As I head down to San Diego for a weekend of broadcasting Mariners games on 710 ESPN Seattle, MLB.COM, and the Mariners Radio Network, here are this week’s Friday Questions.
God Shammgod is up first.
Do you prefer a compact set or a bigger one? Remember when "I Love Lucy" moved the action from the cramped apartment set to the huge farm set? It didn't seem to work as well.
If the show is centered on primarily two characters (like I LOVE LUCY) then I much prefer a smaller set. It’s more intimate. You like to have both actors in the same shot if possible. And as a director, I don’t have to worry about long boring crosses while actors move from one end of the set to the other.
There are times when a large elaborate set will overwhelm a scene. The actors disappear into it.
One mistake production directors make is building giant two-story sets for multi-camera shows shot before a studio audience. They’re so big a camera would have to be in the next zip code to show the whole thing. And you never see the second story unless a character goes up or down the stairs. It’s a complete waste of time and money.
For workplace shows or large ensembles a larger set makes sense. You don’t want all the characters forever on top of each other. My favorite was the CHEERS bar, designed by Oscar-winner, Richard Sylbert. It was roomy yet intimate, interesting yet not busy.
And then there is the lunch counter in Wing's and the diner on Becker. It was like the actors were practically sitting on each other's laps....
I had no problem with the WINGS airport terminal unless everyone was perched at Helen's lunch counter, but I did have issues with the BECKER diner (strictly from a shooting aspect. Visually it was a cool set.)
But in the diner you had this large set with all the action pushed up against one wall. Actors sat at the counter and that was that. Very static and most of the set was unused and unseen.
When I directed BECKER I did whatever I could to move people around, sit them in booths, have Reggie (and later, Chris) serve tables so there would be movement, we’d get to see the set, characters would have to turn away from the counter so we shot them from different angles.
It meant being creative and finding plausible reasons to move the cast around, but the alternative was just planting everybody at the counter and I just hated that.
On the other hand, Becker's office was fantastic. Plenty of interesting hallways and angles and the counter in the reception area was in the middle.
All of us loyal readers are in awe that you were able segue into a second successful career. But how much did age-ism in the industry we love contribute to your decision to switch careers?
None at all. At the time I went to the upper deck of Dodger Anaheim Stadium to learn how to do baseball play-by-play, I was in my mid-30’s. So I was still in that eleven minute window when I was my prime as far as Hollywood was concerned. Which is another reason so many people in the industry thought I was completely nuts to go off and broadcast minor league baseball for peanuts when I had such a viable career in L.A. The truth is I managed both careers.
But my philosophy is you’re never too old to re-invent yourself. Especially when it involves following your passion.
How often do sitcom writers in the writers room talk about theme when breaking stories?
On good shows the theme is ever-present. And when you come up with story notions you see if they fit into the overall theme of the show. This is assuming your show even has a theme. The good ones do. Many don’t.
I’ve found that if you don’t a theme, a real direction, then you have no idea what you’re writing. And this leads to confusion, blind alleys, inconsistent shows, and long nights of spinning your wheels.
On the other hand, if you do know what your series is about, you can select the story notions that work in that framework and discard the ones that don’t. Ultimately, that saves you soooo much time and effort.
What are some themes?
30 ROCK – A woman trying to make it in a man’s world.
THE OFFICE – Average people fighting monotony and trying to make more of their lives.
ALL IN THE FAMILY – A man is terrified that the world he always knew is changing and he has no handle on the new world.
Think about how each episode directly or indirectly leads to its theme.
And finally, from Steve:
Do you know if there were any discussion about having Sam's ex-wife appear at some point on Cheers? I always expected that she'd pop up at some point; seemed like a built-in way to create some drama somewhere down the line. I assume it's rare (for a long-running show) to have something like that mentioned in the exposition that then never got used at all.
As a reader pointed out, she appeared in one episode – the second. She was played by Donna McKechnie (who was the original Cassie in the Broadway smash, A CHORUS LINE, winning a Tony for her performance). The episode was called “Sam’s Women” written by Earl Pomerantz. Donna was hired to play one of Sam’s dates. It was only during a rewrite did we make her Sam’s ex-wife, and the reason was we simply needed a joke.
But I believe the feeling later on was that an ex-wife would only get in the way, so that little history was swept under the rug. We just proceeded as if she never existed. Don’t you wish you could do that with your ex-spouse?
What’s your Friday Question? Please buy my book. Wait. no. What I meant to say was please leave your question in the comments section. Sorry. And thanks.