Aaron" idea was fed into Kate. Even Ben's threats with lawyers was all to get Claire, without Aaron, to go back. Yes Kate's name was scratched off the wall, though Jacob told her face-to-ghost-face that that didn't matter: "It's just a line through a name," but Kate was needed to go back because, while she never was to become Island Protector, she was the person who ultimaltely killed Smokey. Jack weakened her the Locke-thing, but it was Kate, who had killed before, who killed Smokey. For a guy like Jacob, who plays games within games, and who knew three years in advance they'd need that runway, and who knew he needed Kate when she was a child (Same with Sawyer), knowing Kate would be the one to kill Smokey was to be expected.

So that's my theory: Aaron's sole function was as a carrot. It was a "Long Con." Without him, Kate would never have come back, The Island would have bene destroyed, and all life on earth snuffed out without The Source to sustain it.

Mind you, while the show was running, before we learned of "Candidates," I thought Aaron would become the reincarnation of Jacob. They do look a bit alike. But I was wrong yet again.

Yes Desmond caused the crash of Oceanic 815, but who brought him to the Island? Jacob. Why? Well first, to crash Oceanic 815. Then late rto reboot the Island. So who is at root responsible for the crash? Jacob, the momma's boy god.

Now here's another query: Why do you think Smokey killed Mr. Eko? I have my theory. Tell me yours, I'll tell you mine.

Lindeloff & Cuse have said that they always intended Smokey to kill Mr. Eko, though they were forced to kill him off sooner than they had planned when he asked to be released from the show to direct a film, and also because Adawale was a stay-in-character-all-the-time kind of actor and always being the distant, troubled Mr. Eko made him difficult to work with on the set, and he was not getting on with the rest of the cast (So I read in interviews) in what was otherwise a very happy set, so that when he asked to be allowed to leave sooner, everyone was glad to see him go, and the scripts were adjusted.

I was sorry to see him go though; for me, the sexiest man on the show.

Kirk said...

OK, I'll try to keep it simple this time, but I'll admit it's difficult. After all, Lost was NOT a simple show.



Why did Smokey kill Mr. Eko? Part of it may be a certain contempt that the humanity-hating monster has for Eko. Since Smokey has the ability to access the memories of the dead on the island, including Eko's brother, Smokey knows his criminal past, and that he's now pretending (no matter how sincere Mr Eko's new-found faith) to be a priest. In the guise of Eko's brother, he tells him to confess his sins. How much more pleasurable it might have been for the monster had Eko actually done that, only to die anyway! Instead, Eko basically answers that he has nothing to confess, that he simply played the cards that he had been dealt with. So it maybe it was disappointment as well a contempt.



But I said that was only part of it. There's also a more practical reason. After Eko death, Locke plans to use his stick as a grave marker, but, as he's getting ready to pound it into the ground, sees inscribed on it John 3:05. Always on the lookout for a sign from above, Locke takes it to be a compass point. And he's right about that (if not about the "above".) This leads Locke, Kate and Sayid to the Flame, one of the Dharma station's many former outposts that have since been commandeered by the Others. It's here that Locke plays a computer chess game that, unbeknownst to him, can only end with the Flame blowing up. Great opportunity for Smokey to knock off Locke, Kate and Sayid in one fell swoop. Remember, the monster can't kill the candidates directly. They have to bring it on themselves. The monster's plan is foiled when Mikhail prevents Locke from entering "77" (since the monster rarely screws up, could Jacob somehow have arraigned for Mikhail to check up on Locke at the last possible second?) Of course, Locke later does blow up the building, but by then knows about the explosives and gets himself and Kate out in time.



By the way, I read your comment to Mike about coming up with theories while the show was still being run that didn't pan out. Here's a spectacularly wrong theory of mine. Sawyer's real name is James Ford. Jesse James was killed by Bob Ford. Thus, for the longest time, I expected Sawyer to commit suicide!

MikeN said...

So what's the deal with the numbers? The numbers were known before they were on the island, so why did everyone have to show up?Why not just bring 4, 8,15,16,23 and 42?

Kirk said...

@Mike N--Most of the passengers of 815 died of impact. These people were just innocent bystanders. Of the 40 or so that miraclously survived the crash, six were candidates. The 34 or so who were not probably served some sort of purpose in Jacob's grand plan. As D McEwen pointed out, Kate needed to be there because she eventually would kill The Man in Black. What about somebody relatively minor, like Arnst? Well, he was needed to explain (and unintentionally demostrate) the dangers of mishandling dynamite. If you look deeply into the actions of the other survivors (the ones whose names we learned) you'd probably find they did something that in some small way advanced the storyline. And Jacob was perfectly willing to let people die once they served their purpose. Remember, he convinced Ilana to come back to the island, only to let her get blown to smithereens.

For somebody who represented the side of Good, Jacob could be one ruthless bastard.

Kirk said...

@Mike N--Most of the passengers of Flight 815 died on impact. These people were just innocent bystanders. Of the 40 or so that miraclously survived the crash, six were candidates. The 34 or so who were not probably served some sort of purpose in Jacob's grand plan. As D McEwen pointed out, Kate was needed because she was eventually the one who killed Smokey. what about somebody relatively minor like Arnst? He was need to explain (and unintentionally demonstrate) the dangers of dynamite. I imagine if you look deeply enough, you'd find the other survivors (the ones whose names we learned) advanced the cause in some small way. And remember, Jacob was quite willing to let people perish once they'd served their purpose. After all, he talked Ilana into coming back to the island, only to let her get blown to smithereens.

For somebody who represented Good, Jacob could be one ruthless bastard.