Friday, February 21, 2014

Friday Questions

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?

It’s actually a musical called BEAUTIFUL that got terrific reviews and is playing to delighted audiences. The storyline centers on the young Carole King and from what I hear, Jessie Mueller is spectacular as Carole.

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.”

From spmsmith:

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.
And finally, from Dan Ball:

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.


Ignatowski said...

Nardo!! Is she time traveling?

Michael said...

Ken, I have long wanted to learn to play the guitar. Then I listen to a Chet Atkins record and think, what's the use? Well, the use is that I can't be Chet, but maybe I COULD be pretty good.

Amazing that Mary had to do it the second time and still nailed it. Then again, as great as she was (and is), not that amazing.

Anonymous said...

"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."

OK, I'll bite. What was the joke?

Stoney Stevenson said...

You wrote recently about the impact of the Beatles but what about the British comedy invasion; when Monty Python's Flying Circus began making it's way to American television. Also, how involved were you with the Cheers episode in which John Cleese guest starred?

RockGolf said...

I'm going to ask the opposite of one of this week's questions: What's the least appropriate reaction you've ever got from a studio audience?
To prime the pump, here's two examples: 1) In one All in the Family episode, Edith gets so offended by something Archie did that she can't even stand to be with him. Jean Stapleton played this marvelous combination of brokenhearted and furious, tears rolling down her face, Carroll O'Connor every bit her equal begging Edith not to leave but still not sure what he did wrong. A clearly purely dramatic scene, yet throughout there's this lone hyena laughing as loud as possible at every heartbreaking line.
2) The one studio taping I've ever actually been to was the pilot of Geena Davis's short-lived sitcom Sara. Bronson Pinchot played an obviously gay character (very unusual for the time) and what was clearly intended to be his big punchline referencing his sexuality was met by complete silence. Then a conservative/bigot character (ironically played by Bill Maher) made a sniping anti-gay remark, and it not only got a huge laugh, the audience applauded! (The scene eventually shown on TV was re-written.)

William said...

Speaking of the first episode of Fraiser. If a sitcom is written especially for one specific actor, I'd imagine said actor has a lot of power over the creative process.

How much power did Kelsey Grammer have/exercise over the script, casting, development etc. of that show, and how did he handle that situation?

Liggie said...

Anon, it was in an episode where Sam learned an ex-teammate was gay. Sam's line: "I should have known when wen went to karaoke and he'd request Broadway songs."

Jonny G said...

Long time, first time here. How much time and effort should aspiring writers put into networking or promoting themselves? I am confident in my writing, but I feel dirty shilling for myself. I also know that keeping my nose buried in Final Draft won't necessarily help my career.

Rob said...

All in the Family - when Edith fended off the rapist (David Dukes) the audience cheered for so long they had to stop the taping until they quieted down. I believe Dukes once said he was booed during the curtain call.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

How hard is it to write a scene with feeling as a duo or in the room? I always found that is was hard to do, as it is easy to top a joke, but hard to give a line more feeling.

Thomas from Bavaria said...

Sometimes sitcoms reveal something about a character that defines him in a way you can't really change afterwards. For example if there is a remark about someone having no siblings, you can't come up with a storyline where his sister visits. In Cheers they made that famous joke about Frasier's deceased scientist father which had to be explained away for the spin-off - you can't really do that all the time, I'd say. So, when are writers allowed to reveal anything about a characters background? Is there anybody who has to approve this kind of information?

Mike said...

The British Comedy Invasion: Benny Hill.

kelly childress said...

"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."
I really liked Scrubs and now Cougar Town, but they have been terribly guilty of this.

Jake said...

"Night Court" was another series that was bad to try and shoehorn serious moments into scripts that otherwise leaned toward broad comedy and cartoonish characters.

VP81955 said...

One of the things I like about "Mom" (aside from the magnificent comedic chemistry between Anna Faris and Allison Janney) is that when serious moments occur -- and they do occur; these are characters whose flaws and foibles are integral to who they are -- for the most part, they're handled rather adeptly, and they don't feel shoehorned in or inconsistent with the tone of that particular episode. Compared to some other series in the Chuck Lorre stable, the humor of "Mom" is grounded in reality (mother and daughter, both recovering alcoholics and struggling financially), which is part of its charm.

Hamid said...


Benny Hill was wonderful. Sadly, in his final years, his brand of comedy fell victim to the burgeoning trend of political correctness and the new wave of "alternative comedy", which led to the cancellation of his show. Even reruns were taken off the air too. Those who knew him said he was devastated at the betrayal by ITV, the UK channel which had produced and aired most of his shows, particularly as he relied on the residuals from reruns for his income.

In the 22 years since he died, there's been a gradual reversal as political correctness has slowly died out and lots of "alternative comedians" now praise his work. It's a great shame they didn't stick their heads above the parapet at the time to support him.

Mike said...

@Hamid: An apologist for Benny Hill? Where were you at Nuremberg?
Hill wasn't killed by the alternative to comedy sect. His act collapsed under him in the seventies and was put to sleep a decade later as a mercy killing.
RIP Fred Scuttle.

Johnny Walker said...

It's true that Benny Hill wasn't really the victim of The Young Ones, Not the 9 O'Clock News, French and Saunders, etc., it's just that Hill's act was no longer hip or funny to young audiences. Hill's comedy was very much of its time, and it's time had passed. Also, say what you want about political correctness, but Hill's comedy WAS pretty sexist (as well as occasionally a bit racist and homophobic), even if it was clearly done without any maliciousness and with only fun in its heart.

Speaking of dubiously sexist comedy, I recent caught an old episode of DREAM ON with Salma Hayek, and found it pretty funny. I hadn't seen it since my teenage years, where I was transfixed by the promise of nudity, and was surprised to see the Executive Producers were Bright/Kauffman/Crane (who would later create FRIENDS). Anyone remember it? I think it was a HBO show. Has it aged well? I remember it being pretty funny (and the episode I saw backed that up), if occasionally a little smarmy, but you never hear it mentioned anymore.

Are BKC embarrassed by it now, I wonder? Or is it an unfairly forgotten show?

Johnny Walker said...

To answer my own question, Kauffman and Crane weren't at all embarrassed by it in their Emmy TV Legends interview. I guess it's just been forgotten because it's not rerun very often (nudity and swearing mean it can't really be syndicated) and it wasn't as popular as many other sitcoms.

Hamid said...

Mike, you're comparing my liking of Benny Hill to being a commander at an extermination camp in the Holocaust? Wow. I guess your new year's resolution was having a lobotomy.

Aaron Sheckley said...

Comparing a defense of Benny Hill to a defense of Nazis at Nuremberg is pretty much the definition of Godwin's Law. I know Mike was shooting for humor, but when people do the "you're so awful you might as well be a Nazi" comparison, they always sound like they're trying too hard.

VP81955 said...

Glad to see a Carole King musical on Broadway -- now I'd like to see a similar project done on the Coast for her L.A. equivalent, Jackie DeShannon.