As I prepare to head off to Arizona for Mariners’ spring training, here are this week’s Friday Questions. Will try to add a couple extra Question days in the next few weeks to catch up a little. But still, submit yours in the comments section. And as always – many thanks.
Dennis Johnson starts us off:
Have you seen "Exporting Raymond" and if so, any comments?
I have and loved it. I believe it’s now playing on HBO. This is a documentary of Phil Rosenthal, the creator of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND going to Moscow where Russian TV was developing their version of his show. Phil is just a naturally funny guy, and to watch him deal with his creation being “adapted” for Soviet viewers is a riot. Every change they made was seemingly wrong and even appalling. How did the new version do? See the movie. I strongly recommend it.
Meanwhile, I understand they are about to do the same thing with RULES OF ENGAGEMENT, adapt it for Russian TV. Good luck.
Not too long ago Spain did a version of CHEERS that apparently was a flop. Still, I got writing credit on an episode so that should be good for $.03 in royalties!!!
How excited were you when you for the first time heard your words spoken by an actor? Does that become less exciting over time?
It was exciting and brief. The first show my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote was an episode of THE JEFFERSONS. 98% of our draft was changed. But the three lines of ours that did make it were exciting to hear. Two of the three were then cut in editing. Note: We got our MASH assignment based on our draft of THE JEFFERSONS. So somebody liked it.
The next show we wrote that was produced was an episode of JOE AND SONS. I know. You’re saying – “Huh? What the hell was that?” It was a short-lived series on CBS in 1975 starring Richard Castellano (the fat guy from THE GODFATHER) and Jerry Stiller. Maybe 60% of our draft was still in tact and that was definitely a thrill hearing real actors do our lines… and even better – getting laughs with them.
But the real high came watching our first MASH. 95% of the final version was from our script. And to hear Alan Alda, Harry Morgan and the rest of the cast perform our material was not just amazing; it was practically surreal.
And to answer your next question: I am just as excited today as I was then to hear my words come to life. I still pinch myself every time. To me, for a screenwriter or playwright that’s the ultimate reward.
Barefoot Billy Aloha asks:
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...
We chose a surf shop because we wanted them to take on a task that was indigenous to Hawaii and yet a lot harder than they had imagined.
We shot the show in front of a studio audience. In retrospect, I wish we had done it single-camera and been able to take better advantage of Hawaii.
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?
Yes. And the characters don’t have to be spun-off. They can just become recurring. Writers of the episode that introduced the character make a nominal creation fee. David and I received that on CHEERS for the Eddie LeBec character.
Usually, you have to ask the studio for it. They will NEVER just offer it. You have to remind them of the provision…. And then threaten legal action when they initially refuse.
One more, from Rick Mohr:
Why do the best friends/neighbors never knock on so many shows, the just walk in and the leave the door open the entire time they are there?
They never knock because it takes time for someone to cross to the door to answer it. But I will grant you it is a big cheat. Still, it sure makes Kramer’s entrances on SEINFELD funnier when he can just burst in.
I’m not aware of neighbors leaving the door open, however. Maybe that happens. I just don’t pay attention.