Brace yourself for some Friday Questions. TOMORROW: My thoughts on Kevin Reilly vacating the presidency of Fox television.
Ron Rettig gets us started.
What do you write on? George R. R. Martin works on an outdated DOS machine using Eighties word processor WordStar 4.0. Larry McMurty paid tribute to his Swiss-made Hermes 3000 typewriter.
Like all screenwriters, I use an L.C. Smith typewriter from 1895 with the carriage arm on the right side.
Actually, that was my grandmother’s typewriter, but it sits on my desk. I write on a Mac – either a desktop or laptop. Since my son, Matt, is an engineer at Apple Computer we’re somewhat partial to that company (although they do make a superior product).
I use Final Draft although I don’t love it. I used to use Movie Screenwriter, which I much preferred, but Final Draft has become the industry standard. There are always little annoyances and idiosyncrasies that drive me batty. I will say this though, their customer service has been lovely, except it takes 24 hours to get a response. But if there’s something in the format I want to change it’s not intuitive. You really have to know what the six steps are to follow in exact sequence to change one thing to another. Am I alone in this? I acknowledge I'm a village idiot when it comes to computers.
Jim S asks:
Has a show ever stayed on the air just because someone at the network likes it? I heard a story about "Gunsmoke" getting 20 season because William Paley liked it. When he left, the show left. That could be a tall tale, but still there must be a couple of shows that got extra life because of fans who were also suits.
The GUNSMOKE saga has been long debated -- on this blog alone. But yes, shows stay on because someone on high believes in them or just likes them. CHEERS and HILL STREET BLUES are two examples of shows NBC president, Grant Tinker stuck with despite poor initial ratings. There are others I’m sure.
A recent piece by Esquire Magazine suggests that the BIG BANG THEORY has matured and morphed over time. In your experience, do shows become more successful when they mature and change, or do they lose out when they deviate from the basic successful premise they started with?
If a show evolves based on responding to the audience then it’s usually an improvement. Also, if you give characters more dimension and depth then you are steering the series in the right direction.
It often takes a half a season or more before the writers can really find that groove. Early episodes are more experimental until writers can determine what’s working and what’s not. In time, writers learn the actors’ strength and weaknesses, they know what pitfalls to avoid. A great example is PARKS AND RECREATION. The first few episodes were not good. But eventually the show evolved into one of the best sitcoms on the air.
Shows tend to fall apart when they run out of good stories, become caricatures of themselves, or the original writers depart, replaced by inferior ones.
Character humor tends to improve a show over time; shock humor diminishes it. Why? Because you have to keep upping the ante to continue to shock people. Just saying “vagina” is no longer enough.
And finally, from mdv1959:
It seems to me that one of the main reasons most of the highly regarded shows (Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc...) are on not on Network television are the FCC regulations protecting our easily corruptible minds from the evils of bad words and naked bodies. Why do you think the networks haven't pushed back to get the rules relaxed?
Major over-the-air networks are in a tough spot. They are broadcasters, in the true sense of the word. They reach a large and very diverse audience. There are many in that audience (millions) who don’t want to be exposed to that language and nudity, and they believe strongly that all family members should be able to watch without encountering such objectionable fare.
Remember, that TV stations require a license from the FCC. There are only a few precious broadcast channels and to own a license for one was a real privilege. Along with that permission to broadcast came a contractual duty to serve in the best interest of the public. Enough complaints and the FCC could take away your license. And it's not an idle threat. They've done this on some occasions.
Cable channels are not bound by that. They don’t broadcast on frequencies. Neither does Netflix or Hulu. They’re under less scrutiny and their audience is more niche. They can get away with a lot more.
And that’s a big problem for networks because they’re competing against far more adult-oriented material. Cops on cable shows swear. Cops on networks don’t. Cops in real life swear, so the network cops feel bogus. And writers would much rather gravitate to where they can write the way people really talk.
But network shows can now say “vagina” in order to get a cheap laugh. Boy, that’s progress.
What’s your question? Just drop it in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer. Thanks.