Friday, March 01, 2013

Creator/deserters

Ready for some Friday Questions? 

Gazzoo starts us off:

For decades I’ve been convinced that the first two episodes of the seventh season of M*A*S*H were meant to be run in reverse order, can you confirm this? “Peace On Us” should have been the premiere…the opening scenes imply BJ is actually growing his moustache at that time, not to mention that the big storyline seems more fit for a season opener. In the episode that actually did air first, ”Commander Pierce”, BJ already has his moustache and is wearing the dyed red shirt that he didn’t make until “Peace On Us”. Do you recall anything about this and why the eps were flipped?

You’re very observant. Yes, PEACE ON US was supposed to be our season premiere. David and I wrote the episode. Ronny Graham wrote COMMANDER PIERCE. But after looking at the finished product we along with executive producer. Burt Metcalfe determined that Ronny’s show was better so we kicked off the year with that. There was that slight continuity problem, but we felt it was worth it. Ronny’s script was terrific.   We made the right decision.

Chris asks:

Dan Harmon said he wanted nothing to do with Community after getting fired, yet he still gets an executive consultant credit, just as NBC promised. How does that work, can you get that credit (and the money for it) without having anything to do with the show?

Yep. It’s not uncommon. Usually that contingency is written into the contract. Sam Simon has a credit on THE SIMPSONS and hasn’t been involved with the show for years. Personally, I think his contribution was so enormous in those early years that he deserves the recognition.  Another example is WONDER YEARS. Neal Marlens and Carol Black received credit throughout the series run but left early on.

I always joke that the best gig a TV writer can have is “creator/deserter.”

Phil Nicols has this question:

I just saw some FRASIERS where Kelsey Grammer was the director. I wondered how an actor can direct multi-camera shoots when, presumably, they're too busy in front of the camera.

(I can understand it better for single-camera, as someone like Alan Alda on MASH isn't going to be in every shot, but multi-camera looks more difficult.)

Generally when an actor directs an episode it’s one where he’s light in the show. For multi-camera shows the actor/director really has to rely on his first assistant director and camera coordinator to monitor the performances and cameras.

Lots of actor/directors of multi-camera shows are not adept at camera blocking and thus let the camera coordinator handle camera assignments. It is a very technical and somewhat confusing process that takes time and practice to master.

Kelsey, I will say, has taken the time to study camera blocking and does assign his own cameras.

There was one actor/director I worked with (who will remain nameless) who was a great cast member, adored by his fellow actors. But when he would direct an episode he became a complete hard-ass. I suspect the pressure of the job would get to him, but boy, it was a real Jekyll & Hyde situation.  Then, the next week, when he was just a cast member, he was back to being Mr. Nice Guy.

Tim wonders:

I was watching Newsradio, and then for some reason, I wanted to watch some Frasier. And I noticed that aside from the little opening jingle and the ending theme, that Frasier had no musical soundtrack. I also noticed that the show had no exterior establishing shots. Newsradio, on the other hand, had both.

So was there a specific reason why Frasier didn't use any of those conventions or trappings?

Yes. Because every other show did and they wanted to be distinctive. Interestingly, now networks demand that all shows have truncated open titles and themes. But FRASIER was one of the first. The networks reason for this was to avoid tune-out. I disagree with that philosophy but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.


Ed queries:

Have you ever watched a re-run of a show you wrote or contributed to and thought there was no way it could have been better? Like it was the perfect show or as perfect as it was going to get?

Well, certainly not PEACE ON US. Seriously though, no. Even in my favorite episodes there are always a few lines I’d like another whack at. That said, there are episodes I am very proud of and my tinkering would be minor.

Of course, there are other episodes I don’t particularly like for whatever reason and generally don’t re-watch them. If I’m channel surfing and come upon one I generally keep going. There must be something fun on the Hitler Channel. 

And finally, from Micah:

Do you think shows would be better if they had longer-term commitments going in -- or after say a year? Seems like you'd be able to break story arcs, character development, etc, if you could plan further out. Or does the deadline pressure help create the best shows because they HAVE to do their best or face cancellation?

It would be lovely to have an entire year going in. But realistically, that’s not feasible. What if your show tanks the first week or two (see: any NBC mid-season show this year)? No way is the network going to air twenty more episodes. And who can blame them?

However, there are two new interesting models. The 10-90 platform a few shows like Charlie Sheen’s ANGER MANAGEMENT has. If after ten episodes the network wants to renew the show they have to pick up 90 more episodes.  That's the case with ANGER MANAGEMENT.  FX is now on the hook for 100 episodes total. 

And NETFLIX orders thirteen episodes of original series like HOUSE OF CARDS and the upcoming return of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. They then offer all thirteen episodes at once. It makes it difficult to do story arcs since the viewer is free to watch the series in any order he wants, but how nice to know you get to make all the episodes ordered.

What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks, guys!

25 comments:

Charles Warn said...

I am still baffled how my Detroit Tigers can sweep the hated New York Yankees one week to reach the 2012 World Series and THEN the next week get swept themselves by those damn Giants. Can you help me understand beyond "pitching"?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Here's a Friday question. I was wondering what had happened with THE GOODWIN GAMES, the new show from Carter Bayes and Craig Thomas, the creators of HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER. It was supposed to start on Fox I thought in the fall, had its order cut to 7, and now will premiere the first week in May as a "mid-season replacement" (how you can be mid-season in May is beyond me).

Asked about the delays in January, Fox's entertainment president came up with this gem of a quote (from TVLine): “If I thought Goodwin Games was going to be an injection of life to the [comedy block], I’d bring it on earlier,” he said, adding that Games ”is a nice show, but I’m not sure it’s going to improve the night, ratings-wise.”

Given this resounding pronouncement of faith, are the showrunner and actors already looking for other jobs?

wg

LouOCNY said...

Funny how mentioned the 'sweetheart actor/dictitorial director' after mentioning "Commander Pierce"

Friday question: Speaking of Ronny Graham - he is another comedy legend who has passed on...what was he like? Mel Brooks seems to indicate that he was a pretty nutty guy in real life.

Mitchell Hundred said...

I actually think that it's not a good idea for arc shows to plan out their plot too far in advance. Take the show Babylon 5, whose showrunner meticulously mapped out its entire five-year run before the pilot was even filmed. It completed its run, but several characters had to be re-cast mid-series because the actors playing them wanted to leave, and various plotlines were sloppily introduced/scrapped/retconned away in a way that is super obvious. The pre-planned storyline was the source of the show's main weakness.

Contrast that with a show like The Wire, which was constantly on the bubble and so had to develop storylines that would wrap up in a season while also being aware of the larger outline of their story. This allowed them to adapt to unforseen circumstances like the absence of Dominic West from the fourth season.

Matt said...

Ken,

Friday-Question-Follow up regarding PEACE ON US. To me, it seems like after this episode, the surgical dressing gowns continued to have a very slight ... slight pinkish tint to them. As if they were bleached to bring them back to white but never did quite get there again.

Matt

Johnny Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Johnny Walker said...

Hmm. I wonder if this is why HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER has been weaker this season? They would have no doubt been busy developing THE GOODWIN GAMES at the same time. I also wonder if getting a ninth season (when I think everyone felt eight was enough) was involved in some way? ("We'd feel more inclined to give your new show a shot if you you think you could give us a ninth season of HIMYM..." Could that happen?)

I was also wondering about the 10-90 model -- it seems like a crazy commitment to make after only 10 episodes, but is this where syndication comes in? I've heard the "magic number" for selling shows into syndication is 100 episodes... Are FX expecting to make their money back through that?

Speaking of the weird behind-the-scenes of television, Dan Harmon told an unbelievable story of a "suit" at a party on Kevin Pollack's show.

The whole interview is worth listening to (although Harmon is definitely an acquired taste at times), but here's his story...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QXGjRkjAXrM

I can only imagine how I would react if someone seriously started saying this to me at a party! You'd surely have to laugh, and try to bring them down to earth?

Ben Koch said...

Re: Creator/defector, I'm amused by the Kuzui's. They financed and directed the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie. When Joss Whedon brought it to TV, they were named executive producers and still receive checks, though they never had anything to do with the show, a quirk of their original movie contracts.

DonBoy said...

It turns out Goodwin Games premieres on Fox on Mon. 5/20, which looks like the last week of sweeps. GG is on at 8:30, which means that if HIMYM does an hour season finale GG would be on against Bayes/Thomas's other, bigger show,so..uh, thanks for the pickup Fox?

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Sam Simon definitely deserves the mention. He gets 20-30 million dollars every year, simply for having that credit.

In fact, the last Simpsons episode based on one of his original story ideas was a season 13 episode (Al Jean as the exec producer) about the family living in a 19th century house, as part of a TV show. That episode was written by Brian Pollack and Mert Rich.

iain said...

Ken, any comments on the latest example of how bad it's going for NBC? The Cleveland affiliate pre-empted the 9-11 Thursday line-up for a 21 year old Matlock re-run! & drew better ratings (& kept more ad revenue).

Granted, CLE is not the biggest market, but this is a station that paid big bucks to bring in Russ Mitchell from CBS to be its news anchor. Do you see other markets follow this example of giving NBC the finger...& if you were in charge, how would you stop the bleeding?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Johnny: it certainly doesn't benefit the network, since HIMYM is on CBS and GG is on Fox. But it might benefit the studio/production company...I do think GG is part of why HIMYM has been so weak this year.

wg

Elf said...

@Eduardo, doesn't a big chunk of the money Sam Simon receives for the Simpsons then get passed on to his ex-wife, Jennifer Tilly as part of their alimony agreement?

Mike Schryver said...

Multi-talented as he was, I can't see Ronny Graham's name without thinking of his inspired turn in the Danny DeVito cable movie "The Ratings Game", from the mid-80s.

He played a possibly-crazy kid's show host whose show gets cancelled, and he isn't happy about it.

Adam said...

Friday Question: I've noticed that comedies tend to keep either one director or a few directors and use them for the run of the show (or at least an entire season) where dramas will have a maybe 13 or more directors in a season. Is this just a timing issue between a half hour and an hour long show?

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested to know where are they still showing reruns of "NewsRadio"?

Mitchell McLean said...

In Atlanta, The CW often airs News Radio on Sunday afternoon.

Question Mark said...

I would argue that a network might be better served by committing a full season to a show. Many viewers have been conditioned to not start watching a new series since they (in most cases rightly) presume it'll probably get canceled quickly. Why invest the time in a show that's not long for this world?

If networks would be less quick with the trigger, it would give time for shows to find an audience along the way, a la Cheers. Maybe even some of these shows that look terrible after their first few shows and get canceled needed some more time to find their legs, to boot --- had Parks & Rec gotten the axe after its first five (admittedly weak) episodes, we would've missed out on seeing the creators fix the problems and deliver a TV classic.

A_Homer said...

Ken
I just read this splitsider post about Frasier, interesting take for sure, including this one point that I'd like to know if you agree with: (sorry long paste-in, but anyway link's available)

"David Hyde Pierce describes Niles as "what Frasier would be if he had never gone to Boston and never been exposed to the people at Cheers." This provides us with an opportunity to peer into a strange alternate reality, and we find out that without Cheers in his life, Frasier would became a fussy, loveless germaphobe like his brother. When Frasier arrived to Seattle, wounded and impressionable, he should have avoided the fidgety Niles at all cost. Instead, the two became inseparable.
As the show progressed, Niles became much more than a bad influence. Season by season, Frasier grew more arrogant and aloof. But Niles underwent a change himself; at the start of Frasier he was an incredible stiff. But by the end, he had married Daphne, had become a father, and had softened considerably in the process. His character arc is essentially the same Frasier went through in Cheers. Like some kind of emotional vampire, I propose that Niles Crane encouraged all of Frasier’s worst habits, while feeding off of all of his good ones."


http://splitsider.com/2013/03/the-rise-and-fall-of-dr-frasier-crane/#more-24690

Brian Berry said...

Actually, Netflix picked up 26 episodes of House Of Cards. The first 13 out now comprise its first 'season' : http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenrosenbaum/2013/02/05/netflix-risky-stratedy-for-house-of-cards/

And the pickup of Arrested was originally picked up for 10, then bumped to 14. And Arrested Development I think has been planned as a finite run.

House Of Cards could go longer if was 'picked up' beyond 26 (although it's an adaptation of a set of British mini-series, so it has source material and an arc to start with.)

I'm not sure if the 'watch them in any order' argument holds up for the Netfix model, as they are definitely presented to the viewer in a preferred viewing order.

For Arrested, as it's more of a 'sitcom' (like Anger Management) one could I guess dip in & out of order, but with House Of Cards - it has an arc, and the final 3 episodes really comprise one long season ender - so it's more tightly wound than say, a West Wing, where more eps stand on their own.

Nat Gerter (sitcom room veteran) said...

Netflix is actually a great gift to arc-based storytelling, because you don't have to worry that the viewer missed an episode when they were on vacation, or any such thing. Arc-based series on network TV seem to be facing viewer reluctance because so many get cancelled before the story resolves; as Netflix posts the whole season/arc at once, one need not be concerned with that. So far, their original series are the miniseries-based House Of Cards, a continuation of the fairly-arc-y Arrested Development, and Hemlock Grove, which I heard is long-story based. (And Lillyhammer, which I didn't stick with long enough to judge; that's more a judgment of how I watch TV, which is mainly with my eyes on my computer and thus works poorly with subtitles, than a judgment of the work itself.)

Anonymous said...

That actor who became a complete hard-ass when directing reminds of that great Cheers episode where Coach became a Little League coach.

What have your worked on so far, Coach? Nicknames!

Aron said...

I do think you had at least one perfect episode: I on Sports episode of Cheers. Maybe the most important episode in the show's long run. Not only was it hysterical, but it let the audience know that Cheers was still going to be marketable without Shelley Long.

Mark B. said...

Ken,

I don't know how much you keep track of the other Ken Levine, but I thought I'd let you know that a new game by him, Bioshock: Infinite is coming out the 26th of this month, so you might start getting even more hits than usual for a while, and possibly some confused comments.

Gillian Horvath said...

Cable Nets and first-run syndication have been offering full-season orders for 20 years. And yes, as a writer it is a pleasure to be able to plan the season's reveals with the knowledge that you *will* be filming and airing all 22 (or, these days, 13). I love the Netflix model and belive, like others here, that it is designed to be long-arc-friendly, and viewer-marathon friendly.