Hi kids. It’s time for some bonus Friday questions. What’s yours?
Reader John asks:
Ken, what's the hardest type of character for you to write for while making them sympathetic? To me, it seems as through character like Becker, or going way back, Phil Slivers' Ernie Bilko are more difficult to handle, because you've got a character who's jammed full of bad personality traits, but who the audience is still supposed to be rooting to succeed (as opposed to the bad personality trait character in the Frank Burns mode, who's going to get his by the end of every episode).
Actually, the hardest characters to write are the ones who are intrinsically good and have a minimum of flaws. When characters are duplicitous, conniving, lascivious, cowardly, vain, self centered, overly ambitious, lazy, or a Scientologist – now you’ve got comedy gold. Case in point, on MASH it was infinitely easier to write Frank Burns than Father Mulcahy. And if the flawed characters are funny that really takes the curse off of them.
Most actors get that. But some don’t. They’re always lobbying the writers to make them nicer because they constantly want to be seen in a good light. What they can’t seem to comprehend is that “nice”= death in comedy.
How many people would watch THE ANGEL IN APT 23?
From Brian comes a question I get frequently. It's worth repeating the answer:
What exactly does a show runner do?
He oversees the entire production and essentially provides the voice and creative direction of the show. He hires the writing staff, the crew, the directors. He is in charge of the show’s budget. He approves and breaks the stories, assigns them, rewrites them, and decides when the scripts are ready for distribution. He does all of the casting. Deals with the network and studio. Approves sets, wardrobe, music, the Christmas party, opening titles, webisodes, and in single-camera shows tells the director the style he wants.
During runthroughs he has final say. He can ask for scenes to be re-blocked and override a director’s acting notes. He then has final say on the rewrites. If an actor isn’t cutting it it’s his call to fire him.
During filming of a multi-camera show he determines whether a scene still needs more takes or they can move on. On single-camera shows he is either on the set to make that call or can demand a re-shoot if he’s not happy with the dailies.
He also oversees the editing. The editor and director put together their first cut and then the showrunner is in control. He can change that cut at will, if the show is long he determines what gets cut. He then supervises post production – sound, color correction, music.
If the show has a laugh-track he oversees that process as well.
On the one hand you’re thinking, “Wow! How great! He has tremendous creative control.” On the other, you’re thinking, “Jesus! That sounds exhausting. And he has to turn out a show a week? How the hell does he have time to do all of that?”
Answer: He doesn’t. And that’s the real art of showrunning.