Here are Friday Questions to close out the week...and month.
Chris starts us off:
How come Everybody Loves Raymond only had one act break? (At least the first 3 seasons) I mean, I know Phil Rosenthal wanted to create a classic, back in the day family style sitcom, but why didn't CBS push for more ad space?
Networks air the same amount of commercials whether it’s two acts or six.
When RAYMOND began in the mid ‘90s all half-hour sitcoms had a two-act format. It really wasn’t until the ‘00s that networks went to three acts hoping to better hide their inflated commercial loads. The result is it’s harder to tell stories with two act breaks rather than one, but networks aren’t remotely concerned with that.
When and how did the term "show runner" enter the TV lexicon? I don't remember hearing about "show runners" in the 70s and 80s. There were producers, directors, head writers, writers... but "show runner" sounds like a term made up by someone with a third grade mind. (I thought the same thing when I first heard "I am the Decider".) Any insight?
I first heard the term used in the '90s. I don’t know who coined it. Maybe the same guy who named the ballpark in Arlington “the Ballpark.”
For many years Executive Producer was the official title for the person in charge. Then writers moved up the ladder and several shared the title. There were also co-Executive Producers. In an effort to cut through the bullshit someone came up with the more generic but less pretentious "show runner."
So the term has been around awhile. It's only the last fifteen years or so with the internet that the general public started recognizing the contributions of the behind-the-camera staff and learning just who the show runners were.
The job itself has never changed. Only the unofficial title.
Hamid wants to know:
By all accounts, the 80s was a legendary decade in Hollywood for excess and wild parties, the era of Don Simpson's infamous antics. You worked on one of the biggest shows of the decade right in the heart of Hollywood at Paramount, so my question is how much of those legendary wild times did you personally witness and was it a lot of fun?
Uh, none. I have heard stories of writing rooms where they would have cocaine in a sugar bowl, but CHEERS was most definitely NOT one of them. We’d have some wine with dinner at times and enjoy a Heineken after rewrites but truly, that was about it.
In the mid ‘80s TV GUIDE did a whole cover story on the rampant use of cocaine in Hollywood. At the time David and I were "show running" a short-lived series for Mary Tyler Moore. We received a letter from a viewer. This is how it began: “I read a recent article on all the drug use in Hollywood and thought they must be way exaggerating. And then I watched an episode of your show…”
And finally, from Timothy Wintour:
When writing a spec for an existing show, would you recommend writing a very self-contained episode by trying to use only the main characters and main sets (which is very difficult to pull off without it feeling boring) or would you recommend creating new sets and one-time guest characters (which shows often do)?
Definitely lean towards containment. Don’t write an episode that would cost their entire season's budget to produce. That’s a rookie mistake. And you can certainly have outside characters, but clearly center your show on the main characters and primarily focus on them.
Another rookie mistake is to introduce an outside character and make the episode about him. We had that several times in CHEERS. One of the barflies would write a spec in which HE was the star of the show that week. Like that would ever happen.
As a general rule, if you're writing a show called THE MINDY PROJECT the story should probably be about a character named Mindy.
As always, best of luck with your spec.
What’s your question?