Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Questions

Next week I’ll have Good Friday Questions but these are pretty decent too.

Joseph Scarbrough has a follow-up to my post on anthologies:

If networks aren't willing to do anthology series because it cost too much to have new sets and new actors come in all the time... then, how is that any different from having new sets and actors on a regular weekly series? Like say if the main characters find themselves in a new diner, or at a hotel, or at a distant relative's house, and then all the guest actors? Isn't that kind of the same?

People generally tune into shows because they are familiar with and enjoy the characters. They like the continuity. Anthologies introduce new main characters each week.  So it's essentially a pilot a week.  And although there are swing sets (sets used only once) there are also primary sets that are used every week. These offset the cost of the new ones.

Plus, studios all have warehouses of sets. So a cafĂ© you see on CSI can be dressed up differently and used on BONES.   They don't have to build them all from scratch.

In the ‘60s you had some hybrids like THE FUGITIVE and ROUTE 66. These had main stars who traveled to different towns each week and encountered Mickey Rooney or Yvonne Craig. But you watched because you cared about those series stars. (Only I watched because of Yvonne Craig.)

Mitchell Hundred asks:

As a writer/showrunner, how can you tell when a show has run its course?

When someone in the room suggests the talent show episode and you don’t automatically fire him.

Seriously though, for me, it's when the characters cease to surprise me. When there’s nothing any of them could say or do that I couldn’t predict in my sleep, then it’s time to go.

Well, actually, that’s when you negotiate a huge raise from the network and end the series a year later.

Freebie and The Bean (which was a fun movie from the ‘70s) wonders:

Do you think "marathon" showings of reruns help promote a show's popularity and ultimately its longevity?

Absolutely. A great example is WINGS. It was doing okay on NBC but when the USA network picked it up and aired it nineteen hours a day the ratings on NBC went way up. Same is true with LAW & ORDER and now NCIS.

Of course you have to have enough episodes to make this equation work. Hence, I don’t think we'll be able to resurrect BIG WAVE DAVE’S by showing the six episodes over and over again eleven times a day. Not that it isn’t worth a try.

And finally, from Chris:

Some shows (Seinfeld, Married...with Children, Night Court) ended every episode with the audience clapping whether there was a punchline there or not? How do you feel about doing that? It kind of makes it feel more like a live play.

I hate it because it’s very self-congratulatory. If something happens in the body of a show that results in a spontaneous round of applause then fine. But I hate applause at the end of a show and I hate applause when characters first enter. On my shows I always have the warm-up guy introduce the cast to the studio audience before the show. And I also have him introduce any notable guest stars unless their entrance is a big intended surprise. I furthermore dislike when characters comment on each other’s lines. “That’s hilarious!” “What a brilliant solution!”, etc. Ugh!  It's a pet peeve but I hate when shows toot their own horn.

What's your Friday Question?

41 comments:

John said...

The over saturation can cut both ways, too. Whether it's USA/TBS/TNT/ION running them one after on a night (or every night), or the kids getting seasons on DVD (or finding them on Netflix) and watching them until I cannot stand them anymore because I have heard them enough to know what's going on. BBT is a show I like, and I watch the reruns (one of them) 2-3 days a week. BUT, I can barely watch anything from the first couple seasons from overkill. Another example being Psych on ION. I can watch one of them without being too annoyed, but when ION used to have them on from dinner until dawn on Saturday nights, I had to go take the TV back over.

willieb said...

My wife and I -- who regularly deliver wise and pithy critiques of television shows from the comfort of our couch -- always say a show is on its last legs when a)the talent show comes on (thanks for validating, Ken), and b)the cast takes a heavily-sponsored vacation to Hawaii.

Gazzoo said...
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Gazzoo said...

Regarding the applause at the end of eps, I felt the same displeasure with the musical sting and freeze-frame that M*A*S*H added to the end starting in season six...it often felt like a forced rimshot and took me out of the reality of the show.

Murray said...

My benchmark for when a show is running out of gas is the "dream sequence". Usually a dream, sometimes a more exotic gimmick, the entire cast are suddenly in the Wild West, spurs jingling down the street of Tombstone. Or any genre or setting you can imagine, but it's usually a western or gangster venue 'cause they're cheap and available.

It just screams to me that key pillars of the show (actors, writers, whoever) are sick to the teeth of another story wearing the same costume going to the same office/bar/hospital set. They're tired of this game of "Let's Pretend" and want a new one.

Hollywoodaholic said...

"Route 66" was actually uniquely filmed on locations all around the country as the production moved from town to town following writer Stirling Silliphant's research jaunts. "The Fugitive" was only shot around southern California, and it shows. Just like one of my current favorite shows, "Justified," now tries, in vain, to pass the dry, barren hills of Southern California as the rich hills of Appalachia.

The only other show to ambitiously do what "Route 66" did was "I Spy," actually shooting all over the world. That's one of the reasons (besides the great chemistry of Robert Culp and Bill Cosby) it still holds up so beautifully today. Locations rule.

ScottyB said...

Crazy-mad hooting when a character enters is even worse than applause. It's why I can't stomach 'Married With Children' to this day, funny as the show was.

Fred Beiderbecke said...

I had a couple of questions.

1. Watching Community on Netflix the shows seemed to be slightly different in lengths, usually about 21 minutes and seconds. How do you do the timing for the time allowed? Do they ever sell more commercials and tell you to cut time, or vice versa?

2. It seems alot of people that have recurring roles on series have been popping up as guest stars on other series (Peter/Neil from White Collar on Body of Proof/The New Normal as an example). I never really noticed that much before, is there any reason why it seems to be happening now?

Michael said...

Murray, it's interesting that you say that when you consider that a couple of the funniest Dick Van Dyke Shows involved dreams, and one of the most controversial and interesting MASH episodes was the one in which the characters dream.

The applause does get tedious. But I remember reading about one where I'd make a concession. I think it was on Mad About You that Carol Burnett and Carroll O'Connor played parents? They wrote it so the two of them entered separately so they would each get the ovation they deserved.

John said...

Ken when you and David had to do a multi story-arc show like MASH, where one arc might be straight comedy and the other more serious, did you try to focus on writing each thread separately, or did you work on both story arcs at the same time?

(As far as the anthology shows go, I'm trying to imagine what the costs to Columbia and CBS would be today to try and do something like Route 66, with as many exterior remote locations as the show did. Aside from the stars and certain guests, I agree with Hollywoodaholic that the location shooting was one of the main highlights of the show.)

Bunkum said...

Ken - my question is: What's it like working on a show that you and all the staff know is a turkey? Do you ever find yourself holding back jokes/plotlines in order to save them for a 'better' show? Does working on something you know is bad hinder you, or affect the amount of effort you put into the job?

Terrence Moss said...

I'm in the minorority on a lot of things including anthologies. If a network wants to make it work at cost, they'll make it work at cost.

They don't have to be ridiculously expensive. Re-use sets. Use simple but compelling character piece. Don't bring in expensive people. Create new stars.

If the anthology becomes a hit, people will clamor and will clamor at scale.

Terrence Moss said...
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MitchJ said...

When you said "talent show episode" I had a One Day At A Time flashback. LOL.

Terry said...

Ken, I recently read an article in Entertainment Weekly about the drop in sex scenes in mainstream Hollywood movies. I'm curious as to your thoughts on this trend.

Also the article quoted an exec from a company that analyzes scripts for studios. I had no idea such a business existed. What do these companies actually do when they analyze a script? What do they look for? Are the services worth it or is it just another meaningless step that can hurt an otherwise fine script?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Thanks again for the insight Ken.

My thoughts on Chris's question is not only do I dislike the audience applauding the end of the episode (even when there isn't a punch line), but I also like whenever the audience goes wild each episode where the main stars enter the stage for the first time in the story. SANFORD AND SON was one of the worst offenders of this. There'd be a knock at the door, Fred answers, Esther, Grady, Bubba, or whoever would be there, the audience would go wild, then all of the actors would just stand there in frozen positions, waiting for the audience to quiet down, so they can resume the scene. That's part of the reason why I prefer laugh track sitcoms as opposed to live sitcoms: with laugh tracks, you can control the reaction to better suit the story flow, but with live audiences, you have these problems.

Keith said...

When I heard talent show, I thought Lenny & The Squigtones.

RCP said...

Then there's the type of gratuitous applause that occurs whenever a character sings (usually badly) or dances (usually badly) and "earns" cheers and whistles. These may be endearing characters and the audience is just showing its affection, but it usually feels overblown and a bit embarassing - especially when it's obviously canned.

Casey said...

Generally, in a sitcom with a live audience who reacts loudly and enthusiastically to character entrances and other provocations, the reactions have been encouraged. Not that audiences don't do that on their own sometimes, but generally they've been told to play. It big.

Phillip B said...

A quick search on IMDB shows there have been 38,200 talent show episodes.

This is how the road to hell is really paved...

Chicago Pinot said...

RCP: Cheers had some great musical moments: Frasier singing "Hey There (You with the Stars in Your Eyes"), Rebecca mangling "We've Got Tonight", Woody with the endearing "Kelly Song" and the cold open with the whole bar singing "We Will Rock You." Remember those?

benson said...

One that I remember hating was Fonzie entering on Happy Days- couldn't stand it. But then, it was a staple of early television. Lucy, DVD, Jack Benny, etc, just about any show done with a live audience, when a guest star appeared.

I know all the arguments for 3 camera-live audience productions, but what is a great audience live and thus gooses the performers just kills the reality of the show for me. Not all shows taped before an audience, just the ones with the wild hyenas.

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

One that I remember hating was Fonzie entering on Happy Days- couldn't stand it. But then, it was a staple of early television
At least that was a break-out character. That show limped along after Ron Howard and I think Henry Winkler had left, and Jenny Piccolo and that blond guy who showed up later on MWC was getting those ovations. I think the worst offender was Welcome Back Kotter, which I think started with Travolta, and by the time that show gave up the ghost, Mr Woodman was getting them. Full disclosure, I liked Mr Woodman.

D. McEwan said...

"I furthermore dislike when characters comment on each other’s lines. 'That’s hilarious!' 'What a brilliant solution!', etc. Ugh! It's a pet peeve but I hate when shows toot their own horn."

For me too. Any time a character tells another character: "That is GENIUS!, what I am hearing is the writer congratulating himself.

Right now, on the Dallas revival show (which I am LOVING!), they're going on and on about a plan JR set in motion just before he was killed which he said would be "My masterpiece." The term "masterpiece" has now been used about 20 times in reference to the long-range plotline they have going for the rest of the season. Okay, but then it sure as hell, damn well better BE a masterpiece when we find out what it is.

Writers, don't have your characters tell us how brilliant you think you are. Just have them show us it.

Karl said...

The actress that plays Snow White on Once Upon A Time is a pretty good ringer for Yvonne Craig, if they ever do a movie on her life shed be a great fit.

Jake Mabe said...

I actually thought "The Fugitive" production team did a great job, by and large, disguising the fact the show was mainly shot in southern California -- until the fourth, final season. Why? Because it was filmed in color. (It also took away the series' film noir quality.)

You know, I used to love the character entrance applause for Fonz when I was a kid. Hell, I used to clap for Mr. Woodman on "Kotter," especially during that dreadful final season. "The Simpsons" lampooned that once when Homer walked into Moe's and I about lost my lunch.

I'd have to go back and look at a show like "Happy Days" to see how I would react now. Different era, I guess. For me, it seemed to work well on "Happy Days" and was a little obnoxious everywhere else.

Oh, and per a previous reader's guess, Henry Winkler never did leave "Happy Days." The show did spend a lot of time focusing on the kids for a few years after Ron Howard left, though. Heck, they had Fonz teaching at a school with Ted McGinley toward the end...

Cap'n Bob said...

My yardstick for telling when a show has run out of steam is when it has either a wedding or a baby. Or, worse, both.

The hooting, applauding audiences are just a reflection of society's lack of boundaries and decorum. The same thing happens at every graduation ceremony I've attended in the past ten years. The imbeciles who do it are usually the friends and/or family of some cretin whose graduation was an act of mercy.

Greg Ehrbar said...

For shows like "Lucy" or "The Honeymooners," or even several Norman Lear shows, the applause on entrances and exits seemed to fit the on-stage feel of them.

What was odd was when one-camera filmed shows like "Dennis the Menace" had canned applause to go with the canned laughter.

As for the signs of a sinking show, my brother always says that you know the idea well is getting low when the characters start wearing a lot of costumes, which could be for a talent show or a party -- though some show characters hauled out the costumes pretty early.

Stacy said...

My 7-year-old enjoys a show called "Marvin Marvin" which I believe airs on Nickelodeon. This has to be one of the worst written shows that I've ever viewed. While I understand that the target audience is children and teens, it's also very possible to write a show geared toward that demographic that doesn't rely on belching and yelling. How is it that so many intelligent and witty scripts can be submitted and rejected, yet writers can be hired to write shows like this? I dare you to watch an episode!

YEKIMI said...

"Route 66" had THREE shows set in Cleveland, Ohio. I guess Martin Milner and company must have been pretty lousy at following directions because Route 66 is nowhere near Cleveland....you gotta go all the way to Chicago to catch Route 66. Bet they wish they had had GPS back in those days! I can only figure one of them said "Hey! We're in Cleveland, not Chicago! Why the hell didn't you stop and ask for directions?" and the other one said "What's the problem? Both cities begin with a "C".

Oliver said...

Have you seen the British sitcom Mrs. Brown's Boys? What's your opinion on it?

It's a very old-fashioned multi-camera sitcom that gets horrific reviews but has 10 million viewers and is the most popular show on UK television.

Will Fitzgerald said...

Friday Question: 35 of the 48 sitcoms in development this Pilot Season, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/tv-pilots-2013-complete-guide-413377)
are Single Camera. Any thoughts? Is that usual, or a marked upswing due to the success of shows like Modern Family and New Girl.

Jake Mabe said...

"Route 66" actually went a lot of places that were nowhere near Route 66.

Kaleberg said...

We who have read Mad Magazine know that very little of Route 66 was set anywhere near Route 66. That was the running gag in their parody. (Mad Magazine - We watch television, so you don't have to.)

Star Trek was a classic hybrid anthology show. Supposedly Rodenberry pitched its ability to recycle old sets as a reason it could be made on budget. I'm pretty sure they actually did do a western at one point.

D. McEwan said...

Oh, yes, Star Trek did a western near the end of its run, with the crew at The Gunfight at the O.K. Corrall. It's generally consdered the worst episode of Star Trek ever. Oddly enough, The First Doctor on Doctor Who also visited The Gunfight at the O.K. Corrall, in what is generally considered the worst Doctor Who story ever. Sci-fi shows,heed their examples and avoid Tombstone, Arizona.

RCP said...

Chicago Pinot...

Those are good examples of performances that work – another one I can think of was Bea Arthur singing “What’ll I Do” on The Golden Girls. I’m thinking more along the lines of mediocre performances over the years - usually climaxing in the obligatory chorus line kicking its legs to thunderous applause. On the other hand, lackluster applause or flying tomatoes wouldn’t be appropriate either.

Donald said...

Re: The talent show episode. One of the great moments on "Barney Miller" well into its run was when Barney was asked by someone to participate in a police talent show. Barney (portrayed by Hal Linden, a Broadway veteran), scoffs at the suggestion, saying something along the lines of, "I'm a cop."

cadavra said...

A friend of mine once opined that a show had jumped the shark when "the fat guy gets stuck in the window." Two days later, "Cheers" had an episode in which Norm got stuck in a hole in the wall. I thought, "Uh-oh," but fortunately the show maintained.

The best example of a hybrid anthology was "The Richard Boone Show." He had a cast of ten, and each week they'd do a different story with that same cast, some playing leads, others supporting, reversing it the next week, and so on. It was repertory in the truest sense of the term.

D. McEwan said...

The Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh also survived the fat-bear-stuck-in-a-rabbit-hole episode quite well.

telemanas said...

Just recently found your blog and I have a question, that has been bugging me for years. Which occurs more often - the producers deciding to kill off the character or the character is killed off because the actor and the crew did not get along? I know that everyone pretends that it's the first option, but I don't buy it (English is not my native language, so sorry for the mistakes)

Stephen said...

Curious to get your thoughts on this article about the lack of gender/race/age diversity in the WGA: http://insidetv.ew.com/2013/03/27/study-tv-writers-mostly-white-and-male/