Friday, May 04, 2012

Another FRASIER myth debunked

Friday Questions coming attacha!

Zhou gets us started.

Was it the thought process to make Frasier so much like the notable and famous American film star Bette Davis?

No. That’s frankly the first time I’ve ever heard that one. People have compared Kelsey’s portrayal of Frasier to Jack Benny and Jackie Gleason but never Bette Davis.

If you’re not familiar with Bette Davis, she was a wonderful actress in the ‘30s – ‘60s. And very acerbic. For a classic Bette Davis performance (and one of the great comedic screenplays of all-time) rent ALL ABOUT EVE.

Erik wonders:

Should my sitcom ‘cover page’ contain the episode title, or will the word ‘pilot’ in parenthesis, underneath the ‘title’ suffice?

The word ‘pilot’ will suffice. Good luck.

Kev has a question based on the post about the speech that launched our career.

When you're micro-editing something like this monologue, how much attention do you pay on things like cadence, or words getting repeated? Personally, it always sounds weird to me when two consecutive sentences end with the same word (unless done purposely), so I was wondering if there's anything you look for specifically in terms of how the actual speech "sounds to the ear"... if that makes sense.

Cadence and flow and word variety are EXTREMELY important. I will usually read my scripts out loud before turning them in, just to hear the rhythm.

Not using the same word in two sentences is almost a cardinal rule.  Especially in dialogue .

We all fall into comfortable patterns and at times I have to force myself to re-think a speech or paragraph. I’d like to say it gets easier and almost automatic but it doesn’t.

Jeff Badge asks:

I watched TALES FROM THE SCRIPT on NetFlix instant watch over the weekend. At one point, someone says that the shooting script of AMADEUS was the 46th revision. Antoine Fisher states he had well over one hundred drafts of his own biopic. What version of VOLUNTEERS was accepted to be shot? (I acknowledge how different this is than the version which went to editing.)

This is a typical story. We did two drafts of VOLUNTEERS then decided to change the tone, redevelop it, and do almost a page-one rewrite. There were two or three polishes of that draft.

Then a director was brought on board. He took our script and did a rewrite himself (which was mediocre at best). He left the project, a new director was brought on board who hired yet another writer to do a big rewrite. This writer’s draft was so horrendous the studio fired him, the director, and then put the film into turnaround.

When Tri-Star picked it up they went back to us. We threw out everything from the other two writers’ versions and did a major rewrite. Then a series of polishes. All of this is over a four year period.

The third director, Nick Meyer, was hired, and to his credit, he kept us on the project. We did another polish to satisfy his notes. Then when the film was cast we did a polish to better fit the characters to the actors who would play them.  So I had lost count of the number of drafts by the time it actually went into production.  And that was just the beginning. 

Once principle photography began in Mexico we stayed back in Los Angeles and fed new scenes or adjusted scenes to the set on a daily basis. This went on for several months. So to answer your question, I can’t tell you how many drafts we did but probably in the twenties. And hey, we were lucky. Not many original writers are re-hired. Although several of the scenes don’t play as we envisioned, I do have to say that 90% of that shooting script was our work.

From Matt:

I'm in the UK and love comedy (live or on TV) and the one thing that annoys me is trying to follow a US show that is broadcast here. Due to pirating episodes are now shown a few weeks or less after the initial broadcast in the states. This means we now have the annoying 'mid-season' breaks or even Would you prefer the UK way of shorter seasons that have a smaller writer team (in some cases 1 person) that are normally all recorded before transmission (and as such all episodes are shown) or the US longer season and the worries that come with that?

Obviously there are pros and cons to both but would like to know your opinion.

The only con is that you don’t make as much money. But creatively, I would MUCH rather work on a short-ordered series. And my partner agrees. We would love to do a show where we could write all of the episodes ourselves beforehand. Shows done like that have a much stronger voice and clearer vision.

But like I said, financially you take a big hit, and on American television it’s very difficult to hook an audience when you only have a few episodes.

Still, if David and I do another series I imagine it will be in that format. And just think, doing six episodes a season – in only 17 years we’ll have enough shows for syndication!

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks!

28 comments:

Steve Garland said...

I've just listened to an audio version of Jim Bouton's Ball Four (including the various updates) narrated by Bouton himself. (He was engaging and affecting.) And I just wondered with your baseball background what your thoughts are on the book and whether you've ever run across Bouton. I had read it when it came out and recalled enjoying it. Listening to it again, it's a wonderful time capsule of the baseball era (and the country for that matter) of the 60s and 70s.

The Milner Coupe said...

You have to explain who Bette Davis is/was? God I feel old.

Johnny Walker said...

EASTBOUND AND DOWN is a great example of short comedy series that's done well for itself. It'd be great if there were more shows like that.

Tom Quigley said...

I always thought Kelsey's style, expression and delivery reminded me of a young Orson Welles -- and I certainly could envision him doing a Welles-ian type role at some point in his career. Matter of fact, after having been told by a one-time associate of Kelsey's that he was an admirer of Orson Welles' work, I surmised that the FRASIER episode "Ham Radio" in which the station staff produces an old-time radio play might have been inspired by Welles' Mercury Players.

maculae said...

Well, I had no clue who Bette Davis was except her name was kind of familiar. BUT, I do have to correct you. From the 200th episode special (sorry about the poor quality) @ around 15 seconds:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKl6DS28xWs

Kelsey: Once in rehearsal years ago, it suddenly occurred to me that I was doing Bette Davis. And, we kept her in the show, and she has shown up several other times.

They also mention other "impressions".

Blaze said...

I love Brit series, but the more I love them, the more six episodes is a frustrating nibble.

The American method of 20 plus episodes can sometimes, as the question-asker says, be interminable. Like music albums, there is always a "hits" versus "filler" list of episodes.

I'm becoming a huge fan of the, what to call it, "cable method". Thirteen-ish episodes seems to still allow that continuity of vision you spoke of, Ken, but is a nice "meal".

Michael said...

Ken, your discussion of cadence brings up an interesting point: the difference between writing for the eye and writing for the ear. As an example, Harry Reasoner long was considered one of the best writers in TV news. If you read one of his scripts, you don't see it. You have to hear him read it and realize he wrote it so that you heard it. It's the same, I think, with a TV script. Granting DVR's and TiVo, we can't necessarily go back and hear the line again.

Thomas said...

Friday question: Some writers are absolutely prolific; I'm thinking of Trey Parker in particular, who writes 14 episodes of South Park at a rate of 1 per week. If pushed, how fast could you and David write scripts? (Or how fast have you done them in the past?)

Raj said...

Friday question : Any thoughts on Larry David's 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'? I searched the site to see if you have already written about it and did not find anything.

Pat Reeder said...

Writing jokes for radio, I always read them out loud before sending them out. Sometimes, a line looks fine on the page, then you realize when you read it out loud that there's a tongue twister in it, or a stumbling block like a word ending in S followed by a word starting with S (you sound like a stuttering snake when you try to pronounce it). And then, there are those phrases that look innocuous in print and take on a whole different meaning when you say them out loud. I refer to that as "If you see Kay, say hello" syndrome. (Say it out loud.)

Max Clarke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Writer said...

Ken,

I was wondering if a script jacket/cover should be left blank? My research has warranted a plethora of conflicting opinions of this so-called industry standard.

On one side of the fence the concern seems to be that if is left ‘blank’, a producer/agent will not be able to identify the material.

However I have also read that you should submit a script ‘without’ a jacket/cover, in that if the material is in fact accepted, the produce/agent will attach their own cover.

Regards,

Erik

Zhou said...

Yes!! Appreciation.

Patrick said...

I would love to know your opinions on Will & Grace. For about 4 and a half seasons it was brilliant. The funniest thing on TV, and then all of a sudden it became almost unwatchable. The actors started playing their parts differently and the writing was no where near as funny. What happens on a show for something like this to occur?

Diana said...

Hi Ken,

Friday question for you:

I read somewhere that when the last episode of season 4 of Cheers (Strange bedfellows)was filmed, that it hadn't been decided who Sam was proposing to when he made that famous telephone call, and that popularity polls were done over the summer break to see what people would prefer. Is that true, or is it just another one of those false T.V. myths?

Thanks.

D. McEwan said...

"If you’re not familiar with Bette Davis, she was a wonderful actress in the ‘30s – ‘60s"

Is it actually possible that this needed to be said? How deeply depressing. Is Bette Davis somehow no longer a household word? Egad!

Joan Crawford, of course, would have used different terms to describe Miss Davis. "Bitch from Hell" would have been closer to Joan's view, but in the Davis vs Crawford fued, I was always on Miss Davis's side.

Back in 1978, I clearly slightly annoyed Bette Davis by getting a huge laugh in her one-woman show. She was taking audience questions, and we asking questions had mikes, so we were clearly audible throughout the gigantic auditorium, but as I was in the balcony, and Miss Davis was 147 at the time, she couldn't really see me. I said I had two questions. The first was a dull place-holder about her acting theories. Then she asked me what the other thing I wanted to ask was. I said: "I just wanted to know if you'd like to go out for a drink with me after the show."

Huge laugh from the 2000 people packed into the theater. Miss Davis waited out my laugh with a graciously-annoyed look and then said: "Well you sound quite young, so that's very flattering, NEXT QUESTION PLEASE!."

(Natalie Wood looks weird in that All About Eve photo.)

JJadziaDax said...

That shorter series / more creative control you guys crave seems to be what's happening with the new youtube channels and web series that are popping up. Hulu is making some web originals and even resurrected a killed Canadian series as it got enough hits to justify morphing it into a web series (Endgame) and Felicia Day, among probably others, has a youtube channel (Geek and Sundry) now producing a few series including her popular The Guild. Just an idea :)

tvjunkie said...

Recently discovered you blog. Enjoying it! Random question: In a TV script, what does "RP POV" mean. I know POV is Point of View, but RP...? Thanks!

herschel said...

Friday Question:
Apologies if you've had this one before. Been watching a lot of Frazier reruns on Netflix lately. One of my favorites. Anyways, my question is: Who decided never that we should never see Maris. It is probably my single favorite running joke on the series. It enables you to laugh at the horrible things said about her without feeling bad. Hell you even compare her to a dog. I have to think if there were an actress attached to the role, it might have caused the writers to hold back a little and humanize her more. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I'm from Denmark, which leads me to the question: If someone is interesting in hiring me on their writing staff, will they help me get a work visa? Will anyone even look at my material, since they know the problems?

Thanks for the funny and informative blog Ken

Jeppe

Kirk said...

I always enjoyed watching Bette Davis on talk shows (as well as seeing her in movies) and I can just imagine her saying what she said to D. McEwen. She probably really was flattered, as well as annoyed.

I think it's about time someone did a cover of the Kim Carnes song. It'd be one way of introducing the youth of America to Bette Davis, and perhaps stoking their curosity about her career.

RCP said...

I never associated Bette Davis with Frazier, but have noticed shades of Jack Benny, whom Grammar has cited as one of his idols.

D. McEwan said...

"Joan Crawford, of course, would have used different terms to describe Miss Davis. "Bitch from Hell" would have been closer to Joan's view, but in the Davis vs Crawford fued, I was always on Miss Davis's side."

Maybe it was her Yankee toughness, but I never really felt much sympathy for Davis until after her stroke. It multiplied tremendously after becoming aware of her horrible daughter. I did have some sympathy for Crawford that I can't quite explain - maybe my intuition tells me her pschotic behavior resulted from incredible insecurity and pain (still no excuse for child abuse.) That said, the woman was frightening. Even her sunglasses and shoes (safe within a glass case at the Hollywood Museum) give off threatening vibes. You don't want to know how many kids and balls those things have kicked. Okay, I've just lost whatever sympathy I thought I had for her.

Kirk said...

"I think it's about time someone did a cover of the Kim Carnes song. It'd be one way of introducing the youth of America to Bette Davis, and perhaps stoking their curosity about her career."

Good idea. Then they can go to Netflix or TCM to find out more. If ever there was a career to be stoked about...But don't start with Return from Witch Mountain.

D. McEwan said...

"RCP said...
I never associated Bette Davis with Frazier, but have noticed shades of Jack Benny, whom Grammar has cited as one of his idols.

'D. McEwan said...
in the Davis vs Crawford fued, I was always on Miss Davis's side.'

Maybe it was her Yankee toughness, but I never really felt much sympathy for Davis until after her stroke."


My taking of sides was not based on sympathy. Bette never asked for nor needed sympathy. Pity Bette and she'd spit in your eye. It was based on two things:

1. Bette was a great actress. Joan, ah, was not.

2. Bette was tough but sane. Joan was a psychotic loon.

I would not want to have been raised by either of them, no matter how many books I could sell.

Funny story (well, to me): My grandmother was a lifelong fan of both Bette and Joan, so when they made Whatever Happened to Baby Jane together, my elderly granny went scurrying off to a theater to see it, having no idea at all what she was in for.

Two and a half hours later, she crawled out of the theater in shock. For what remained of her life (About 6 years), she would refer to that as the worst experience in a movie thetaer she'd ever had. It was, to her, like they'd been kicking her in the gut for the whole picture. It may be the only horror movie she ever saw.

Anonymous said...

I always thought Frazier was based on Addison, and Niles was based on Eve.

cadavra said...

Maybe I'm just getting grumpy in my dotage, but whining about having to do 22 episodes a year is absurd. Back in The Old Days, 39 episodes was the norm, and by and large most of those shows were a hell of a lot more entertaining than much of the crap the networks serve up today--and with far smaller writing staffs. The worst episode of THE HONEYMOONERS still has more laughs than the entire run of COMMUNITY (based on the five or six times I've tried to endure it).

RCP said...

D. McEwan said...

Bette never asked for nor needed sympathy. Pity Bette and she'd spit in your eye. It was based on two things:

1. Bette was a great actress. Joan, ah, was not.

2. Bette was tough but sane. Joan was a psychotic loon.

Yes, you're right - Davis would no doubt scoff at sympathy. As for the first point - by some accounts, Crawford believed this herself - not that she'd publicly admit it. There is (or was) a quote posted to the side of the Crawford exhibit and I paraphrase:

"Miss Davis has mastered the "art" of talking in a clipped manner, waving a cigarette, and bulging her eyes - but that's not real acting. As a hardworking, serious actress, I resent it when mannerisms are mistaken for talent." Oh burn, baby, burn.

I find that funny and touching about your grandmother.

bettyd said...

Question for a future version: Have you listened to Rita Wilson's CD AM/FM? It combines two things you like - a radio reference in the title and an actress you worked with on Volunteers (and one who you said was very good to work with as well)

Jim said...

For Friday Questions:

Now that another TV season is wrapping up, I have always wondered about what happens to the props on a TV show when it wraps up its run.

Do the actors, producers, and others on the crew have dibs on them? Such as if you worked on "Cheers" do you get a bar stool?

Do actors get to take home some of the outfits they wore?

Or does most of this stuff get saved for museums, other shows, or if a show does a reunion?

What types of things were you allowed to take home if you were allowed to?