Friday, May 03, 2013

Friday Questions

Friday Questions this week come to you from Walla Walla, Washington. Your first question is “what am I doing in Walla Walla, Washington?” I spoke last night at the kick off banquet for their summer college league team, the Sweets. Thanks to all for a great and fun evening. Okay, here are your Q’s and my A’s:

Starting us off is Andrew Wickliffe:

I'm watching season 11 of MASH right now and it seems like production values changed a lot. Like they went to videotape or sets instead of location. The entire show looks different; starting a few episodes after Radar left.

MASH never went to videotape. The look of a show can change if the Director of Photography (Cinematographer) changes. Each DP has his own preference and distinct look. Over the eleven seasons, MASH had several DP’s. That’s probably what you’re reacting to.

Remember also that MASH only filmed exteriors out at the Malibu Ranch during the summer and early fall while there was still a lot of daytime light. Once we went to Pacific Standard Time and it got dark at 5:00 we could no longer fit all the work that was needed into the day. So for the last seven or eight shows each season, any exterior shot (day or night) was filmed on a soundstage. And those tended to look crappy, especially the daytime ones.  Think Brady Bunch backyard.

In planning out the season we purposely held back shows that didn’t require daytime exteriors and filmed those towards the end of the year.  And shows that did need a lot of exteriors were moved up.

The first MASH script ever written with Charles Winchester in it was “Merchant of Korea” written by me and David Isaacs. But since the plotline involved a night-time poker game we didn’t actually shoot the show until maybe the 15th or 16th episode of the season. That script was used as a template however for the other writers to write the Charles character.  And those subsequently aired before ours. 

From Mark Roman:

The Mantra used to be that if you were over 40 that you were too old to write for a sitcom.

I've seen numerous writers stand by those words and said the only way to be 40 on the show it to Create The Show.

Does this theory still carry any weight or has this changed?

There is definitely an age bias. At least in sitcoms. But networks are not unaware that the writers for their most successful shows – BIG BANG THEORY, MODERN FAMILY, TWO AND A HALF MEN, etc. are generally over forty, and in some cases, over fifty.

It’s definitely harder to get work if you’re over forty but not impossible. One way certainly is to create a show. But there are a number of older writers who are still in demand because of their talent and experience.

Just because you’re forty doesn’t mean you’re not hip. Louis C.K. is forty-five.

worzel wonders:

What is the brand of shirt that Sam Malone (Ted Danson) wears on CHEERS?

Generally Nike. A few years ago I wrote a post about how I borrowed Ted’s wardrobe for an article about me in GQ. (Yes, as unbelievable as that sounds, GQ once did an article about me.) You can read that post here.

And finally, Charlie Van Dyke, whose voice you hear on 1000 radio stations and 700 TV stations, asks:

What's with the current deal of rolling credits so long at the start of a show? I watched two shows on CBS last night and the credits kept popping up for the first 15 minutes of both shows.

Annoying, isn’t it? This is a by-product of networks eliminating opening titles and credits. They fear opening titles cause tune-out. Personally, I think they’re dead wrong. I love opening titles and theme songs. Even with my DVR I never fast-forward through the HOMELAND opening titles, or JUSTIFIED, or any show. Do you fast-forward through the opening titles of MASH or CHEERS? In some cases the opening titles are the best thing about a show. MIAMI VICE falls under that category for me.

But as a result, all the actor, writer, director, producer, and guest cast credits have to be snuck into the content of the show. And in many cases that’s a lot of names.

As a writer it drives me crazy because these credits distract an audience. I want viewers paying attention to the story and jokes. But practically all shows do it now so that irritating practice is here to stay.  It's like a performer trying to sing while waiters are still clearing tables. 

What’s your question? They will find me no matter where in the world I am.

51 comments:

Hollywoodaholic said...

Guilty of fast forwarding M*A*S*H and and other DVD or DVR-ed shows through the credits... up to the writer(s) or director. Life is short.

Rinaldo said...

Everyone here might agree that the main titles and credits are interesting and we always pay attention. But then, we're self-selected as the small group exceptionally interested in that sort of thing, because we're here to read Ken's blog that tells us that sort of information.

Andy Ihnatko said...

How did "Frasier" put together those brilliant silent scenes that played out under the end music? Were they fully written or did everyone just work out a funny piece of business during rehearsals?

I think I'd even watch a compilation of all eleven seasons' worth. Each one is a pretty little gem.

Mike Barer said...

Our old family business is on the corner of 4th and Rose, it's now Oxarc. Sorry, saw a chance to blow my horn.

John said...

Ken, if I remember right, you said your favorite season of Cheers was Season 1 with the establishment and development of the characters. But since the show tends to be divided by fans into the pre- and post-Shelly Long years, do you have a favorite year among Seasons 6-11 for the Kirstie Alley episodes?

Mark said...

How about a link to that GQ article on you? I couldn't find in a quick search.

Thanks!

Paul Duca said...

I always watch the credits...just as I never leave a movie theater until they end.

Diogo said...

for me the taxi intro is still the most evocative. very simple, a solitary cab going across a bridge, to the sound of light sax, flute, piano and drums. doesn't get much better than that. and I also appreciate how soft it is, compared to other theme songs. that's still the one to beat for me.

chuckcd said...

I can hear Ernie Harwell saying,
"and a man from Walla Walla caught that ball."

Brian said...

Regarding M*A*S*H's visuals - I believe the change Andrew mentions also comes from a change in film stocks. The quality of the images went waaaay up. It couldn't simply be a change in DP's.

Videotape was still considered vastly inferior in those days(and it was). We should be thankful the series was shot and mastered on film - it'll allow it to be upgraded to HD in the future, while many of M*A*SH's contemporaries from that time(like All in the Family), are stuck in SD videotape forever.

Jen said...

I appreciate a good opening titles/song. I think Elementary has a great opening, I never get tired of watching it. Game of Thrones is another - really long, but so visually interesting I love to watch it.

My big pet peeve is the network ad pop ups they run about upcoming shows, especially on Canadian networks (CTV and Global are the worst) - they often pop up right as the guest stars are running and I miss all the names.

James said...

As a fan of all baseball including minor league baseball you misrepresented the Walla Walla Sweets. They are a collegiate summer baseball team, not a minor league team. While the entertainment value may be the same and the West Coast League is a solid summer team they are not professionals and therefore not minor league.

Minor League Baseball or MiLB officially only constitutes teams affiliated with major league baseball teams. There are also independent minor league teams that vary in talent levels and pay rates (from the Pecos League at or near the bottom to the Atlantic League at the top).

Summer Collegiate ball is more like internships for players who don't get paid but need to play over the summers and for hitters to show they can hit with wood bats. The best often play in the Cape Cod League. Many of these players will never play professionally. A great book to read on the Cape Cod League is "The Last Best League" by Jim Collins.

Sorry to be so picky but the structure of baseball under MLB is often misunderstood and even in a blog for non sports it should be accurate.

Steve said...

I fast-forward through opening credits/themes if that's all they are. Why not? For even the most memorable openings, I know what the theme sounds like; I know what the visuals look like. Why do I need to hear/see it every time if given the option of skipping it? I think shows like Frasier and Modern Family do it right--a very brief opening (10 seconds) and then right into the show.

Also, my understanding--I could be wrong--is that producers, perhaps with network input, also make the credits part of the show because the time of each episode is so much shorter these days. If you have three fewer minutes for each half-hour episode than 20 years ago, the first thing that will go is a minute-long theme that is the same every week.

William said...

I see the opening credits as my chance to press play on my computer (which is hooked up to my TV), and still be back on my couch with a focus on the show, before the entertainment starts.

As long as people are watching TV Shows via their computer, there needs to be a 10-15 second delay between the start of the show and the start of the fresh content.

Jake Mabe said...

It bugs me that an entire generation is growing up without very many TV theme songs. I NEVER fast forward through a theme or opening credits and I sure as heck never tune out.

But, these decisions I guess are made by the same people who thought it would be a good idea to prompt us when to laugh. I do turn the laugh track off every single time I watch "M*A*S*H" on DVD.

Matt said...

--Andrew Wickliffe--

I know what you mean by "looking different." The same thing applies to "The Waltons." Somewhere along 1978-79-80, the whole "look" to the show changed. Like you, I can't explain it other than it "looking different."

Mike Barer said...

I had never heard of "summer collegiate baseball" until I read about the WW Sweets, so I would assume that is a common mistake.

Carol said...

Hey, Ken. I thought you might find this article interesting, if you haven't already seen it. It's about 'television shows all being alike'.

http://www.cracked.com/blog/the-4-types-tv-shows-that-need-to-go-away/

Mike Carlin said...

Depends on the series for me... some title-sequences I'll fast-forward through, but others (like DEXTER) are so well done that they're a part of my "psych-up" for the show itself!

Diana M said...

I *love* the opening credits of "Game of Thrones." The theme song gets me pumped and excited about the upcoming episode, and we hum it for weeks when we are waiting for the season to start.

Carolyn said...

A future Friday question comes after watching an ad on the local OTA station that plays M*A*S*H reruns (MeTV.) The ad showcases the Klinger Collection. I wonder if there was ever anything the writers came up with that Jamie Farr said "No" to. From the ad, I say not. (I'm partial to the Queen of the Nile outfit.)

Toledo said...

Ah, yes. Walla Walla. The town so nice they named it twice. Home of Batman (or at least Adam West). My son went to Whitman College there, so I know it well.

Marty Fufkin said...

I have to agree about those rolling credits. When I first start watching a show, they are benign and I don't notice them. But the first time I notice the credits still going and I see the timer on my player at 15 min, I think "WTF" and from that point forward I notice every... single ... time.

The Good Wife is the main culprit among the shows I follow. Even The West Wing, which had a long opening sequence, still had a lengthy roll of producers, writers, directors and guest stars churning away for the first quarter.

I like the way Mad Men does things. Short opening sequence (and a brilliant one at that), gives me the info I want at the top (namely, writer and director) and gets on with it.

therapydoc said...

Any idea if the Mash theme song was ever associated with a real suicide? It always creeped me out, the thought that people might sing it and then pop a cyanide.

Mark P. said...

I don't fast forward through the Cheers opening titles because (a) the theme song's great and (b) in syndication it's about 12 seconds long.

I was noticing the other day how British shows and a handful of US shows like SIx Feet Under display the writers credits prominently, as part of the opening titles, instead of being buried in the opening few minutes of the show. And Bonanza displayed the writer, director, and producer credits in a separate title sequence accompanied by a rousing fanfare. Wish there were more of that.

Diana M said...

Speaking of the poor quality of videotape, I was recently watching the very fine BBC miniseries from (I believe) the 70's called "Fall of Eagles." For this show, as with many BBC shows of that era, the productions would use videotape (with cheap, soap-opera lighting)for indoor scenes and what appears to be film for the outdoor scenes. I remember one scene in the first episode where the characters passed from indoors to outdoors during the course of a conversation, and the contrast in film quality was so jarring that it took me completely out of the show for a moment.

Charles H. Bryan said...

I'll sometimes fast forward or skip opening credits, but usually if I'm watching shows on DVD and I'm very familiar with the theme. I think they're longer because isn't every member of the writing staff listed as a producer?

That Miami Vice opening? The thing that strikes me is that it now seems slowly paced. Most of those clips would be half as long today. Thanks, television, for making me ADD.

Glenn Rabney said...

Worked on a show where would write about 20 seconds of business so that credits and such could be run and not be over the show. Our director never understood that so he would direct the business in a way that would make it integral to the show and not just business. This required us to start writing an additional 10 seconds of business in front of our business. Needless to say the show didn't last long.

Ike said...

It's a beautiful day for a ball game, for a ball game, today....from Walla Walla Washington to Kalamazoo...I don't remember much of that song, except those 2 phrases.

Alex said...

I don't fast forward through opening themes/credits when I'm just watching one episode of the show.

But when I binge watch something, as is increasingly for me common these days I will. As an example, I recently watch the 12 episodes of the Americans over three days but I think I only saw the opening theme, which is very nicely done, once or twice.

I also never watch the opening credits for Game of Thrones because, despite the fact that they are brilliant, they are also 23 hours long.

Unknown said...

I hope you gave a shout out to Tom Tuttle during your sojourn to Walla Walla

James said...

Lately I've been rewatching my Mary Tyler Moore Show DVDs. If I've watched a bunch of episodes, I'll often skip past the opening credits simply because it's too repetetive; but if it's been awhile or if I'm in the mood, I'll watch it and just immerse myself in it. I love the music, love the visuals, the whole thing. I like it for nostalgia (I grew up with it) but I still enjoy it fresh as an adult.

The show wouldn't be less funny without it, but the titles add something to it. A bit like keeping fine jewelry in a black velvet box.

donnie said...

You can't convince me that ANYONE would skip the opening credits & theme of Hawaii 5-0! That's a must watch, every. single. time.

Question Mark said...

I'll add some more praise for the Game Of Thrones credits. Not only are they visually cool, they also tie into the story --- you learn which storylines and actors are going to be on the show that week by looking to see which names pop up in the credits and which locations are/aren't featured on the map. For instance, if the Wall doesn't appear one week, then you know that episode won't be checking in on Jon Snow and Sam Tarly. If the map doesn't take us across the sea, then you know Daenerys and company have the week off.

Wayne said...

You got credits. You got popup promos. You got closed captions. I think Jerry Seinfeld said it best. If I want to read, I'll open a book.

Mike said...

I remember my mom telling me that, growing up, she'd watch Hogan's Heroes just to get that opening theme song. She hated the actual show, but loved the theme song.

And speaking of lengthy credits, more than once have I had to back up and watch the first few minutes of a show again because I've been too focused on the guest cast and/or the writers to pay attention to the action. One of the many ways DVR is my friend.

Liggie said...

Since you mentioned the Sweets, here's a baseball FQ. Do you think more baseball announcers will be referring to those new actuarial-like statistics the SABR-metrics geeks love, like WAR (Wins Above Replacement), OPS (On-Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage), Defensive Runs Saved, etc.? Or will they be sticking to the familiar ERA, RBIs, home runs, batting average, etc? Would you ever use those?

Loosehead said...

Jen, those pop-up ads in the programs are extremely annoying, aren't they. Here in the UK, Sky has taken to trailering programs IN THE AD BREAK FOR THE PROGRAM THEY'RE TRAILERING! (sorry about the shouting). "Castle at 9!" shown in the ad break at 9:15 in...Castle.

Mac said...

I'd have put money on Walla Walla being somewhere in the Australian outback, but there you go.

I never liked the Cheers opening sequence until, after a few shows, some Pavlovian response kicked in and it became synonymous with the reward of all those laughs. "Taxi" on the other hand, I loved from the off - those terrific shots of New York set it up perfectly, and that great saxophone...

Steve B. said...

Ken, it seems that TV writing used to be more of a freelancer business, with less writers on staff and more freelance scripts handed out. If this is true, which do you think was the better system, both for the writers and for the shows?

Pamela Jaye said...

about the BBC thing. I've been watching a couple shows from the 80s and they show upcoming scenes before the ep starts. Also annoying!

Opening Credits - St. Elsewhere has an Opening, music and all, but still ran credits over the opening- didn't they? I remember trying to match names with characters... Granted, they had a big cast.

Pamela Jaye said...

additionally, opening credits during the show push closed captions up into characters' faces. also, the Rating box lands on their faces. TV news loves to air unimportant lower thirds over their footage of things like tornadoes, so you can't see the item in question. I love lower thirds but these ones aren't even answering my questions (who is that talking and where is he or what does he have to do with it? "Coverage of Boston Bombing" I already know. And even if I didn't, you could put it up intermittently.)

Stephen Robinson said...

The main titles and credits are like an overture to a musical (something that's also vanishing, alas). I couldn't imagine the show without them.

Folks have mentioned CHEERS and TAXI, both of which had great "love themes" for the end titles. The slower version of the theme represented the bittersweet sensation of saying goodbye to your friends until next week.

I concede that for many people, the main titles were when you made on last dash to the bathroom or for snacks. In a post-DVR world, you can just pause if you need to take a break.

Johnny Walker said...

Worst opening credits ever? Battlestar Galactica (the rebooted series). Every episode opened with key menus from the episode you were about to see! I've never met a fan who didn't fast forward past them or (more often) just close their eyes during the opening.

Got to say that when I recently watched every episode of Cheers (season 11 for my money, John), I skipped through the opening credits. I love the opening, but after a few episodes it began to grate, and I didn't want to ruin it for myself. If I'm watching a solitary episode of something, or something for the first time, then I never skip. (What's the point? It's 20 seconds, if that.)

Johnny Walker said...

Damn you, auto correct: Menus = moments.

Ron Clark said...

I'll always have a soft spot for the theme to "Wings". Always found it to generate a very peaceful feeling. Who would have thought that Schubert and airplanes would mesh so well?

William C Bonner said...

I admit to not paying all that much attention during opening credits. It depends on the show as to whether I'll scan forward. If the show regularly goes directly to commercial at the end of the credits I'm much more likely to scan past the credits.

Brian said...

Speaking of MASH, what you think of the topics of the later shows, especially Hawkeye having mentall problems. Personally, I didn't care for those kinds of episodes.

roger said...

Ted Danson wore a lot of Nike stuff early on, but from about 1986 onward he wore a lot of hip designer stuff. Guess was probably the most prominent, with Dockers being a close second, and later seasons featured Sam in Dual Control and Pelle Pelle jackets. Even Woody and Cliff were seen in Guess shirts on occasion.

So I suppose this could become a Friday question Ken -- did CHEERS have endorsement deals with any of these clothing companies/designers, or did the costume supervisor just like putting the actors in prominently-labeled designer stuff? (As an aside, whatever it was, it worked, as I became aware of and started wearing those brands because of the show.)

William Gallagher said...

Friday Question

What do you think about stage directions in a script? From what I've read, you and David Isaacs often write quite sparsely but then you'll have a terrific line that the audience will never see.

I'm thinking most particularly of Frasier: Room Service where, having revealed Niles and Lilith in bed, your script says: "And if that's not an act break, we don't know what is."

William

Mike Lopez said...

This is a round-about way of asking a question of Charlie Van Dyke. I used to work at an Indianapolis TV station where we had a Charlie "sweeps" cut of about :60 that was drop dead funny, a satire sendup of TV station promos -- Charlie, please, how can we internet that cut? (Thanks Ken!) Also, can't find it anywhere, hence, this.