Happy Friday Question Day.
In light of the HIMYM series finale, Charles H. Bryan asks:
Do you think it's time that if a long running show hits a voluntarily final episode that maybe it should just be a regular episode (unless there's a really solid finale idea)? I mean, what's Modern Family going to do? Let us meet the documentary crew?
Personally? Yes. A half hour regular-sized finale would be my choice. But last episodes usually get big audiences and networks want to take as much advantage of that as they can. They can sell the ad time at hugely inflated Superbowl-type rates. So they pressure the show into doing a longer episode. I should only be a showrunner in that position with a mega hit under my belt. There are worse problems.
Long finales tend to be filled with filler. Or they break the format so much they don't even seem like the same show.
I must say, of all the super long series finales, I think the CHEERS finale was the best. Glen & Les Charles wrote a great script and that last scene where everyone in the bar just sat around late at night talking was brilliant.
Have you and David been through WGA arbitration over credit? What is that process like? Is it fair? And, just for giggles, have you ever wanted to take David to WGA arbitration?
Been through arbitrations as both a participant and arbiter (not on the same project however).
The studio sends in their proposed writing credit to the WGA. If it is at all different from just the original writer, all the writers concerned are invited to arbitrate it. Should a writer challenge the proposed credit he submits a personal statement, the credit he believes is valid, and all material he feels is pertinent (outlines, drafts, etc.). I believe three arbiters then read the material and evaluate.
The writers involved are only identified as “Writer A,” Writer B,” and so on. They don’t know who their arbiters are. The arbiters don’t know who the other arbiters are.
I was once an arbiter but recognized one of the writers. So I recused myself from the arbitration. The Guild tries to make the process as objective as possible.
There is a Credits Manual that defines the parameters of ownership and contribution. The arbiters must base their decisions on these parameters and not subjectivity. In other words, the second writer may have made the script much better but didn’t change the structure of the script enough to warrant credit. Just writing great jokes isn’t enough.
Sometimes arbitrations can get very complicated, especially with features. For THE FLINTSTONES movie I think there were forty some writers involved. It was insane.
Arbitration is not a perfect system, but there’s nothing better, and the WGA keeps fine-tuning to make it as fair as possible.
And finally, no, David and I have never taken each other to arbitration. Or marriage counseling.
And finally, from Question Mark:
What's the professional protocol for an inadvertently stolen joke? Like, you write or say a clever line that you think is coming from your brain....but after the line airs/prints, someone else clues you into the fact that, "hey, so-and-so used that same line in an episode of X two years ago." (In today's media age, I can't imagine how horrifying it would be for a writer to be alerted of their unconscious plagiarism via hundreds of snarky tweets.)
Embarrassment mostly. You just hope not too many people noticed. It happens. What’s inexcusable is doing it on purpose. Someone will pitch a joke, someone else in the room will say, “they did a joke just like that on THE MIDDLE” and the showrunner will say, “Yeah, well, that’s a different audience. No one will know. Let’s use it.” I've been fortunate enough in my career to never have worked with showrunners like that. If someone flags a joke or story idea as having already been done it's discarded immediately. Happily, I would say the vast majority of showrunners fall into this category.
What’s your Friday Question?
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I will be filling-in this morning for Marilu Henner on her three hour nationally syndicated radio program. Check the listings in your local market or go here to listen.