Here are some more of your Friday Questions... brought to you by -- my new book. Click here or on the cover and relive the '60s whether you were alive during them or not.
Jennifer starts us off:
As someone who staged a massive pie fight for one of your shows, (you can watch it here) I was wondering if you had any thoughts on visual comedy. The reason I ask is that I've noticed among many aspiring writers a tendency to look down their noses at visual comedy. As if any script that isn't dialogue-dialogue-dialogue is automatically lowbrow.
I’m a HUGE fan of physical comedy. Even sophisticated comedies benefit from physical humor. We use it on every show we’re on. MODERN FAMILY currently does a great job working it in. So does PARKS & REC. And as a director I’m always looking for physical business to supplement the dialogue.
The truth is physical comedy is the most enduring. I LOVE LUCY will be funny 100 years from now. Last night's hilarious DAILY SHOW will not.
The trick is finding the Lucys who can pull it off.
I always invite my younger readers to seek out some of the great physical comedians of the past. Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, Jackie Gleason, Art Carney, Charlie Chaplin – any serious student of comedy needs to be exposed to their work. Plus, you will be richly rewarded.
And younger readers need to consider this: when you see pie fights and other scenes you’ve seen countless times by countless performers – THESE early comedians INVENTED those routines. They’re not homages, they’re not parodies, they're not Adam Sandler trailer pratfalls – they’re ORIGINAL.
I hold great physical comedians in the absolute highest regard.
Say the writing staff is going over a script and somebody finds a plot hole, major continuity error, inconsistency, glaring factual mistake...is there any discussion about fixing it or is the attitude just "eh, it's TV, the audience doesn't care."
Well, it depends on the show of course, but on shows I’ve been on the answer is: we have those discussions ALL THE TIME. I like to think that we’re much harder on the material than the network and the viewer. Questions like, “Would she really do that?” and “isn’t this weird?” are asked constantly.
From watching a number of current sitcoms I’m guessing it’s less important now – but I was always a stickler that the story work first. Making the show funnier is the easy part. Finding a story that tracks, is cleverly told, is grounded in reality, and draws the audience in emotionally is the hard part (which is probably why some shows don’t bother).
That said, there is a thing called “icebox logic.” Supposedly this is derived from Alfred Hitchcock. You watch a movie, it all makes sense, you go home, raid the fridge for a snack at midnight and suddenly you go, “Hey, wait a minute. Fred couldn’t know about the heist. He was in the submarine all that summer.” In other words, it’s a logic problem but one most people won’t notice. And there are times in the writers room when we’ll hit a snag that we'll try to determine whether it really needs to be addressed or is just icebox logic.
Sometimes continuity discrepancies are inadvertent. We’ll establish something not remembering that something else was established four seasons ago. But if there’s some question, or it’s pointed out, or easily referenced we’ll always adhere to continuity. On CHEERS, Frasier established that his father was dead. Who knew he'd get his own spin-off years later? In that case, we did explain it away with an explanation.
Why do so many sitcom sets have doors that swing in and out? Is it for cost, and time purposes, so the actors don't have to take a while to open and shut the doors if they're simply leaving a scene?
First off, if you're noticing this, the writers are not doing a good enough job of sucking you into the story. That's what I mean above.
Those are usually doors to the kitchen and they allows actors to go in and out carrying things like platters without having to juggle handles.
And finally, from ScottUSF :
Once again, I've become a big fan of 2 new shows this year that have now been cancelled - "Alcatraz" and "Awake" - both 1 hour shows that try to tell a long story over a season/series. I was a HUGE fan of "Lost" and lukewarm on "Flashback" but I still enjoyed it.
Neither Alcatraz, Awake, nor Flashback got a chance to wrap up their storylines. How can a viewer find out what the plans were to wrap up the story?
When a viewer follows a serialized series he assumes a risk. There is always the possibility the show will be cancelled and the story will abruptly end without resolution.
When shows of this genre work they hook the audience in (as with LOST or ONCE UPON A TIME), but when they don’t the networks can’t get rid of them fast enough. The other big problem with serialized shows is that it’s hard for audiences to join in the middle. So it’s hard to pick up new viewers.
How I generally approach serialized series is this: I’ll wait, hear what’s catching on, see what folks are talking about and then go to Hulu or On Demand, catch up, and then jump on the train. That’s the way I pick my hockey teams too.
What’s your question? And thanks for buying my book if you do.