Since Friday Questions are so popular I thought I’d sneak in a bonus day. So here are Thursday Friday Questions.
Stephen starts us off:
What do you do with live studio audiences for new shows? I don't mean the pilot, but those first 4 or 5 (or more if it's debuting at midseason) episodes before the show premieres. How do you get them up to speed so that they understand the character humor? For example, was the live studio audience for episode 3 of Cheers made aware prior to taping of the circumstances that put Diane in the bar two episodes earlier?
A timely question since new shows are beginning to go into production right now. Usually, you’ll assemble a ten minute version of the pilot and screen it for the audience during the warm-up. And if there are key story elements the audience needs to know the warm-up guy will brief them.
But yes, certain jokes are not going to work because the audience doesn’t know the references. Yet, on the air, they might, and ultimately you're making the show for the television audience, not studio audience.
A case in point was the Norm entrances. They bombed continuously until the series started to air. But we kept telling George Wendt not to worry about it. The audience didn’t know it was a running bit. Flash-forward to season eleven: the minute George enters and says, "Afternoon, everybody" the place goes absolutely bonkers.
A bigger problem is filling the bleachers with people who would watch this show anyway. Often groups have to be herded in. Imagine a busload of 90-year-old codgers filling the seats at WHITNEY. Or a group of high schoolers in the audience of HOT IN CLEVELAND.
Eventually, fans of a show will write in for tickets so by the end of the first season you can stack the house with ringers.
Mike has a question about the CHEERS spin-off, THE TORTELLIS.
Having never seen an episode, I was wondering: why do you think the show failed? Nick was one of my favorite recurring characters on Cheers. He lifted every episode he guested in. Do you think, though, he was best seen in small doses, and a whole show built around him was too much? Just what do you think happened here?
I may have told this story before, but David and I wrote an episode of THE TORTELLIS. We met with the Charles Brothers one afternoon to break a story. We spent all day trying to come up with an episode. Nothing seemed interesting. Finally, we decided to table the discussion until the next day. I asked Glen Charles, “What number episode is this?” He said, “Four.” And I said, “Four? We can’t come up with episode four? You are in shit shape with this show.”
And in truth they were. There was no real theme or premise. It was just a collection of characters living in Las Vegas. Add to that Nick & Loretta were fairly two-dimensional (funny as hell but two-dimensional) so it was hard to build a show around them. Compare that to spinning-off a far more fleshed-out and real character like Frasier Crane.
I remember there was a married couple who were writers on THE TORTELLIS. One day they got into an argument over a script they were writing for the show and it escalated to the point where they got divorced. They may have even come to blows. Over THE TORTELLIS. That’s when you know you’ve got a show in trouble.
I've been writing professionally in another creative medium for a couple years now, and thinking about trying my hand at writing for TV. One of the skills I've developed is the ability to fix or improve already existing work of other writers.
I hear about people in Hollywood who primarily work as "script doctors," and it seems like that tends to be part of a career as a more generative writer. My question is: Is that the kind of role that someone can legitimately use as an entry point?
Not to be blunt, but no. You don’t get script doctor jobs (“creative consultants”) until you’re a proven writer in your chosen genre. And unfortunately, those jobs are almost non-existent in today’s economy even for seasoned writers. Gone are the days a scribe could command a handsome fee for coming in one or two nights a week. Sigh.
But if editing is your gift I would suggest you explore entering the executive ranks. Networks and studios are filled with people who will graciously give script notes, whether they know shit or not. If you are truly good at fixing existing scripts you would be a real asset.
Johnny Walker asks:
How long do you spend a day (or week, if you don't work on it every day) on your blog? It's amazing to me that you keep coming up with fresh content!
Thanks. It probably averages to an hour or so a day. Sometimes I’ll be inspired and bang out a couple posts at one sitting. Other times one post will take me all afternoon and then I'll still throw it away because it sucks. The hard part is coming up with topics. Once I latch onto a good topic I can write fairly quickly. Sometimes. Occasionally. Once last spring.
Do you know if the character of Frasier's agent, Bebe Glazer, was named after Bebe Neuwirth?
I do know and the answer is no.
More questions tomorrow. If you have one, leave it in the comments section. I’ll try to get to as many as I can. Thanks.