Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday Questions

Here are some Friday Questions for your weekend pleasure.

Ike Iszany asks:

When you do a show do you plan for the shorter syndication edit? Do you pad in two minutes you can lose?

First off, you have to be on a big hit to even be thinking about syndication. So in the first few seasons syndication is just a glimmer in your eye.

We never pad. You are allowed to come in a minute or so short. The network is happy to fill that time with promos. We try to come in short if possible because it makes the show tighter and should we be lucky enough to go into syndication less has to be edited out.

In addition to editing, some shows in syndication today are sped up – just a tiny bit but sometimes it’s enough to really throw the rhythm off.

This is a trick often used in Top 40 radio. Stations would speed up records. If you take a 45 rpm record and play it at 47 it sounds just a little bit brighter and faster. But competing stations would then up the ante and increase their speed to 48 or 49 rpm, and all of a sudden the damn records change keys and start sounding ridiculous.

Syndicators have some process where they can drop frames and in theory the change is imperceptible but it’s not. Just as a Carly Simon record sped up sounds like the Chipmunks.

Lenny Parker wonders:

There is this common belief that query letters are a waste of time because nobody pays any attention to them.

From your experience, do you believe this is true?

I assume you mean to agents and managers. I think there’s still some value in them if you (a) keep them very short, and (b) have something in them that will catch the reader's eye. Examples: You’ve won a screenwriting contest, you’ve had a play produced by a prestigious theatre group, you’re from Krypton.

But long letters detailing your desire or sharing your life story will probably not be read and the agent may decide to not read your script either. So again, brevity is the key.

From Dave Bittner:

How often does a specific character trait get dropped during the run of a series? Specifically, in the first season of Frasier, Daphne possessed psychic powers, but this seemed to have been dropped over time. Did it simply play out?

Yes, sometimes character traits either play themselves out, get to be too one-note, or prove not to be as popular as you had hoped. And the good showrunners are the ones who are willing to make mid-course corrections.

The FRASIER writers were always looking to give their characters more dimension and Daphne proved to be a much richer character than was originally conceived so the psychic trait was really not needed.

Another example is Klinger on MASH. Once he went through every dress in the entire Twentieth Century Fox studio wardrobe department the writers decided to move on with him.

But characters need to evolve.  They lose traits along the way but gain traits as well.  

And finally, jake wants to know:

Will we continue to have baseball announcers with the kind of civic and team identities that Vin Scully, Dave Niehaus, Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Ernie Harwell (and many others) have/had? Or will things go the ESPN way, deep sixing the Jon Millers in favor of anodyne announcers but prominent ex-player analysts.

Unfortunately yes. The play-by-play trend is clearly towards young, generic, inexpensive, safe announcers. Storytelling and showmanship seems to be a lost art. As one listener put it, "It's like they all sound like they went to the same 'Baseball Broadcaster School.'"

It’s easier to just call play-by-play and fill the down time with statistics, and since that’s what teams are hiring, it’s understandable that young broadcasters coming up don’t feel the need to develop a unique style.

So will the new generation of announcers continue the tradition of identifiable voices for each city? No. They’ll all sound pretty much interchangeable. And that will be a shame.

But if you’re a young announcer, I will just say this: you can go down this path and you might even achieve a certain level of success. But if you hope to someday be GREAT you have to somehow distinguish yourself. Because if there are ten other guys who can do your job just as well and they’re younger or cheaper, what do you think is going to happen?

Of course that’s my philosophy in general: Strive to be the BEST in whatever you do. In today’s marketplace EVERY field is a competitive field.

What’s your question? Please leave it in the comments section.


Mike Barer said...

The new Mariner announcer is pretty straight forward, however, Rick Ricz, who was Dave's "straight man" has no injectted a little more personality, playing more of a Niehaus type role to Aaron Goldsmith.

Carson said...

The question about character traits makes me think about my least favorite episode of Frasier. It's called "Crock Tales." It was a flash back episode and OMG the wigs they put on everyone are horrible. And Jane Leeves didn't seem to even try to do her original Daphne accent. It's not a poorly written episode, it's the execution. Any insight?

Mitchell Hundred said...

I've been streaming a couple of my favourite shows on Netflix from beginning to end, and noticed that their first seasons are not the best example of what they can do. Considering that many shows take a season or so to find their feet/voice, at what point in the run would you recommend getting into a show?

I refer here to shows that are now off the air and available for purchase/streaming, not ones currently on TV (and obviously not serialized ones, which you'd have to watch in chronological order).

Curt Alliaume said...

I would say there are a few announcers that have developed followings over the years. Pat Hughes has now been with the Cubs doing radio play-by-play since 1996, and he's not going anywhere to my knowledge. He worked with Ron Santo for 15 years, and seems to have developed a similar relationship with Keith Moreland, who keeps the tradition of having an ex-Cub do color commentary. (I bring this up in contrast to the White Sox, who have nothing but ex-players in both booths, most of whom are fairly obvious homers.)

Hughes was the #2 guy in Milwaukee before coming to Chicago, where he worked with Bob Uecker - who's been doing Milwaukee Brewer games since 1970.

Kirk said...

On the first season of SANFORD AND SON, Fred was portrayed as being prejudiced against white people, probably because the show was sold to the public as a black All IN THE FAMILY. That didn't even last into the second season. I think the writers realized Redd Foxx was a lot funnier when he insulted everybody, white or black.

Dan Ball said...

Makes me glad to be a Reds fan. The whole radio/TV rotation, with the exception of Jim Kelch, is phenomenal. Most of them have a lot of history in the Cincinnati area, either playing, living, or growing up there. That rotation includes Thom and Marty Brennaman, Chris Welsh (pitched in '86, on air since '93), Jeff "The Cowboy" Brantley (pitched '94-'97, on-air since '07). Sean "The Mayor" Casey and retired Reds TV vet George Grande are usually good for a few fun games per season, too.

Kelch is okay, but he's definitely from the new school of broadcasting that you guys mentioned. Thom kinda has an on/off switch for that. When he's calling bigger games, it's on. When he's calling a game with Welsh, he's more at ease like his dad. For the most part, the rest of them just chew the fat in the most traditional way possible. Maybe they don't have the most epic conversations or banter, but it's nice that they loosen up and let it flow naturally. Brantley's usually pretty good for bringing up random things going on around the booth, whether it be a mama bird tending her nest or the smell of fresh-baked cookies permeating the air. That might annoy some folks, but it's distinguishing.

Speaking of characters, I do admire FRASIER for diving deeper into the characters. We recently finished going through the whole series on Netflix and I loved the episodes that felt like they were directed by Billy Wilder. Frasier would be embarrassed at some point, but it wouldn't be the climax of the episode. Instead, the climax would come a few moments later and be more heart-warming and deeper. Sometimes bittersweet. The Patrick Stewart episode was a good example of this. At the beginning of the series, it seemed like that relationship would've ended badly after Frasier made an ass of himself. Instead, it was handled in a classier way. He sorta looked like an ass, but he still maintained a good rapport with that other person. Maybe that evolution was planned from the beginning, maybe it wasn't. It's great, nonetheless.

Michael said...

Years ago, Bob Costas had a Sunday night radio show and had on Ernie Harwell and Jon Miller. Costas asked Miller about young announcers imitating other announcers like The Vin. Miller said he once heard a minor league broadcast and thought, "Vin must be doing a little extra practice," because it sounded like him, except it was just a poor imitation. Costas then asked how a good imitation would sound, and Miller was off to the races. But that's the point: Miller is a great play-by-play man with his own style, and he's good at imitations. Some announcers like Al Michaels had to overcome sounding like The Vin, and did, but the Angels had an announcer, Al Conin, who either wanted to sound like him or couldn't help it because that was his voice.

A big part of the problem is the loss of the one-on-one discussion that Red Barber believed in and his protege still practices. As "Young Scully," as Red used to call him on the air, said, if you go to buy a car, do you want the salesman to talk to you or do you want two salesmen to talk to each other about the car and you have to listen to them?

Dan Ball said...


Yeah, the Fred vs. Esther bouts were epic. The thing that made S&S better than AitF was the absence of drama. The drama of AitF and its place in TV history were very much necessary, but S&S is more fun.

Some of the best moments came when Julio's goat wandered into the house and ate Fred's snacks. That always guaranteed a hilarious 'big one.'

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

OK, here goes.

Big Wave Dave's and Almost Perfect were built around people in very unique circumstances (Hawaii transplants; TV producers); yet, your bones were made on shows built around people in very common circumstances (military service; bar pals).

So, my question is: would your next new show stand a better chance of long term success if it were built around more common experience? Like a supermarket, DMV and similar places.

I'm an idiot about this stuff and your career is super, so tell me if I'm full of cheese...or anything else that comes to mind...

chuckcd said...

I am originally from Michigan and now live in California.
I have listened to Ernie Harwell and Vin Scully so I consider myself very lucky.

Anonymous said...

In the Cheers episode "From Beer to Eternity," Kim Waltrip is listed in the credits as "woman." Was she the one at the bar who used the reflection in Cliff's sunglasses to do her lipstick, or the blonde that bowled for Gary's team? And regardless of your answer, what is the name of the other actress? The credits only list Waltrip. Thanks and have a great weekend.

James said...

Yes and no. The jokes were definitely played out--but a quick way to know you're on an episode where MASH had safely cleared the shark is seeing Klinger in army fatigues.

Marty Fufkin said...

Speaking of sped-up shows, I noticed this practice once when I downloaded an episode of Mad Men in one of the early seasons. Five or ten minutes in, something felt off, and then I noticed the voices were at a higher pitch and things were moving along just a bit too fast. The network branding in the corner of the screen was BBC. Obviously they were trying to squeeze in more commercials or promos.

Even if a viewer doesn't notice the alteration, I'm sure that it still subconsciously makes the show less enjoyable and perhaps more agitating.

Mike said...

@Marty Fufkin: That may be the difference in mains frequencies: US/60Hz, UK/50Hz. So the US field/frame rate is faster. Comparing DVDs, US/NTSC vs UK/PAL, PAL films are a few minutes longer.

Breadbaker said...

Until Dave Niehaus died, the only main announcers I'd ever listened to as "home" announcers were Ernie Harwell, Ned Martin and Dave. When I'd go out of town and hear some of the really bad announcers in some towns, I didn't know how to deal with it.

I had totally forgotten about the psychic powers that Daphne had when Frasier first started.

Liggie said...

This brings up two F.Q.s. 1) When pitching a screenplay synopsis to an agent or studio, do you give away the ending or not? 2) There are many sportscasters that fans hate but networks keep employing (Chris Berman, Tim McCarver). Why the disconnect?

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

I always thought Daphne's psychic thing was a set up for her reaction to meeting Lilith. Daphne got a migraine as soon as Lilith arrived in Seattle, lost all feeling in her right arm when she shook hands, and then the great closing scene when she slowly took the cold compress off her forehead as Lilith's plane took off. I loved it.

BruceB said...

Are you aware of Mitch Albom's play, "Ernie", about the life of Ernie Harwell? It's a big hit at the City Theatre in Detroit.

Tracy Tran said...

Luckily in my area, the Washington Nationals broadcast has Charlie Slowes and if you ask who's the voice of the Nationals it's him. When he leaves, Dave Jageler can fill-in.

Sadly, I think you're right we won't have the great voices of today's crop than from the past because of technology and data-driven info.

Mike said...

I think it's good to get rid of these announcers. Was really annoying to see the Red Sox going for their first World Series win in 86 years and all the announcers have ties to the Cardinals. Then the Celtics make the Finals and Magic Johnson is doing halftime commentary.

Hamid said...

I live in the UK and just this morning one of my favourite Frasier episodes was on, Cliff's retirement party that Frasier and gang inadvertently end up attending. John Ratzenberger is a terrific comedy actor, though his politics are completely antithetical to mine, so I just wondered, with Ted Danson and Woody Harrelson and a few of the others being liberals, was there ever any tension on set between the liberal members of the cast and the conservative members, like John Ratzenberger and Kelsey Grammer? Or did everyone put that stuff aside and get on well? I only ask because I've heard of some movies and shows where political differences cause problems on set.

Amy C. said...

Dear Mr. Levine,
You have previously touched on this topic but I'm still curious about the writer-actor working relationships. Is it rare or common for actors to try to change your lines, possibly because they disagree with the character's direction? What are your thoughts when it does happen? Does your reaction depend more on whether or not you were involved with character creation vs. joining the project/show later in development? Who has ultimate say and is it something that a writer can have built into his/her contract?


Jimcomcs said...

I live near Milwaukee and still get to enjoy Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Uecker, who used to be a frequently featured guest on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show; broadcast national Monday Night Baseball TV broadcasts and was one of the major characters on Mr. Belevedere. He's still a great, funny man, in his 43rd year of Brwers broadcasting. Folks on the coasts forget that the center of the country not only exists but has some great civilized culture, too.

sophomorecritic said...

The website took issue with the epsiode where Freddy gets Bar-Mitzvahed:
"Artistic License - Religion: Very many in the Bar Mitzvah episode: the fact that the service ends after Frederick finishes reading his haftara (there is a whole other prayer service that follows); the fact that a dinner is apparently served then (this service is in the morning); Martin taking photos in a synagogue on the Sabbath (even in a Conservative synagogue he would be asked to stop)."

These seem pretty obvious to anyone who's ever been to a Bar Mitzvah service, not to mention that the service doesn't exclusively cater to the Bar-Mitzvahee and Frasier and Lillith weren't giving "blessings" but just making speeches

What happened to the research department that weekend?

CVersage said...

I just watched my first full episode of the Burns and Allen show and it was hilarious. So I have to ask: Do you have any idea or thoughts about why it hasn't lasted on TV the way I Love Lucy or the Honeymooners have?

P.S. I still miss you on Dodger Talk.