Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Questions

Not to get lost in the excitement of the big NFL Pro Bowl Game this Sunday, here are this week’s Friday Questions.

vic-tori-a valdez is first up.

Have there ever been any actors that you specifically kept an eye on for future roles? For example, I recall reading (correct me if I'm wrong) that Ted Danson was remembered by James Burrow after auditioning for a pilot that never made it.

These are the actors who I kept an eye out for and was lucky enough to work actually work with. And in every case, they exceeded expectations even though expectations were super high.

Kurtwood Smith, Lisa Edelstein, James Tolkin. David Ogden Stiers.

From Kathleen Pal Andrade:

What if you're a new writer who wrote a great pilot (with a partner) and the production company you're working with is going to pair you with a showrunner. What does one look for in that meeting?

First of all, congratulations for being in that situation. The main thing to look for is a showrunner who won’t run with your idea and leave you in the dust. How collaborative is he? How arrogant? Do you get the sense he will defer to you and help you realize your vision? Or does he seem like someone who will steal the credit and charge forward, surrounding himself with his own people?

Is his office grandiose, filled with tributes to himself?  That's usually a good clue.  

These days you have the advantage of doing your homework on these potential showrunners. Check out their credits. Google them. Has he been fired off shows? Why? Has he been involved in a lot of arbitrations over credit? Are there blog entries by staffers saying how much they love him? If you Google his name and “mentor” does anything come up?

Ask about his process, his take on the show, how he sees your involvement. And then get it in writing.

I’ve known writers who have been in your situation who have been miserable and others who have blossomed as a result. Do your due diligence. And good luck.

Marie wonders:

This week's "New Girl" revealed that Coach's real name is Ernie, which I took as a nod to "Cheers." What's the best pop-culture homage your work has been on the receiving end of?

The Albuquerque Isotopes, the AAA minor league affiliate for the Los Angeles Dodgers was named after the Springfield Isotopes from the SIMPSONS episode that David and I wrote. We came up with the name of a baseball team. Other than an Emmy, I can’t think of a greater nod.

From Teresa Hutton:

I've been writing spec scripts for a while now but my script outlines feel somewhat amateurish in Microsoft Word.

My question is: Do you think you can share some advice on writing a solid outline or if possible an example of an outline you have written (preferably Cheers because it was one of the all-time greats)?

Last summer I unearthed an old CHEERS outline of ours and posted a few pages. You can find that post here.

YEKIMI queries:

Catching up on some TV show's DVDs and I notice on some that are some two-parters where part one may have director A & part two may have director Z. Why do some shows do this? It seems like you would want to have the continuity of the same director over both least in my opinion.

I assume you means one-hour dramas. Or even single-camera sitcoms. Directors are given several days of preparation for each episode. They can scout locations, plan their shots, coordinate stunts, etc.

But generally there’s no break between shooting the end of one episode and the beginning of the next. So if principle photography of part one ends on Tuesday, part two begins rolling on Wednesday. The director of part one has no time to prep for part two. That’s why two different directors are employed.

One other note: before each episode the director sits down with the showrunner for a “tone meeting.” The showrunner goes through the script scene by scene and explains exactly what he’s looking for. So the director of part two knows exactly what went before and what the showrunner is looking for in part two. So there is hopefully little difference in style, tone, and continuity despite two different directors.

What’s your question? I answer as many as I can. Thanks.


Jed said...

Friday Question: I've noticed a lot of high-action TV shows (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. being the most recent that I can easily recall) use a plot device that feels lazy. The opening segment before the credits has the protagonists in peril. Basically, it looks like the show starts with the climax. Then, the opening credits roll and when we come back from commercial everything is calm and something like "21 Hours Earlier" appears on the screen. Then, the episode deals with how they reach the climax.

Where did this story structure originate? I used to think this was clever, but then started seeing it so much it felt overused and I groan every time.

Have you ever done this? Why would a writer choose to do this? Do you have an opinion on this?

Matt said...


I see that plot device quite often also.

The best use was in an episode of Wings where it shows Joe facedown in a pool apparently dead and than goes back to show how it happened.

The last scene was of Joe coming up for air and partying with a bunch of bikini clad women and him being face down was contest of holding your breath.

Jackie said...


That's an example of 'in media res' and I agree that it seems overused a lot these days. Seems like Battlestar Galactica used it every other episode.

Daniel said...

I have a questions about directing credits. On a show like "Game of Thrones" which is logistically complex and literally shoots all over the globe, I'm guessing that, in order to lower production costs, they shoot all of the Croatia scenes for the entire season at once, then move on to Scotland and shoot all of the scenes for the season there, etc.

Since each episode has a different, single director credited, does the production take along all of the directors to each location and have them just direct the scenes for their particular episode? Or do they take one director to each location and have him or her shoot all of the scenes there, then take another director to the next location, etc.? And then just divide up the credits among them once the episodes are edited?

gottacook said...

I don't know whether this could be considered an earlier form of the same thing, but some drama series 50 years ago would show a climactic moment from mid-episode as a teaser before the credits (with no use of "X hours/days earlier" at the beginning of act one). I have an Outer Limits episode on tape, "The Sixth Finger" with David McCallum, that (unfortunately) does this.

steve said...

The Rockford files used to have a few clips of climatic moments before the open each episode, but it was less an in media res device and more of a trailer for what you were about to see. Like someone was going to think "I don't know if I feel like the Rockford files today. Oh there's going to be a fistfight and a car chance where he does a handbrake turn in this episode? OK, I'll give it a shot.

rockgolf said...

Even The West Wing employed that "3 days earlier" trope after the cold open on a few occasions. And even on that show I didn't like it.
It's a cheap way to use the same footage twice and is an admission that the writer(s) can't really think of an interesting way to start the story.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

In regards to the last question, I thought the guild had some kind of a rule/regulation that said only one person could be credited as a director per episode... such as the case of the two-part M*A*S*H episode, "Comrades in Arms", I had heard both Alan Alda and Burt Metcalfe directed, but because of the guild's rules, one was credited for directing one part, the other for the other. I bet I'm wrong, though.

Ben K. said...

There's some good information on creating outlines in a newish book called "Inside the Room: Writing Television with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers' Program" (which has chapters by a variety of teachers, including Ken's partner David Isaacs).

Houston Mitchell said...

Hi Ken,

Occasionally, I will see TV characters "guest star" on a different TV series. How does that work? For example, if the writers of the new Kirstie Alley show wanted Ted Danson to play Sam Malone, what would that be possible?

Steve said...

If you've done a contemporized version of an older work, how can one determine what rights need to be secured (or not). For example, a updated 'All About Eve' with the basic story of the ambitious wannabe trying to steal the spotlight from the established star (Not that particular story though since Joseph Mankiewicz' script is darn near perfect, just as an example.)

Andrew said...

Who would you hold responsible for a show as bad as DADS? I don't understand, especially with all the talent in the industry, how this show got produced. How are the writers of this show even employed? Do they leave the show off their resume now? Did some Fox Exec really think this was an interesting concept? Why the hell hasn't it been taken off air -- I'd rather watch 30 minutes of commercials.

Johnny Walker said...

@vic-tori-a valdez I don't know if it's actually where Burrows saw Danson first or not, but he appeared in an episode of TAXI that aired in February 1982... six months before Cheers began.

Other Cheers cast members that appeared in TAXI first include George Wendy and Rhea Perlman, too.

Can't help but wonder...

Narr said...

Matlock was horrible for a murder mystery, because half the time they gave away the mystery in the tease before the credits.

Milton the Momzer said...

The "killer" in Murder She wrote and Matlock and all those geriatric mysteries was easy to spot. It was the B-List/C-List "Special Guest Star"

Tallulah Morehead said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tallulah Morehead said...

Ken darling, I certainly hope that is Homer Simpson's leg that is arching up behind your butt in that photo, but it's sure not what it looks like. Was I ever married to Homer?

D. McEwan said...

Man, on the old prime-time soaps like Dallas and Falcon Crest I LOATHED those before-the-show episode previews, jam-packed with spoilers. I would always mute the TV and hold up my hand to block my own view of all but a tiny part of the screen at the bottom, so I could tell when they ended and the show opening titles began, so I could drop my hand and unmute the TV.

Nowadays, on The Graham Norton Show, whenever they go to commercial, they run a "Coming Up" short preview that basically ruins some funny bit in the next segment. These enrage me. I have to watch always on the DVR instead of live, so I can hit "Fast-Forward" the moment they begin spoiling the show.

LouOCNY said...

Star Trek's unique two-parter, The Menagerie, which used it's first pilot with new wraparound footage, had to do that. Marc Daniels, who directed the new scenes, got credit for Part 1, and Robert Butler, the director of the pilot, got the same for Part 2.

Cap'n Bob said...

Does anyone remember SUNSET BOULEVARD? The movie opens with William Holden floating dead in a pool. We learn how he got there during the subsequent movie. That was about 1950 and I'm sure the premise goes back further than that.

Mike said...

@D. McEwan: Unwelcome intrusions inserted into Graham Norton? That's a cock up at your end, so to speak. I mean: that's the handiwork of your local broadcaster.
I sense you have a need to watch the Eurovision Song Contest, which Norton presents. (I'll be posting highlights again this year, since Ken is such a big fan.)
Coincidentally, I avoid the currently ubiquitous "next" previews at the end of programmes via the mute and a sheet of A4 paper, watching through the punched holes.

Brian C said...

Who were your favorite --- and least favorite --- villains on the 1960's Batman TV series?

Drew said...

Hi Ken,

Do you ever read the network pilots that get picked each season and get physically ill? If so, how do you control that rage? Thanks.

D. McEwan said...

"Mike said...
@D. McEwan: Unwelcome intrusions inserted into Graham Norton? That's a cock up at your end, so to speak. I mean: that's the handiwork of your local broadcaster."

Much as I love a cock-up at my end, the "Local Broadcaster" who is doing that to Norton's show is BBC America. Not really all that local, unless you consider all of America to be local to southern California.

And I could not possibly have less interest in the Eurovision Song Contest. Not my sort of thing by a million miles. I only wtached that dreary competition show Norton emceed, I'll Do Anything, a search for a new Nancy for Oliver, because my idol, Barry Humphries, was a judge.

D. McEwan said...

I've noticed on Doctor who, that their multi-episode stories are always directed by one director. This applies not only to current Doctor Who, but dates all the way back to the show's beginnings in 1963. Directors on that program shoot entire stories, regardless of how many episodes it runs. And in its classic days, stories could sometimes run to 6, 8, 10, and in one case, 12 episodes.

Johnny Walker said...

BBC America do a great job of messing up British shows, unfortunately. Probably not their fault, but last time I watched it is was annoying to see music changes and edits (presumably) made for time.

I wonder if Graham Norton is censored -- as he can be pretty racy compared to the rest of their programming? (Or what I remember of it.)

D. McEwan said...

Graham Norton's still pretty racy on BBC America, and they aren't bleeping "Shit."

Marie said...

Thanks for the response, Ken. Love the photo!