Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What a CHEERS outline looked like

In digging through some old papers I came upon a CHEERS outline.  A number of you have asked what a sitcom outline looks like.  There is no set format.  This is the one used by CHEERS, FRASIER, and all of my series.  What we like about it is that half the page is blank.  It's very easy to scribble down notes.   Our outlines are generally about 15 pages. 

Anyway, here's a taste of what a CHEERS outline was like.  The story and script changes from step to step.   A writer turns in an outline.  He gets notes.   He turns in the first draft.  He gets more notes.  Once he turns in the second draft the staff may make further changes before it goes to the stage.  And then during the week of production there's usually more polishing.  

Hope you find this instructive, and oh, I find that whenever I post scripts I get notes from readers.  "You should've said it this way."  "That's not funny."  Like there's anything I can do about it now.   This is a twenty year old outline for a show that has already been shot.  No notes please.  However, you are welcome to rewrite it yourself.  Just don't send it in.    Thanks and enjoy. 



24 comments:

Charles H. Bryan said...

The best thing about it is that I want to keep reading it.

Hey, a Friday Question maybe: Why "Cheers"? Do you recall how many titles were considered before choosing "Cheers"? How much angst goes into choosing a show's name, generally (when it's not just the name of the star or the characters)?(I thought about this when I saw the title for this fall's "The Crazy Ones". I'll check out the show, which I think of as "Mork & Buffy", but that title - blah.)

Carol said...

I'm rather sad I can't read the whole thing. Now I'll never know what it is about the procedure that bothers Fraiser.

MJ said...

Thanks for revealing, overall seems like a stream of conscious draft incorporating the humor... Wonder over what length of time it takes to fully integrate/polish an episode's writing before filming?

Verna said...

1. Friday Q: Would 'Cheers' be popular now? Or, would this show be picked up for today's audience? Especially, since it has no vampires . . . would the writers have put in vampires?

2. Friday Q: I'm sure everyone says/thinks this, but I could write similar character driven outlines to scripts all day long. What is it that takes writers from obscurity to success? Timing? Right place right time? Who you know? Ability to type really well?

Paul R said...

If you want to see how it plays out - it's Season 9, Episode 23, and is on Netflix

Johnny Walker said...

Oh man, to be able to read all 15 pages!

Thanks for posting this, Ken. I've never seen a real outline before.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Interesting. Many thanks for posting that. It does seem more fully fleshed out than I'd have expected.

wg

B.B. Callow said...

Thanks for this, Ken.

A question: Why is the outline so detailed if it's only an outline? If you kept all the dialogue from the teaser and formatted it to script form, it would be very close to what the finished teaser would look like.

Is there really any advantage to creating an outline when you could simply go at a first draft instead? I suspect the amount of plotting/planning would be about the same for both.

Tom Quigley said...

While I've seen plenty of sitcom scripts over the years (including a few CHEERS) in their original formats, I've seen damn few outlines -- maybe not even one, ever. The ones I have seen were for features and basically read like a short story, not the basis for a script. I think that it's great that you kept to the script format to break down the scenes and acts, basically just substituting narrative for the dialogue and action that will be written later. Makes the job of writing an outline a hell of a lot easier and more focused.

One question, Ken: Since we don't see the full 15 pages, were there any major story changes that were decided upon by the producers or writing staff between turning in the outline and writing the first draft of the script?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

But outlines don't work really well if you're trying to pitch a brand new show, do they? I've heard that when it comes to pitching a show to a network, they're more likely to buy it based on some kind of visual presentation (especially if it's a different show) as opposed to 12-15 page outline that they probably wouldn't even read anyway.

chuckcd said...

Thanks for posting this Ken!

Rick Ritzzsopo said...

Curious readers? Watch the episode! It's streaming on Netflix as we ponder. Probably not too many episodes called RAT GIRL!

Interesting, Ken. I have no writing ambitions, even these 2 paragraphs are too much for me! But it is interesting to find out how these characters come to life and entertain me even today!

Dana Gabbard said...

"I've heard that when it comes to pitching a show to a network, they're more likely to buy it based on some kind of visual presentation..."

Walt Disney over a weekend worked with artist Herb Ryman to create a visual of the concept of Disneyland to sell ABC on the TV show that would tie-in with the park and help finance its construction.

Mike Schryver said...

Speaking of vampires, I've been assuming that the main reason vampires have been made popular, and are in every show/movie, is that it's cheaper to shoot poorly-lit scenes. I'm guessing you don't have to spend as much on sets and details. Even shows without vampires are dark and poorly-lit now. Is there something to that?

Roger R. said...

What a treat. Thanks!

D. Mitchell said...

So here's my "Friday question," prompted by a recent viewing of an old "Newhart" episode. Keeping in mind that I'm nowhere close to showbusiness and may not know what I'm talking about, my understanding is that only actors with speaking roles join Actor's Equity, and everyone else is considered an extra. So what happens with characters like "Darryl" and the "other brother Darryl" on Newhart who are recurring characters on a show but never speak? Are they officially extras for the duration of the show?

ed said...

I'm new to this blog, so maybe you've already answered this, and it's kind of a lame question but I've always wondered about it.

On Cheers, the character of Woody is played by an actor named Woody. Is that coincidence? Do the names of characters sometimes get changed because of the actors?

Thanks.

A Non-Emus said...

ed, it has been stated that in this case it was a coincidence. The character was already named Woody before Harrelson auditioned.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Dana Gabbard Yes. Similarly, Sid & Marty Krofft pretty much put together "Bibles" for all the shows they've pitched to networks, contained conceptual artwork and designs for the characters, settings, and other such material. Matter of fact, it was Marty Krofft who said in an interview that it's better to give network executives some kind of a visual presentation (in this case, artwork) rather than an outline. I guess that makes sense as well; I once went through sort of a mock pitch with a colleague of mine when I used to intern at our local PBS, and even he said networks like to actually see examples of whatever it is you're pitching before they buy anything.

But again, this is for pitching new shows to networks; Ken's post about outlines is for potential episodes of already established shows.

Mac said...

"whenever I post scripts I get notes from readers. "You should've said it this way."

To which the answer is "You should've written your own sitcom, given how much you know about how it should be done..."

The outline is fascinating. Would love to read the rest.

Jim said...

Friday Question: I know you have had problems in the past being mistaken for Bioshock's Ken Levine. Do you think it will get worse now that he's going to write a screenplay? http://boingboing.net/2013/06/20/bioshocks-ken-levine-writing.html

Aaron Casey said...

Friday Question:

Hi Ken, love your blog.

Did you know that Cheers is going to be made and re-shot in Irish this year with a new setting, actors,etc.?
http://www.irishcentral.com/ent/Classic-TV-sitcom-Cheers-to-be-remade-in-Gaelic-for-Irish-channel-TG4-183770611.html

I love Cheers and as an Irish man who can't speak Irish (along with 90% of the country)I can't wait for this, even to get a kick out of the probable poor production. I'm not sure what it says about Ireland when the one US sitcom we adapt is set in a bar.

Anyways, I hope the episodes you wrote get used and you enjoy your 0.10 cent residual safe in the knowledge that what you wrote is probably being re-wrote and completely misunderstood in another language! The majority of us non-irish speakers over here will just watch the original episodes in syndication in English!

Zack Bennett said...

Here's a FridayQ I asked in another thread several days late, so I'm not sure if you saw it, so here's a repost:

In the first-season "Cheers" episode "The Coach's Daughter", an insecure Lisa Pantusso tells her father that she's been unable to find love because she is ugly (although she never used that word), and Coach responds that she looks exactly like her mother, whom he saw as the most beautiful woman in the world. It was a very sweet moment.

But how do you cast such a role? I certainly wouldn't call Allyce Beasley ugly, but she does have distinctive facial features, and she has gone on to a thirty-year Hollywood career that appears to be going full-steam, including her most memorable role: a long stint as a supporting cast member on "Moonlighting" back in the '80s. But that "Cheers" role was one of her first, according to IMDB. Do you go through headshots going "Well, yeah, I can see how this girl may be considered ugly"... or do you put out an open casting call saying (not literally, of course) "Are you a twenty-something woman who thinks you're ugly? We have a role on 'Cheers' for you!" I know (again via IMDB) that Allyce Beasley had been on an episode of Taxi around the same time, so it's possible in this case that the Charles Bros. knew her and what she was capable of... but, regardless, it seems like a delicate situation. How do you handle that as a producer?

Storm said...

@Zack: From the stage, to silent film, to talkies and TV, a *real* actor with greasepaint in their veins has always known and worked within their limitations, including in the looks department. They know and accept that what they are destined for is what is called "character roles", which is a polite way of saying the person is "odd-looking", or older, or stout, or whatever; in any case, not "leading man/lady material".

My best friend of 30 years is an actor, who happens to be a Gentleman of Size and Colour (IOW, a big black dude), and he has long since accepted the fact that any roles he's up for/gets will be character roles (which suits him, because that man IS a character); when your looks are almost totally unchangeable (because of your size, age, race, etc.), you will tend to get the roles you are "suited for". Someone who gets into acting for the glamourous stardom finds this unacceptable and either gets lots of plastic surgery (which rarely helps) or quits altogether. A real actor, someone who feels it in their heart, the need to say great words and become different people, the need to make people laugh and cry and think... they know they ugly/funny-looking. But they don't care; it's their bread and butter and as long as they're good at it, there's work, and they play the hell out of the "character role". Every time you see an actor or actress on screen and think "Oh! It's That Guy!" or "Oh! Her! I love her!", that's a great character actor right there.

My guess; the casting director sent out a call for actresses with "off-beat looks". That seems to be the polite way of saying "weirdo".

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm