For everyone who looks forward to Friday (Questions):
Barefoot Billy Aloha asks:
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?
Very interesting question.
Actually, both MASH and CHEERS were also about people in very unique circumstances – civilian doctors forced to practice meatball surgery in tents during a war and a pseudo-intellectual working in the unfamiliar confines of a sports bar.
BIG WAVE DAVE’S and ALMOST PERFECT were ultimately about the characters and relationships and each series was grounded in a real theme. BWD’s was a series exploring mid-life crises, and AP was about a woman trying to have it all (personally and professionally).
That said, to sell a sitcom today you need an even higher-concept premise than say a CHEERS. Shows like SUPER FUN NIGHT and THE NEIGHBORS are more in vogue.
But we design shows around characters, relationships, and themes first. Some sell and some don't. More important to us than high vs. low concepts are "Is the show really about something?"
Steve Pepoon wonders:
Do you think George Wendt and John Ratzenberger were pinheads or had a legitimate beef, suing that company that put Cheers bars in airports because they had lifesize statues of their characters? What's the harm of having people fondly recall their characters and pose for pictures with them?
I personally feel George and John were entitled to royalties for use of their likenesses. So did the judge.
From Michael Rae:
Ken, I have a question for an aspiring TV writer like me. What is the best college program that I could take that can relate to television writing?
There is no clear-cut answer. Certainly my alma matter, UCLA has a great program. So does crosstown USC. My partner, David Isaacs is a professor there and this fall I’ll be teaching a lecture class at USC on the Foundations of Comedy. So I may be a little partial to USC too.
NYU has an excellent program too. Otherwise, to be honest, it depends more on the instructors. My daughter, Annie got a great education from the screenwriting department of Northwestern. But you could go to Bo Crowder Junior College in Harlan County, Kentucky and if your teacher is fantastic you’ll learn more than four years at a renown film school.
And finally, from Malinda Hackett:
I just watched the premiere of the new Meredith Stiehm series THE BRIDGE, and it got me thinking...lately I've noticed that new shows have a tendency to introduce several story threads which remain unresolved by the end of the episode. I understand you want certain stories to arc over the entire season or series but, what's happening to the idea of a self-contained story specific to the pilot episode? Shows like "The Wire," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," and "The Sopranos" all had a great story in the pilot, which was resolved at the end of the episode and that story helped set up the series as a whole. Why are some new shows choosing to stray away from this kind of structure? I watch mostly drama so I don't know how it is on the comedy side...
Serialization does appear to be the trend. The thinking is that the un-resolved stories will hook you in and motivate you to keep returning. But the downside is it’s very hard to jump in in the middle of a series. Studios and networks however, say viewers today are willing to go back and watch series from the beginning if they hear good buzz.
Maybe that’s true, but I think you can have your cake and eat it too with pilot stories that primarily resolve themselves but still leave a few open threads (a la THE SOPRANOS or MAD MEN).
Ultimately serialization is a risk. If the audience doesn’t catch on, these dramas tend to die quick and horrible deaths.
CHEERS was really the first sitcom to have over-all season arcs but those were broad and each episode had a self-contained resolution.
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, on the other hand, was very serialized and trailblazing, and that resulted in a constant fight with Fox, who wanted more self-contained episodes. Left to their own devices for the Netflix season AD took continuous unresolved storylines to new heights (or lows, depending on your viewpoint).
What’s your Friday Question? Please leave it in the comment section. Thanks!