Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why CHEERS wouldn't sell today

I was going to do this as a Friday question. But it seemed more like a Saturday answer. Arjewtino asked:

Of all the shows you worked on, which ones do you think would have had drastically different fates if they were aired today?

CHEERS would never sell today. I can just see the pitch meeting. The network executive would politely listen with a plastered pained smile. When the pitch was over and you couldn’t wait to bolt from her office, either by the door or window, you ask if she has any questions. And unfortunately, she does.

Um… yeah. First of all, it’s wonderful and we all love it. Really. Amazing. You guys are great. But, uh, a bar in Boston where people just hang out? What am I missing?… Huh? That’s it? That’s all of it? … No, it’s great. Really. But doesn’t it seem a little, I dunno, low concept? Have you seen THE NEIGHBORS?  Family moves into a neighborhood with all space creatures?  Now that’s a concept that can go for ten years. Yours? I dunno. It’s hard to picture an audience just listening to people talk for a half hour…. Sure, they’re interesting people – you guys are awesome writers -- but I think we’d be more comfortable if someone was from Jupiter.

I think there’s also some concern that there is no real star part. Ensemble pieces are great as long as they are centered around a star.

And is there any way you could skew your show a little younger? It’s kind of sad to think of a romance between people in their 30s. Isn’t that sort of… ick? We’re not looking to do MARIGOLD HOTEL: THE SERIES. I still think it works that Sam is a retired ballplayer and recovered alcoholic at 22. Am I wrong? My staff agrees.

Oh, hey, a lightbulb just went off. Oh yes. This totally works. I’m a little bumped by the tone. It seems a little edgy-lite. Now I love the Carol character… Carla, right. Sorry. Again, we can make her in her 20s. She could have had her kids young. In fact that’s better. But what about this? As a way to sort of tie in these bar people and give them something besides just talk-talk-talk, what about if she has four kids and each kid was from a different customer? …  One is black, one is Asian... what's a funny diversity?  Okay, well, just think about it.

I loved that theme song you played but we don’t do theme songs anymore. Or opening titles. But if we did, that’s the kind we’d want. So good goin’. You were right on the money there.

I know Standards & Practices will have some issues. We can have a bar but we can’t really have people drinking. You wouldn’t believe the watchdog groups that come out of the woodwork. Does it change things too much if Sam runs a juice bar? Oooh, oooh, another brainstorm: instead of a bar, what if Sam runs a Jamba Juice? Ohmygod, my staff is in stitches!

So anyway, those are our thoughts. What do ya think? Again, not that the idea you brought in isn’t a total home run, but if that’s what you want to do I’m afraid we’re going to have to pass.

So thanks again for coming in. It was really great to see you guys again.  I can't tell you how many nights I had Algebra homework due but I watched your shows.  We’ll be in touch. And again, if you have any idea, please bring it here first.

QUICK NOTE:  Just a handful of spots remain for THE SITCOM ROOM seminar, November 10 & 11 in LA.  Check it out.   Like Haley's Comet and Cher Farewell Tours it comes along only every so often. 

28 comments:

Bob Gassel said...

Probably the most depressing entry ever...

benson said...

And this is why, dear friends, we will be treated to another season of Honey Boo Boo.

@Bob Gassel is right.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Spot-on. And if you were pitching to a middle management person, instead of "My staff agrees with me," you'd hear "[Insert executive] agrees with me," or the popular, "I know [insert executive] and I know [he/she] would feel the same way if [he/she] were here."

As for "the staff," let's face it, one of the most blisteringly accurate characters in the history of television was Larry Tate.

unkystan said...

Ken, have you seen "Sullivan and Son" on TBS? It's basically an "R" rated version of "Cheers".

Mike said...

This is the pitch for Episodes, right? The History Boys with Richard Griffiths (a succesful, real play) remade as Pucks with Matt LeBlanc.
Welcome to our nightmare. Everytime a UK series gets remade for US TV.

Here are some pitches I wrote earlier:
Mindy Project: You know that English doctor in Nurse Jackie? Like her but younger. Yeah, young, kooky, attractive and wealthy. And she's a doctor so she, you know, helps people.
New Girl: Like Friends and Big Bang Theory but - and here's the kicker - this time, they all live in the same flat.
Suburgatory: Clueless with a young Debra Messing.

Brian said...

This is a perfect example of why networks are dying a very slow death - unimaginative executives who don't have the balls to take a chance on a new idea and just want more of the same and are mystified when something outside the 'accepted norm' becomes a hit.

Birdie said...

Saw the Cheers interview in GQ, Ken! Read it online yesterday. They did a really good job, actually...I don't even remember the last time I read an in depth interview of anyone or anything. Everyone seemed surprisingly honest...some interesting stories and definitely worth the read.

MikeN said...

Mostly saw Cheers in syndication and the episodes you frequently describe, I never saw. Amazon has them for free right now, so I think I can catch up.

LAPrGuy said...

Why did you call the other character Coach? Could he be a sex coach? We could introduce him on WHITNEY first. That would really give your show a boost.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

Once again, I blame Ken for contributing for the third time this year to the nasal/throat injury I suffered a moment ago while eating a bowlful of shredded wheat for breakfast. This morning's pain occurred upon my reading of the final word of the first paragraph of the young network executive's comments. Somehow, the word "Jupiter" detonated in my mouth an explosion of milk and cereal so severe that my dog will never again consider me an attractive breakfast campanion. And, I'll have to clean the walls, too.

Steve said...

We're looking for something a little more 'high concept'

MikeBo said...

Ken,
Now I know why I instinctive surf past the network channels anymore and go straight to "On Demand" or "Pawn Stars." Even the NASA TV channel is funnier than the current crop of sitcoms.

Ken Hommel said...

If it came from hit showrunners (TAXI) and was pitched as a romance in a bar, I don't think it would be a problem selling to the broadcast nets or TBS. The sophistication might be played down, but it was with the original NBC promos,as well. Much weaker premises have sold from established showrunners or because of studio relationships with the network. A modern comedy doesn't even have to be funny to sell.

Ron said...

From your previous posts, it sounds like Neighbors represents everything you currently despise about network comedy. Based on your description of dealing with network executives, it's tough to imagine a creative person subjecting himself to that sort of environment, other than the potential for scads of cash.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I hate to argue with the expert, but what about HIMYM? Half of that show is in a bar, and they get drunk and smoke pot quite openly without moralizing about it (beyond Ted glossing over some details to his kids). ISTM that all the shows about 20-30x singles looking for love are ensemble casts. Jim Parsons is a star *now*, but when BBT started the best known actor on it was Johnny Galecki - that, too, is a (growing) ensemble cast.

Granted, these shows started 6-8 years ago, but they're still hits now.

wg

Mike Bell said...

9 CPariodCan we have neighbor that owns a talking horse? The horse could only talk to Sam, so everybody thinks he's loony! But the kicker is, the horse is wise. Like Yoda, but not as froggy.

Eric J said...

Actually...that was my reaction when Cheers first came on the air. "Who wants to watch a show about bar flies?" We missed the first season thinking that. I think we finally saw it in summer reruns and got hooked.

Tim W. said...

The sad thing is, even if they took it to one of the cable networks, it probably wouldn't be edgy enough.

Wendy M. Grossman,

Would it really kill you to actually type out the name of the show so we know what the hell you're talking about? It's my belief that the use of acronyms is going to be the real downfall of society. Kids today are getting so lazy that they type "prolly" instead of "probably". Really? It's two extra letters.

Rant finished.

Craig Smith said...

"And could you have Carla use a lot of painfully obvious sexual innuendo, or at least say "penis" and "vagina" a lot?

DJ said...

Perhaps if you used the magic invention of Google, you could find out what "HIMYM" means.

cadavra said...

"And make Diane dumber. Smart people are a turn-off."

John said...

I don't know. I think this pitch with a "name" star attached could get picked up by at least a cable net.
Couldn't you see FX picking it up with Charlie Sheen as Sam?

Ken Hommel said...

There are networks that air sitcoms that aren't edgy (TBS, CMT, ABC Family although of course a Cheers wouldn't fit with ABCF).

As for "dumbing Diane." Television is full of intelligent leads now: forensic scientists alone make up a dozen hours a week or more, the recently departed Dr. House, Liz Lemon, the HIMYM cast, and ... ahem... the BBT cast. When Cheers started, networks were full of violent street cops, A-Team mercenaries, stuntmen, talking cars and men from Ork.

Beth Ciotta said...

Hilarious... and sad.

Phil In Phoenix said...

Even if it did sell today...

"Everyone upstairs is THRILLED of course...a solid 2.8 every week...TIVO numbers are growing.

But just a few notes on the new character...what if he owned a pawn shop...or maybe had an ex-wife who was, you know, wealthy, snobby...but a real housewife...of Boston! Or he had a young precocious daughter...she did those children's pageants.

And his name...it's just not Hulu-friendly. How does he fit in with the fat guy and the mailman? And, well, America...how can they relate...he's too, well, he's smart! Not too sure the American viewers can relate to sma-I mean, him.

Well here's the notes. Bottom-Lining it...

...we don't think this Frasier guy has legs."

JT Anthony said...

Her point is valid--why should she need a reference source to read a blog comment? Despite Google's brilliance, it's annoying...KWIM?

Ron said...

Hold on... one of the guys is married and we never see his wife. And the other has a mother... we never see her either ? What am I missing ?

Johnny Walker said...

Ow. This blog post feels depressingly realistic. It can't really be THAT bad... Can it?