Friday, March 23, 2012

FRASIER: MIAMI

Comin’ attacha – Friday Questions. What’s yours?

Nat Gertler leads off:

Do spin-off ideas come from the creative folks, or is it mostly the suits saying "Frasier is making money; can we have Frasier:Miami?" (Actually, I was surprised they didn't follow the show with a Roz series.)

Generally it’s the network trying to squeeze the golden goose until its eyes bulge out. Procedurals are easier but sitcoms are hard to spin off since you’re generally spinning off the supporting characters. In the case of FRASIER you had an actor in Kelsey Grammer who could carry a series. Not so with JOEY’S Matt LeBlanc. And I think there was a spinoff of MASH that was less than successful.

My favorite spinoff story was SANFORD & SON. Both Red Foxx and Dumond Wilson left the show and it became THE SANFORD ARMS. In essence NBC renewed the set.

Again, with procedurals it’s the franchise that is the star so you can have CSI:SASKATOON with a completely different cast and it should work as long as they have an expert in moose tracks.

To my knowledge there was no real talk of spinning-off Roz or any of the FRASIER cast members but I can’t say for sure. Jeff Zucker was at NBC then so he probably figured who needs FRASIER when they had the American version of COUPLING?

From Chuck:

When you're developing a new idea, what criteria do you use to decide whether the concept will work best as a feature vs. a television series? Have you ever started writing an original work as one, and transformed it to the other?

Simple. Does the story require a definite conclusion or can it be essentially open-ended? Generally, high concept ideas make for better movies although TV keeps trying. I keep going back to the ABC comedy where a gang of idiots wanted to rob Ray Romano. How do you get 100 episodes out of that? Or PRISON BREAK. Once they broke out of jail the first time the series just wandered in seven aimless directions. Eventually characters were breaking out of traffic school.

No, I never started writing a movie and decided halfway through that it should be a pilot, or vice versa.  The approach to storytelling is so different and I always map out the story before beginning to write it.  So there are no surprises. 

Thomas wonders:

What other blogs do you recommend?

Check the right column for my favorite links. Of particular interest might be Earl Pomerantz’s blog, and Mark Evanier’s News From Me.

Lookout Landing is a great Mariners’ blog. Tallulah Morehead is always good for a laugh. And for internet radio – GreatBigRadio.com is better than any rock station you have in your local market. And if you love oldies,  RichBroRadio.com is your stairway to heaven.  Also, for you Philly transplants, HyLitRadio.com. 

But scroll down the links and see if there’s anything that interests you. Or better yet, click on the book icon and buy my book.

Finally, from Kaan:

Have you ever changed a thing about a storyline, or the storyline itself, because you knew international viewers wouldn't understand that?

I mean, in the writings process, do the writers take into account that their show is sometimes watched worldwide? Is that a factor you have to consider?

Some may consider it but if I’m being honest, I never do. The sitcoms I write are designed for an American audience. What I always try to do however, is create stories that are about the human condition. So there is a universal aspect to them. The best stories are the ones that hook you emotionally, and hopefully that translates to different languages and cultures.

But if I make references that are uniquely American I don’t think that detracts from a global audience enjoying the show. Specificity is a good thing. Likewise, when I watch British or Canadian or Australian shows I want a taste of their cultures. I wonder what Syrian sitcoms are like???

31 comments:

PolyWogg said...

CSI:Saskatoon is being done as CSI:Newfoundland. Well, actually they call it Republic of Doyle. And he's a PI, not cops. Plus there's no science. And he isn't all that smart either. And there aren't that many bodies piling up. Sorry, what was the question?

PolyWogg
A Canuck reader who knows CSI:Saskatoon wouldn't work because the shooting schedule would require too many snowmobilies to be stolen.

Unknown said...

I've been enjoying the sex and violence of Spartacus. Reading your blog actually got me to think about the writing while enjoying the sex and violence.

When the dialogue of a show is 'period' (or whatever the writers think 'period' should be), do the writers create the dialogue first then translate it or do they just originally write it in 'period'?

Did that make sense?

Lee Franke said...

That was me above. I failed to capta too many times.

Nat Gertler said...

Actually, Republic of Doyle would be a good name for the Roz spin-off!

Johnny Walker said...

Nat, I believe in Frasier's case that Kelsey Grammer was a large driving force behind the spin-off. Or at least a series that ultimately turned into Frasier.

There's a great post here by one of the co-creators where they talk about the creation of the show:

http://kenlevine.blogspot.co.uk/2006/12/how-frasier-came-to-be.html

Richard J. Marcej said...

I was surprised that they didn't spin off Niles in his own show after Frazier ended. I thought they'd have Niles and Daphne move to England where Niles would think that he'd fit in well be would be the "Fish out of Water".
(Kind of like an American version of "Keeping Up Appearances")

Kirk said...

"My favorite spinoff story was SANFORD & SON. Both Red Foxx and Demond Wilson left the show and it became THE SANFORD ARMS. In essence NBC renewed the set."

And 10 or so years after ALL IN THE FAMILY, that set was spun off into a show starring John Amos. Only lasted half a season.

One of the more misguided spin-offs was the short-lived MRS COLUMBO. I've read that both Peter Falk and the creators of the original Columbo were very unhappy about that, and that there's even a Columbo episode (which I haven't seen) where Columbo complains about a strange woman that's running around impersonating his wife.


"And I think there was a spinoff of MASH that was less than successful."

You're once again knocking AFTERMASH, which, despite its low ratings, had some decent writing, and gave us one last chance to see Colonel Flagg. However, there was an earlier, and much more successful spinoff of MASH called TRAPPER JOHN MD, that took place 25 years after the Korean War. I guess you were asked to believe that after a quarter of a century, Wayne Rogers would morph into Pernall Roberts. Essentially, the show was Marcus Welby with high doses of comedy relief, though it was never as funny as the show it was spun off from. For that matter, the DRAMA was never as good as the show it was spun off from. Since I think you were still writing for MASH at the time, how did you feel about that particular spin-off? How did Larry Gelbert and Gene Reynolds feel about it? I can't believe they signed off on that.

gottacook said...

Speaking of Gene Reynolds, I would love to learn more about the process by which the Lou Grant series was spun off from Mary Tyler Moore in 1977. I loved that series. What an audacious thing, to do a drama spinoff from a comedy - and it worked.

With respect to Mrs. Columbo, during its short life it was gradually de-Columboed, undergoing several title changes and eventually called Kate Loves a Mystery. Because Columbo wasn't in production at the time, I don't know whether its creators Levinson and Link were able to exert any pressure on NBC to cause this, but in any case the series was a bad idea - I saw an episode at the time.

D. McEwan said...

"My favorite spinoff story was SANFORD & SON. Both Red Foxx and Dumond Wilson left the show and it became THE SANFORD ARMS. In essence NBC renewed the set."

Hilarious. Why, I wonder, hasn't the BBC ever spun-off a series called: Fawlty Towers's New Owners?

"Generally, high concept ideas make for better movies although TV keeps trying. I keep going back to the ABC comedy where a gang of idiots wanted to rob Ray Romano. How do you get 100 episodes out of that? Or PRISON BREAK."

This is why I didn't tune into The Good Wife. The premise seemed good for once season. So now I'm always reading here from you (and any others) how it's a great series. DOH!

"Unknown said...
I've been enjoying the sex and violence of Spartacus. Reading your blog actually got me to think about the writing while enjoying the sex and violence. When the dialogue of a show is..."


I stopped the quote tright there for a reason. I started watching Spartacus for the lovely venal reason that it was the most homo-erotic show since Oz. Incredibly built hunks not only walking about fully naked, frontal and backel(?), and having on camera, explicit, softcore gay sex, but guys who were hung for wide-screen.

But after about 6 or 8 episodes I comply could not listen to anymore of the atrocious dialogue. Who knew that Ancient Romans used "fuck" and "cunt" as every third word? I wasn't offended by the obscenities. I am never offended by "obscenities," but the stupidity of the dialogue was stultifying. Half th time they were speaking in psuedo-period "Fancy Speak," and then it would be peppered with "LET'S FUCK ALL THESE THESSILONANS CUNTS IN THEIR ASSHOLES!!!!. Istopped watching. Just too stupid. I could just watch hardcore gay porn and not hear such stupid dialoge, so I did.

I solemnly promise that I am not a robot.

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Tallulah Morehead is always good for a laugh.

Thank you, darling. And if they buy me a drink, I'm usually good for shag.

But you might be wary of Mark Evanier's blog. Oh, he always has interesting stuff to pass on to us and all, and he's intelligent and measured, and has excellent taste and all, but only yesterday on his blog, he quoted at length from an email by that strange "D. McEwan" who starts all the nasty flame wars here, on the subject of our mutual friend Dame Edna's retirement from the stage, and any blog that permits that extremist wacko a forum to spew his filth (see above) is suspect at best.

Ben Yehuda said...

Did you see this?
http://www.avclub.com/articles/john-ratzenberger,71244/

David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews said...

Not to defend Jeff Zucker, but the British version of "Coupling," is one of the funniest things I've ever seen, and I understand why making an American version seemed like a tempting idea. They still totally screwed it up. They didn't Americanize enough, everybody was miscast in their parts..., it just was a terrible mess, but I understand making the attempt.

David Baruffi's Entertainment Views and Reviews said...

Not to defend Jeff Zucker, but the British version of "Coupling," is one of the funniest things I've ever seen, and I understand why making an American version seemed like a tempting idea. They still totally screwed it up. They didn't Americanize enough, everybody was miscast in their parts..., it just was a terrible mess, but I understand making the attempt.

chuckcd said...

The jokes "bomb"...

chuckcd said...

That's what Syrian sitcoms are like.

D. McEwan said...

Revenge is another premise that struck me as good for one season only. Apparently Emily has a list of folks she's needs revenge on longer than one of Ben Linus's or Jacob's lists.

So I skipped it. Then, halfway through the season, my friends started tellng me what a terrific series it is, so I had to go back, online, and start it from the beginning. Turns out they are right. It's a lot of nasty fun, like a sick-joke (Not an insult. I love good sick-jokes) version of Dynasty for audiences 30 years on, with almost no sympathetic characters at all.

(And the nice guy with Dad's bar and Emily's old dog, who sure looks like Vincent from Lost, is the dullest part of the show. Every time we have a scene with Mr. Goody-Goody, my interest and fun levels drop.).

But still, if Emily hasn't finished off "Queen Victoria" by season 5, it may get very old.

Dave Arnott said...

Speaking of Mary Tyler Moore spinning Lou Grant into a drama... not quite a spin-off, but in 1988, the St Elsewhere guys (Bruce Paltrow, Tom Fontana, John Masius) sold a one-hour drama called Tattinger's, which starred Stephen Collins, Blythe Danner and Jerry Stiller. It ran for 11 episodes before it it was pulled... retooled... and came back at a 30-minute comedy with all the same people involved.

It lasted two more episodes :)

But it'll likely hold the distinction of being the only one-hour drama turned into a 30-minute comedy for, well... ever.

D. McEwan said...

Well, speaking of retooled series, Burke's Law was every but as extreme a retool as Tattinger's.

For two seasons it was a light, bubbly, fun, silly, at times even stupid, whodunit that was mostly an excuse for a list of "Special Guest Suspects" to play light comic scenes with Gene Barry. Fun show. I have the first season on DVD, and if they bring out the second season, I'll get it too.

But then Goldfinger became a super hit, and The Man From UNCLE was a big hit, so Aaron Spelling did a bad thing; he turned Burke's Law into Amos Burke: Secret Agent and made it a "serious" spy show. It was a disaster, and quickly vanished. I'd say that it was absurd for an LAPD Homicide detective to suddenly become James Bond, but then, the millionaire Homicide detective in his police-squad Rolls Royce, smooching all his lady suspects was always total fantasy to begin with.

I remember seeing Gene Barry on a talk show shortly after the cancellation. He was livid about it. He said something along the lines (It was 44 years ago) of: "They took a jewel and made it into garbage."

Brian Doan said...

The thing is, there was already an "American version" of COUPLING-- it was called FRIENDS, which COUPLING's producers have always acknowledged as one of their largest influences. It was pretty funny, too, and did OK on NBC. This redundancy, and the fact that the British COUPLING is hilarious and sweet, and doesn't need any kind of re-make, always kept me away from what I'm told was a disastrous American version.

I'm just thankful Roseanne's plans to translate ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS never happened. Speaking of that show, I've been re-watching it on DVD, and feel like it's a good example of what Ken talks about regarding the interplay of universality and cultural specificity: I don't always catch the 90s English pop culture references, but it doesn't detract from how funny the show is, and I even enjoy being a little lost, because there's pleasure in knowing the show comes from a specific time and place.

Gareth Wilson said...

My question comes from someone commenting that MASH's military setting was familiar to most people. That surprised me, but it probably was true when the show first aired. But what about now? By my calculations, only about one in twelve Americans have ever been in the military. They're mostly veterans, so they'll be even rarer in the demographics that TV networks are interested in. So could you make a show set in the military today and expect a mass audience to identify with it?

Get over anxiety said...

I was also surprised that they didn't spin off Niles in his own show after Frazier ended. I thought they'd have Niles and Daphne move to England where Niles would think that he'd fit in well be would be the "Fish out of Water".

gottacook said...

And let's not forget (OK, perhaps we should) Beverly Hills Buntz, the half-hour comedy spinoff of Dennis Franz' and Peter Jurasik's characters from the last two seasons of Hill Street Blues. I saw the pilot when it was broadcast in fall 1987 (directed by the late Hal Ashby) - one of the first generation of single-camera comedies, I suppose, but not much to recommend it.

Kirk said...

Brian Doan mentioned not always getting the British cultural references on ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. What strikes me whenever I watch that show or any other British sitcom is all the AMERICAN references.On AB FAB, for instance, the characters walk into a teenage boy's bedroom, and there's all these football pennents. I don't mean what the Brits call football and we here in the US call soccar. I mean NFL football. Dallas Cowboys. Pittsburgh Steelers. On DAD'S ARMY there was a character who was a movie buff. The movies? THE WIZARD OF OZ, CASABLANCA, PUBLIC ENEMY etc. RED DWARF, which has a robot that speaks with an American accent, once did a whole episode centered around the Kennedy assassination. Also, ST ELSEWHERE, which only got unfortunately mediocre ratings here in the US, was once mentioned on that show.

And it goes beyond Britian. About a year ago on my own blog I mentioned all the sitcoms I watched growing up. An Australian reader thanked me for the "trip down memory lane". For good or ill, probably both, American imperialism isn't limited to tanks and guns. It's also HAPPY DAYS, the Muppets, THE SIMPSONS, and Charles Bronson.

D. McEwan said...

"Kirk said...
RED DWARF, which has a robot that speaks with an American accent, once did a whole episode centered around the Kennedy assassination."


Kryten's accent on Red Dwarf was specifically a Canadian accent, and Llewellyn made that intentional choice to avoid sounding like C-3PO. They considered the fussy, British-accented robot to be a cliche.

The Kennedy assassination was important to all of Western Civilization. In England, as here, there was nothing on TV at all but assassination coverage. Oddly enough, the very first non-assassination-coverage program to air on the BBC after the event was the premiere of a little kid's sci-fi show called Doctor Who. Owing to that historically-awful premiere timeslot and its extremely low ratings, the next week, instead of episode 2, they just reran the first episode.

I thought the Kennedy Assassination episode of Red Dwarf (Titled Tikka To Ride) handled the premise a lot better than Stephen King did in his identical-premise recent novel 11/22/63. They did a better job in 30 minutes (In England half hour shows are half hours!) than King did in 850 pages.

King has an earthquake in Los Angeles kill 5000 people because JFK was not killed on schedule. I'm still trying to figure out his bizarre cause-and-effect where Kennedy not being shot causes a massive earthquake 1500 miles away. (The earthquake occurs on 11/22/63)

And Red Dwarf's conclusion, making JFK assassinate himself via time-travel paradox, becoming the Grassy Knoll gunman, was far better than King's resolution.

Tikka to Ride is possibly Red Dwarf's last great episode. It jumped its shark shortly thereafter.

cadavra said...

Douglas: What happened to BURKE'S LAW was not unique; ABC in the mid-60s was tinkering its few hit shows into quick deaths. 77 SUNSET STRIP suffered the same fate, turning from a light-hearted private eye show into a dark, noirish globe-hopping thriller. THE OUTER LIMITS was changed into a more cerebral, less thrilling SF-er. And even McHALE'S NAVY was shunted from the South Pacific to Italy, where too much time was spent on them interacting with the local stereotypes. Not all the changes were bad, but people used to a certain thing didn't like it changed wholesale when they weren't yet ready to give up on it.

And I guess I'm not the only one who remembers TATTINGER'S. A lovely show, dead too soon.

Roy Perkins, impartial dogcatcher said...

Another case of a TV series receiving an extreme make-over: One of the first series on the Fox network was DUET, a sitcom about the various romantic tribulations of a young couple, played by Mary Page Keller and Matthew Laurance. There were the usual wacky neighbors, played by Alison La Placa and Chris (son of Jack) Lemmon. After three years, this became OPEN HOUSE, a series about a firm of realtors, with La Placa now in the lead. Keller was still there, but in an inconsequential supporting role (I would bet her involvement was a matter of contractual obligation rather than choice). The men were mentioned briefly in the first episode, and never acknowledged again.

Actually, I suspect that the show would have continued to mutate if it had lasted longer. Ellen DeGeneres was in the new version, as a ditzy receptionist. As the series wore on, her part grew, presumably as the writers realized that she was the funniest part of the show. She would probably have ended up the lead in a couple of years.

As for Columbo complaining about the crazy woman who went around impersonating his wife: There was such a line in the script for the first episode of the revival, but William Link says that he ultimately decided that this was too cute, and cut it.

Douglas McEwan said...

Cadavra,

I recall Tattinger's quite vividly, and I believe I saw every episode aired, both before and after the retool. But then, I had just been briefly the roommate of the younger brother of Tom Fontana, so naturally my interest in the Fontana Family's output was high.

I must not have played close enough attention to 77 Sunset Strip to have noticed much change, but then, I was very young then. I didn't notice much change either, besides the theme music, between season 1 and season 2 of The Outer Limits, I just know I really enjoyed the show for its whole run.

Boris Karloff's Thriller underwent major changes halfway through season 1. Hitchcock was doing his show at the same studio, and felt Thriller was poaching on his territory. Hitch wanted it cancelled, but instead, they fired the producer (a good move, as it turned out) and stopped doing crime stories like Hitchcock's, and went deep into the macabre. It was said at the time that the show when it went on the air might just as well have been "Richard Widmark's Thriller," so they went more with Karloff's horror image, and the result was a season and a half of wonderful, bizarre, macabre excursions deep into the land of Gothic Horror, including stories by some top horror writers like Robert Bloch and August Derleth.

I don't know that I've ever watched an entire episode of McHale's Navy despite Tim Conway. Never really been fond of looking at Earnest Borgnine. So I didn't know they'd made that change.

Harkaway said...

Can I add a bit about the familiarity of other cultures, particulaarly Britain, with American TV?

From its start American TV programs were vigorously marketed overseas, usually at a very low price. So early viewers in the UK saw westerns, cop shows and other genre stuff pretty much at the same time it was run in the US. Comedy never travelled as well, although in the multichannel universe that changed a bit.

Family comedies like Modern Family are broadcast in the evening, but Everybody Loves Raymond showed in a breakfast slot, and classics like Leave It to Beaver never aired to my knowledge, so no one would know who Eddie Haskell is.

If a show has a British character or actor in it, it is more likely to get picked up, although that doesn't guarantee it a good slot on a decent channel.

Comedies that are too American like Parks and Recreation are a hard sell (it still isn't shown) and whoever made a deal for Community got it onto an obscure digital channel which still broadcasts in SD so you can't see it properly, although I think the second season is going to be on a different channel.

But the reality is that American comedy (with the possible exception of Friends) is more popular among metropolitan elites, with most Britons preferring comedies mentioning brands they know and situations they can identify with (the NHS, British education systems, local stereotypes). What gets shown in the US is the stuff that travels best, whether it be Benny Hill in the 1970s or The Office.

I'm trying to think what scripted comedy is being produced in the UK right now and the cupboard is pretty bare. Outnumbered, by the brilliant Andy Hamilton, explores the same territory as Modern Family. Stella, by Gavin and Stacey's Ruth Jones is set in Wales and focuses on the neighborhood. Twenty Twelve imagines the problems of the Olympic organisers in a way that owes much to The Office. Episodes, which has all the failings of a mid-Atlantic creation starts its second series soon. More comedy is found on the many panel shows (QI, Mock the Week,etc) and chat shows.

One word of advice if you are selling your show to a UK broadcaster: if you can sell to Channel 4 or one of its subchannels you'll get more exposure and a better chance at DVD sales or whatever replaces them. Currently The Big Bang Theory, Happy Endings, HIMYM, New Girl, Rules of Engagement and a few others show there.

How did C4 become the place to sell American comedy? Well, it started with a little show called Cheers, which it began broadcasting in February 1983, just after the channel's launch in November 1982. It has been acquiring the best US comedy ever since.

David Goehner said...

Ken: Regarding "M*A*S*H" spinoffs, I'm wondering if you know anything about something called (I think) "The Fighting Nightingales"? From the almost-less-than-scant information I've been able to pull up on this, it was an unsold pilot that focused on nurses at the 8063rd, and starred Adrienne Barbeau and (I think) Kenneth Mars. May have also been something that was shot on videotape instead of film, and might've been shown on CBS one evening after "M*A*S*H" in the late 1970s. I'm not even sure if it was supposed to be set in the same "universe" as the "M*A*S*H" TV series.

Phil F said...

Long time reader, but first time poster.

I remember that in one of your posts, you said that you decided to have Cheers win the final Bar Wars episode. So, my question:

Does anything change in your writing process when you know you're working on a series for the last time?

Grant said...

I'd heard that Kelsey wanted to continue "Frasier" (CBS would have carried it as the Eyeball's parent, Paramount, owned the show). Anyway, Frasier would have set up shop in Chicago, where the finale ended, and he would have been coupled with Laura Linney, but when Linney declined to continue her role, the idea was scrapped. Any truth to that one, Ken? I miss new "Frasier" eps. Thanks for the mirth!

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