Here are some Friday Questions as I prepare for this year’s SITCOM ROOM seminar, which begins tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you lucky attendees and causing you sleep deprivation for the next two days. But on to the business at hand. The answer to this one is the shortest I’ve ever given to any Friday Question.
It comes from Steve Murray:
When writing a script, how do you best express an incomplete sentence (interrupted)?
More Friday Questions next week. Leave yours in the comments section.
Huh? Yeah, okay. Maybe I should answer a few more.
Many shows experience a change in show-runners, COMMUNITY being a recent example. Does the network alone decide on the replacement? Do they consult with existing producers on the show? How do they lure the potential replacement without saying, "Hey, here's a show with so-so ratings that's already been on for a few seasons, with a fanbase that was fiercely loyal to the old guy ... wanna take over?"
Most of the time when a showrunner steps down it’s his own choice. He’s burned out after a number of years of 100 hour weeks. Usually there’s a transition period where he’ll train his successor and start doling out more responsibilities. And when the new showrunner takes over the original will still be available to oversee and consult.
My post tomorrow will be all about what it takes to be a good showrunner.
There have been instances when a showrunner is fired. Actually, it happens more than you think. There are the high visibility firings (Dan Harmon off COMMUNITY, Aaron Sorkin off WEST WING), but also creators who get booted off their shows even before the shows air. This now occurs once or twice a season.
When you ask whether it’s the network or studio’s decision, in most cases these days the network and the studio are the same.
So why do these showrunners get canned? I go into this more tomorrow but a big reason is the inability to stay within budget. Creative differences are another – and by creative differences I mean the showrunner won’t just bow to the network and do every note. If the showrunner becomes too difficult to work with and the show is not in the top three he’ll often be asked to step down and spend more time with his family.
And finally, there are occasions when the network looks at the first few episodes, decides they’re shit, and puts the blame on the showrunner.
How hard is it to get a new showrunner? Not hard at all. There are plenty of really good writers who are out of work or just on staff of someone else’s show and would love the opportunity to get back in the driver's seat. Think of baseball managers.
To me the problem comes when networks don’t get the writer/producer who is the best fit for the particular project. Instead they get whatever writer/producer they happen to have under contract.
Carl Tyler is up next.
I am not in the entertainment industry so I have a question for you. Have you ever written a script so that you could screw people up who were playing drinking games? Say for example, you had to do a shot every time someone said Sam on cheers, or every time someone suggested a a disease ended in -osis on House. Have you ever worked in a word knowing that people do these silly games?
Okay, second shortest answer to any Friday Question: No.
Whenever I see a list of "classic sitcoms" that include somewhat recent shows such as "Seinfeld," I wonder what you thought of "Mad About You." Maybe I'm in the minority, but that's always on my list and I rarely see it mentioned. Was that not critically respected? Did it have an attitude or style that didn't click for you? Behind the scenes issues? Seriously curious.
I very much liked MAD ABOUT YOU at first. I thought the writing was smart and Helen Hunt was endearing. My problem, and I’ll be 1000% honest, is that Paul Reiser ruined the show for me. He never shut the fuck up. He became so annoying that I just couldn’t take it anymore. I have no way of knowing whether the show got better or worse the last few years because I couldn’t watch a second of it.
I don’t think NBC ever really loved the show either. Their perception wasn’t that it was a signature prestige franchise like CHEERS or SEINFELD but that it was something reliable they could plug into the schedule to fill holes. It’s time slot changed almost every week. There’s no way to build a loyal following when you never know when a show is on. And the network knows that.
Kristen wants to know…
At the beginning of a season, was the whole story plot more or less laid out or did it tend to evolve depending on how the audience reacted to each episode. For example, before starting season one of Cheers, was it already decide that Sam and Diane would get together at the end or not?
We tried to get as much sexual tension mileage as possible that first season, but at a certain point if they didn’t get together it was a little juvenile. So the Charles Brothers decided to make that happen as the season finale.
After that some thought was given each season to a general overall arc. And to my knowledge CHEERS was the first sitcom to do that.
And finally, from Barbara C.:
I always find the dubbing out of curse words interesting. It's obvious that in the original scene different dialogue was used. Do the actors have to re-dub certain scenes during the movie making process for when the show eventually airs on a network television?
In many cases separate takes are filmed in movies to substitute more acceptable words for broadcast television. God, wouldn’t you love to see an episode of DEADWOOD that was cleaned up for general audiences?