Here are Friday Questions:
willieb starts us off:
I see where they're mounting a play about Carole King on Broadway. I always thought Nancy Travis would be perfect to play Carole -- I always saw a remarkable resemblance. As someone who's familiar with Carole and Nancy, what do you think?
Nancy is prettier than Carole (my opinion) but singing is not really her greatest gift. And I imagine she’d tell you the same thing. I was actually glad when I learned this. She does everything else so well. When she had trouble singing on ALMOST PERFECT we said, “She’s HUMAN!”
I’m looking forward to seeing the Carole King musical. I adore her and her music.
Brian Warrick asks:
After a story idea or outline have been approved, how common is it to deviate from the original premise when writing the script (you know, if inspiration strikes and you head off in a different direction)?
This becomes a stickier issue now that networks and studios demand approval of very detailed outlines. But I’ve always felt that once you start writing, the writer has an obligation to make it the best script he can, and if deviating is necessary then as long as it’s within reason, I say do it.
David and I always do. But we always say “we tried it the way it is in the outline and it just didn’t work.” If you deviate you should have a reason to justify it. "The muse hit me" will generally not suffice.
When David and I write pilots, we tend to veer from the outline frequently as we discover just who these characters are and go where they take us.
When writers go through hoops trying to satisfy a rigid outline the end product is almost always stilted and forced.
James L. Brooks had a great line that I always use. “At some point you’ve got to be a writer.”
On last night's The Big Bang Theory, there was a seminal moment 3 years in the making (trying not to be too spoilerish) that had the audience whooping and hollering. Having worked on a number of shows taped live in front of a studio audience, what moments of intense audience reaction stick out in your mind? (Happy, sad, mad, whatever.) Thanks Ken!
When Sam and Diane first kissed on the first season finale of CHEERS, written by Glen & Les Charles, they got a thunderous reaction from the audience. I turned to my writing partner and said, “I think we’ve peaked. Nothing we can ever do with these characters will top this.” I was right.
There was a CHEERS episode David Isaacs and I wrote where a joke of mine got such a loud and sustained laugh they had to turn the cameras off. That’s like hitting a walk-off grand slam home run.
The pilot filming of FRASIER was electric. The audience went crazy over the first two jokes. Everyone on the stage knew they were riding on a rocket.
But for me, the greatest moment I personally witnessed was the “Chuckles Bites the Dust” episode of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, written by David Lloyd. That funeral scene was amazing and Mary did it flawlessly – twice. It was thrilling to be on hand to see that. But as a budding young scribe, I walked out of that stage not knowing whether to be incredibly inspired or crushed because I’ll never be able to write anything that good.
Ken, I'd be interested to know how you handled directing dramatic scenes. On a sitcom, it seems like you've got to stop a freight train of comic momentum to get a mood conducive to drama established. Is it really that tough or is it better when you're working with 'trained professionals'?
The key is the dramatic moment needs to be earned. You can’t do 20 minutes of cheap burlesque jokes and then jam on the brakes to do a touching moment. It just feels bogus and manipulative.
When I direct a dramatic scene I’m just looking to bring out the truth of the moment and the emotion. How heavy it gets depends on how heavy it deserves to be. And if the scene is truly earned then getting to it will feel very natural.
I’ve also been spoiled, having worked with wonderful actors. In many cases my directing approach is to just get out of their way.
What’s your question? Leave it in the comments section. Thanks so much!
PROGRAM NOTE: I am again filling in for Marilu Henner on her nationally syndicated radio show from 9 AM-noon PST. It also streams live and replays all day here. Like Marilu, I will dazzle you with my memory.
I can tell you what I had for dinner every Thanksgiving for the last
twenty years. Join me.