For those of you struggling through the long football offseason, here are some Friday Questions to take your mind of your pain.
I'm currently working on a sitcom, which is my main focus. Lately, however, I've become enamored with the idea of an hour-long mystery series. Once writers make it, do they stick to one genre, or can they switch back and forth? I don't recall any examples of any sitcom creators creating a drama series or vice versa.
Once you’re established it’s easier to shift genres, but when you’re starting out you have to commit to one or the other. Agents need to sell you as either a comedy or drama guy.
A number of established writers have either hopped from one form to the other and some continue to hop.
Matthew Weiner, who created MAD MEN, was a comedy writer on BECKER and numerous other sitcoms. Steve Nahan, the showrunner on BONES, comes from a comedy background. Terrence Winter, who wrote on THE SOPRANOS, created BOARDWALK EMPIRE, and did the screenplay for WOLF OF WALL STREET produced SISTER, SISTER in a previous life.
Among the super-talented writers who ping-pong regularly between drama and comedy are Jane Espenson, Phoef Sutton, and Dan O’Shannon.
And I’m sure there are way more examples. So it can be done… once you have a toehold in the industry.
David P has question stemming from my recent post on WKRP:
(Was the show/concept ripped off from the song W.O.L.D. by the late Harry Chapin?).
Any thoughts on that? or comments about the song?
The song is about a world-weary disc jockey who has bounced from town to town and sacrificed his family to do so. I was a disc jockey when this song came out and can tell you all dee jays viewed this as a horrifying cautionary tale. A few of us smart ones got out. Thank you, Harry.
Here's the song:
But that’s not what WKRP IN CINCINNATI is about – specifically… although there’s a little of that in Johnny Fever. The opening title song however, is very similar thematically to W.O.L.D., just a catchier version.
If you’re not familiar with Harry Chapin, he was a rock/folk singer/songwriter in the ‘70s who tragically was killed young in an auto accident. His songs mostly tell stories and they’re exceptional. You may know the song CAT’S IN THE CRADLE, but I invite you to seek out TAXI and the sequel (named SEQUEL).
His concerts were great fun. He’d sing for three or four hours and then stick around for another one or two signing autographs and shaking hands. He was a tireless supporter and fundraiser for Stop the World Hunger. I really miss him.
Allan V has two questions about cast members who also direct episodes of their show:
1) How much of the running time does he/she have to spend behind the camera to qualify for directing credit, and
2) Are studios enthusiastic about the practice, or otherwise?
Directing is more than just the amount of time behind the camera. It’s staging, shaping performances, deciding on the shots, tone, pace, answering the thousands of daily questions on props and set decoration and wardrobe.
Most of the time when an actor directs an episode it will be one in which he does not have much to do in front of the camera. We say that the actor is “light” that week.
Obviously, when they are in a scene they have to rely on the camera coordinator or someone else to watch the monitor. But often they can go back after the take and review it before deciding to move on.
Studios don't mind as long as the episodes turn out well. There are a few instances when actors, out of vanity, get directing assignments but are clueless about the technical side. The producers usually provide enough assistance that the actor can't fuck it up too badly.
On MASH, some of the best episodes of the series were directed by Alan Alda. And Kelsey Grammer has become quite an accomplished multi-camera director. To me that’s a real feat because learning how to camera block four cameras at once is daunting at best.
A number of actors have become terrific directors. Adam Arkin, Tony Goldwyn, Betty Thomas, Kevin Hooks, and that Affleck guy to name just a few.
And finally, from Mitchell Hundred:
I know you're a sitcom guy, but do you have any theories as to why police procedurals are so consistently popular with networks?
I have two theories. Neither is based in any facts.
1) It’s fun to try to solve the case yourself, to sift through the clues and see if you can figure it out before the characters.
2) They’re great if you just want to kick back and not have to think. Nothing very emotional is going on. You just veg on the couch and they lay out the whole show for you. Perfect for those nights when you just want to be in a TV coma.
What’s your question?
By the way, I'm sure one of the contributing factors for why Matthew Weiner wanted to get out of comedy was to avoid having his work crunched by hack directors like this guy: