Some Friday Questions to send you into another weekend of football:
XJill leads off:
What do you think of this "the viewers pick the ending" gimmick Hawaii Five-0 has come up with? Isn't this super insulting to the creators and writers or since it's a CBS procedural and paint-by-numbers to some extent they don't mind as much??
It is just a silly gimmick and signals that the network is beginning to lose faith in the show. Essentially they’re asking the staff to write a video game.
Years ago my partner and I wrote a pilot and met with the studio to get their notes. There were probably four of them. At one point one questioned a joke. We said we liked the joke and thought it worked. She then said, “Okay, well let’s take a vote.” At that point I stopped her. “We don’t vote on jokes. We’re the writers, we decide what goes into the script.”
A writing staff should consider many alternatives when breaking a story. They should be trusted to then select the best path and the best ending for that path – not the best two endings.
Yes, it’s a gimmick and may result in a slight uptick in the ratings, but so what? Next week they’ll be right back down to where they were. And in the process they've compromised the integrity of the show. And I can’t believe I’m defending HAWAII 5-0.
When you were working on MASH and Cheers what were the shows that the writers rooms were watching/felt in competition with in terms of quality?
TAXI, BARNEY MILLER, WKRP, and during the CHEERS years I’d have to say BUFFALO BILL, COSBY, BEST OF THE WEST, NEWHART, and of course SEINFELD.
Although I must be honest. Usually when writers gather at the start of the day they talk more about the shows that sucked.
Joseph Scarbrough asks:
It seems like most TV series today have, like, umpteen different producers, executive producers, supervising producers, line producers (whatever those are), among other kinds of producers... and I'm just wondering, do TV shows really need THAT many producers? Can they really not get by with just a producer, executive producer, and an associate producer? Plus, during the main titles of most shows, you've got several "Producers", followed by a "Produced By" credit... what's the difference between "Producer" and "Produced By"?
Most of the producers are writers. The line producer is the one who is in charge of the production – hiring and overseeing the crew, supervising post production, arranging for sets, etc. It’s a crucial position and the good ones are gold. When you see a “Produced By” credit, that’s the line producer.
Do we need so many writers on each show? I’m going to say yes, absolutely (because I want as many writers as possible to be employed).
There are the rare writers like David E. Kelley, Aaron Sorkin, or Larry Gelbart who can pretty much write an entire season themselves. But among us mortals, we need the contributions of other writers.
Thirty years ago the staffs were considerably smaller. When CHEERS began the full-time staff was the Charles Brothers and me and my partner. On MASH we only had two other writers on staff. Today, you have to get to the writers room early to get a seat, there’s so many on staff.
But here’s the difference: Back then we used a lot more freelance writers. Freelance comedy writers could make a nice living – doing two episodes of this show, and three for that, etc. Now very few shows give out freelance assignments. And when they do they’re usually to writers’ assistants or friends of the showrunner. Some shows like BIG BANG THEORY room-write every script. No one goes off and “writes” a draft, much less a freelancer.
But again, larger staffs mean more writers working so I’m all for it. In fact, I think each show could probably use another three or four.
And finally, Hannah Neil wonders:
Are there any writers who became network executives that you know of?
Generally, if you are doing well as a writer you’ll make more money than if you were a network executive. And if you’re a “suit” it means you have to wear a suit. I’m sure more writers would take network gigs if they could wear shorts.
Seriously though, they’re different skill sets. I don’t think most writers have the temperament to deal with all the corporate politics. Or maybe that’s just me.
What’s your question?