Getting ready to hold my annual Sitcom Room seminar this weekend. Here are some Friday Questions before I go. One even involves Alf.
A recent post on Roseanne and her accusation that a joke of hers had been stolen prompted Kay to ask this:
I'm not sure how a writer should handle that. Ken, what you would suggest? Do you abandon or re-write your own original joke, after you hear a similar joke, for fear someone will accuse you of having stolen it or that it might sound stale? Or do you say, "This is my original joke; it works where I need it, and I'm leaving it intact."?
Personally, when my partner David Isaacs and I are writing a script and are made aware that a joke we’re considering is similar to one that had been aired we’ll scrap the joke immediately. It’s not so much that we’re afraid of being sued or even accused of stealing; it’s that as professionals we would be horribly embarrassed. We take pride in our work and try to deliver the best and most original material we can.
Are there writers who will keep a joke anyway and try to rationalize it to themselves? Sure. But they wouldn’t work very long for me.
Daniel has two questions:
I've seen many TV writers make comments about residual checks being only a few cents.
Is that true or are you exaggerating for comic effect?
And secondly, without getting into specific dollar figures, can a writer ever get significant residual checks (thousands of dollars (or more)) when a series first goes into syndication?
One time I got a letter from MTM saying that the year before they over-paid me by three cents and demanded I return the money. Take a guess as to whether I complied.
On the other hand, yes, you can make significant dollars on first run syndication… assuming you’ve done multiple episodes. Thank God for residuals because there are a lot of writers, directors, and actors who are now living off them.
There appear to a large number of deals being signed for pilots this year being produced by actors for shows they will not appear in. Examples include Rashida Jones, Zooey Deschanel, and Kristen Ritter. Do they have an inherent advantage in being able to get meetings with network executives and/or more skilled at pitching projects?
I’ll be honest, it’s a head scratcher to me too. Networks always have “hot” people they want to be in business with, but in most cases these actors bring nothing to the project other than their names. Maybe network people just like taking meetings with stars.
If Zooey Deschannel showed up for meetings dressed like this I'd certainly hear her pitch.
It used to be major stars for a network would get a vanity production deal – like Kelsey Grammer’s Gramnet Productions – but that was when Kelsey was starring in FRASIER. NBC needed him. They don't need Kristen Ritter. (They didn't even pick up the pilot she was in last spring.) Production deals are a way of keeping stars happy. And in Kelsey’s case, he did get a few series on the air. But that was thanks to the executives he hired to run his company.
This is just the newest trend in non-writing producers. First it was former executives, now it’s stars with production deals. And top flight writers, whose talent and experience is more than sufficient to selling and executing a pilot on their own now have to get in bed with one of these non-writing producing units. That said, I’d rather be hanging with Rashida Jones than Jeff Zucker.
And finally, two from 404:
Have you ever been completely surprised about a sitcom? You were convinced it would be a big hit and then it just tanked?
Yes. Ours. ALMOST PERFECT… although to the fair, it did not tank. It lasted into the second season and had respectable numbers when it was cancelled. We actually won our time slot for the first three weeks and then we were paired with a show that was so bad it was cancelled after only one episode. We were collateral damage.
Or the opposite, you felt it wouldn't last two episodes and it turns out to be a huge hit (and I don't mean "hanging in there" like TWO BROKE GIRLS, I mean the breakthrough hit of the year). Or anything like that?
Not that I assumed it would be yanked after two airings but I received a tape of the ALF pilot and thought, “This is funny but I can’t really see a puppet show really catching on.” And then my kids watched the pilot and loved it. They kept watching it all summer. And that’s when I figured, “Y’know, they might just have lightening in a bottle here.” So by the time it finally aired I was not surprised by its major success. The networks should have given my kids all the pilots.
What’s your question?